Content marketing planning is a critical part of any content strategy. Whether you are starting for the first time or revisiting your content strategy, it is vital to ensure it is up to date and engage your customers and future customers no matter when or how they intend to buy.
Consider the competition you are up against:
- 84% of companies, according to SEMrush, have content strategies in place.
- 94% of marketers use social media for content distribution.
To get stand out from all the noise, be seen, heard, and engage your audience, you need to engage in content marketing planning
Whether you have trouble planning for the year ahead or need some ideas to include in your plan, read on.
We’ll dive into what a content strategy is, why your business needs content marketing planning, and what steps you need to take.
- What is a content strategy?
- What should your content strategy include?
- 11 Steps for content marketing planning
- Step 1. Set Your Mission and Your Goals
- Step 2. Establish Your KPIs
- Step 3. Know your audience
- Step 4. Assess your current content marketing position
- Step 5. Figure out the best content channels
- Step 6. Decide on content types
- Step 7. Identify and allocate resources
- Step 8. Create content
- Step 10. Distribute and Market
- Step 11. Measure Results
- Frequently Asked Questions
What is a content strategy?
A content strategy is an ongoing process of acquiring a clearly defined audience and retaining customers through a consistent method of creating content experiences and distribution.
The Content Marketing Institute defines it this way:
Content marketing is the strategic marketing approach of creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience—to drive profitable customer action.
It is the piece of your marketing plan that builds brand awareness, drives leads, converts leads into customers, and builds thought leadership and industry authority.
Your content strategy needs to have a well-defined purpose that answers a few questions like:
- Who will be reading your content?
Your content can cater to the needs of more than one customer or prospect type. So it pays to be clear who your content intended for is? Which specific audience segments are you targeting?
Therefore, it pays to know each of your audience segments and understand their lifestyle, psychographic profiles, concerns, challenges, and needs.
It is important to remember that having ideal customer profiles is essential.
However, your audience will likely have people at different stages of the buying process and many people who interact with your brand in some way long before they make a purchase decision.
A useful framework in helping you understand your audience is an empathy map. (See Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur)
Additional resource – How to develop a powerful strategy for marketing a product
The approach requires you to almost climb into your customers’ minds to view experiences from their point of view (see, feel, hear, touch, and think) and thereby allow you to improve those experiences for the better.
Here is an example from the Nielsen Norman group for buying a TV
The empathy map is a comprehensive approach that adopts your customers’ perspective or point of view to allow you to improve their experience based on what they think, feel, see or hear.
Great marketers have immense empathy for their audience. They can put themselves in their shoes, live their lives, feel what they feel, go where they go, and respond how they’d respond. That empathy comes out in content that resonates with your audience.– Rand Fishkin
A framework that I often prescribe to help understand your customers better is the “Jobs to Be Done” framework. It allows you to find the reason they use your product. Through this framework, you are trying to identify the jobs your customer faces and the problems they are trying to solve personally and or professionally.
A simplified version of this framework would be to complete the following sentence from the perspective of your future customer by filling in the parts in brackets –
When I (problem), that why I want (solution), so I can (result or outcome).
- Problem – the issue that your future customer is grappling with
- Solution – the solution that you offer
- Result or outcome – the result or outcome that your future customer wishes to achieve
So for example you could have a sentence like – When I create a social media campaign, I spend too much time in each social media platforms account and communicating with franchise owners; that’s why I need a tool to manage multi-location franchise social media campaigns. So, I can spend more time improving our marketing and reporting.
In this example, the future customers are trying to be more efficient and look good by investing in reporting and improved marketing campaigns. That is what they are buying, not the solution in itself.
In other words, once you understand their problem and the result they need, you can create content to move them from buying to brand advocates.
Remember that using various content formats and channels will help get the content to every type of future customer and customer.
- What problem will you be solving for your audience(s)?
The vast majority of your content should be geared toward helping your customers and or future customers solve a specific problem they have. The content should show how these problems can be solved and, where appropriate, reinforce the solution that you offer and make your customers better users of your product or service.
- What makes you unique?
Future customers or even customers often ask why they should buy from you as opposed to your competitors. This is where your content can answer those questions and prove to them why you are better or at least different.
For example, Salesflare (a CRM product) has a webpage that offers a few comparisons with a few of its competitors.
