Spontaneity has its place. If you’re deciding between tacos and Thai for dinner, wavering between a Cosmo or Stella or pondering how long you’ll stay on the ski slope, winging it is just fine. If you’re funneling your hard-earned resources into content planning, you might want to invest more than the quarter you’re using for heads vs. tails.
Content planning is the foundation for everything good and pretty that comes next for your brand. You can buy beautiful words, but they don’t mean anything if no one sees them. A well-stocked blog only matters if the posts are cohesive and relevant to your readers.
So yes. Content planning matters. But it’s also hard. The struggle is real but so are the solutions. Luckily, I’m a veteran of content combat, and I can show you how to win the war (or just beat out your competition) by strategizing your way to the top.
Moving into #contentmarketing without a solid plan behind it is like taking a road trip without a destination in mind: Maybe it will work out, and maybe not.
If you’re the type to set out on road trips without a clear destination in mind, then this doesn’t apply to you. But if you want to give your content marketing the best chance of success, you need to figure out what your goals are and put strategies and tactics in place to support them.
- Attract an audience
- Build your authority
- Drive engagement
- Generate leads
- Support sales
- Increase awareness of your brand or a specific product or service
- Boost conversions
The smart play is pick one primary goal and, if applicable, a few secondary goals. Don’t try to do it all your first time out.
Identifying the Who
Would you pour out your heart in a love letter without having an idea who the recipient was going to be? Okay, maybe if you were starring on the Bachelor or mass texting on Tinder, but most consumers prefer a more personal (and less intense) approach. That means writing tailored content that address the needs and wants of a defined customer base.
Figuring out “the Who” can be a pain because it’s not always who you think it is. Huge Fortune 500 companies might have separate Whos for each division or even each product. Smaller companies are more likely to have one Who that’s interested in much of their catalog. Agencies could have hundreds of Whos once all clients are taken into account. Decide which applies to you and then put together a buyer persona that acts as a mock-up of Joe Customer — where does he live, what does he do, how much money does he make, does he like espresso or black diner coffee… pretend you’re Joe and imagine a day in his life.
More From Meghan: How to Build a Brilliant Content Strategy in 6 Easy Steps
Deciding Which Type of Content to Create
We tend to associate content marketing with blogs, but those posts are just the beginning. Content can be anything from your email drips to podcasts to product descriptions. Landing pages count too, as does your social media feed and the ebook download you make available in exchange for someone’s email address. All of these content types are good; not all of them are good for you.
For instance, Facebook Live is huge right now and video can be a powerful way to stop people in their tracks, spur enthusiasm, and convey personality… unless you wilt at the sight of a camera lens and swallow your tongue in front of a crowd (anonymous and internet-based though they may be).
Not every format is going to be an ideal fit for every brand or every situation, so it helps to have a big bag of tricks that can be raided whenever the need arises. SEO and marketing agencies run into this dilemma quite frequently – they’ve unintentionally become a one-trick pony because their in-house content writer has tons of blog experience but hasn’t ever formatted a white paper.
Learn your limits, don’t be afraid to outsource, and always focus on the type of content that’s going to get the job done. Anything else is too much icing and nobody will even remember that you wanted them to taste the cake.
The Endless Need for Ideation
Give me a blank slate and tell me to brainstorm and I’ll give you 1001 ways to procrastinate. Ideation is hard, especially if all the burden of turning on mental light bulbs is sitting on your shaky shoulders.
When in doubt, give your cerebral cortex some stimulation:
- Google your topic or even just a keyword and see what others are writing about
- Do a topic search on Quora and use the questions as inspiration
- Poll your social media networks to see what they want to know
- Riff on something in the news
- Hire a writer or team or writers who’ll bring their own perspectives and ideas
Bonus tip: If you’re going to brainstorm, brainstorm in bulk. Become the Costco of content conjuring and write up a year’s worth of titles in one go. It’s a lot easier than going through the motions every week and coming away with just a single subject. Trust me.
Having a solid #content plan is place from the start makes it simple to scale up down the road.
Scheduling Your Content
Content scheduling is a big deal. Post on social media the wrong time of day and your content is gone like a plate of hot wings on Super Bowl Sunday — except in this case nobody’s going to get to enjoy what you made. Frequency is also a concern. How often you post on your blog and how often you share those posts with your audience can make a huge difference in engagement and conversion rates.
Put these stats in your noggin and take them for a spin:
- Brands that publish at least 16 blog posts per month more than triple their traffic compared to brands that publish 4 posts or less
- Expanding your social media posting schedule can take your average daily clicks from 24 to 58
- Some 47% of buyers need to view content 3-5 times before they’re ready to talk to a sales rep
See? It’s a big deal.
Develop a schedule so your audience learns to expect certain types of content at certain times. Have a Wednesday Wine Recommendation, a seasonal buyers guide that always comes out right before the holidays, and share your thrice-weekly blogs several times on Twitter and Facebook so you can build traction.
So, you started small with your content plan and — wonder of wonders — it’s working! Now what? Doubling your efforts doesn’t mean twice as much work. Increasing your content marketing efforts means exponentially more slog, and suddenly your plan has branches galore.
This is when you get help. Writing more content, posting more often, managing several channels — there’s an app for that, or several, actually. There are also freelancers, contractors, agencies, and other entities ready to help you deliver your must-read message to the masses.
Whether you’re a huge corporation with an in-house marketing team that has casual Fridays and a fleet of cubicles, a small startup with two gals building an empire out of Diet Coke and duct tape, or a marketing agency spreading the SEO love to a new batch of budding brands, turning content planning struggles into success is a matter of perseverance, creativity, and a really good team. How could you improve?