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5 Tips for Coming to Town with a Great Content Plan

santa's hands holding listIt’s spring; the snow has finally melted… and believe it or not, Santa is already starting to make a list. And, as you know, he’s checking it twice (there’s also the whole naughty and nice thing, but that’s not really the point of this).

If you are 6 years old (or ever were at some point), you can sing the song of Santa. Though the ditty was conceived as a way for scheming parents to bribe kids into behaving, it also serves as a lesson for adults — but probably not in the way you’re thinking. And I’ll bet you definitely haven’t considered what this means for content marketers.

Content marketers are busy, and you run up against some pretty tough deadlines. True. But Santa’s annual deadline probably has yours beat. I mean, your deadline is written on your calendar; Santa’s deadline is on everybody’s calendar. Even those who don’t celebrate Christmas or even believe in Santa know that he has a very specific, one-day-only deadline.

You blow your deadline, people get annoyed. But if Santa were to blow his deadline, he’d single-handedly destroy the childhood memories of billions of children.

So Santa keeps a list. I mean, he could try to keep it all in his head, like you (since your memory never fails you). But he knows from experience, that doesn’t work over the long-term. And after years of trial and error, Santa is a bit of an expert at meeting long-term goals through project management and content planning.

A small-business owner with big lessons for content marketers

Santa’s more than just the delivery guy; he’s the owner/entrepreneur. Sure, he has helpers and family members on staff, but it’s the Santa™ brand that the kids buy into. As long as his name is on the workshop, his customers know the job is being done right.

Not to mention that Santa executes flawlessly every year (in my house, presents even come with gift receipts from stores remarkably close to home). This takes a strategy, coordination, and logistics that you can emulate in your content marketing plan. In fact, we should all take a page from the best practices that have put Santa on the world map of brand success stories.

1. Make a list

When working with Santa, there are three rules an elf never breaks:

  • No talking before the first cup of Starbucks.
  • If Santa’s bathroom door is locked, don’t knock, just find another bathroom.
  • Make a list, and keep it current.

Santa’s Excel spreadsheet keeps tabs on all his customers’ latest deeds, as well as their needs. This includes their desired delivery mechanism (chimney, keyhole, etc.), as well as other key characteristics and interests of his target customers. Some people might even suggest (and by some people, I mean me) that “the list” is a prototype for buyer personas.

If you haven’t listed your customers and dimensionalized them with insights relative to their specific needs, you aren’t serving them the best you can. Lists are easy, but then again, so is losing a customer. Compile a list that makes sense of your customers’ needs — and helps you keep them top-of-mind every time you create content.

This list is what your team will use to develop a proper content plan. It’s not “in your head” any more than you can be in every single solitary meeting. If it’s written down, it’s real.

2. Check it twice

Don’t try to wing it, especially when it comes to your content plan. Project planning is everything — but it’s rarely something that can be set in stone, and then left alone. Plan, and when the plan has to change, then change.

Last year’s hot toy won’t bring magic this year, so adjustments are always expected. (That last sentence is about actual toys and your content, so read it twice.) And since Santa is a consummate content planner, he knows to encourage his team to be nimble. They start off with a content calendar and a governance plan for revisions, but they are also prepared to adjust content publishing to real-world scenarios, accounting for emerging needs and unforeseen opportunities.

In your office, you’ve probably got an editorial content plan, but it needs to be flexible and real. We all start off with an optimistic linear plan. There are key milestones for everybody on the team, which is the easy part.

The difficult part is adjusting when things go awry. Just one missed copy or design deliverable can have a cascading effect on all your content efforts. So part of your plan should be to have a backup plan that allows you to quickly adjust timelines, inform stakeholders, and move forward under a new governance document that accounts for your latest shifts.

3. Don’t pout or cry

As you read this, something is going wrong on one of your projects. It may be something small (like a sick reindeer) or something large (like an industrial accident involving an elf), but there’s always something that isn’t going exactly as planned.

Most people think that the pouting and crying is for children. While that is mostly true, it can also apply to people working on a content marketing project. Every team likely has a member or two who is perpetually frustrated by the challenges of creating content. They complain about the deadlines and “unreasonable” requests from internal and external stakeholders. And when things go wrong, they’re the ones usually found pouting and crying about it.

