This Express Content Planner work sheet addresses the hardest part of any content marketing project — overcoming inertia and getting started.
The faster you choose a topic and identify an approach, the sooner you can begin to write. The sooner you begin to write, the more time you’ll have available for editing and revision — where the real work takes place!
Adapted from a work sheet I created for my book on coaching clients, the Express Content Planner is scalable. It works equally well for all types of content marketing projects, including articles, blog posts, eBooks, presentations, list-building reports, speeches, and white papers. (Click to download full-sized work sheet and filled-in example.)
The Express Content Planner combines — on a single sheet of paper — a reader persona plus space to identify the specific steps readers can take to solve a problem or achieve a goal.
Change and content marketing success
Change lies at the heart of content marketing success. Often, when starting a new content marketing project, there’s a tendency to waste time looking for “big ideas” rather than thinking in terms of specifics.
As a result, articles and blog posts often consist of descriptions and discussions that fail to result in meaningful action. This wastes everyone’s time!
The Express Content Planner focuses on change, right from the start, helping to set your content marketing apart from the competition. It proves your competence and commitment to serve your market while saving you time when choosing topics and creating a structure for your project.
The top half of the Express Content Planner helps you review the characteristics and informational needs of a specific market segment at the start of a new project. It focuses your attention on your readers, providing space for you to describe who they are and what they want by asking questions like:
- Characteristics: Who are your readers? What are their specific characteristics?
- Goals and objectives: What are your reader’s most important problems and unachieved goals? What are the symptoms caused by the problems and goals? What are the consequences of failing to address problems or achieve goals?
- Desired changes: What are the specific changes needed for readers to solve their problems or achieve their goals?
For example, an accounting firm’s goal might be to attract 100 qualified prospects to a free seminar outlining expected changes in the 2013 tax code. To achieve that goal, the desired changes might involve choosing a compelling event title or preparing more persuasive landing page copy.
What about existing personas? Granted, you may have already created a more elaborate reader, market, or web visitor persona. But, when’s the last time you and your coworkers reviewed or updated it?
By reviewing your readers’ characteristics, goals, and desired change at the moment you start working on a new project, you can focus your attention on your readers and the necessity of providing engaging, useful, and actionable information for them.
In addition, each time you re-examine your readers’ characteristics, goals, and desired changes, you’re likely to come up with fresh insights and ideas.
Steps to success
The remainder of the Express Content Planner encourages you to organize your project around a practical, step-by-step solution. Instead of abstractions or generalities, the work sheet helps you identify a logical series of steps that readers can take to solve a problem or achieve a goal.
These steps become the framework for your project.
Once you identify the specific steps needed to achieve the desired change, it becomes relatively easy to “fill in the blanks” by describing what needs to be done in each step, as well as adding appropriate details, examples, and tips.
A numbered sequence of steps helps guide your writing — which helps you create “win-win” situations for both you and your reader. The numbered steps also add to the visual appeal of your project, allowing you to break up the paragraphs of your content logically, using oversized numbers and attention-getting subheads.
Once you’ve completed both parts of the Express Content Planner, a straightforward, reader-oriented project title will often emerge (e.g., “5 Steps to Converting More Traffic to Buyers”, etc.).
Working with the Express Content Planner
As you can see, the filled-in Express Content Planner sample (above) can quickly help you generate the framework for helpful, relevant, reader-friendly content. Then, the information you add to each part creates the stepping stones you need to complete your project.
- Perspective: I prepared the example from the point-of-view of either a kitchen appliance manufacturer, a home builder specializing in residential remodeling, an architect, or an interior design firm.
- Goal: In each case, the goal is to create a lead-generating article, blog post, or lead-generating report.
- Call to action: At the conclusion, readers can either download an information package, visit a showroom, attend an event, or request an appointment.
- Characteristics: This section provides a context for creating an engaging story by telling more about the prospects and the context of their interest in remodeling their home (e.g., improving their living space and, hopefully, increasing their home’s resale price for possible sale in 3 to 5 years).
- Goals & problems: This gives you space to add more details and to narrow the topic from the broad “home remodeling” topic to a specific aspect of remodeling (i.e., “kitchen remodeling”). This section also provides space to describe the reader’s experience and knowledge.
- Desired change: In most cases, once the reader’s characteristics and goals have been identified, the desired change often becomes obvious (i.e., What’s the best way to achieve the goal?). At this point, all that’s needed is to create a title that restates the reader’s goal and how the content is going to help him achieve it.
- Steps needed to achieve desired goal: Once the content’s purpose and title have been identified, it’s simply a matter of identifying the steps — or necessary actions — to take the readers on a journey from where they are now (confused, uncertain, owning outdated appliances) to where they want to be (enjoying a new kitchen and, potentially, a higher home resale value.)
In the above scenario, each of the steps can become a topic in a report or a subhead in an article or blog post. And the rest of the writing process becomes almost a “paint by numbers” scenario — just provide the necessary information and edit it for clarity, possibly adding visuals or questions for readers to answer.
Using this process doesn’t mean that the final content has to appear as if it were created using a series of steps! Once you have identified your project’s premise and main ideas, you may want to explore alternative ways to present your topic, perhaps as an engaging case study, a summary of best practices, or as a cautionary tale.
The Express Content Planner is not an inflexible formula or a straitjacket; it’s simply a way to generate the basic information needed to engage and focus your brain and provide a starting point for your creativity.
Express Content Planner tips
- Consider downloading and printing multiple copies of the Express Content Planner. The 1-page format can be easily taken with you anywhere, so you can fill it out by hand in bed before falling asleep, while watching television, or riding in a car or airplane. You can also distribute them at meetings or use them when trapped in airport departure lounges or on long flights.
- There’s also something satisfying about writing by hand! Filling out a work sheet by hand — in a keyboard-dominated world — is often more conducive to clear thinking and creative ideas than typing. Writing by hand engages the brain through multiple senses — i.e., thinking plus visuals (watching words take shape) plus the sensation of movement (i.e., kinesthesia) as your hand and arm hold your pen or felt tip marker and move it across the work sheet.
- Try filling out more than one Express Content Planner for each project, preparing different versions for different market segments or different goals and objectives. Approaching projects from multiple perspectives may suggest entirely different approaches. It can also lead to ideas for future projects.
How do you begin new projects?
Often, the difference between comfortably meeting a deadline, or enduring a frustrating, stress-filled experience can be as simple as an always-available work sheet you can use to focus your thinking and create a structure to start writing as quickly as possible. Share your “new project” content marketing productivity comments and productivity tips, and let us know how the Express Content Planning work sheet works for you!
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