Over the last decade, you have probably played a big role in transitioning one or multiple organizations from traditional marketing to our new content-centric, digital marketing world. From my experience, very few of these transitions have been easy. Roles have to change. New people often have to be hired. And we often have to define content planning, as many marketers still think of it interchangeably with content strategy.
As Robert Rose, Lead Strategist for the Content Marketing Institute, puts it, using content to engage potential customers is “a new muscle” and new internal processes have to be built that support a more publisher-like structure. More on this from Robert here (video).
Regular Content Planning Is a Big Chunk of That New Muscle
As companies start making this transition, I commonly hear such concerns as, “Brody, I just don’t think we’re going to be able to come up with enough interesting or valuable content on a regular basis.”
Well, after an in-depth content strategy effort that digs in deep to the needs, pain and buying/selling cycles of your buyers and your organization, this concern is often met with clear direction and a focus on your ideal content path. You have your roadmap. Now you just need to follow it and make sure you keep enough fuel (content) in the tank to get you to your destination. The best way to do this is with regular, strategic content planning.
Now picture this.
Your content team sits down around your conference table. Each team member has a blank notepad and pen ready to go. You kick things off… “So…Does anyone have any good content ideas?”
This scenario is probably a little extreme, but perhaps you’ve been there. You need something to warm up the room. You need something to get the creative juices flowing.
Here’s a tip… Create an agenda that not only helps facilitate brainstorming, but also helps team members prepare for each content planning meeting.
Instead of your team sitting down with blank notepads, help your team understand the components of your agenda and set the expectation that they need to bring ideas to the table.
Let’s think about this in a newspaper context. You are the managing editor and every day you sit down with your team of section editors and reporters. Everyone knows their “beat” and they come ready to pitch their story ideas every day. What’s stopping you from executing this type of editorial planning effort? Maybe you just need a step-by-step. Here it is.
Step 1: Create Your Agenda
Here are several categories of conversation starters that really get the ball rolling…
- Recent customer stories or questions – At last year’s Content Marketing Retreat, I listened to Rod Brooks, CMO of Pemco Insurance, share some great advice regarding how his team has created and leveraged remarkable content to become the top insurance company in Washington (video here, well worth the 30 minutes). Rod has helped Pemco transform their internal culture to be great listeners and allow their customers to become the content. It really hit home when he mentioned that at every marketing team meeting, they start the meeting by someone telling a great story that they heard from a recent customer conversation. Simple, yet powerful. If your team is expected to bring a customer story or question to the table, good listening habits start to form. And with fresh stories and questions on the table, discuss how to turn them into good content!
- Data Review – Hits & misses from the previous month, quarter or campaign – The data geek in me loves this one. When working with agency clients, we would sit down once per month and walk through our analytics dashboards to identify what worked and what didn’t from the previous month’s content marketing and social engagement efforts. We would also look at the effectiveness of the previous year’s campaigns to guide editorial decisions for upcoming campaigns/events/promotions. The key question…How can we improve our content (quality, packaging, etc.) to get more views, clicks, likes, shares, comments and most importantly…conversions?
- Buyer Profiles/Personas – What new content can we create for each persona? – Occasionally, it’s a good idea to review the personas you’ve developed with your team and focus your brainstorming on the world in which your buyers live. Have you addressed all their needs or pain points? Have you acknowledged your buyers’ skepticisms and created content that builds confidence in your solution? Have you identified each of their “trigger events” (physical events in their world that trigger a search for a solution related to your offerings) and created content that introduces/teases your solution? Has your product/service offering changed recently and it now solves new problems? Is your content too heavily weighted towards one particular persona? Should you beef up your content offering on other buyer segments that have been under-served?
- Buying Cycles – What new content can we create that addresses each persona’s buying cycle/stages? – Along the same lines as the previous point, each type of buyer probably has a unique buying cycle. As part of your content strategy effort, you should be defining the buying stages for each influencer and decision maker that may play a role in moving your solution through their buying process. Basic buying cycles consist of several stages, including: awareness of the problem, research/discovery of possible solutions, validation of best options, and final purchase decision. Smart marketers break down these stages for each buyer target and determine ways in which specific content assets, delivered at the right time, can push buyers through to the next stage. For more on this, Digital Body Language by Steven Woods (co-founder of Eloqua) is a must-read.
- Review Your Ideal Content Categories/Themes – When you’ve completed a thorough content strategy process, you likely have a clear understanding of the specific categories, sub-categories or content themes that will both meet your buyers’ needs and help you achieve your organization’s goals and objectives. Review your list of categories/themes regularly and set the expectation that your team needs to continually try to add new content ideas to each bucket.
- The Latest Industry Buzz – What’s trending? – In the past, I’ve written about the importance of having a Chief Listening Officer that acts as the air traffic controller for your company. Whether it’s this person, or your entire team keeping their ears to the ground, content teams need to stay on top of what’s trending inside and outside of your industry. Identify the topics and think about ways in which you can introduce something valuable or insightful into the conversation. DO NOT just butt in and try to sell something. Now flip the coin. Are there any general trending topics/events around the world that you can tie into your content? Are there any “newsjacking” opportunities staring you in the face? If/when opportunities like this arise, do not wait until your next planning meeting. Call an emergency meeting and get moving!
- Seasonal Opportunities – In the B2C world, seasonality drives a good portion of marketing. In the B2B world, each industry is unique and it’s important to identify seasonal trends and buying patterns that may play a big role in the timing of your content marketing efforts. In your planning meetings, your team needs to be aware of that schedule and be proactive in your content/campaign planning. Any sales person will tell you that timing is everything. With Google playing a big role in everyone’s research toolkit, your content needs to be a few steps ahead.
- Competitor Content Analysis – Gotta give credit to Allison Mortland, fellow Content Strategy group member, for this great tip. Which topics are your competitors covering with their content? Do you have more to offer on those topics? Is there an opportunity to take something good of theirs and package it better? What are they not covering that leaves a door open for you?
Step 2: Delegation, Expectations & Accountability
When you’ve nailed down your ideal agenda, think about how best to divvy (BAM!) the prep work among your team members. Does your org chart lend itself to having each department head, product manager or SME cover his/her own beat? Who are the most likely, customer-facing team members that can bring good customer stories and questions to the table? Who is responsible for collecting/analyzing your content effectiveness data and preparing actionable insights? What interesting nuggets should your chief listening officer have ready to present? (All this should provide a full Parking Lot…;o)
Be very clear regarding who should be thinking about/covering what. Then based on your editorial schedule and frequencies, determine how many ideas need to be flushed out by the end of your meeting. Now, this is just one approach. It will probably take some trial and error to figure out the best approach for you and your team. The key is good communication, clear expectations and ACCOUNTABILITY.
Step 3: Nail Down Your Meeting Schedule & Stick to It
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen organizations start strong with a new content planning routine, but they can’t sustain it. This comes back to the publishing mentality and structures that need to be implemented within organizations. Larger companies are going to do better at this since they can hire staff whose sole responsibility is to feed the content beast. For smaller companies, each team member needs to truly grasp the importance and value of content as a long-term asset for the organization.
Andrew Charlesworth, another one of my fellow Content Strategy group members, recently stated in a post, “It’s a difficult path to take when the finance or marketing director wants to see short-term monetary ROI from content. But there are some enlightened companies who want to associate themselves with good content and are prepared to invest in the long-term benefits. They believe in good content.”
Well said Andrew. Get a good team in place. Get on a regular content planning schedule with an agenda that inspires your team. Quality and sustainability wins.
Plan. Divvy. Conquer.
Feature Image: Mad Men