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Marketers: Reclaim Your Time With These Productivity Tips, Tools, and Templates

We’ve got so much time and so little to do. Wait a minute. Strike that. Reverse it.”

This (slightly revised) quote from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory nicely captures my state of mind – about content marketing and, to be honest, all the other frenzied activities happening this time of year. It just feels like there’s never enough time to get everything done.

At a time when the colder, darker days of winter are urging us to slow down, curl up somewhere warm, and enjoy our well-deserved holiday breaks, the weight of looming tasks when we return makes it even harder to justify taking time to fully relax and recharge.

As a gift to my tribe of weary content marketing warriors, I’ve compiled a few of my favorite time-saving tips, productivity checklists, and useful templates from this year’s blog posts. I hope they’ll power your resolutions to get more done in 2020, help you manage all your tasks more efficiently and effectively, and start your new year energized and well prepared to conquer your content goals.

Turn strategy development into a group activity

There should be no further question about the value of having a documented content marketing strategy to guide your initiatives and efforts. But building one … well, that’s a process bound to raise plenty of questions and require many conversations, including with external teams and departments that have a stake in the content program’s success.

Rather than thinking of strategy development as a solo effort and later opening it up for enterprise-wide debate and deconstruction, why not try making it a collaborative affair from the start? Why not invite key players across the enterprise to participate in a content marketing workshop?

Don’t make #contentmarketing strategy a solo effort. Open it up for enterprise-wide debate, advises @joderama via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

As Marketing Insider Group’s Michael Brenner points out, a workshop environment empowers everyone involved in your organization’s content to weigh in and feel more invested in the strategic content decisions executed down the road.

It also can provide added flexibility should you have to change course in times of crisis or opportunity. In his article on how to run a strategy-focused workshop, Michael walks through each step of building an actionable strategy – from setting business goals and planning your brand’s unique approach to crafting the tactical blueprints governing your content creation (like the one shown in the image below), distribution, and measurement decisions.

A #content workshop can clarify objectives, give consistent voice, & improve customer experience, says @BrennerMichael via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

Image source

Illustrate your intentions to secure executive support

Developing your strategy is an important first step; but you also need to get executive buy-in to secure the necessary resources and support to see your plans through.

The key is communicating with the decision-makers in the right way – using terms that business leaders understand and relate to just as you do with the content you create for your customers. If you find yourself struggling to translate the art and ideals of audience engagement into words that convey its business value, Venngage’s Nadya Khoja suggests taking a visual approach to the conversation.

Using #visuals to communicate your #contentmarketing strategy is the best way forward, says @NadyaKhoja via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

She shares an example of the team communication strategy graphic. This visual representation notes the key strategic touchpoints, including suggested tools, how to outline goals, and how to conduct effective meetings. It gives stakeholders a clear road map of what to expect and how to proceed – without you delivering a lengthy presentation on the subject.

Adopt a growth mindset

Almost as important as developing an initial content marketing strategy is having a plan for business growth so your teams are prepared to take the next steps once your content starts doing its job.

Almost as important as an initial #contentmarketing strategy is a plan for business growth, says @joderama via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

Your company may have a growth team or dedicated software to help with this. If you don’t have these resources, you can take the DIY growth management approach Emilia Chagas outlines in detail – starting with this downloadable spreadsheet for content brainstorming:

How do #content teams integrate a growth mindset? It starts with experimentation. @emilia_chagas via @cmicontent Click To Tweet

Jump on a modern marketing life cycle

Of course, any discussion on growth should involve thinking about how your prospects’ needs shift as they progress along their buyer’s journey. But, as Julia McCoy points out, the standard sales funnel marketers commonly rely on no longer does justice to the unpredictable way people shop and buy these days.

Why are you relying on a century-old sales model in a post-internet world? @JuliaEMcCoy via @cmicontent Click To Tweet

To account for this, Julia outlines a more fluid approach to planning your content – one that’s mapped to the cyclical decision-making path today’s audiences are likely to follow as they move toward conversion.

In her article, Julia also discusses how to tie your content marketing life cycle together with your buyer’s journey and shares a list of the most effective content formats and considerations at each phase of engagement. For easier reference, we’ve captured her suggestions and turned them into the handy chart below:

Invite exciting voices to contribute to your content

One hot content format that should be on your radar is podcasting. Not only can serial audio storytelling keep the audience engaged and connected with your brand over a longer time – and do so in a highly accessible and mobile-friendly way – it can help establish your brand’s subject matter expertise on a platform where there’s likely less competition from other brands.

