For digital marketers these days, content marketing is hard to ignore. Why? Because it’s at the center of an iron triangle, a mutually reinforcing set of requirements that make great content foundational to so many digital marketing practices.

Political scientists use the iron triangle concept to describe mutually interdependent policy-making situations that are both influenced by and influence legislative, bureaucratic and special interest bodies:

 Iron Triangle Policy

You can’t tease these forces apart. Policy is shaped by these actors and they exist to influence or enact policy.

Software developers have their own iron triangle, which illustrates the inextricable relationship between time, cost, scope and quality:

Iron Triangle Quality 

Similarly, in digital marketing, I’d contend that we have our own iron triangle forming around content. Here, search, social and multichannel engagement practices all depend on content:

Iron Triangle Content

While I recognize that these examples aren’t perfectly parallel (one speaks to entities, another to attributes and another to strategies), the point is that you almost can’t discuss one without discussing the other.

That’s why I’ve found so many conversations that begin with search, social and multichannel engagement on the agenda inevitably lead to a discussion about how to create a content supply chain to enable continuous storytelling.

Content is simply hard to escape. Here’s why:

  • Search—algorithms are now tuned to social signals as indicators of quality and relevance, which means that search engine optimization—once about optimizing content for machines—is now about optimizing content for human beings. Great content begets great search ranking.
  • Social—a social marketing program without a content marketing strategy is like a mill without grist, dough without yeast, an engine without fuel. Whatever bad metaphor you choose, you can’t ignore the fact that social engagement fails to happen without something worthwhile to say.
  • Multichannel—continuous engagement across paid, earned and own channels depends on great content. Multichannel engagement isn’t just about the right offer to the right customer at the right time. Brands that always ask for the sale quickly lose their charm in the eyes of customers, and excessively focusing on discounts is a race to the bottom for any profit-seeking company. That’s why multichannel strategies depend on, not just precisely targeted offers, but value-added content as part of an orchestrated set of interactions over the course of a relationship.

If you look closely, you’ll see iron triangles in other areas of digital marketing. Data comes to mind as another foundation worth exploring. Or perhaps there’s an iron triangle that spans all of these disciplines.

But that’s a conversation for another day. In the meantime, I’d like to hear your thoughts. How does this particular triangle square with your thinking?


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