The execution is only as good as the plan and content marketing is no different. Your success with content marketing hinges on having a properly documented strategy, so let’s explore some simple steps to help you develop your first content marketing plan.
I’ll be honest. This post was a bit of a doozy to write.
What’s the saying? Practice what you preach?
When I sat down to write this article, I realized that I hadn’t even taken the steps to write my own content marketing plan.
How could I possibly tell anyone else how to do it?
I’m following my own advice now and have written down my own notes for every step of this process.
While my chicken scratch isn’t the prettiest script out there, having clarity that comes along with having a plan is beautiful.
Crafting a content marketing plan isn’t rocket science but it does require some effort and time.
So, let’s get started.
Stop Winging It with Content
Here’s why it’s so damn important to create a content marketing plan, even a simple one.
A recent industry survey found that more than half (51%) of B2B buyers rely on content now to research their buying decisions.
And guess what? 97% of B2B buyers are open to considering vendor content as trustworthy—so your content actually helps build customer trust.
People like to buy things from people they like. As humans, we’re emotional beings, we just can’t help it.
You know what else customers do when they like you?
They help spread the word, even promote your content—63% of these survey respondents were most likely to share blog content.
Effective content marketing isn’t just going with your gut and hoping for the best. It means having a written plan. Research shows time and time again that successful content marketers have a game plan.
According to CMI’s 2016 Content Marketing Report, 88% of businesses today are doing content marketing.
But only 30% of those businesses rate their content marketing effective.
Why? Because most businesses (roughly 68%) don’t have a documented content marketing plan.
Are you ready to start writing out your plan?
Step 1: Why Are You Doing Content Marketing
The first step to developing a content marketing plan is to answer the why.
Plain and simple, why do you want to make content in the first place?
Remember when I talked about a few essentials you needed to get started with marketing? Refer back to those: your vision, your mission statement and your goals.
When you have those nailed down, you can answer these questions:
- Who is your target audience?
- What problems will you help them fix?
Setting out to create content for the masses is not the way to go—generic content never sticks with anyone, that’s why it doesn’t work.
When you take the time to do a little planning and hone in on your specific audience, it makes understanding them and knowing what their pain points are easier.
Which makes producing content that resonates with them, easier too.
Get my drift?
Have you heard of buyer personas, and how important is it figure them out?
Step 2: Who Are You Creating For?
Same thing goes for content marketing—marketing personas come into play here.
Kevan Lee from Buffer shares a great definition of what a marketing persona is:
A marketing persona is a composite sketch of a key segment of your audience. For content marketing purposes, you need personas to help you deliver content that will be most relevant and useful to your audience.
For example, let’s say my audience is event planners.
It’s an audience that is wide. There’s several different types of event planners:
- Corporate Event planners
- Trade Show/Conference planners
- Wedding planners
- Special Events planners
- Meeting planners
Not to mention the level of experience within each category…beginner, experienced and expert planners. See my point?
Could I create content that resonated with a corporate event planner and a wedding planner?
You won’t be able to produce content worth reading if you don’t.
Now that you know who you’re writing for…
What Problems Does Your Target Audience Have?
This is where you should have some ‘aha’ moments. Doing this research will help you create content that resonates with your readers.
Obviously, the easiest way to find out what your audience’s pain points are is to just ask.
It’s not the most comfortable thing to do for some people, but there’s a lot that to be said in a 10 minute conversation.
Don’t have any customers yet? Here’s where serious online
creeping sleuthing comes into play.
Online communities or forums that are specifically set up for your target audience is your next looking point. If you have no idea where to find those (I’ll be real about this, even I didn’t know where the heck to look), some good places to start are:
- LinkedIn groups
Why are these sites ground zero for doing marketing persona research? Because the content is user submitted and up-voted by readers, so usually the most relevant questions or posts get pushed to the top.
And if you find a few good threads, then you know that a) there is an audience for your content and b) what problems your audience is actually having (vs what you think the issues are).
Write down the problems that consistently come up, and how frequently they come up.
Make good use of this research and write as many problems or questions as you can find.
Try to get a solid list of 50 or so…you’ll have enough content ideas for fair bit!
Let’s continue with the event planner example.
If my audience is a meeting planner or conference planner, then you can see that some recurring questions are:
- Ways to increase attendee engagement
- What is the best event technology to use
- How to effectively promote your events
- How to measure event ROI
You’ve got some key pain points of your target reader. Now, it’s time to scope out the competition.
How are You Going to Provide More Value?
Let’s face it, there’s already a ton of online information available—so, how will your content be better than the competition?
Start snooping around. Do a search on popular websites within your niche, and start writing them down.
Sticking with the event planner example, I’d search for:
- Top event planning blogs
- Top event planning websites
- Best event management blogs
- Best event management website
Once I have a solid list, the next step is to start sifting through each site’s content.
What am I looking for? Weaknesses in their content like:
- Poor formatting
- Bad writing style
- Lack of data or unreliable sources
- Not enough images
- Basic content, no in-depth or actionable advice
If you’re looking at competitive websites and constantly thinking “I can totally do better than this” write down how you’re going to do better.
If more than one website has the same content weaknesses, then those will naturally become your opportunities (hello, SWOT analysis!).
