How to Create a Total Content System

Marketing podcast with John Jantsch

Content system

photo credit: the camera is a toy. via photopin cc

As content becomes increasingly important in the marketing mix, it must take on an elevated place in your strategy and planning. The use of high quality, education based content has become an essential ingredient in creating awareness, building trust, converting leads, serving customers and generating referrals.

I’ve said this many times over the last few years, but marketers these days have a lot in common with publishers and it’s time to embrace this reality fully.

Today I want to outline a complete systematic approach to creating and executing a content plan that borrows heavily from the editorial outlook of a publisher while acknowledging the marketing objectives facing most businesses.

Content creation and production is perhaps the biggest challenge facing marketers today and you must take a very planned and practical approach to getting it all done. Waking up every morning and deciding what you are going to write on your blog does not scale.

A Total Content SystemTM approach allows you to plan, delegate, curate, create, collaborate, repurpose and generally get far more out of every piece of content you produce. Once your system is in place it will build momentum with each passing month and begin to multiply in value to your organization.

The Total Content System goes like this:

  • Create a list of monthly Foundational Content Themes
  • Develop your Content Delivery Platform
  • Integrate your content with Core Business Objectives

(You can also listen to a 13 minute audio overview of this topic above)

Foundational Content Themes

Either through your own knowledge or by using a keyword tool like Google Keyword Tool or Wordtracker, develop a list of core content topics and assign one to each month for the next 12 months.

Each theme should be a substantial topic related to your business or industry and represent an important keyword search term. It might be helpful to think about it like a book. Each month might represent a chapter in what will ultimately make up an important body of work by the end of this year.

You can also designate terms that you know you would like to rank higher for, but currently have little or no content that leads people online or off to you.

I’ll use my organization as an example to help illustrate this point. My business and model may be significantly different than yours, but examples always seem to help fill in the blanks for people.

My editorial themes for 2013:

  • January – Referral Marketing
  • February – Coaching and Consulting
  • March – Sales and Lead Conversion
  • April – Online Integration
  • May – Writing
  • June – Strategic Partners
  • July – Customer Experience
  • Aug – Content Marketing
  • Sept – High Tech, High Touch
  • Oct – Growth Strategies
  • Nov – Analytics and Conversion
  • Dec – Personal Growth

These are all topics that I believe my community is interested in learning more about and that I personally have an interest in developing more content around. (I’m working on a sales book and will be heavy into daily writing on that project in March – all content has a purpose!)

Develop your Content Delivery Platform

Now that I have my list of foundational themes I can organize my Content Delivery Platform components accordingly. Again, this is my model, but many of these elements work for any kind of business and should be considered in your business.

  • Newsletter – I put out a weekly email newsletter. I will add themed content to each issue either through some of my own writing or by finding other people’s content related to the theme and highlighting it.
  • Blog posts – I write a daily blog post and may schedule a post related to the theme on a weekly basis. This still gives me lots of room on topics but helps me focus both from a content and SEO standpoint.
  • Guest posts – We currently run one guest post a week and use our monthly theme to suggest topics to potential guests. (If you would like to submit a guest post see the themes above for guidance and submit your idea here.)
  • Podcast guests – I produce a weekly audio podcast and the monthly theme really gives me guidance in lining up topic experts well in advance.
  • PR Pitches – We use our themes to promote stories and pitches to the media.
  • Sponsored pitches – We receive invitations to write sponsored content and conduct sponsored webinars and use our theme to guide these pitches. We also reach out to organizations that might have a special interest in a particular month’s theme with sponsor opportunities.
  • Webinars – Since we are creating all this rich, topic specific content we host monthly online seminars to deliver the content in a new form.
  • eBook – People really seem to love eBooks and they are an essential element in our list building efforts. Most themes lend themselves nicely to an eBook compilation.
  • Curate a topic – As we are doing the research and preparing all of the ideas for our own content, we bookmark tons of other people’s content, books, experts, tools and the like related to our theme and save the entire collection as a curated topic on This allows us to attract even more readers and creates a nice library to draw from.
  • Create a content package – The final step is to take all of this content from each month and create a membership or community offering that would allow people interested in the monthly topic to access the entire package in one tidy resource. One of the things I’ve discovered over the years is that while so much content is free and available, people will pay for content that is packaged and delivered in the way they want it. Figure that piece out and you’ll really make your content efforts pay directly.

