As with everything else in marketing, planning plays a crucial role in the success of your content marketing efforts. Once you’ve put a solid content marketing strategy in place, the execution of that strategy requires careful planning to ensure a successful outcome.
Content marketing is not without its challenges, as we’ve previously discussed. Whether it’s finding time to focus on content marketing, creating enough or the right kind of content, or getting technical staff and subject matter experts to contribute, content marketing can prove to be challenging for busy marketers tasked with wearing many hats.
If you’re feeling a disconnect between what you know you need, and want, to do related to content marketing and what you’re actually able to achieve, proper planning may be just what you need to get your efforts on track. Following are 8 tips that can help your improve your content marketing planning.
1. Document your content marketing strategy
According to Content Marketing Institute’s 2017 B2B Content Marketing research, 78% of B2B marketers have a content marketing strategy, but only 37% have documented it. Furthermore, the research found that B2B marketers who have a documented strategy are more effective AND less challenged with every aspect of content marketing when compared with their peers who only have a verbal strategy or no strategy at all. Strategy should always be a starting point for content marketing, but it’s not enough to simply have one, it needs to be written down. The documented strategy should be used as a reference point for all subsequent planning that’s conducted.
2. Narrow the topic focus
There is an innate temptation—especially among B2B services firms—to want to be known as experts in every possible facet of your business. This approach might suffice for creating a brochure, but it’s not the right approach for content marketing. Your content can’t possibly cover everything (nor should it), and you’re not targeting everyone, so it’s important to figure out a niche and stick to it.
Take a look at the key industry verticals you want to address with your content. Look at where your firm has the most subject matter expertise, where your firm is best positioned for growth, and where your firm wants to grow. That will help you narrow your focus on the specific topics, questions, issues and pain points of your target audience at each stage of the client journey.
3. Recruit the (right) experts
Thought leadership can’t be established without thought leaders, right? So as part of your content planning, it’s imperative to identify the internal subject matter experts who are going to provide substance (and copy) to your content creation efforts. But sometimes the folks that ideally should provide content aren’t the ones that can and do. In many cases, your firm’s top subject matter experts—those that are recognized inside and outside the industry—wear multiple hats, have busy schedules and are often unavailable to provide you with the timely and consistent content you require.
That’s where recruiting the next generation of subject matter experts—younger and/or less senior professionals who are budding experts in their own right—will be advantageous to your content planning. In other words, don’t ignore the gold mine of subject matter experts under your nose, simply because they aren’t necessarily the ones speaking at conferences and getting published in journals. Up-and-coming professionals can be fantastic resources and are motivated to put their name on the map – and their knowledge in writing.
4. Roadmap content 6-12 months out
Content planning should be viewed with a big picture, long-term perspective. You’ve got to know where you are going, what you’re planning to publish and what it’s going to take to get you there. The content marketing roadmap lays out a 6-12 month plan that identifies the topics you’ll cover, themes for each month or quarter, what formats you’ll be leveraging, and who will responsible for writing, contributing, editing and designing.
Content such as webinars, podcasts, eBooks, white papers, videos and infographics takes time to plan and produce, so it’s important to identify what non-blog content your firm plans to create over the next year. This is not the same thing as an editorial calendar (see #6); rather this is a living, breathing document that lays out the overall content game plan and is helpful for ongoing planning purposes (including the blog editorial calendar).
5. Plan upfront to repurpose
Repurposing content is a great way to get more mileage out of your content marketing efforts. There’s an old saying “begin as you mean to go” and this definitely holds true when it comes to repurposing content. Instead of thinking about ways to repurpose content after the fact, brainstorm before investing the time, money and resources into more substantial content such as webinars and white papers.
As part of the content planning process, you’ll want to identify all the various ways that a larger piece of content can be repurposed into blog articles, social media posts, nurturing emails, checklists, guides and other content. Thinking upfront how you might want to repurpose the content will likely cause you to approach the content creation process differently and lead to a better, more efficient outcome.
6. Create and maintain an editorial calendar for your blog
Keeping a thought leadership-oriented blog regularly updated with original and helpful content is not an easy task. So you’ll want to create an editorial calendar that at a minimum identifies the target audience, topic, subject matter expert, target search phrase/keyword, ideas for graphics/images, marketing person assigned and the publish date for each post you plan to publish.
While the roadmap is a long-term view, this should be a running calendar, planned at least a month ahead, but no more than 2-3 months out. Ideally, planning quarterly makes a lot of sense, but don’t get mired in the details or feel handcuffed. You need a plan in place, but you’ll want to leave room for adjustments, as things will inevitably change along the way.
7. Leverage technology to stay organized
Staying organized is absolutely critical to the ongoing success of your content marketing efforts. Making sure your content calendar is updated, deadlines are being met, topics are being identified, experts are being assigned and the content the train is being kept on time (and on the track) is all a by-product of great organization. There are a plethora of tools and software out there to keep you organized, so choose what will work best for your content planning needs.
At the most basic level is creating a spreadsheet using MS Excel or Google docs. This is perhaps the most common way to stay organized and plan your content. But for others who want something more robust, project management apps such as Trello or Basecamp can provide a great way to organize your ideas, create task lists and keep things centralized in a web-based platform that anyone can access, anywhere, at any time. And for those who really want to take their content marketing planning to the next level, there are a growing number of paid content marketing tools available such as DivvyHQ, Kapost, Contently and Compendium.
8. Keep a parking lot of unused topics and ideas
Perhaps one of the best tips that I could share with you to help you with content planning and creation is to keep a “parking lot” of unused topics and ideas that you might want to use in the future. A topic that might not work now might be perfect down the road and should be considered as you plan throughout the year. Also, it’s much easier to browse a list of topics you’ve already come up with than to be constantly starting from scratch when putting together your editorial calendar. One idea might not necessarily work, but it’s likely to spur other ideas. When you break it down, writer’s block comes mostly from not knowing what to write about, so when those moments come (and they will come), having a list of ideas at the ready is a very helpful starting point.
Plan your work, work your plan
Planning plays a critical role in your overall content marketing program and is an absolute necessity. With the proper planning and organization, your content marketing efforts will be more effective and more sustainable.