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From the Trenches

12 Questions That Should Guide Your Content Marketing Plan

Mike Sweeney | January 10, 2012

When I sat down to build the content marketing plan for Right Source Marketing, I initially had a case of “planner’s block.” I’ve helped a number of clients with this type of planning, and yet I could not figure out exactly where to start. How is it possible that I didn’t have some type of template or process that would push me through this barrier?

The answer was simple. I wasn’t asking myself the right questions, and I wasn’t asking them in the same determined manner that I use with clients. I was letting myself off the hook.

After a good deal of back-and-forth (mostly in my own head), I came up with the following questions, which may serve as a blueprint for building a content marketing plan for your organization.

1. Why are we doing this?

You heard right. Even someone who makes part of his living on content marketing had to ask that very important question to himself.

I came up with a variety of answers, but none more pragmatic than this one. I’ve seen first-hand what an organized content marketing effort can do for a business, and it’s powerful when done right.

2. What’s the goal?

There are a variety of ways to answer this question. Some answers will focus on hard metrics like brand awareness, lead generation, or actual transactions. Some answers will focus on softer metrics like prospect engagement or page views. There is no right or wrong answer.

No matter what, though, answer this question early in the process.

3. What is our unique story?

Even if you think your business falls into the cookie-cutter category, it has a unique story. If you don’t know what that story is, then you may want to go through an extensive process that focuses on company messaging.

If you do know what that unique story is, it ought to inform content marketing themes and be woven into each piece of content.

4. Who is our audience?

More than likely, you have multiple audiences: prospective clients, current clients, prospective employees, current employees, investors, partners and more.

Then consider the audiences within each of those groups. For instance, you likely have more than one type of audience within the prospective client group. There are likely people that hold different positions, that are interested in different services, and that are engaged in different stages of a sales cycle.

My advice: It seems complicated, but don’t let that stop you. Sometimes you have to build a content marketing plan for your most “common” audience, and then you can take that, tweak it, and apply it to the other audiences.

For more on creating buyer personas, check out Jeremy Victor’s post, Buyer Personas: Where (and How!) to Start.

5. Who is on our team? What is everyone’s role?

This may be the most important question on the list. A great plan is nothing without great people to execute it. Understanding your internal and external resources is a critical piece of your content marketing plan.

Regardless of how many and what types of people you have on the team, at the top sits the owner of the content marketing effort. Whether that is a Chief Content Officer, a VP of Marketing, or a Marketing Manager, a single person needs to own this effort and serve as champion and final decision-maker. If you’re ready to assemble your content marketing dream team, read my earlier post on this very topic.

6. Who will handle each piece of content marketing?

Hand in hand with defining team roles is making sure that everyone knows who (internally or externally) will handle each of the following phases of content marketing:

  • Content Planning
  • Content Creation
  • Content Optimization
  • Content Distribution
  • Content Reporting & Analysis

Effective content marketing programs cover each one of these phases – no skipping allowed.

7. What are the primary themes?

Mapping out specific topics for hundreds of individual pieces of content is not an easy task. How can you make it more manageable?

Select 3-5 themes for the year, and build campaigns around each theme. Once you have a set of broad themes, generating content ideas and organizing each idea into the right spot will become far easier.

8. What types of content should we create?

Content comes in many shapes and sizes – blog posts, bylined articles, case studies, Facebook status updates and white papers, just to name a few.

Many companies start their content marketing planning with this question, because they assume content creation guides the content marketing plan. On the contrary, your decision on the types of content to create should be guided by the questions and answers provided in numbers 1 thru 7 above.

9. When will each piece of content get published?

This is the spot where I tell you that you need an editorial calendar, and someone to manage it with vigor. I’ve seen 5-6 different versions of editorial calendars, all with their individual strengths and weaknesses. Michelle Linn provides a great how-to post on this topic on the Content Marketing Institute blog.

10. How will we distribute each piece of content?

Remember, content marketing is about…marketing. There’s no point in creating a plan and building out all this content without paying attention to distribution. After all, Distribution – Not Content – is King.

11. How will we report on the content marketing effort?

Decide the who, what, when, where and how of content marketing reporting before you begin the effort. Your report will likely go through at least 2-3 iterations as you receive input from different stakeholders.

12. What’s the budget?

When asked his about content marketing budget recently, a prospective client answered with, “I don’t know. What’s the standard budget, like $25,000 per quarter?”

There is no standard budget for content marketing. Some companies spend a good deal more than $25,000 per quarter, and some spend less than that. Like anything else, you have to prioritize the content marketing budget within your broader marketing budget, and make sure it is aligned with the company’s marketing goals.

What questions are missing?

I know I missed some questions. In the comments section, let me know the other critical questions that companies should ask themselves when initiating a content marketing effort.


Related Resources

About Mike Sweeney:

As Right Source’s co-founder and CEO, Mike Sweeney creates, plans, and implements our vision, mission, culture, and strategic direction as well as serving as an advisor to our clients. Mike received a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a major in marketing from the University of Notre Dame and has more than 20 years of experience in B2B marketing strategy, including digital, content, and marketing technology. You can find Mike on LinkedIn.