As the practice of content marketing matures, so too do the tools that make us more efficient, help us scale faster, and enhance our ability to measure. Unfortunately, making sense of all the available options can make your head spin.

All those choices make me giddy—like my boys when they enter our favorite candy store in Madison, NH. As soon as the door opens, we're accosted with bright colors, glorious smells, and an overwhelming desire to try everything.

However, unlike eating too much candy, choosing the wrong content marketing tool can give you more than a stomachache. A bad choice can completely undermine your efforts to meet (or possibly exceed) your marketing goals.

So it's time to turn that tempting buffet of content marketing claims into a sampling we can digest.

Before we go any further, though, I want to emphasize that marketing automation systems are not content marketing systems.

Marketing automation is your primary tool for lead management and reporting, list segmentation, landing page development, and email distribution. However, most marketing automation systems do a bad job of managing the content creation process and measuring engagement with specific content assets.

Content marketing tools complement your marketing automation system; they augment it to address those gaps.

Seven Categories of Content Marketing Tools

Various types of solutions are designed to enhance content marketing efforts, from measuring results to improving content effectiveness.

1. Analytic Engines

Analytic engines are platforms for building predictive models and identifying trends. You don't execute campaigns within these tools, nor do you create content within them, but you do use them as a basis for measurement and refinement. They are powered by feeding a database with a rich repository of information. For best results, you need high volumes of data upon which you can conduct analysis.

Examples: GoodData, Idio, Kiss Metrics, Lattice Engines

Look at these if your content marketing efforts are mature and you require highly customized analysis based on your business model. To benefit, you should already have the content creation process mastered, you have lots of volume (think millions of touch points), and you have technical skills on staff. Though you don't need to be a data scientist to use these tools, you need to think like one to make the most of their power.

2. Content Optimization

Content optimization tools focus on a key component of the content creation process—writing—and cue authors to make improvements. Content optimizations can include everything from SEO best-practices to grammar advice and brand compliance.

Examples: Acrolinx, Moz, Optimizely, Scribe

Look at these if you find yourself adding keywords or updating branded terms in most articles submitted. Content optimization tools can help make you more efficient if you already have a structured editorial process and workflow but the quality of writing submitted lacks consistency.

3. Content Creation Services

These agencies provide a large network of writers that you can hire to ghost-write all kinds of content. Considering the volume of content they develop, content creation experts often provide content strategy services in addition to writing and design.

Examples: Skyword, WriterAccess

Look at these if your team has great ideas but simply no time to write. Content creation services can help you scale the volume of content being produced.

4. Content Curators

Curation platforms make the act of finding, organizing, and contextualizing content created by other brands or persons easy for marketers to integrate into their online channels.

Examples: Curata*, Newscred, Storify

Look at these not if original content creation is your blocking obstacle but if you are looking to increase the volume of assets you share in newsletters or on microsites where content curation might be a good fit for increasing visit duration. To make the most of curated content, be sure you already have a sizable audience and that the theme is broad enough to find lots of published materials from which to choose. Keep in mind that curated content is not likely to improve your SEO efforts significantly, since you're not the original source of it.

5. Project Management

Project management tools make organizing tasks their primary objective. Idea-sharing, editorial calendars, and tasks are managed within these tools. Though content creation and measurement are not part of these solutions, they are used by highly disparate teams to remain aligned around shared deliverables.

Examples: Basecamp, Central Desktop, Trello

Look at these if you've got a smallish team and you want to keep its members connected, and you already have other means for measuring the effectiveness of content assets. Project management tools are a good way to assign tasks and share updates. They are most effective for teams that regularly work on tasks together, but they can be difficult for the casual contributor to learn to use ad hoc.

6. Social Content Distribution

Social content distribution tools focus on the publication of content on a wide range of social channels. They coordinate across channels for integrated campaigns and allow for the tracking of keywords and social listening.

Examples: Hootsuite, SproutSocial, Sysomos

Look at these if you are a social media manager and content creation is not your primary objective. These tools are great for scheduling social posts as well as listening to what your community is saying about your brand and your competitors.

7. Content Marketing System/Platform

Content Marketing systems manage the full lifecycle—development, distribution, and measurement—of original content. These tools are fully integrated collaborative solutions for content analytics, building an editorial calendar, automating workflow, content optimization, and social content distribution.

Examples: Crescendo, Kapost, Oracle Marketing Cloud, Percolate. *Curata has recently launched a content marketing system and can be classified in both the content curation and the content marketing system categories.

Look at these if your team is reaching readership plateaus despite a steady cadence of blog posts and other content, if have a growing team you need to keep connected, and if you are spending a lot of time editing work submitted.

This class of tools is particularly helpful if you find yourself considering tools from more than one of the other categories, if you use a standard marketing automation or CRM tool, and if you don't have a data scientist wannabe on staff to reconcile various data sources.

The Right Tool for You?

Which of these tools and approaches you use depends on your primary objectives, your target audience, and the size and complexity of your marketing team.

You may choose to use multiple tools from the various categories. However, if you find yourself looking at multiple tools, I'd strongly encourage you to check out the class of content marketing platforms that have brought together the key disciplines required to execute a scalable content strategy.

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A Tempting Selection of Content Marketing Tools: How to Pick the Right Ones

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image of Samantha Stone

Samantha Stone, author of Unleash Possible: A Marketing Playbook that Drives Sales, is a revenue catalyst who helps unleash the possible in organizations that have complex selling processes. She's a fast-growth, B2B marketing strategist, researcher, speaker, consultant, and persona coach. In 2012 she founded The Marketing Advisory Network to help savvy business leaders unleash the possible within their enterprises.