There are countless examples of fantastic content marketing programs across the Web, spanning big and small companies as well as both next-generation and old-school industries. Every content marketing program is unique in its make-up and execution, but I find that the following eight elements are not only in place for the best content marketing examples, but are required for anyone dedicating time and resources to driving true customer, sales and revenue performance from the new “coin of the realm” in marketing.

In no particular order:

1. Executive sponsorship
Effective, long-term content marketing programs cannot operate as “skunk works” projects, done on the sidelines between other priority projects. Even though a significant portion of content marketing efforts can be executed without significant out-of-pocket expenses, the lack of budget requirements should not equate to letting the program run under the radar. Rather, work with your VP of Marketing or CMO to make content marketing a high-visibility priority for the organization as a whole. Ensure that the broader leadership team understands why it’s important and what value it will provide to existing, prioritized key business metrics.

2. Objectives & measures of success
This isn’t just about creating and publishing content. That content has a purpose, and even though it’s not always direct-response to a sale, your content marketing program is driving a wider pipeline, greater nurture and conversion potential, and accelerating the volume of opportunities throughout the wider sales & marketing pipeline that can turn into sales & revenue for the business. Be very specific about what these measures are, both short-term as leading indicators that you’re on the right track but (more importantly) long-term to demonstrate the expected financial impact of the program. Better yet, demonstrate that financial impact relative to other/current programs that may be more costly. In most organizations, decreasing costs and increasing profit margin are at least as important as growing sales and revenue. An effective content marketing program can do both. Make sure you point that out and measure it over time.

3. Customer insight
The content elements you produce cannot be solely a product of your internal ideas, opinions and priorities. The best content marketing programs in the market today focus intently on customer priorities, problems and needs. The more you understand and address the customer in your content, the more likely your content will be attractive to direct consumers as well as more viral to their networks.

4. Editorial calendar
You will have plenty of serendipitous content opportunities, based on real-time news and activities in your market and with your customers. But every good content marketing program begins with a carefully-planned, proactive editorial calendar. This calendar should enumerate the constant, customer-centric themes you want your readers, viewers and listeners to see, and should provide a tentative outline of when different pieces of content will publish, on what platform, and distributed through which syndication and social channels. You won’t follow this calendar verbatim, but if it exists up front you’ll be far more consistent and successful at publishing the content you need, and generating the results you want. Here’s a good starting point for an editorial calendar template you can use.

5. Feedback loop

What’s working? Which pieces of content are resonating most with your customers? Which are generating the most comments, the most retweets, the most responses to learn more? Know what the appropriate, tactical measure of content performance are, and ensure there’s a strong quantifiable and anecdotal feedback loop with your customers and prospects. Don’t be afraid to ask them directly what they think, what they like, and what they want to see more of from you. Their answers will either confirm you’re on the right track, or help you get back on it.

6. Creation/curation mix
You don’t have a monopoly on great content for your customers and prospects, nor should you. There’s enormous value in not only producing original content, but curating “best of” content from across the Web. None of us have enough time to read all the sources of great content at our disposal today – magazines, newsletters, blog feeds, etc. If you serve as an editor for your followers, someone who reads more of the great content and filters the “best of the best” into your platforms, that alone can drive significant following and loyalty. It also shows independent and credibility if you’re not the only voice being published.

7. Channel mix
Avoid falling into the trap of only publishing printed content, or focusing entirely on your blog. Take the time to understand which channels and formats your customers prefer or gravitate towards most, but diversity how and where you publish to extend your reach. Video in particular tends to be one of the most under-utilized content platforms for many organizations, in part because companies overthink the sophistication and production value of a great video. Great content still plays well even if it’s presented via a webcam atop your monitor.

8. Repurposing
Extend the life of your content by pre-planning for its repurposing. After putting the time and energy into a fantastic webinar, for example, convert it into a video and publish it on your YouTube channel. Post the presentation deck on SlideShare. Pay for a transcription and make an edited PDF of the audio track available. Break that transcript up into a short series of blog posts. And keep going.

Would love to hear other required elements of successful content marketing plans that you’ve incorporated into your work, or seen in the work of others.