Integrate your content with Core Business Objectives

Okay, so now you’ve got your themes plotted out and you’ve got a plan for creating, filtering and aggregating all manner and form of content into your delivery system. It’s time map your content plan to your core business objectives.

This step allows you to better understand how to get return on your content investment and how much you should actually invest in creating a certain form or package of content.

For example, if one of your stated annual objectives is to dramatically increase the sale of information products, you would produce content with product creation in mind. Or, if one of your stated objectives for the year is to significantly increase your subscriber list, you would focus on producing, delivering and sharing content that attracts email capture, links and strategic partnering.

One of the most important aspects of a Total Content System plan is that it changes the lens you use to view all the information that comes at you all day long. When you know what your theme is this month and next month all of a sudden books, tools, articles and conversations take on new meaning and seem to somehow organize themselves for the benefit of your ongoing, long-term approach.

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John Jantsch

John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author of Duct Tape Marketing, Duct Tape Selling, The Commitment Engine and The Referral Engine and the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.
  • brentmkelly

    Hi John. Great post and some really good ideas on how to group content. I am thinking about launching a blog about fitness from the inside out with five main themes (faith, family, finances, fitness, and fun) and though I could group posts by days of the week with an overall monthly theme. I thought this would be a good way to organize my thoughts on a schedule that my potential readers could follow easier. Thoughts?

    • ducttape

      I think that would be a good way for a number of reasons – keeps you focused and organized, allows you to build a bogy of work around a few topics and helps your readers know what to expect.

  • Steve Smith

    The confusion poses the largest threat to the nation’s twenty seven million tiny businesses, as a result of the overwhelming majority do their own payroll. which means they will have to be compelled to perceive what Congress decides and calculate the changes quick.

    And the nation’s leading payroll cluster warned on Wednesday that point is running out.

    The yank Payroll Association same Congress should prefer tax rates by Dec. fourteen as an alternative “businesses might not have enough time to implement any new changes once the primary paychecks exit for 2013.” Others within the trade say Congress might wait till Christmas week, however doing thus would still cause headaches.

  • Krishna De

    John – thanks for sharing your plan for your foundation content in 2013 – as you know this is exactly what publishers of magazine do.

    I would be interested to learn how much of your time is spent in content creation vs working with clients and if that time is sumplemented by others in your team crafting content e.g. your ebook if you would be happy to share that.

    I am looking forward to hearing my old friends Michael and Bob on your podcasts this month.

    Wishing you a successful 2013 and good luck with authoring the next book.,

    • ducttape

      Hey Krishna – great to see you here – I’m still hoping you’ll line up a reason for me to come to Ireland :)

      I personally spend about 10 hours a week on the activities mentioned here and have staff do the rest – maybe another 10-15 a week including design, research, admin stuff.

      One major difference of course is that we get paid pretty directly for producing content quite often and that certainly allows us to make it a priority. I do very little direct client work anymore as my organization has grown to the point where my time is most profitably spend in environments that allow me to reach greater numbers. I can say however that 100% of our customers come through some form of content.

      • Krishna De

        Thanks John for your insights and being open to sharing them.

        It’s interesting that there is so much talk about content markeitng these days. When I first started with online videos, podcasts and articles back in 2005 I don’t think anyone called it ‘content marketing’ (or at least to my knowledge).

        I attract around 85% of clients through content – online or offline – and the others in the main through word of mouth referrals though content probably played a role in helping me attract the referrers in the first instance.

        You know how to reach me if you do want to speak about an Irish/European tour – look forward to hatching a plan with you!