- What content formats will you focus on?
Your content doesn’t have to be focused around one content format alone. A variety of formats can be used, like infographics, videos, podcasts, etc. Once you have identified the topics and the format you will use, you will need to budget for it and ensure you have access to resources to produce it.
- What channels will you publish on?
Content can take different formats and be shared on different channels. Options available range from owned to earned and social media channels depending on which channels your audience most prefer.
Perhaps most importantly, it is also important to decide what content management system you will use to manage and house your content. This decision has management, development, and design implications, which also need to be factored in. In other words, will this be managed in-house or outsourced?
- How will you manage content creation and publication?
As with most projects, there is the need to manage the overall strategy, production, and distribution of content. Instead of just producing one-off content pieces around several different topics, we advocate for arranging content around topic clusters and using the Lift-off strategy.
The content strategy can be managed on a day-to-day basis with an editorial calendar or content calendar.
This helps to visualize the messaging and pieces of content being produced to establish your brand as an authority in your market over time.
What should your content strategy include?
There is no one prescribed formula or template that a business should follow In developing their content strategy. A better way to approach it would be to think of it as an outline of your business objectives, customer needs, and a plan of how you will use content to fulfill those.
Having said that, there are five components that they usually include. These are:
- Business case – This is where you make a case for effective content marketing, the risks involved, your vision of what content marketing success will look like. This is important to get executive buy-in for the process and get your content team on board.
- Business plan – Your plan will cover your content marketing goals, the unique value that it will provide, and details of the business model you will be following. It will also outline opportunities and challenges you are likely to encounter as you execute your plan.
- Customer personas and content maps – Here, you describe the kinds of target audiences you are aiming to reach via your content, their needs, and a map of content that can be delivered at every stage of the buying journey and beyond.
- Narratives – This section outlines the ideas and messages you want to communicate that help your audiences understand what you do, why you do, how you do it, and who you are. These are more than just an origin story or brand story; they help you stand apart from the competition and
- Channel plan – This is where you include the platforms and channels you will use to publish your content, criteria, processes, and objectives for each one to create a cohesive brand experience.
11 Steps for content marketing planning
Step 1. Set Your Mission and Your Goals
A good place to start your planning is with your content marketing goals and mission.
The mission statement is essentially a brief statement that makes it easier to focus on what is essential for the business and what’s not to keep your content marketing on track. It includes information on:
- Your future customers
- The content experience
- The benefits they’ll obtain
Here is an example from a company I worked with, WP Curve (now part of Godaddy)
Here’s an another example from CIO.com’s about page.
Another example is that of Business Class by American Express
Tip: – To create your own content marketing mission statement a mission you could use this formula:
We provide [target audience] with [type of content] to help them [business goals].
For Sproutworth, it is – We show entrepreneurs, sales, and marketing executives in technology companies how to create predictable business growth by outsmarting the competition with empathy, not outspending them.
Now that you have covered what benefits your audience will get from your strategy, you need to think about what your business will get from it, and that is where it helps to look at business objectives and goals.
These could include one or more of the following:
- Increasing quality leads
- Driving revenue growth as a result of new sales
- Driving increased qualified traffic to your site or specific landing pages.
- Increasing brand awareness
- Building authority and or thought leadership
- SEO success
- Reducing marketing costs as your content marketing becomes more effective
- Increased social media engagement
While you may be familiar with the SMART goal framework in an ever-changing world, a better goal framework would be CLEAR, which would help you be more agile.
CLEAR stands for
- Collaborative: Set goals that encourage teamwork and collaboration.
- Limited: Set goals that are limited in scope and duration.
- Emotional: Set goals that make an emotional connection with your team thereby, tapping into their energy and passion.
- Appreciable: Break large goals into smaller micro-objectives so they can be understood and accomplished more easily and quickly.
- Refinable: Set goals with objectives in mind, but can be modified according to circumstances and needs.
This takes us to the next step, setting KPI’s
Step 2. Establish Your KPIs
The CLEAR framework will help you set your KPI’s or set OKR’s to make the goals of your content marketing program more flexible.
With OKR’s you can:
- Pick 3-5 objectives (any more would dilute or overstretch your efforts).
- Determine 3 results per objective
- Set each result as a challenge.
