When It Comes to Content Marketing, If You Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail
Author’s note: Effective content marketing planning is one of the biggest issues many of our clients deal with. This post expands on Mike Sweeney’s very popular January 2012 post on planning: 12 Questions That Should Guide Your Content Marketing Plan.
We see plenty of companies that appear to have jumped into content marketing without a sound strategic plan in place. How can we tell? First of all, messaging is inconsistent and unclear. Key audience concerns aren’t addressed in a meaningful and original way. And the entire content mix of blogs, email newsletters, social media, and the rest has a random and haphazard look and feel. If marketers at these companies are more than disappointed in the results, it’s easy to see why. It doesn’t have to be this way.
If you’re new to content marketing, or if your efforts so far haven’t delivered what you’d hoped for, here are some ideas to help you create a content marketing plan that really works.
1. What are your goals?
Your big-picture goal may be to become an industry thought leader, but to get there you must reach a series of interim goals. As you develop your plan, ALWAYS tie specific numbers and timelines to some or all of the following goals:
- Engaged followers or fans on social networks
- Newsletter subscribers
- Leads captured from eBook or whitepaper downloads
- Webinar attendees
- Blog post subscribers
- Website visitors from inbound links
- Increase in organic search results
2. Who is the target audience?
Your business most likely has different types of prospects that you’re trying to reach with your content. Describe these people with as many attributes as possible: job titles, industries, education, income, gender, interests etc. And don’t forget about existing customers. They are your best prospects for ongoing business and referrals. Use the audience profile information! Is the content you’ve created meaningful and useful to each group? Appropriate language? Enough specific detail (or too much)? Call to action? Answering such questions can dramatically improve your chances of consistently delivering relevant and valuable information when it matters most.
3. What information does your audience need to influence their decisions?
When your business is the trusted resource, prospects will look to you for the information they need at every stage of the sales process. Do the research, don’t guess.
Ask existing customers what information they needed during their initial decision making process—and what they continue to need. And don’t be afraid to ask prospective customers what they’re looking for as well. You’ll be amazed how willing they will be to participate.
4. What online communities, websites and blogs do prospective and existing customers regularly visit?
Research with prospects and customers can also help you determine the places that you should distribute your content. Online research will help you uncover the most popular bloggers, online communities, forums and websites.
5. Which keywords produce the best search rankings?
One of the biggest benefits of content marketing is improved organic search rankings as a result of fresh, quality content that lives both on and off of your website. Keyword research should be conducted in advance so that it can inform content. Decisions can then be made based on keyword popularity combined with how competitive it is to gain rankings.
6. What information is needed throughout the sales cycle?
Prospects and current customers need different types of content at different times. Early in the sales cycle, they may want to read a blog post, watch a video, read an email or download a whitepaper or eBook. Further into the sales cycle they may be willing to attend a webinar, a live demo or read case studies. As they get close to making a decision, they may want to see product comparisons, cost/savings calculators or a custom proposal.
7. Which competitors are effective at content marketing, and what can you do that sets your business apart?
Competitive research is vital. What types of content are competitors producing, how are they distributing it and how does that position their brand versus yours. Being “me too” is a difficult brand position to grow from. Developing unique information and messaging in a way that is consistent with your brand attributes will help you stand out from the crowd.
8. Who is available to generate content within the company, and what outside resources may be needed?
Content marketing is a real commitment. Resources need to be identified that will stick with ongoing planning, creation, optimization (for search engines), distribution and analytics. Access to resources will have a direct bearing on the quality and quantity of content that can be created, and as long as quality content is the main goal, the more that is created, the better the results.
10. What technology is necessary that’s not currently in place?
The right technology will help you do the following:
- Manage content on your website, landing pages and blog
- Conduct keyword research
- Ensure that keywords are properly placed within the content
- Distribute content to social media platforms
- Embed links that are easily tracked
- Track visitors and the content they engage with
- Track prospect and customer interactions with the marketing/sales team
- Deliver emails to prospects and customers based on the content they are interactive with.
Ready to start planning?
Don’t rush through it. It’s a big tree that you’re about to chop down, so you want that blade as sharp as possible. If you need more information on the topic, be sure to download our eBook on content marketing.
We’re always interested in hearing from others about their planning process. What are you doing to ensure that your content marketing efforts are delivering the results you’re looking for?