Make sure to write a clear description of how you’re going to make your content more valuable to your target audience—readers need a solid reason to put your site on their reading list.
Step 3: What Content Are You Going to Create?
Don’t confuse this with actual content creation. We’re still in the planning stages here.
You need to determine what kind of content will resonate best with your target audience.
If you don’t have one, don’t fret. It can still work to your advantage—you can experiment with different content types to see which ones stick.
But that doesn’t mean just blindly starting to create whatever content floats your boat. It’s not about you and you should still find out what your target audience’s preferred content method is.
It’s an awesome online tool that can help you find out what the most shared content is within your industry. Not only can it identify top performing content, but if you look closely, you can also tell what kind of content format does best in your niche.
Take a look below:
The number of shares on each platform are telling. Here’s a quick snapshot of what kinds of content get shared the most, based on social media platform:
- Facebook or Pinterest – imaged-based content
- LinkedIn – industry insights or thought leadership content
- Twitter – list-based or how-to content
This is just a starting point. You can still (and should) experiment with different content formats within your resources to see what sticks with your readers.
Step 4: How Will You Manage Content Creation?
You’re probably feeling pretty good about how things are coming together now.
You know why you’re doing content marketing.
You know who you`re doing content marketing for.
You have an idea on what kind of content you want to start making.
Now, you need to know how you’ll maintain your momentum. How will you keep creating content consistently?
This is where you take a step back and really take a look at your resources.
Are you a solopreneur? Startup? Medium sized business?
Who’s the team that’s going to help you make magic?
If you’re a team of one with a $0 budget, then…no pressure.
If you actually have a team of in-house creators, or have the budget to work with freelancers, then there’s your roster.
One key thing to remember at this point is that when it comes to content marketing, consistency is crucial.
You don’t have to publish a blog post every day but you should develop a schedule that’s sustainable. Not publishing regularly is a major faux paus.
(One that I have been guilty of in the past.)
If you’re outsourcing content creation, then timelines can be assigned and managed more easily.
But if you’re the one creating everything from scratch, this is where a personal SWOT analysis may come in handy.
What are you strengths? And more importantly, what is your budget?
Remember, content marketing doesn’t just mean blogging. But blogging can be a good place to start if you’re new to content creation and you’re a one woman (or man) shop.
But please, don’t underestimate how long it will take you to create content, especially in the beginning.
If you’re not experienced, you’ll have to learn some things and sometimes, that can take much longer than you think.
First-time bloggers should be realistic—you’re not going to pound out a blog post worth reading in 60 minutes or less.
A recent survey found that most marketers spend 1-2 hours writing a 500 word blog post. If you’re aiming for more in-depth articles, than get comfy in your chair because you’ll be spending much more than that on writing, at least until you get some practice in.
Step 5: When Will You Publish Content?
Now it’s time to start mapping content pieces out, in an editorial calendar.
Because if you don’t plan ahead, you’ll forget.
A content calendar does not need to be complex.
Keep it simple to start. You just need to keep yourself straight with content creation.
Here are a few good options:
- Google Calendar (check out Hubspot’s nifty template and tutorial here)
- Trello (read how Trello executes their content marketing plan here)
- Pen and day-timer (currently my go-to but I’m on the verge of making a digital upgrade, and it will be one of the two mentioned above)
I like to plan month by month. It’s far out enough for me to plan content around monthly themes, but still a short scope of time for me to change things up (if I need to).
Step 6: Where Will You Distribute and Promote Your Content?
The thing about starting out with content marketing is that no one is reading your content.
That’s just the reality.
But the beauty of creating online content is that you can drive attention to it…if you know how.
In the beginning, you have two options:
- Promote the heck out of your content
- Publish it on other sites to get a link back to your blog (otherwise known as guest posting)
Creating awesome content isn’t enough. Not when there is so much damn content already out there!
Get into the habit of including promotion in your content creation workflow; it’s just important as producing content.
Buffer has a great resource on how to maximize reach and traffic to your content, with a free content distribution checklist.
And Quicksprout (one of my ultimate favourite blogs on content marketing!) delves deep into how to guest post effectively.
Guest posting, social media and email outreach are great $0 content promotion tactics for solopreneurs or small businesses. It may take some time, but the effort will be well worth it.
I can’t believe you made it all the way to the end!
Creating your first content marketing plan doesn’t have to be complex. It does need to happen, and you will need to learn more about the steps I outlined above.
Not going to lie, even I was learning more about some areas as I was writing this post (which by the way, took me almost 8 hours!)
If I’ve learned anything about content marketing thus far, it’s that it requires sweat equity—lots of effort, some knowledge and lots of learning through trial and error.
Go back and follow the steps, and this time write down your notes (like I did).
Having clarity in the form of a documented content strategy will have truly have a positive effect on your content marketing efforts.
Let’s recap, shall we?
- Step 1: Know why you’re doing content marketing to begin with
- Step 2: Know who you’re going to do content marketing for
- Step 3: Determine what kind of content you’re going to create
- Step 4: Figure out how you’ll provide more valuable content than your competition
- Step 5: Create a content calendar
- Step 6: Decide where you’re going to promote your content
Do you have a documented content marketing plan? If so, what additional tips do you have to share? Let me know in a comment below!