What Is Content Atomization and How to Approach It for Success

Repurposing is a hot content strategy these days, but sometimes it's not the right tool for your message. Today, we break down content atomization and how to approach it for successful content production and distribution.

What Is Content Atomization and How to Approach It for Success

Content teams are feeling the pressure to create more content in more places than ever, which can lead to engaging in random acts of content: creating clips just to fill your calendar, without conviction that they’ll perform well or further your brand’s message.

So, how do you broadcast content that actually resonates with your audience? Start with a compelling idea, then create the content tailored to each channel —also known as content atomization.

What is content atomization?

Content atomization is the process of taking a core idea, concept, or theme from an existing piece of content and remaking it into entirely new assets. The assets are all original; only the ideas or messages are reused.

This is fundamentally different from content repurposing, which takes existing content and adapts or remixes the source material for a new audience or channel. With content repurposing, many of the assets—the footage, visuals, or copy—are the same, only altered to better fit the channel. Clips on social media pulled from longer-form videos are a tried-and-true example.

Both approaches have their purpose. Content atomization, while it takes more effort, is ideal for propagating strong opinions across multiple content formats, or just when a content asset doesn't naturally translate to another channel you're investing in.

But first, why bother?

Marketing re-entering a "do more with less" era wasn't enough? Jokes aside, we do need to unpack the benefits of content atomization that go beyond the obvious. Yes, if you run an atomization program the right way, you should end up creating more content. But let's also not forget about the fact that:

1. Marketing messages stick when repeated

Content that has a compelling point of view helps align customers to your product's value. But these messages will only stay with people if you reinforce them over and over, revisiting them from new vantage points or with additional examples and evidence. Leaders know that important ideas deserve to be repeated, and marketers should take cue.

2. Great content creates outsized results

Content marketing follows a power law; a small percentage of your efforts end up producing the lion's share of the results. One simple truth that drives another is truly great content ideas are few and far between. If you create a winning concept or asset, you need to extract as much value as possible—and atomization unlocks that for you.

3. New channels expose you to new audiences

Your content isn’t going to find the exact same audience from one channel to the next. Not everyone reads long-form editorial; some people who prefer video will never make their way to TikTok, etc. That can be a good thing, but only if you’re reaching the right new people.

This is where content atomization really shines brighter than content repurposing. Being incredibly intentional about your message and approach to the content you publish on new channels will help you build the right audience, rather than just reach… anyone who happens to be around.

4. The efficiency gains are nothing to sneeze at

We advise caution when looking at "scale and efficiency" as your only reasons to pursue content atomization; as we'll cover, you can end up repurposing content without a purpose. But with good foundations in place, reworking a small set of core ideas or concepts is significantly more efficient than having to ideate each channel or individual piece of content.

How to approach content atomization

1. Start with themes and strong points of view

There are two main mistakes we see brands make with atomization: (a) building an atomization "strategy" without clear narratives and (b) trading the content treadmill for the repurposing treadmill. Let's start with the first issue first, then move to the second.

The goal of atomization is to get a small set of pointed messages distributed through many content assets. Simple enough, but far too many brands get caught up with the deliverables, forgetting that the core messages are what you're actually distributing. And this is true regardless of the content styles you use—whether your content educates, entertains, or offers insight, there's always an opportunity to infuse your brand's point of view.

Why does this matter? Because reach without resonance creates no business value. Fortunately, picking these messages doesn't have to be an arduous exercise. When we came up with the central narratives or themes for our own content strategy, we insisted they hit the following marks:

  1. Strong narratives drive changes in behavior. The audience that engages with our content regularly should begin to form a shared point of view with us that ultimately leads them to change their behavior. If we aren't changing our audience's behavior in some fashion, our content isn't having a real impact.
  2. Strong narratives turn prospects into better customers. The change(s) in behavior we're driving should, in turn, make certain members of our audience stronger-fit customers for our product. Customers who share your worldview have a sharp understanding of the problem you're solving and clearly see the value of your product; it’s easier to sell a solution to a customer who’s already aware of the problem.
  3. Strong narratives capture the larger context. Our narratives should also help customers understand what's changing in the world that makes our point of view so important and relevant right now. Kapwing, for example, believes strongly in the value of atomization and repurposing, but we also believe the marketing landscape is changing in a way that makes these activities more important than they've ever been.

Spoiler: This takes some work. 

But remember, this is your foundation. If you build on top of a weak foundation—with milquetoast opinions or no narrative at all—you might earn impressions, but you certainly won't change or reinforce anyone's view in a way that helps them see why they need your product. And if you aren't doing that, you aren't doing marketing.

A simple exercise your team can do is to list your Narratives and then unpack these broad-stroke beliefs into smaller Points of View, or specific opinions that get into the details. At Kapwing, we believe that "AI will fundamentally change the nature of video creation," a core narrative, but we unpack this idea with multiple points of view that expand on what we mean.

2. Pick your anchor format and main platforms

Atomization requires some wrangling—there are lots of content assets in motion, and multiple paths your team can use to transform one idea into another. Everything in your life gets easier if you can commit to one or two anchor formats for your content strategy.

We think of anchor formats as where "new ideas make first contact" with your audience. Put another way, these are the formats you'll frequently head to first to share an opinion or idea before reworking the content for another platform.  

Typically, small or one-person content teams should start with a single anchor format, while medium-sized teams (and above) may have two or more anchor formats, one covering the long form → short form path, and another covering short form → long form.

Why two paths? Because long-form content is generally best-suited for ideas your team has conviction about; ideas that are central to your product strategy and position in the market. Short-form formats, meanwhile, are great for litmus-testing ideas to gauge how people will respond before creating something long-form. You should use short form for both purposes, not just for clipping long-form content.

Let's explore this idea with a quick example:

  • Long form → short form. You decide on a video podcast. Honestly, great choice. The podcast records once per week with a mix of guests and in-house interviews. You plan a calendar to cover your main points of view in individual episodes, then revisit and unpack core ideas with follow-up episodes. The content gets clipped for brand social and the personal account of your show's host. Episodes are also fully rewritten for content on your blog, usually 1-2 posts per episode. Finally, you write takeaway posts and tailored summaries for your founder's social accounts.
  • Short form → long form. You decide on your founder's LinkedIn profile. Your marketing team works with your founder to post short observations that include a mix of trends in the space, examples from peer companies, and opinions on where the industry is headed. You publish 1-2 thought leadership posts per day; the posts that fizzle get forgotten, and the posts that land are a signal to further flesh out the idea on your blog, video podcast, or a follow-up series of posts.

Marketing is not just about distributing messages; it's about developing them. In the example above, two paths are available: one for high-conviction ideas, and one for ideas where you're just testing the waters. For most teams, it takes both approaches to truly stay close to the frontier ideas within your industry.

3. Build a clear system for atomization

Atomization is often seen as a way off the dreaded content treadmill, but it can turn into a brand new treadmill if you aren't careful. Now, not only are you producing at the same rate, you've just added on repurposing and full recreations to your calendar.

A better approach, and one we're revisiting for our own team, is to build a deliberate system for atomization with a content map. Mapping out how you plan to take great ideas and re-run them removes the stress and allows you to build your content calendar with atomized content as a known input; the whole calendar gets built with a reuse and repurpose philosophy at the forefront.

In short, a system takes out the guesswork, but it does require a little guessing up front until you actually try it in practice. That's because you'll have to make some decisions about what you'll atomize, how often you'll do it, and where the new content will go—activities that are easier to do in theory than practice.

Some tips: 

Create a map for atomization

The map itself will act almost as a flow chart for how you approach atomization. After a piece of anchor content is created, where does it go? What messages are important to your brand right now? What clips tend to do well on those platforms? A good litmus test for a content atomization map is that a new member to the content team could get relatively up to speed on what to recreate and repurpose just by looking at the map.

Be as specific as possible

Despite the guesswork inherent in the first version of your content map, it's better to be specific about your approach and call frequent audibles than it is to rely on vague guidance for what to do. Bias toward precise instructions but stay flexible—content is a marketing activity that relies on serendipity either way.

Label atomized content based on relative effort

Effort labels can be an important consideration for choosing which formats to recreate content for. The cost of writing a quick social post versus the cost of producing an entire standalone article (with inline assets) are two different things entirely. A simple label of High, Medium, Low or an easy-to-discern score should invite the right kind of conversations around effort.

4. Put measurement in place to track results

Being honest, we get the sense that a lot of atomization and repurposing work is happening as a result of marketing teams being asked to "do more with less." The follow-through, or the number of teams that can prove repurposing is (or isn't) producing business value, seems to be much smaller if the community discussions we've seen are any indication.

That's why it can be helpful, internally, to have some way to report back on atomized content specifically—even if that's just how it's affected your output. For example, having enough data to say XX% of content last quarter was repurposed, which increased output by XX%. If you're attributing the growth in revenue contribution to output, you now at least have some tenable connection to atomization helping you increase your about.

Better still, of course, is if you're able to attribute the contribution repurposed content has made to qualified pipeline or revenue directly. Of the content assets you've produced that were based on an existing asset or central theme, what contribution of revenue does that represent? For some teams, the data lift to answer this question is too high and it's simply easier to report on content's overall contribution to revenue, and atomization's contribution to overall content output.

When to repurpose vs. atomize content?

We’re not arguing that you throw out your content repurposing strategy in favor of content atomization. A robust, high-output content strategy will lean on both.

The trap to avoid is simply chopping up a piece of long-form content and distributing it across multiple channels just to fill your content calendar. Ideally, content atomization will help you share key concepts and themes across platforms while content repurposing helps you earn more value out of each piece of content. 

When both strategies are in lockstep, it looks like: greater reach, consistent messaging across channels, and more efficient content production for your team.

For a further deep dive into content atomization and repurposing, check out our podcast episode on the subject. ↓

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