For example, this year CMI added a regular podcast – The Weekly Wrap – to our email newsletter content. In these shows, host Robert Rose interviews guests who have innovative ideas, novel techniques, or intriguing stories that our audience of content marketers might benefit from hearing about.

If you consider incorporating an interview segment into your podcast (or any other type of content), your biggest challenge may lie in orchestrating these conversations effectively – including identifying the right guests and setting the stage for their eager participation.

Resist the urge to contact dozens to guest on your first #podcasts. Focus on 3 to 5, says @mjbecker_ via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

Fortunately, Michael Becker has done some of the legwork for you and shares a few of his templates for compelling podcast guest invitations – via email, as well as on social media platforms like LinkedIn. Here’s just one example, which you can customize and send to existing contacts:

Set the stage for easier editorial management

No matter how you plan to involve external subject matter experts – written, audio, or otherwise – you’ll want to set the stage for their success right off the bat. There’s nothing worse for a content manager than receiving a submission at the deadline and realizing the writer misunderstood the assignment, lacked a working knowledge of your editorial focus or quality standards, or had little of value to add to your brand’s content conversations.

Creating a clear, well-detailed creative brief that you can share with external contributors (and even your internal content creators) can help you minimize content conundrums like these, as well as help you maintain a consistent voice and value proposition across all your brand’s content offerings.

Creating a clear, well-detailed creative brief that you can share with external contributors can help maintain a consistent voice for your brand, says @joderama via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

According to Daniel Hatch, creating an actionable content brief starts with outlining the most pertinent details. Here are a few of his top-line suggestions:

  • Title: What will this project be called?
  • Deadline: When is the final content due?
  • Messaging criteria: What is the angle/message/purpose for this content? What audience should it engage, and what information will they expect to receive from your brand?
  • Technical specs: Is there a target word count? What format should they write for? What are your requirements for including images, references, or other ancillary assets?
  • Submission process: How and where should the content be filed? Who should they contact if they have questions?
  • Resources: Are there style guides they can reference? Are there templates they should use? Will they need access to password-protected asset libraries, company file-sharing directories, or other proprietary systems to deliver on your expectations?
Put examples in creative #content briefs so writers/designers see what you want to accomplish. @daniel_hatch via @cmicontent Click To Tweet

The more detail you put in your content brief, the easier it is for writers to deliver on your expectations. For example, the template below is based on the one I use to assign articles to CMI’s digital magazine (CCO) contributors. Working with a structured format like this enables me to outline the story we want them to tell, the approach we recommend taking, and the voice and style that will make their work a good fit for the audience. I can also add customized fields when an article has unique requirements.

Outsource to expand your coverage capabilities

At times, you may not have access to the right writer for a content asset or have other reasons to reach outside your pool of trusted content contributors.

First step to outsourcing? Accept you don’t have capacity to produce quality #content at scale , says @joderama via @cmicontent Click To Tweet

If the situation calls for you to find fresh talent, the best way to start is with a targeted interview process – one that helps you identify and vet candidates who have the requisite skills and experience you need. You can check out my post on outsourcing content creation for details on one way to approach the process – including the helpful checklist (below) to get started on the right foot.

Open new doors with guest blogging

If, on the other hand, you’re looking to push your brand’s thought leadership beyond your owned channels, your content goals might be better served by pursuing guest blogging opportunities.

Ann Gynn shares her step-by-step guide to getting a guest post published. Start the process, she advises, by showing up with a nice “host gift” – i.e., a pitch that follows the outlet’s stated submission guidelines and a story idea customized for the audience it serves.

Accomplishing this involves doing a little hands-on research – to pursue the right opportunities, as well as to familiarize yourself with the kinds of content the outlet might accept for publication. Ann’s post offers handy process helpers for both goals, including tips on how to identify valuable sites, sample copy for delivering a relevant pitch, and a spreadsheet template for keeping track of all of your outreach.

If the site has a blog, look to see if it published #guestblogging guidelines, says @anngynn via @cmicontent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Remember to give if you want your content to achieve

No matter where you intend your content to appear, your efforts likely won’t further your marketing goals unless they offer something your intended audience needs and wants.

In a recent update to one of CMI’s most popular posts, Ahava Liebtag outlines the benchmarks that distinguish the kinds of content experiences that consumers crave from pitchy prose that only serves your brand’s interests.