At the North Pole, there’s no room for this. As the deadlines approach, sure, the elves get stressed and sometimes break down, but everybody pulls together to renew general optimism. Santa knows things can always be worse, but on his watch, the team always chooses to look for ways to make them better.

Happiness is contagious, but you can’t mandate it. Acknowledge the stress and recognize that creativity on a deadline isn’t easy. Lead your team with a smile, a hearty laugh, and a twinkle in your eye.

4. Come to town — with a plan in place

You probably thought it was odd to see a post about Santa in the spring. But do you think Santa can work his magic in December without starting his efforts in advance?

After his Christmas deliveries are complete, Santa’s team takes a well-earned vacation each year at an uncharted tropical island.

In this order, they:

  • Celebrate a job well done
  • Recharge with a well-earned break
  • Get a jump on next year’s process

Content and creativity is hard enough, so be sure to allow plenty of time in your schedule for each project. With Santa’s business model, planning for December starts in January. He doesn’t start the process in November and then rush the job.

When possible, build in more time than you think you’ll need. The whole team is focused on one goal, but there are always side projects and personal events that can derail the team. People get married, take vacation days, get sick, and respond to myriad events that you may not have planned for.

You may not be able to negotiate your delivery date, but often you can start a few tasks sooner than necessary to take some of the pressure off at crunch time. As you know, many projects kick off with deliverables that are already behind schedule, or with the assumption that everyone will drop everything else they’re already doing to work on them. As a content strategist, I’ve started many projects with less time than I need… but never without some hard deadline. I always tell my team “do the best you can in the time you have.”

That said, plan early, start as soon as possible, and recognize that there are external factors that are beyond the control of your project plan. Remember: Santa is expected to come to town, on-schedule regardless of the circumstances. Your content projects should be held to the same standards.

5. Amaze your customers, again and again

When you really think about it, free content is a pretty amazing thing. Just a few short years ago, consumers paid for almost all the content they had access to. Even “free” television and radio programming was paid for by advertisers. Today, we live in an age where many of the smartest and most entertaining people in the room give away their content, completely free of charge.

And big brands do the same. The internet changed the way we consume content — and patronize the businesses that provide it. It’s an amazing thing that has become so basic that we barely consider this epic shift in knowledge sharing.

If you are a content marketer creating useful, usable content across multiple channels, you are doing something amazing. Not only are you serving your current customers, you are nurturing your future customers at the same time. You enable brand evangelists while defending your business from the competition. If you’ve figured out how to do this on an increasingly complex technology landscape, it’s even more amazing.

Seriously, no snark here. This is a big deal.

The best brands are creating marketing content for free and have figured out how to quantify their content marketing ROI. They know what content works, what doesn’t, and they make changes that enable them to deliver content that’s even better next time. Again, amazing — but only when it’s done consistently.

Great content can be like a gift to your customers. Even though “amaze your customers” isn’t in the original song, it’s part of Santa’s brand.

Santa and his team aren’t amazing because they pulled off a neat trick once. They’re amazing because they do it consistently, year after year, and never let the trick get stale. Every year, he reliably delivers on expectation. But he also delights millions of children across the world with the unexpected — those little moments of joy when a surprise is unwrapped and revealed. Magical moments like this are what has established Santa’s “brand” as one of the most iconic in history.

Be more like Santa: Amaze your customers with your content in the same ways he amazes children with his Santa-ness — by being both reliable and surprising.

How you can be more like Santa

Our content may never achieve iconic, Santa-like status, but we can all take a few cues from the guy with the white beard.

One final note: Remember, in all things marketing and content, packaging matters. So no matter what you give, make sure your final deliverable looks great by wrapping it in a beautiful, well thought out design that makes looking at your gift almost as much fun as engaging with it.

Better get the elves ready, crank up the power in your workshop, and start filling your sleigh with the gift of useful content for your eager customers. Content marketing is coming to town.

Looking for more inspiration on creating and delivering content that will delight your audience? Read CMI’s Content Marketing Playbook: 24 Epic Ideas for Connecting with Your Customers.

Cover image via Bigstock