What does your team need to know in order to create and distribute great content?
Once we have the business objective and audience nailed down, it’s time to produce content that serves both your audience and your organization.
It is worth documenting your plan before diving into shooting videos, writing blogs, making a splash on social media, or holding the best virtual event ever. Before producing and distributing content, it’s time to get down to work planning the content to ensure it will connect your audience and your organization.
In this chapter, we’ll break down content plans into four components:
Through the next sections, we’ll step through how content topics, content campaigns, and content briefs are combined to form an effective content calendar. An editorial content calendar is the ultimate embodiment of a content plan. The content calendar provides a way to communicate the details for how your content will be produced and distributed.
The purpose of most marketing content is to provide value to your target audience outside of the commercial relationship they may or may not (yet) be paying for. This additional value helps your audience solve their problems, gain trust in your brand, and increase engagement with your company and your community. However, before your content does any of these things it needs to be noticed by your audience.
Content needs to be relevant, discoverable, and valuable in order to break through the noise of competing messages. The first step to being relevant, discoverable, and valuable is to establish a small number of ‘pillar’ topics you know are relevant to your audience. Then, build additional supporting content around those primary topics especially when it comes to website content. Here is a great article from the Content Marketing Institute that illustrates the process from identifying a key topic and then building out content to support that topic. Your content will be more relevant and discoverable when you build it in this way.
Inspiration for content topics comes from two sources. First, what you learn about your audience and their needs. Second, your organization’s unique value proposition and brand values.
As you build content to support your content pillars, you’ll want to include topics that help your audience at each stage of their journey. You can brainstorm ideas for journey stage content by filling in the blank: “At this stage content should help my audience _<insert audience goal at this journey stage>_.” Your content is more likely to deliver value to your audience when it is created to solve a specific audience challenge.
As we discussed in Chapter 3, content should be built to support an overarching business objective such as sales, revenue, sign-ups, visitors, or donations. One way to break down that overall organization goal into smaller pieces is to group related pieces of content or a specific concentrated marketing effort into a content campaign.
A content campaign is a series of pieces of content that share a common theme. Campaigns may be evergreen and ongoing like your blog or they can be contextual and time sensitive like an event or sales promotion. They may be broadly targeted to your entire audience or designed for a specific persona. A content campaign should have its own measurable goal that is in support of the overall business objective.
Eventually, you will develop content that helps your audience at each journey stage even if some campaigns are focused narrowly on a particular journey stage. Which is the most important journey stage to tackle first? Think back to the business objective you created in Chapter 3 and the audience you identified in Chapter 4. Where is your audience getting stuck? Where would an improvement in audience engagement make the biggest difference in achieving your overall goal?
If you don’t have a large volume of content already, the most likely area of opportunity is content for the decision, or conversion, stage of the customer journey. Once the audience’s needs are being met at this stage, extending content upstream to the consideration and awareness stages or downstream to the retention and advocacy stages will enhance the value you provide to your audience and deliver better business results.
The content brief is an outline for a particular piece of content you will create.
At a minimum the content brief should describe the following:
These details will ensure that your content is tied to your content strategy. They will also make life easier for yourself or whoever will take the next step in building and sharing the content.
Here is an example of how the details from the list above might be summarized into a narrative brief:
We will engage with [persona] during the [journey stage] of the customer journey in order to [content objective] as part of the [content campaign name] by launching content [content format, e.g., video] that our audience will find primarily through [primary distribution channel] and that will also be promoted using [promotion channels].
This content will help [persona] [customer goal from content, i.e., this content will help the customer…],and we expect that after viewing they will want to[call-to-action].
The content should address the following topic: [topic] and should include the keywords: [keywords].This content will further differentiate [our offering] from [competitor].
You need an editorial calendar to manage the creation and distribution of your content once you’ve assembled a set of briefs to support your content campaign.
The key date for each brief will be the date the content will go live to the world. You can plan other milestone dates by working backward from the publish date. Different organizations follow their own editorial process. A common editorial workflow may looking something like this:
Content briefs are the building blocks for the content calendar. At one level the calendar is simply a list of content to be published. Each brief is one entry in the calendar representing a piece of content. Don’t underestimate the value in alignment that comes when you communicate your plan to your team and others in your organization in a simple and consistent way.
The calendar built on detailed content briefs becomes an even more powerful communication tool when sorted and filtered. For example, the calendar can show content coverage by journey stage, by persona, topic, or channel.
Creating and maintaining a content calendar can seem daunting. A detailed calendar can represent dozens of individual decisions related to your content. Remember, it is the primary tool that enables you to put your content strategy into action. For more detail on getting to your first content calendar, we’ve broken down the process of creating a content calendar into 7 easy steps.
How do you make content planning decisions today as they relate to your content strategy?
If you aren’t at a 5, commit to bumping up 1-level with your current content strategy. Revisit your content plan and improve it. This will lead to great conversations, more internal alignment, and ultimately more successful content.
Now you are familiar with the decisions you’ll make when planning content. The next chapter (Learning From Your Content Performance) provides a framework for communicating, measuring, and improving your content strategy over time. We’ll take a closer look at the relationship between your ability to measure your content performance and your ability to communicate your strategy and improve it by exploring the fourth and final C in Content Strategy: Communication and Measurement.