By Lisa Copeland published September 3, 2015

Data-Driven Content Strategy Meets Content Marketing [Essential Template]


Content creation is not cheap. As content marketers, we may have brilliant ideas for content that meets the needs of customers and prospective customers, but ideas alone don’t convince stakeholders to invest. We need to back up our ideas with data. We need to show that our suggestions align with the needs of our target audience segments.

To make this effort easier, I have created a tool that does this aligning literally – across rows in a spreadsheet. I call it the multichannel content marketing planner. This planner provides an easy-to-use, easy-to-share place to capture the data and data-related insights that lead to a strategically solid content marketing plan.

What do I mean by a strategically solid content marketing plan? I mean a plan that achieves the user-centered goal that content strategists everywhere strive for: getting the right content to the right people at the right time, which requires us to use the right channels.

This planner fits into a process that looks something like this:

  1. Conduct content stakeholder interviews.
  2. Review metrics reports, research, and insights.
  3. Audit the site.
  4. Summarize and share your findings.
  5. Brainstorm content ideas with your team.
  6. Fill in the planner (the focus of this article).
  7. Share the planner with stakeholders and get their buy-in.
  8. Develop editorial guidelines.
  9. Plot out your editorial calendar.

The role of data-driven content strategy

Let’s talk about the role that data plays inside this tool. The data works well in this format because the rows and columns give us visual support for telling a story of what our target audience needs. This format is easy for stakeholders to follow.

Presenting your stakeholders with just raw data – piles of research – might bore or overwhelm them, but sharing the data in this template’s digestible form to communicate what your audience segments need and want across channels can be persuasive.

Insights and data have always been part of my content strategy and content marketing plans. My clients, especially those who are new to publishing, always want to see the numbers to decide whether content creation is worth the risk. For example, I have had clients resist incorporating corporate-responsibility content into their fashion e-commerce site because they thought that this content would distract those who want to purchase. When those clients saw in the planner that, prices being equal, over 90% of global consumers are more likely to switch to a brand that supports a cause, they dropped their resistance and supported my recommendation.

So yes, the planner can help you get your ideas approved. Beyond the approval, it can support ongoing content development. One client – whose bounce rate decreased by 50% after implementing the plan I had proposed as part of a redesign – found this format so useful that the team continued to use the planner as they developed content after the relaunch. The tool lends itself to ongoing brainstorming because the audience segments and consumption patterns are laid out in such an accessible, helpful way.

Using the planner

Let’s take a look at the planner. I will walk you through the columns. You can download it here.


Click to enlarge

The right people – audience segments [Column 1]

List your target audience segments – your primary customers and users – in the first column. I’ve picked pregnant women for our hypothetical example. If you are a financial company, the “right people” might include high-net-worth consumers. Fill in as many audience segments as you plan to create strategically sound content for.

The right content – interests/consumption (insights-driven) [Column 2]

This column helps you make a case for content creation. Include data and insights about each audience segment’s interests and behaviors.

The data might come from secondary research or primary research. Fill in data that answers the question, “Why should we create this content?” Use credible sources. My example includes some data on pregnant women and their digital content consumption for a theoretical company that might want to create products or develop a site to target them.

I add asterisks next to the insights and, if room allows, cite my sources at the bottom of the spreadsheet, as shown in the example. If I have a lot of sources, I point to where I’ve listed them (for example, “All references and citations appear at the end of the content strategy summary document”).

The right content – content types [Column 3]

Recommend content types based on the data in the previous column. For example, you might find that 70% of your audience members are more likely to watch a particular type of video. If it makes sense for your data, you may want to put the rows in order of priority so that it’s easy for stakeholders to see which content types have the most strategic value.

The right content – topics [Column 4]

Recommend topics based on insights, data, research, and social listening. Topics should not focus on your products and services but on content your customers will value.

The right time – channels [as many columns as you need]

I group channels under “right time” because picking the right channel can help you deliver content at the right time. For example, if a consumer in a department store receives an alert on her smartwatch about items on sale, the ad came at the right time through the right channel. An alert appearing on a desktop will not help the consumer at that time.

Base your channel selections on what your audience segments use. For example, if a segment is not interested in wearables, exclude watches from that part of your plan. Your stakeholders will want to see that your plan is not generic, but instead tailored to their audience segments. In the example above, I’ve put an “x” in the recommended channel columns based on the data and insights noted in column 2. You may want to briefly describe the form that the content will take.


This planner has proven its value time after time with my clients as a tool for persuading stakeholders of the soundness of my recommendations based on data about their audiences. Feel free to use it. Please let me know if it works for you. Of course, you may want to add or modify columns for your team and stakeholders. Remember that it’s the quality and relevance of the data and insights that make it effective.

Learn more

Editor’s note: Intrigued by content strategy? Can’t get enough templates? Check out these recently published books:

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Cover image by Viktor Hanacek, picjumbo

Author: Lisa Copeland

Lisa Copeland is a multichannel content strategy and content marketing consultant who has two main passions when it comes to content: creating amazing digital content experiences for brands and opportunities to work globally. She has developed content strategies and content marketing plans for a wide range of clients including financial, professional services, healthcare, education, nonprofit, fashion and telecommunications on both the client side and agency side. She is also certified in both usability (CUA) and user experience (CXA) by Human Factors International. You can contact Lisa through LinkedIn where you’ll find other industry articles she has written. Follow her on Twitter @LisaCCope.

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  • Jessica

    Thanks so much for this post and template.


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    • Lisa

      You are welcome, Jessica! I hope that you find it useful.

  • Jim Woolfrey

    This is a nice basic template, and I love data/insight-driven planning, but I would argut that time does not equal channel.

    This is especially true for content marketing of B2B products/serivices that are evaluated and purchased through (and used following) a complex sales process/cycle. I would suggest thinking about time as the steps a prospect/customer goes through during their relationship with a product/service (from pre-awareness, consideration, evaluation, purchase, usage, etc — Ardath Albee’s work is great reference on this, especially her book “eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale”). Notably — engaging a prospect or customer at any given time (or step) in their journey may require one or several different types of content, that the prospect/customer might engage with through one or several different channels. The reverse is true — you might nail it with the right topic, the right format and the right channel, but if it isn’t delivered at the right time, then it doesn’t engage.

    For consumer product marketing (especially food/beverage/retail product marketing), time might be much more closely tied to seasonality than channel. For example, a specialty food product retailer might have a great piece of content about throwing a summertime barbecue with friends — very engaging and effectively delivered to the right target audience through multiple channels — but how effective that content campaign is on generating awareness and/or driving sales would be heavily influenced by the season or time of year.

    On the other hand, this template for planning content is likely way more effective than no plan. I would recommend using it as a starting point, perhaps, but consider adding customer lifecycle stages and/or seasonality — as distinctly separate considerations from channel.

    • Lisa

      Jim, thanks so much for your feedback.

      In this case, time represents channel because it is about the physical location of the customers and what they are using to access content during a given time. Where are they (in a store, on Facebook, sitting in front of a computer) and what kind of information will be useful and engage them at that time? Having this knowledge will help ensure that they are getting the right content at the right time. This planner is designed to help teams think of content types and topics based on data and insights. The insights will drive what devices, channels and the types of content that needs to be created. It is meant to be simple so that it does not overwhelm the stakeholders who just need to know how much content needs to be created and why. This is not an editorial calendar at this stage. I would put campaigns and seasonal content in the detailed calendar.

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