By Michele Linn published May 5, 2017

Your Editorial Calendar is Not Your Content Marketing Strategy

editorial-calendar-not-content-marketing-strategy

More and more, I am hearing marketers talk about how they have a strategy . . . and then proceed to say they are set because they have an editorial calendar.

At the risk of sounding ranty, I’d love to yell from the rooftops: An editorial calendar is not a content marketing strategy!

An editorial calendar is NOT a #contentmarketing strategy, rants @MicheleLinn. Click To Tweet

While this conflict may seem like an issue of semantics, the confusion and meshing of these terms point to a bigger issue.

I am a big believer that you need to have both a strategy and an editorial plan or calendar. And you need to understand how each is different because the absence of one may explain why you are feeling uncertain in your efforts.

A simple analogy

Let’s say you are building a home. An architect leads the design of the structure by creating an architectural plan. But then a civil engineer makes the design possible – implementing and adjusting the plan to realize the architect’s vision.

Do you need an architectural design for your new home? Absolutely. It’s the vision of what you want to achieve. You would help your architect understand your needs (your why) – your strategy. Where do you want to move? How big of a house do you need? Are you beginning your family and want room to grow, or are you looking for something more compact and easy to maintain (one of those trendy tiny houses, perhaps)? How does your home fit into your overall family budget – and how much do you want to spend? These are just some of the questions you need to answer before creating a plan.

The architectural phase of your new home is akin to your content marketing strategy.

With that architectural strategy, you are ready to have the civil engineer create a building plan to implement the vision. That’s akin to your editorial plan or calendar.

In short, just like when you are building a home, you can’t have an effective building plan without an architectural strategy, and you can’t execute your strategy without your plan. (And, if you are designing a house with your spouse, you both need to get on the same page as well – just like your team needs to get on the same page with your strategy.)

First comes strategy

If your editorial plan isn’t feeling quite right, chances are high that you don’t have a solid strategy – or your team doesn’t have a shared understanding of what that strategy is.

If your editorial plan isn’t feeling right, chances are you don’t have a solid strategy, says @MicheleLinn. Click To Tweet

In very simple terms (I recognize this doesn’t account for all of the nuances out there), your strategy needs to answer these three questions:

  • Who are we educating/helping? (Note: I did not say “targeting,” as your goal should be helping. Creating a persona is one way to do this.)
  • How can we help them in a way that no one else can? (This is your content tilt.)
  • How will we know we are successful? (These are the business goals you have for your strategy.)

You need to clearly understand the answers to these three questions – and having this clarity isn’t as common as you may think.

In our most recent content marketing research, 37% of B2B marketers say they have a documented content marketing strategy, with an additional 41% indicating they have an undocumented strategy. (I won’t rant about the importance of documenting your strategy … but you should.)

But, when you look at what their strategy includes, just over half have a content mission, a deep understanding of their personas, and goals tied to their content.

B2B-elements-content-marketing-strategy

Again, if you don’t have these things in place, something is going to feel off. And, while your strategy typically comes from the leadership team, don’t make excuses if you don’t have one.

Here are a few other things to consider:

  • Does everyone else on the team have the same understanding of the strategy? Ask them the answers to the three questions above and see how consistently everybody is communicating the strategy.
  • Keep the answers to those three questions simple and ask your team to post them on a wall or keep them close by until they internalize them. I can’t stress this enough: If you don’t stick to your audience and mission – with a focus on your goals– you will flounder.
  • Unlike your plan, your strategy is relatively set in stone and won’t change too often.

Then comes plan

Every single thing you publish and communicate needs to support the three key items in your strategy. Every. Single. Thing. And that’s where your editorial plan comes in.

Your editorial plan is tactical and detailed. It explains what you are going to do and who will do it.  If you have your big ideas nailed down and are struggling with execution, chances are you need to spend some time with your editorial plan.

Your editorial plan is tactical. It explains what you are going to do and who will do it, says @MicheleLinn. Click To Tweet

While there are many other details to consider, here are the types of activities you include in editorial planning, many of which should show up in your editorial calendar:

  • Five to seven key areas or categories to cover in your editorial
  • Topics in those categories you will cover
  • Team members’ responsibilities – who will do what
  • Key web pages that require ongoing attention (Not sure which pages require your attention? Learn about the four key reports to help you as well as the five opportunities to consider.)
  • Content to update and republish (Learn about the system we use to decide which posts we want to republish as well as details on our process.)
  • Your social media marketing plan
  • Measurement plan (You can see a sample of a template we use to share insights with the team on a monthly basis.)