  • Gareth Everson

    John –

    Another terrific post and what seems (uncannily again!) to be perfectly timed during a week when millions of small business owners are returning to full capacity after the holiday break, full of hopes, aspirations and new goals for the New Year, but with those nagging anxieties about balancing workloads still in their minds!

    Many thanks for sharing it in such detail and in the context of your business.

    All the best for a great 2013.


    • ducttape

      Thanks Gareth – I plan to teach this idea all year long this year so maybe I’ll see you at another conference where I’m talking about it!

  • webnavgal

    Really useful and applicable advice. Lots of work to do!

  • OBVAVirtualAssistant

    Great article as are all the rest found on this site. I know a couple of friends of mine who’ll love this place so, I’ll be sure to pass this site along to them. Thanks John.

  • Dave Crenshaw

    Really brilliant ideas.Thanks, John!

  • Nathan Peters

    You guys have some great content on your site.

    I would like to ask your permission to publish your RSS feed on in the Internet Marketing niche. Nichespot provides dofollow backlinks and rel=canonical protection from the duplicate content penalty. It also has a voting system where the most popular posts remain visible at all times.

    Let me know what you think.

  • Copywriter Matt

    Good ideas to maintain your focus and organization!

  • Mike Alder

    Great post! I am going to focus my blog posts and newsletters towards topics instead of just what I feel like writing about. This way I am not just shooting in the dark hoping to draw in new demographics. Excited to try this out!

    • ducttape

      Mike I think your readers will enjoy it as well.

  • Maria Reyes-McDavis

    John, this is fabulous! I have my clients on a similar system. We plan the year ahead, each month has a theme. Planning is so important to have an integrated approach :-)

    • ducttape

      Thanks Maria – this is something that every marketer can do to get a handle on this overwhelming content need. This post could be a stand alone product/service

  • Kevin Kauzlaric

    John, thank you for the advice and example on creating editorial themes for 2013. I listened to your podcast when you mentioned this and then headed to your website right afterward to see the example. I actually created a separate webpage on my book review site to show my readers which book themes I’ll be covering this year. I also added the calendar to my sidebar to encourage people to sign up for my blog via email. I believe the content calendar is a nice motivator to become a subscriber if one likes the topics that will be covered. Here’s the content calendar webpage I created with a link back to your blog post on this topic:

  • Mariad001

    I am a big fan of editorial calendars. I love your mix of themes and broad distribution platform. What do you think about tapping into seasonal and other cyclical trends?

  • faberglas

    Another great post with a useful system for simplifying content generation.

    The last sentence reads: “When you know what you theme is this month and next month all of a sudden books, tools, articles and conversations take on new meaning and seem to somehow organize themselves for the benefit of your ongoing, long-term approach.”. Shouldn’t it be ‘…what your theme is this month…’?

  • steveborgman

    John, I always enjoy reading your approach to integrating online activities with your overall business objectives. Thank you so much!

  • Krista Goon

    Thank you for another very good example of what you do in your own business that we can all think strategically about.

  • Randy Hollingsworth

    Thanks for the great post. I agree creating good content on a continual basis can be quite challenging. But I like your idea of having a planned approach to writing. I am going to implement this strategy asap! Thanks

  • DivaStyle Coach

    Excellent post, John, and very timely! I had started planning something like this for scheduled tweets, but now I see I can extend this to more than just my Twitter presence. Thank you – and now I’m working on my roadmap for the rest of 2013!

  • Alicanto Marketing Team

    You provided a great framework for thinking through and building a solid content system or strategy. Here at we develop content, events and themes for our clients, with the intent of having these themes relate to our customers audiences. We do it for ourselves as well, but my success metric is if my clients can speak to their own audiences with our content. It’s not easy, taking a lot of time and creativity for understanding the needs of each business, but it’s well worth it. Some of the suggestions in your approach allows this to scale better and be more effective.

  • doncampbell

    Hi John,
    This really inspired me to put monthly themes together for my blog content. Right now I have themes but haven’t organized them like this. Thanks for sharing your plan with us.