We humans sometimes have a funny way of planning.
When thinking about how we’re going to allocate our time, resources, etc., we like to categorize things. In our personal lives, those categories might be work, lifestyle, or family. In our business lives, they might be via divisions, marketing, sales, product, human resources, accounting, etc.
To make a plan, we put all the decisions made about our desired goals in each of these categories and break them down into tasks so that we can achieve them. Then we try to juggle them all. But we can’t. The decisions made here don’t fit the plan for there. And the plan there doesn’t fit the critical decision made here.
Put simply, there’s a reason for this famous quote usually attributed to former President Dwight Eisenhower: “Plans are useless, but that planning is indispensable.”
The valuable outcome from planning is not a plan. The valuable outcome from planning is the decisions about what – and what will NOT – be needed to accomplish it.
From a content creation perspective, there couldn’t be a more important lesson.
That’s why I’m tackling the topic of content planning in this month’s episode of Marketing Makers, CMI’s series for those who make marketing work. You can see it here and/or read on for some highlights and takeaways.
If your content calendar is simply a production to-do list of all the assets you have been asked to create, then you suffer from a plan with no planning.If your #content calendar is just a production to-do list, @Robert_Rose says, you suffer from a plan with no planning via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet
If by the time the content assets are published, they are already late to market, then you are suffering from a plan with no planning.
If you seemingly create the same content over and over because it’s easier to create new content than to find the old version, then you are suffering from a plan with no planning.
Instead of being a short-order cook planning how to combine meals as efficiently as possible, it’s time to plan a menu – what will be served and, more importantly, what will not be served.
To be clear, I’m not talking about the company’s overall approach to content, that’s the content strategy. I’m talking about planning for the workflow of content so you can scale and manage it better. It is not a once-a-year activity.
The real purpose of planning is to identify which decisions will be the right ones to best execute the content that feeds the marketing strategy. This can be done through a five-step strategic process: development, creation and production, merchandise, activation, and measurement. I explain the process in this segment of the show (and in the text below).
Using your messaging architecture or value propositions, figure out the right content or stories you want to tell. Remember, don’t think containers or channels. Think ideas – bigger ideas and stories.
For example, a financial services business wants to be a thought leader to owners of small- to medium-size businesses. A suggested strategic idea is developing content for a blog post about why SMBs need or should partner with other SMBs or to offer up easy-to-understand ways to get knowledge on financial and other sophisticated concepts.
But that’s not simply a blog post, that’s the big idea. You can already imagine all the topics to cover and the voice that can convey them. You might develop a “helper” spokesperson, get influencers to chime in, develop a game, or a university-type class. Once this story around thought leadership for SMB owners has been developed a bit and decisions have been made that fits into your overall strategy, it’s ready for the second step.
Now you can take this strategy idea and hash it out with your colleagues, boss, agency, etc. It could be your content council, editorial board, or your content team.
Knowing the story, you can decide what it should be out of the gate. Maybe it launches as a 10-step explainer video series on the basics of finance for SMB owners hosted by industry professionals. The transcripts will work well as blog content, while visuals and snippets can work for social posts. Plus, the interviews can fuel the industry professionals’ blogs, social channels, etc.
Those are great developments for this story, but what about all the other content the team needs to produce? You can’t plan in isolation to develop the story; you have to plan for all the content that needs to be produced.
Now is the time to decide what can, should, and won’t be done – and when. Use a development planning process to create a shared calendar of all projects (strategic and reactive) for the next 90 days so everyone knows.
2. Creation and production
When content creation and production get underway, you must have a planning process to manage that work. Using the calendar, assign resources (including the team) to create the content and produce all the related designs and outputs.
Remember, you’ve already planned the multiple outputs coming from the central content. In the example, you know the core and secondary content that need to be created. Now, you’re planning the specifics around that content creation – the writing of a script for the video series, developing the visual content to be repurposed for social posts, scheduling the industry influencers for interviews that could be used for the video series and subsequent blog posts, etc.