As you can see, all of these details are tactical and important. A high-level strategy is necessary, but without an editorial plan to support it, your content marketing program will have a tough time gaining traction.

Remember, you need an architect to draw your vision of a new home (the strategy), but you also need the civil engineer to create the construction plan to practically implement the vision.

Do you have both strategy and a plan? Does that create a comfortable home for your content marketing? Or do you have a plan, but without a strategy – your content marketing program lives day to day but it doesn’t live up to your vision?

Where are you feeling discomfort in your content marketing program? Would it make sense to fine-tune your content marketing strategy or your editorial plan – or both?

Want to learn more – and gain practical help – from CMI’s Michele Linn? Make plans today to attend her presentations at Content Marketing World Sept. 5-8 in Cleveland, Ohio. Register today for early-bird rates and use code BLOG100 to save an additional $100.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Michele Linn

Michele is the Vice President of Content at the Content Marketing Institute. She is one of those people who truly loves what she does and who she works with. You can follow her on Twitter at @michelelinn.

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  • http://www.realfreshcontent.com Bobby Burns

    Great stuff, Michele!
    A tool is not a strategy. A tactic is not a strategy. And… to risk a bit of censure – a plan is not a strategy. Too many small business owners – and even marketers – not only put the cart before the horse, they often have a cart and no “horse” and expect results.

    • http://www.contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Michele Linn

      I completely agree on that plan does not equal strategy! Both are important, but you need both! Thanks for commenting, Bobby.

  • http://www.erikaheald.com/ Erika Heald

    Hear hear!

    It’s incredibly frustrating how often marketers put the focus on filling out an editorial calendar without first slowing down and documenting a strategy to inform it.

    • http://www.contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Michele Linn

      I was just reading another post today (unfortunately, I can’t remember the source), but it told the age-old tale of a consultant / writer who asked creating the strategy before he could commit to writing, and the response was, “We don’t have time for that.” Much too common!

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  • http://www.wordspicturesweb.com/ Buddy Scalera

    Strategy before tactics.

    • http://www.contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Michele Linn

      Always! Seems so simple, yet it can be tough.

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  • BobWP

    Great post. In a nutshell, an editorial calendar is simply a tool.

    • http://www.contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Michele Linn

      Well said, Bob.

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  • Jacqueline Chafe

    Love this 1000x over to the moon and back! It is so weird that people expect that results will come if I post. It’s like building a website, this “If I make it they will come” is so archaic and wrong. It’s so important to figure out goals with your content, develop persona profiles of potential visitors (and check out platforms that give you insights i.e. FB Audience Insights) and see what other people you’re missing.

    Content tilt is extremely important too, there are a million other companies producing the same shit that people are blind to it. Have a creative angle, that’ll sell. Think of your product in new light and fall in love with your product again. Internalizing the why and you put it so eloquently “the blueprint” will serve not only as a constant reminder of your why but also act as a focus so you can zero down on what you actually want to achieve and for who for.

    • http://www.contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Michele Linn

      Thanks, Jacqueline!

  • Paul Martineau

    Thank Michele, I appreciate your thoughts. I’m someone who is still trying to tie all this together. You won’t get anywhere if you don’t first know where you are going.

    • http://www.contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Michele Linn

      Exactly! Thanks, Paul.

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  • Daniel Onken

    Super helpful! As someone aiming to get into content strategy at my agency this website has been a gold mine.

    One question… When you say “Five to seven key areas or categories to cover in your editorial” I take it this should be a column on my editorial plan. But what exactly does this mean? Do you have examples of these “categories” and how they relate to the step that comes after them (topics)?

    • Michele Linn

      Absolutely, Daniel. This is not yet implemented on the front end of CMI, but we have identified 7 main categories — and every single thing we do (blog posts, even sessions, webinars, etc) will fall into one (and only one) of these:

      High-level strategy
      Editorial planning and teams
      Content creation
      Content distribution and promotion
      Measurement and reporting
      Trends and research
      General success tips

      For us, these are based on the “stages” of content marketing with 2 additional categories for other types of posts.

      We then have secondary categories (for things such as SEO, email, etc) and tags (for specific series, the sources of info (such as CCO or CMW), etc).

      Does that help?