- Use a progress indicator scale of 0 to 100%. (The sweet spot is generally 60-70%, otherwise, chances are that there are issues that need to be addressed).
- Make the journey collaborative and transparent.
- Assess OKR’s according to new circumstances.
- Adjust to circumstances that include goals becoming irrelevant.
The advantage of this approach is that you can set ambitious results but you are also setting a minimum benchmark for reaching that goal. You can also assign progress indicators for your team to see how attainable each goal is and understand what needs to be done to accomplish a goal.
How to set up Objectives and Key Results
Unlike KPIs which can only be updated every quarter, objectives in OKRs can be updated at any time if and when circumstances change. In other words, goals that are no longer relevant can be removed saving your team time and resources. The video below shows you how to set good OKRs.
Step 3. Know your audience
You must not only create content and build an audience but also employ strategies to overcome user passivity and systematically find individuals predisposed to love and share the content you’re creating. This is perhaps the most overlooked imperative in digital marketing today.– Mark Schaeffer
In developing your content strategy, you would have addressed this step. Still, it helps to ensure that you continually have your finger on the pulse of your customers’ needs and the environments they operate in.
Your sales, success or support teams, podcasts, interviews, conferences, one on one chats, etc., can help inform you.
Step 4. Assess your current content marketing position
The chances are that if you have been in business for a while, you may have content on your website or on other channels.
Note – If you are just starting, you can skip this step
You need to figure out whether your existing content is helping to meet your business objectives and goals.
To this end, it would be worth running a content audit.
What does that entail?
- Listing all your content irrespective of format
- Assessing their performance and usefulness
- Comparing your content with that of your competitors to see how you can stand out
- Identifying content gaps that need to be filled
A few tools can help with this, including:
Here’s how you can do it with SEMrush –
Step 5. Figure out the best content channels
As you work through the process, you also get a sense of where your audience tends to hang out or go in the online space. You should, of course, focus on where your online presence is working successfully and then expand from there. Trying to achieve multiple objectives at once will fail.
You can verify this from your Google Analytics by going to Acquisition > Social > Overview.
Alternatively, you can use a tool like Buzzsumo or Social Animal to view top shares by channel, content type, content length, etc.
The data obtained from the above exercises will inform your decisions about the best content channels to focus on.
Step 6. Decide on content types
Most successful content marketing strategies rely on having key content pieces published on the brand’s site, which can then be repurposed and shared on other sites.
Blog posts still hold value and can deliver strong results, so ideally, you’ll want to make them actionable, educational, and sharable.
Brainstorm content ideas
A few tools could help you come up with content ideas, including:
- Social Animal
- Impact blog title generator from BlogAbout
- SEOpressor blog title generator
- CoSchedule’s headline analyzer
- Thrive headline optimizer
Step 7. Identify and allocate resources
Now we know what types of content we want to create, who it’s intended for, and where you will distribute it. It is now vital to ensure you have all you need to deliver on your content marketing planning. Allocating resources appropriately, determining which workflows take longer than expected, and adjusting your expectations are all essential activities as well.
To do this, you need to:
Find Relevant Topics
An essential activity is uncovering topics that will get your audience’s interest as they progress through the customer journey.
Tools like Buzzsumo, Social Animal, AlsoAsked, and AnswerThePublic can help uncover topics and a content gap analysis via tools like Ahrefs and SEMrush.
Planning critical actions or essential tasks, or things that can be easily tested should take priority. Prioritizing protects your strategy from going off the rails and helps with finding opportunities to boost your results
Use an editorial calendar to manage the content marketing planning and development process
Once you have the topics and appropriate content format, you can place them on the content calendar or editorial calendar to track content creation and your content distribution strategy.
Tools like CoSchedule, Trello, ClickUp, Asana, and SEMrush can help, as can an AirTable or Google sheet.
These allow you to communicate with in-house team members, external parties, monitor progress as you produce, publish, distribute and analyze content performance.
Step 8. Create content
Just a reminder that before you start creating content that each piece of content has a purpose that relates to addressing a part of the customer journey before purchase or after purchase. Your content should support people at every stage of their journey and help to foster a long-term relationship between them and your brand.
A breakdown of a customer’s journey can be visualized like in the image below:
The key stages that are common in most buyer journeys or customer journeys are as follows:
Awareness – At this stage, content usually centers around questions that your future customers have as they become aware of the problem or need that you help solve. It could also take the form of brand stories, customer stores that educate and inform your desired future customers
Consideration – As future customers consider the problem and how best to solve it, they naturally want more information or education. This where you have the opportunity to assist and guide by showing how it can be done. Showing how others have successfully managed to deal with the same or similar issues can also help your future customers. In other words, think – a step by step sequence leading to the next stage.
Decision – At this stage, the content should help your future customers determine if your solution is the best choice for them. Content can take the form of case studies, customer stories, customer reviews, etc.
Retention – Once your prospects have become customers, they will have questions and new issues to deal with and will wonder if you are still the best choice for them. Content at this stage should help remind them how they get value through the use of your solution and preemptively address questions that they are likely to ask or issues they’ll encounter in their business.
Advocacy – Content pieces at this stage highlight the parts of your brand that move customers towards becoming evangelists for your brand. Content could focus on your brand values, outstanding staff, thought leadership, customer stories, giving back to the community, etc.
Use a content mix
Include a mix of content formats in your planning to appeal to most if not all of your targeted future customers.
There are 8 popular types of content companies tend to include in their content planning. They are:
Blog posts are a long-time popular form of content that can be published on a regular basis to attract new visitors.
Content creators who invest in blog posts say that it still works (for most of them).
According to the same study:
a small percentage of bloggers who do things differently, who do more, and are far more likely to report success. Things they do include:
– Write 2000+ word posts
– Add 7+ visuals per post
– Write 7+ draft headlines per post
– Work with multiple editors
– Collaborate with influencers for most articles
Podcasts are a great way to foster engagement with your audience. This works especially well if you are looking to showcase your expertise, build authority, thought leadership or engage with prospects in an organic manner.
The number of podcast listeners is increasing as the following statistics indicate:
- 75% of the US population is familiar with the term “podcasting”
- 55% (155 million) of the US population has listened to a podcast
- 37% (104 million) listened to a podcast in the last month
Videos are another engaging content format that tends to capture people’s attention more than any other format. While they may take more time and resources to produce they are shareable across social media platforms as well.
Consider the following:
- Users view more than 1 billion hours of video each day on YouTube.
- YouTube is the second most popular website after Google.
- People are 1.5 times more likely to watch video on their mobile phones.
Social media posts
Posting content on social media to increase your reach is a common tactic in every content marketing strategy. Let’s face it there are a number of social media platforms available and people do spend time on these platforms to engage with others based on interests and social connections.
According to HubSpot’s State of Marketing Report 2020, 13% of marketers say case studies are one of the primary forms of media used within their content strategy.
It is not hard to see why.
Case-studies provide an opportunity to tell future customers how you succeeded in solving a customer’s problem by using your solution. It can take many forms which include others we have covered in this article.
The aim here is to show people who are considering your product that you have a proven track record in solving specific problems for specific industries or types of customers and the value you have provided.
If there is a lot of data points that you need to convey to your audience then infographics can help. Why?
Because they help visualize data in a compelling format than text based content alone.
Infographics are the fourth most used type of content marketing.
According to research –
Templates also help generate leads b providing value to your audience. When you provide your audience with tools like templates to save time and succeed, they’re more likely to keep engaging with your content.
HubSpot offers quite a few templates for this very reason.
My experience in creating and providing templates for SaaS companies certainly supports that notion as well.
These types of content are used quite often for lead generation purposes. Customers or prospects are invited to download the ebook via a call to action after entering their details into a webform.
The idea here is to capture the information of prospects interested in your solution in order to nurture them and potentially close a sale.
Have limited resources for content creation? Use the following to increase your productivity.
Create SEO-Friendly Content
According to research by BrightEdge, organic search provides 53.3% of all website traffic.
The statistic above is why search engine optimization (SEO) is essential for creating any piece of content. Tools like MarketMuse or Surfer can help optimize your content from an SEO perspective.
Repurpose Your Content
Having published a piece of content, you can repurpose it to extend your reach and increase the lifetime value of what you have published. A few ideas to repurpose original content pieces are:
- Create an infographic
- Create a presentation or slideshow
- Segment it into bite-sized pieces to publish as a series (works if the original piece is quite lengthy)
- Create a series of graphics to be shared on social media
- Create an audio version and or a video version of the content
Encourage customers to share their perspective
User-generated content and influencer marketing-related content can powerful types of content. Why?
Because they help get the word out about your brand and grow your audience.
Encouraging customers to leave reviews, videos, photos, or even posts will add social proof and credibility to your claims. It also has the added benefit of saving on resources that would have otherwise been spent on creating new content from scratch.
Step 10. Distribute and Market
If your website was a city, there would be a highway of visitors flowing through it. But if you don’t know where that highway is, you don’t know how to guide traffic. You don’t know where to put the billboards.– Andy Crestodina
Key parts of any content marketing planning process should include owned media, earned media, and paid media. These are also essential to distribute your social media content and other pieces as well.
The figure below illustrates how owned, earned, and paid media can be used to work together:
Create an Integrated Omnichannel Experience
An omnichannel experience through your content marketing efforts is the best way to convey a consistent message and keep your brand at the forefront of your future customer’s minds.
To do this, you need to:
Identify the Most Relevant Channels
To maximize your investment, you need to apply resources to channels that your audience favors. Your social media analytics and website analytics can help determine which channels are worth investing in.
Research like the following can also help point you in the right direction, especially if you are starting or weighing whether to invest in a new channel or not.
Automate Social Media Posting
To have your social media channels extend your brand messaging and drive engagement, you need to integrate your content marketing with each channel. The process can seem like a time-consuming affair but doesn’t have to be. Tools like Buffer, Agorapulse, or even SocialBee can easily automate social media posting to multiple networks saving resources and optimizing publishing times. They also provide engagement statistics to help further refine your strategy.
Step 11. Measure Results
Analyzing your content’s performance is the best way to understand how well your content marketing planning and strategy is performing over time.
In analyzing your content, you’ll want to monitor engagement with the content and brand and how it drives future customers further into their buying journey.
Key areas to examine at and possible metrics to gauge performance are as follows:
• User behavior: Metrics like unique visitors, pages per session, bounce rate.
• Engagement: Metrics like shares, comments, likes, mentions.
• SEO results: Metrics like organic traffic, dwell time, backlinks.
• Company revenue: Metrics like the number of leads, existing leads affected, conversion rate.
One home run per quarter strategy
If you have business goals like:
- Developing brand awareness
- Driving traffic to your website
- Generating sales leads
- Converting leads into customers
- and improving customer retention
Then not only do you need content, but you also want to invest in a strategy that Doug Kessler talks about – one home run strategy per quarter
This strategy entails producing a piece of content that is relevant to your audience and that they want. This content earns your audience’s attention and respect, improves other content’s performance, and frees you from being dependent on the search engines.
You can gate these pieces of content to get in touch with future customers.
CMI does this with their annual state of content marketing research reports
Jason Miller did this with an ebook titled – The Sophisticated Marketers Guide to LinkedIn
To download the ebook, potential readers had to provide a lot of information that was used to qualify them as leads.
Please note that the ebook has been shared over 3,000 times and downloaded many more before you think it wouldn’t work. You need to do what is right for your audience.
Investment in such content can be quite substantial. Still, Drew McLellan from the Agency Management Institute says you can repurpose such content in many different ways and fill out your content calendar.
The home run content piece is a lot like cooking up a large beef brisket in the slow cooker. You have beef for a meal, but then you can use the leftovers in sandwiches, hash, and several other dishes as well. Translating this into content, you could create 10-30 smaller pieces, including content for webinars, blog posts, podcast interviews, graphics, etc.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I need to share the content strategy plan with other teams/departments in my company?
A good question to ask is – How can you gain support or buy-in from all organization levels? To answer the question, consider framing what you are doing through the lens of what they care about the most.
Giving everyone in your business access to your content marketing strategy will benefit everyone to understand what the aim is. It also enables them to reduce duplication and help out when appropriate, especially if you rely on internal and external subject matter experts or outsource certain parts of the strategy.
How you communicate will depend on you, the organization, and its culture. For example, busy executives are likely to want a summary with relevant details instead of the full document.
How often should I undertake content marketing planning?
As your content marketing activity and efforts grow and evolve, your mission and values should remain the same and are critical anchor points for the program. Other parts of your content strategy will benefit from reviews and updates annually, if not more frequently.