How to Build a Content Marketing Software Stack that Rocks: Strategy & Planning Tools

Ever gone to a concert and marveled at all the equipment on stage? All those pedals strewn about in front of the guitar player. Dozens of amplifiers flanking all side of the singer. Knobs in every direction. And then what about all the cords and cables? How in the heck do they keep track of it all?

Thousands of hours tinkering with every knob, button, string, or fancy instrument at their disposal, that’s how. But why bother? Because each pedal, amplifier, microphone, guitar, snare drum and other pieces of carefully selected equipment helps the artist achieve that just-right sound.

While building out your content marketing software isn’t exactly like this, it’s pretty darn close. You need the right gear to make your content marketing actually rock, and to make sure your talent translates into solid content pieces such as blog posts, videos, or other campaigns.

Picking the wrong software can bog down a team, or end up wasting your organization money. And running your content department out of a spreadsheet will certainly end in frustration. Don’t believe us? In our most recent content planning research, 80% of respondents who reported being effective in their content planning efforts said they use online planning tools, as opposed to offline methods for keeping track of their strategy and planning.

To be clear; a fancy guitar or recording software won’t make a musician instantly sound like gold. Likewise, finding the right strategy and planning software won’t make you a brilliant marketer, designer, writer, or marketing savant overnight. But when you combine top talent with the right software? Kaboom baby! Now your content will rock everyone’s faces off.

In this week’s installment of our four-part series on building a just-right content marketing software stack, we uncover how to think about and select the right strategy and planning software.

Now put on those high fidelity headphones, and let’s get ready to rock.

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Tuning Up Before You Play is Like Developing Strategy Before You Plan

Whether you are a vocalist, guitar player or master cellist, warming up and tuning an instrument to the perfect pitch are essential before every knockout performance. In the same fashion, you must tune your content marketing strategy before you start to fill up your editorial calendar with social media content, blog posts, emails, and all that jazz.

So first and foremost, you need to answer the following question for yourself and your team; what is content marketing strategy?

Content Marketing Strategy Defined

Content marketing strategy is simply determining why and how you will attract a target audience to an owned channel through content. Owned means YOU own it. Not Facebook, Twitter, or a third-party blog. That is rented land that could be pulled out from under you at any moment. The end game is getting people to your turf, your media domain. Likewise, marketing is the core component. Simply creating content and shipping it into the universe is not a strategy. You need a plan for how your content will engage your audience over time in their preferred channel. This requires:

  • Having a keen understanding of your target audience(s)
  • Developing a plan for how your audience-centric content will satisfy and engage this audience
  • Creating content regularly in your audience’s preferred channel, and using their preferred content type

Here’s how Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing strategy:

“It deals specifically with content marketing, and determines what content will build the customer base by helping people make decisions or solve problems at various points in their experience with the brand.”

How To Select The Right Tools for Content Marketing Strategy

Even some of the best content marketing strategies end up getting buried on someone’s hard drive, lost in endless process meetings, or killed by councils of decision makers. But selecting the right software will help keep your strategy top-of-mind and your team aligned, so this doesn’t happen to you. The right software can breath much needed life into a strategy, which could save your content from defeat.

While the vast majority of content professionals start building a content marketing stack with publishing, amplification, analytics, or paid media tools, the best and the brightest start with strategy. Without a sound strategy, even the best AdWords or paid Facebook campaign won’t save ineffective content from getting completely ignored by an audience.

Here’s how to prioritize features and functionality to support your content marketing strategy:

1. Starting with your audience

When evaluating any tool, think about whether it accounts for any sort of audience segmentation and intelligence. Is there somewhere to input, categorize or tag personas? Does it offer any intuitive filtering or reporting capabilities that would help your team stay aligned with your strategic goals for certain audiences?

Example: We should be producing X number of content pieces per month for audience A. How did we do last month?

Tools that support strategic content development should be audience-centric in as many ways as possible.

2. Building process around channels

Especially as content programs become complex, strategy tools should help your team categorize and use various channels. Was the tool you are evaluating built with emerging channels in mind? Is it nimble enough to accommodate new channel strategies as they evolve? If you are going to spend money on software, it should evolve with you while helping you simplify your channel strategy and execution process.

3. Keeping your team focused on the mission

After developing your content marketing strategy, the tool you select should keep your team versed in how that strategy drives content production. Does your software provide an easy means of logging your strategy and associated materials? Is there a way for team members to access it easily when developing new content ideas? What about updating your strategy as it evolves? When evaluating any tool, keep in mind that the best content marketing software should not only be informed by strategy, but should also keep your team focused on the bigger mission, as described in your content marketing strategy.

After Tuning Up with Strategy, It’s Time to Set the Stage With Planning

After tuning up your content marketing strategy, you’re ready for the nitty gritty planning process. This part is like setting up the stage; getting instruments, gear, and players in the right place so you can rock a crowd’s socks off. Keep in mind that you may find tools to satisfy both your content marketing strategy and planning purposes. But first, what are the necessary steps in planning a successful content initiative? Here’s how you can get started.

Content Planning Process Defined

Content planning is by no means a plug-and-play exercise. Each company will have nuances, practices, and customer preferences that differ. But before you select your tools for content planning, it’s important that you also understand the most important elements in the planning process.  We published an eBook not long ago with a step-by-step process for content planning. This soup-to-nuts approach includes:

  • Defining the core mission of your content initiative
  • Identifying a focused target audience
  • Sustaining an ongoing content marketing initiative (how to not run out of ideas)
  • Strategies for content distribution and promotion
  • Measuring your team and content performance

Nailing down a planning process won’t happen overnight. But again, software can help expedite the process by simplifying many aspects of what would otherwise be manual efforts.

How To Select The Right Tools for Content Planning

Often times, the terms “content planning” and “editorial calendar” are used interchangeably. But, there’s much more to content planning that simply filling a calendar up with content pieces. While the editorial and content calendar can certainly act as the backbone of your marketing, selecting a planning tool that goes beyond basic features can truly put you ahead of the curve.

Here are a few steps for evaluating your content planning software options.

1. Simplifying the editorial process

No matter the software you choose, your content planning tool must simplify the editorial process. Does it make capturing ideas, scheduling deadlines and planning future campaigns more efficient? Does it bring team members together around shared content goals? Does it have user functionality that allows team members to submit, approve, or reject content? Select a tool that makes the most crucial aspects of your editorial process simpler.

2. Keeping a team efficient

The companies who are most effective with content have one big thing in common; they’ve committed to a single hub to manage their content process. So ask yourself, does the software provide users with different roles that reflect their real-world responsibilities? Does the tool encourage transparent communication between various teams? Can your software of choice help process owners keep everyone moving in the same direction? Strong content teams have a variety of talents including creative, organized, and visionary professionals. Be sure your choice supports healthy communication across groups.

3. Syncing up with other systems

Finally, a key step in selecting a content planning software is finding out whether it syncs with other tools you use. Does your analytics program need to be directly linked up with your planning software? Do you need to connect any file storage or asset management platforms? Does your organization have legacy software that they require be tied to a new tool? Understanding the relationship between all of your tools will help you avoid bottlenecks, and create workarounds where necessary. Identify ahead of time exactly how your tools will work together, or they might not work at all.

Building a just-right content marketing stack might take you weeks, possibly months depending on your content scope, operational complexity and budget available at your organization. Keep in mind, your content marketing won’t rock unless you take the time to sort through strategy and planning. While tools can help you expedite this process, gaining adoption for a toolset among your talent will also be key.

Next week

We’ll be digging into how to select content creation and content optimization tools. Subscribe to the blog to hear from us right when it publishes!