Great #contentstrategy is taking the guesswork out of execution so creative content can flourish, says @ahaval via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT: Content Creation: The Essential Guide

Put your brand’s personality on display

One of the best things about content marketing is that any brand can do it – and most can even do it well. Yet, this is also one of the worst things about the discipline: So much great content competes for audiences’ attention that marketers now have to go the extra mile for their offerings to stand out.

Fortunately, a little personality can go a long way when it comes to turning an average content piece into one that sparks a meaningful connection and establishes the brand values that resonate with your audience.

When you write using the same language as your customers, you build rapport, says @ConquerContent via @cmicontent. #writingtips Click To Tweet

In her article, Sarah Rickerd offers 13 helpful tips for infusing your content with personal touches that can elevate average content into an artful conversation.

Pair content with the right distribution channel

No matter how skillfully, artfully, and strategically you’ve crafted your content, it won’t drive your marketing goals unless you’ve given the same careful consideration to how you share it with your audience.

Any content you publish – no matter where you choose to put it – has the potential to find favor with your brand’s fans and followers. Why not stack the odds in your favor and strengthen its ability to perform to your expectations by asking two simple questions before you distribute content on any platform?

  • Will our target audience find and engage with it here?
  • Can we achieve our specific goals using this platform?

To help make the smartest choices when sending out your assets to the masses, check out Aaron Agius’ brief tutorial on the content marketing goals to pursue on a few of the most popular distribution platforms. He also offers suggestions on the content formats most relevant to the audiences you’ll find on each platform.

If you don’t distribute your #content smartly, you’ll never achieve your brand’s #contentmarketing goals, says @IamAaronAgius via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

Build a sound plan to measure for meaning

Speaking of goals, you won’t know if you’re hitting them unless you are prepared to track and measure your content’s performance – both in terms of quantitative data and more qualitative indicators, such as audience sentiment.

To provide a general sense of the most valuable metrics for gauging common content marketing goals, CMI’s Vice President of Marketing Cathy McPhillips created this helpful chart:

Alternately, you can base your measurement plan on tracking the key performance indicators (KPIs) for each type of content (e.g., email newsletters, blog/website articles, social media posts, videos). The chart below outlines some of the most informative data points:

When putting a #measurement program in place, start by deciding how frequently you’ll collect data. @cmcphillips via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

For a more comprehensive view of how your content initiatives are performing, you may want to establish a formal measurement dashboard. It can account for the micro and macro goals established across each distribution platform and connected to a scoring system that facilitates apples-to-apples qualitative comparisons.

A #content scorecard marries qualitative and quantitative assessments, says @lindroux via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

You’ll find several tools and tips for building that dashboard in my measurement starter kit post, as well as templates (like the one below, for tracking social media conversations) that can keep you from starting from scratch.

Audit and optimize your content for search

Once you have the right analytics, you can evaluate individual factors impacting your content’s success and optimize the ones that aren’t performing to expectations.

However, some performance aspects are more complicated to gauge than others – SEO chief among them. Because search rankings are contingent on myriad algorithmic factors – including ones search engines don’t make transparent – tightening up your content’s search technique often requires a dedicated process: namely, the SEO audit.

As an article by Keith Hodges points out, a good SEO audit should cover on-page, off-site, and technical factors.

A good #SEO audit covers on-page, off-site, and technical factors, says @seokeith via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

But since on-page SEO is the factor content marketers have the most control over, it’s critical to understand how well strategic components like your landing page URL, metadata, headlines, and internal links stack up. Follow Keith’s process for conducting a quick on-page SEO audit to gather those insights – starting with filling in the table, below:

Make friends with failure

No content marketer likes to accept that failure is an option, but if you reframe the narrative around those inevitable missteps as an opportunity to improve, the proposition might feel more palatable.

While you may not salvage every content piece that struck out, CMI’s Vice President of Editorial Kim Moutsos offers great suggestions to take stock of what might have gone wrong, evaluate the potential to shift gears, and spice things up with help from new headlines and ledes, optimized calls to action, and a renewed focus on the sweet spot between your areas of authority and your audience’s pain points.

#Content often underperforms if it’s missing a tilt, says @KMoutsos via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

What will you do with all the extra time on your hands?

I hope these tips, tricks, and templates will make your content marketing tasks easier, more effective, and more satisfying. But don’t forget to reinvest a little of your newly reclaimed time by reading about all the techniques and industry perspectives we’ll be sharing in 2020 – and by letting us know in the comments what other topics you’d like to see us cover.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute