The first time I created a created a content marketing plan, there really wasn’t much of a plan at all. I had a calendar of sorts, and I tracked some basic traffic metrics from GA, but I had no clue who I was writing for or why I was writing beyond some vague notion of helping our audience become a little less digital marketing challenged.
Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about what’s important from a content creation standpoint and what pieces of information should be in a general plan. Here are the 7 steps I’d recommend for creating a content marketing plan that’s actually useful and doesn’t suck.
Step 1: Define Why You’re Creating Content
Sadly, a lot of companies seem to be creating content because that’s what other brands are doing. Unless you have your key business objectives defined up front, your content program isn’t going to drive the right kind of results because you won’t know why you’re creating content.
A few of the common objectives include:
- Branding: Giving your business a personality that your audience can relate to.
- Thought leadership: Providing a unique perspective or insight into industry topics your audience cares about.
- Lead Gen: Driving new prospects to provide their information in exchange for valuable content.
- Sales: Helping mid-to-late funnel prospects learn more about your unique value propositions and decide to choose your business’s solution over your competitors’.
Step 2: Identify Your Audience
If you’ve ever pitched an article, short story, or novel to an editor, you know that one of the first things they’ll ask you about is your intended audience. The same rule applies for marketing content—if you don’t know who your content is for, you’re going to have a hard time writing something that will be useful or interesting to them.
(Source: The Mentaliz)
There are two key pieces of research you can use to identify your audience:
- Personas: Review (or create) your buyer personas. What are the key concerns, goals, and characteristics of each persona? What value propositions will resonate with each segment?
- Search Trends: Look at what types of people are visiting your website. What keywords do they search for? What pages do they visit? Where are they geographically located? All of these details can help you hone in on who your readers are and what they care about.
Step 3: Outline What Types of Content You’re Creating
Once you have your goals and audience clearly defined, you need to scope out what kinds of content you’re going to create to achieve these goals. I’m not talking about a specific set of topics—I’m talking purely logistics, such as:
- Format: Will you create blogs, videos, listicles, quizzes, eBooks, microsites, case studies, whitepapers, infographics, or slide decks? Are they going to be static, interactive, or some combination of the two?
- Access: What types of content will be gated for lead gen, and what types will be open-access so anyone can read them?
- CTAs: What kinds of CTAs will you employ for each format? Where will these CTAs drive to?
Step 4: Create a High-Level Editorial Calendar
After you’ve defined your content formats, it’s time to put a 30,000 foot editorial calendar on paper. This will help you establish your publishing cadence, identify how you’re going to divvy up writing assignments between your team members, and make sure you have a good mix of content types.
You should also think about what kind of mix you want to have between evergreen content and content that’s seasonal or trend-related.
Step 5: Make Your Short List of Guest Writers
If you’re like most content marketing folks, you probably don’t have a full editorial staff to help with authoring and editing. Lining up some guest writers can help reduce some of your workload, but also give your content program additional voices and expertise you wouldn’t be able to get otherwise.
(Source: GIF Sec)
A few people you might be able to tap as potential guest writers include:
- Your executive team (especially your CMO!).
- Internal experts from sales, product, or support.
- External experts such as industry thought leaders, researchers, or analysts.
- Marketing folks from business partners.
Step 6: Think Through Your Distribution Plan
You can create the best content in the world, but if you don’t have a clear distribution plan to get your content in front of people, it will sadly flounder in the Purgatory of Languishing Pageviews.
(Source: Metro UK)
There are tons of channels you are use to distribute your content—which ones you use depend on your audience, industry, and bandwidth. Some of the most popular distribution methods include:
- Email (subscriber newsletters and prospect nurturing).
- Social media (Twitter, LinkedIn, and SlideShare are particularly useful).
- Forums (Reddit, Quora, LinkedIn Groups, and Google+ Communities).
- Affiliate partners.
Step 7: Set Some Preliminary Goals
All right, you’ve got concrete business objectives, ideas for content that will achieve those objectives, and a plan to execute and market the heck out of your work. The last thing you need is a set of guidelines to help you assess your progress.
(Source: The Smartest Cats in the Universe)
Content marketers often focus on pageviews and visitors as key metrics. While those are relevant, meatier metrics that will give you a more tangible measure of your impact on readers and your business include:
- Engagement stats like time spent, pages viewed, and bounce rate.
- New email subscribers.
- Leads generated (both MQLs and SQLs).
- Sales generated / deals won.
The Bottom Line
Your content marketing plan sets the tone for your entire program. Before you start diving into the fun, nitty-gritty work of authoring and designing, make sure you have a plan in place that doesn’t suck.