Content Planning Challenges: Marketing Masters Weigh In

 In Content Planning, Tips & How-Tos

Everyone wants their content program to run like a well-oiled machine. But with channels diversifying, technology evolving, and consumers facing more options than ever, it’s getting harder for content marketers to get their content seen by their target audience.

In our recent survey of more than 100 top marketers, 64% said “developing a comprehensive content strategy” was one of the top obstacles standing in the way of successful content planning.

Our 2017 research report, Content Planning Challenges, Trends and Opportunities, details how this and other content marketing challenges stand in the way of creating strong content and organizing complex workflows.

Below, we highlight 4 of these top challenges as well as insights from top influencers on how to clear these daunting content hurdles.

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Challenge #1: We Don’t Have Enough Time to Sit Down and Plan Our Content

While many marketers know content planning is a great idea, few take the time to sit down and hash it out. Unfortunately, most marketers are too darned busy keeping up with current demands.

Take it from Ann Handley, an executive, author, and one of content marketing’s best-known experts:

“Slow the $@$% down. Go deep into purpose and identity and ground your marketing and content strategy in something substantive—so that our content programs can find a place within the context of what our customers care about. There is such a thing as a bad slow in marketing. But there is a critical need for a good slow, too.”

Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer, MarketingProfs

In other words, marketers shouldn’t be afraid to slow down, take a deep breath, and invest time into thoughtful discussion and planning. Slow can still be productive. Maybe dedicate time each month to focusing on a single buyer persona, or take each content channel one by one and audit how well each one aligns with the larger brand mission.

Meanwhile, content marketing guru Michael Brenner cautions against over-planning, arguing that the nitty-gritty details can be left to qualified content creators.

“Publishers don’t plan every piece of content. They commit to a publishing cadence per topic and then find a way to fill that schedule with the best ‘beat writers.’ The one thing marketers can do to improve their content planning is to stop planning each piece of content. The key to an effective editorial plan is committing to a publishing cadence. Build your content operations so that you can deliver on that cadence (1 post per day or 3 posts per week). This allows you to set an appointment with your audience and focus on the highest quality content but also on a regular schedule.”

– Michael Brenner, Founder, Marketing Insider Group

Brands will need to find the right balance between planned, topical content and news-derived content that is developed, created and published in real-time.

Challenge #2: We Don’t Know How to Focus Our Content Planning

If you were to ask 10 marketing leaders, “What is Content Planning?“, you’d likely get 10 different answers. Creating content isn’t a process restricted to a marketing team. Strong content incorporates voices from throughout the company, leveraging a wide range of perspectives to connect with the target audience. Maggie Schneider Huston, Senior Content Manager for UPS believes that this approach lets organizations leverage their internal assets for unique results.

“The best content plans embrace the creative tension of diverse perspectives. Combine the C-suite’s business directives with the content creators’ storytelling vision to create compelling stories that challenge conventional thinking.”

Maggie Schneider Huston, Senior Content Manager, UPS

Marketers should conduct outreach with other departments to find voices that can speak to different sides of what the company has to offer. Solicit IT professionals for a video series on digital transformation, or have someone from operations write a guest post on how the company is creating new efficiencies in its day-to-day activity.

The only caveat is to make sure this planning isn’t moving in too many directions at once. Content expert Joe Pulizzi says it’s better to take things one step at a time.

“Don’t get overly complicated with the solutions. This is as simple as doing the analysis, getting your team together and discussing.  Many times, branded content initiatives start with a singular audience focus but expand over time to multiple audiences. ”

Joe Pulizzi, Founder, Content Marketing Institute

As content planning gives rise to more diverse, thought-provoking content, marketers can lean on these successes and use them as incentive to attempt even more ambitious content initiatives.

Challenge #3: We Haven’t Defined the Goals of Our Content

Effective content requires a clear sense of purpose and straightforward goals. Different content and campaigns may have different objectives, but the purpose of each asset must be clearly understood before creation begins.

In his role overseeing content marketing activities for 3M, Carlos Abler has emphasized the importance of understanding the audience on both sides of content, and he views collaboration as the best strategy for outlining and addressing the goals for each side.

“Defining the needs and opportunities in the customer experience and serving cross-functional business needs is a complicated endeavor in a digitized multichannel marketplace. Customer-facing content has two sets of clients; the external audiences to whom it is targeted, and the internal audience whose objectives and goals must be served by the content. Collaboration ensures that both needs can be met to create a seamless customer experiences that optimize value realization for the whole stakeholder ecosystem.”

Carlos Abler, Leader – Content Marketing & Strategy, 3M

To effectively target these competing interests, the goals of any content campaign should be split between external and internal focuses. Sit down with the marketing team to understand the internal goal of content, and then switch gears and consider content from the consumer side: Is this responding to their needs and interests? It might be helpful to build separate lists of these respective goals, as well as the different KPIs that will measure the success in achieving these goals.

Marketers struggling to understand the goals might need to back up and reconsider the reason they are creating content in the first place. David Beebe, who earned industry-wide recognition for building a first-of-its-kind brand newsroom at Marriott, believes that too much content fails to meet its goals because it fails to understand what problem it is seeking to solve in the first place.

“First, you need to back up and start with the ‘Why.’ There’s a lot of talk around content marketing and how it’s an effective way for brand awareness, engagement, and driving revenue and sales. … So before you go into organizational structure, what’s the ‘Why’ for what you’re doing?”

David Beebe, Founder & CEO, Beebe Content & Co

Unclear goals often reflect a lack of planning and communication. When building out this content strategy and its goals, be sure to document this plan for reference in the future.

Challenge #4: We Don’t Know Which Metrics Should Be Our Top Priority

Before creating and publishing content, effective planning will identify key performance indicators to watch when gauging its success. But there are a lot of metrics out there, and some are way more valuable than others.

According to GE Digital’s Chris Moody, one content metric stands out among the rest for its ability to reflect content’s contributions to a lead pipeline and sales.

“The most important thing I track is the waterfall of leads. Clicks to landing pages to Form submits to Marketing Qualified Leads to Sales Qualified Leads to Opportunities to Deals.”

Chris Moody, Content Marketing Leader, GE Digital

Every brand’s best metrics will depend on the goals of the content, of course. Sales and revenue metrics won’t be as valuable to companies focused on building consumer trust or deepening the relationship with customers through an engaging digital experience. Use the goals outlined in previous planning and match them up with metrics that will reflect the content’s ability to meet expectations.

In her role as owner of NSMarketing, Sue Laurent emphasizes engagement and a metric that reflects the initial appeal of a piece of content as well as its potential to drive traffic and engagement weeks, months and even years into the future:

“Engagement is the most important KPI. When your engagement levels are high (shares, retweets, comments, likes, etc.), then your content will be shared across the web. Once something is online, it never goes away – so the engagement that you receive when you first post a piece will go on forever – if you have the right content.”

Sue Laurent, Owner, NSMarketing

The metrics aren’t set in stone—marketers can always switch to data points they feel are more informative and accurate—but tracking them over time is the best way to assess whether these content planning efforts are driving tangible change.

Use These Tips to Ignite Your Content Strategy

Content planning requires an investment of time and brainpower, but it’s a critical step for any organization eager to manage their content effectively while driving a strong ROI from their efforts.

Overcoming the challenges identified above is no cakewalk. But with a dedication to improving the content planning process, marketing teams can both improve the results of their marketing, and ensure the customer receives the content they desire. Don’t be afraid to take these lessons and use it to clear any hurdles that might stand in the way.

Check out our latest report for more insights into content planning effectiveness, and get moving this transformation along in your organization.

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