The whole idea is to plan and make decisions creating fewer, bigger ideas that translate into many smaller content expressions that can fill as many containers as you need to.This planning framework is designed to create fewer, bigger ideas that translate into many smaller #content expressions, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet
So map these things out and make CONTENT PLANNING the basis of the ASSET PLANNING PROCESS. Even a simple content calendar like the one you see below can help… or there are robust technology solutions that can help you get insight into the entire process. Map not only when content is created, but how it is planned and produced as well.
Think of this step as the internal distribution of the content produced. If you have planned well, you are creating lots of assets from big ideas, and your publishing schedule looks forward. In other words, because you’ve been planning, you are likely completing assets that may not be published for weeks or even months.
Now, the plan needs to detail how the content will be shelved and communicated internally to the rest of the business based on what (1) could be used, (2) will be used, and (3) is available for use. This is a content merchandising strategy.A content merchandising strategy details how #content will be shelved and communicated internally, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet
The new content products are based on the strategy. The old content products are still valuable and can be reused. Someone or some team must decide what, where, and how, those categories should be promoted internally. They also must decide how it will be distributed so, it can be used, activated, and published accordingly. This is content merchandising.
It could be as simple as a designated team member going back to old blog posts and scheduling them to be reused as part of the social publishing strategy. It could be once-a-week reviews of content that came off the assembly line that will be communicated to sales, web, and other teams so they know what’s available.
HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT:
Whether you’re a team of one or 100, you should develop activation plans as part of your content plan.
There’s an optimal order to putting your content into the market. It ensures that you not only publish the core piece but also update any relevant content that’s part of it. You schedule the organic promotion of that content with other promotional content. You can align with other groups that may be doing the same thing. Put simply: You need to make decisions about what, where, and why things will be promoted.
In the financial services company example, you launch one explainer video on the blog. Then, that day and each day for the next week, you promote that blog post on your social channels. It’s also noted that the core mobile app needs to be updated with that video, which takes the product people at least one week’s notice to execute. An interview with the host/influencer will run on the blog one week after launch and do the same kind of social promotional posts for the interview as well. The PR team will issue a press release upon each related class release. The paid team will do a small campaign to promote each class. This plan will execute each month upon the new video’s release, so the central asset topic gets the focused attention.
You get the idea. It’s about having a planning process for activating your content. Everything doesn’t need its own process. You’ll develop patterns, workflows for different categories of content that will fit into certain processes, etc.
I tackled the process for measuring goals in another Marketing Makers episode, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. In this content planning process, you determine the decision-making process for how you will determine measurement. It’s about creating the planning process – who is responsible for tracking the metrics, who is accountable for getting the numbers, who will be consulted, and who needs to be informed of them.
You also will be determining what will be tracked – everything from consumption metrics (visits, SEO score, downloads, form fills, shares, likes, etc.) to cost metrics (cost of production of the asset, time to produce, etc.)
Ultimately, this feeds you back to strategy and planning to help you understand what content topics are to be used again, which ones are not performing, and of course, which you should double down on by promoting and activating again.
Put it all together
With all five steps complete, you get your planning process and high-level workflow for your content. You’ve built and stabilized the bridge between your content and your overall business or marketing strategy.
The financial services company, for example, has now determined 70% of their content, including content for advertising, marketing, thought leadership, etc., will be created proactively. Now, 30% of their content will be reactive based on updates that need to be made or responses to requests from other parts of the organization.
Now everybody is informed and part of the planning and prioritization process with a shared understanding that the goal is to create a few big ideas that lead to lots of smaller ideas. You and they can see when content will be produced throughout its life-cycle in the organization. It will identify which projects should be prioritized for production and when those assets have been merchandised, published, and measured.
It’s a process. It’s a workflow. It’s the foundation of a successful content creation process that helps businesses get out of the reactionary-only mode of content into something truly strategic – where nobody has to juggle anymore.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute