What Is a Content Bill of Materials?

Toy gnome looking at a pile of rocks.

By itself, a marketing content bill of materials is about as strategic as a box of rocks. It’s like calling a grocery list a cake or even a sandwich.

Too close to lunch? Think about it in terms of furniture. A bill of materials is a list of parts and pieces. It’s the itemization of nuts and bolts and chunks of wood that come with your IKEA stuff. But it’s not the actual dresser.

Diagram of fasteners for an IKEA dresser


I’ve attended too many marketing meetings where I’ve asked about the content plan for a launch, and someone gives me a link to a bill of materials spreadsheet. And they get annoyed when I reply, “Awesome, and what’s the content plan?” What will you do with that list of ingredients? You can create a lot of different things from a list of materials. (Lego has created an empire on that very concept.)

Some teams have specific lists of what’s included for a launch. Sure, there are fundamental pieces you need for every launch, but it’s not a static checklist. Or at least it shouldn’t be.

I’ve been on calls where someone has gone through the itemized list and mentioned a white paper. OK, who is the audience and what’s the topic? Hint: “I don’t know, we’ll figure out something compelling” isn’t the right answer. And it probably means you don’t need a white paper.

The Chicken or Egg of Content Planning 

This is where we get into poultry: What comes first, the BOM or the strategy? In my book, it’s the strategy. But I’ve run out of fingers and toes to count the times I’ve reverse-engineered a content plan from a BOM. It’s definitely possible but not ideal.

At a basic level, define the story you’re trying to tell, who you want to consume it, and what you want those people to do. And why.

What is the point of all those things on your list? Who are you targeting, and what are their needs? What action do you want them to take based on your content? What’s your end goal, and how are you measuring it?

Now you can identify the core assets that fill those needs. From there, start to look at the journeys, which is where you can identify the other elements you’ll need. 

What’s your drive-to strategy? How are you mapping paths to and from the multiple assets? How do the various pieces connect? How do you plan to integrate them with existing content and structure? What do you already have, and what do you need to create?

Recipes and Menus

The strategy comes from the careful arrangement of those line items into a threaded plan. The strategy is about how and where you use the different pieces. Without this level of thought, you’re basically posting a box of rocks. You’re leaving it to anyone who trips on that box to figure out what to do with the rock they happen to examine.

Don’t get me wrong, a BOM is a useful tool. After all, you need ingredients to bake a cake. It might be an interesting list and might even have some good details, but you still need a recipe to deliver a delicious dessert.

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