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How to Develop a Content Marketing Plan with Templates

If you are like most marketers, you begin your content marketing efforts with the best of intentions. You have great ideas for content that you are sure readers will connect with. You have some thoughts about places to promote that content. And you know that you’ll find the time and resources you need to develop a content marketing plan.

But then you don’t.

To realize the potential content marketing offers, it’s critical to have a plan. It sounds simple, yet it’s a step many content marketers don’t take. Seventy percent of marketers lack a consistent or integrated content strategy (Altimeter), and only 29 percent of leading marketers systematically reuse and repurpose content (Curata).

That’s because creating such a plan is daunting. It requires marketers to analyze where their marketing efforts have been and what they want it to achieve in the future.

If you are one of the 70 percent of marketers operating without a plan, take heart: we’ve got the information and templates you need to guide you through the planning process and produce a content plan that can generate results.

Content Marketing Plan Is More than Just Content

Why is it so hard for marketers to create a strategic plan for their content? Let’s start by taking a look at what content marketing is:

The Content Marketing Institute defines it this way:

Content marketing is the strategic marketing approach of creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience—with the objective of driving profitable customer action.

Note the emphasis on strategy in this statement. Taking a strategic approach to your content plan ensures your message cuts through the clutter and reaches your target audience with the right information at the right time.

The Value of a Content Marketing Plan

More than an editorial calendar, a content marketing plan document is your road map to a successful content marketing effort. There are several benefits to having this level of planning in place before you start sharing content.

To start, a good strategy document will clearly define the key elements of your effort. It will specifically outline who you will be talking to, what you will say and how to say it, where the content will be promoted, and how you will know when you have been successful.

Having this type of plan keeps everyone involved in creating and sharing your content on the same page, ensuring you have the resources needed to manage all aspects of a successful content campaign. From writing and posting to sharing and tracking, each member of the team knows what needs to happen and when.

Moreover, you have a road map or guide that you can share with others in your organization. This ensures that your content marketing goals are in alignment with—and are fully supporting—the goals of your organization.

Sharing your plan also gets others in your organization to buy into the role that content plays in making the organization successful. This not only supports your efforts but also gives you a team of employees who are engaged and willing to share the company’s content.

Understanding the value your content strategy brings is a good first step. Now let’s look at how to create that strategy and at the templates that are available to guide the process along the way.

The Start of a Successful Content Plan

The Content Audit

You can’t tell where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been. That’s why the first step in creating your content strategy plan starts with a content audit.

To start, gather all your content that is currently produced by your organization: keywords, blog, website, social media, etc. Then, using a content inventory spreadsheet, to chart how successful each of these elements has been to your content strategy. Read more about how to conduct an audit.

Now take the time to analyze the results.

To start, you’ll want to see what content was most successful and what didn’t meet your expectations. Try to get a sense for the reasons behind these outcomes.

You’ll also want to note what’s in your content “library” so you can reuse that content in your strategy document. It’s also important to note gaps in your subject areas so that you can create new content to fill that void.

The content audit will take some time and effort. But as you will see later in this post, it gives you the details needed to build your content marketing plan.

Defining the Audience for Your Content Marketing Plan

With the audit completed, you’re ready to take the next—and most critical—step in developing your content strategy. Here you’ll want to define the purpose of your content marketing plan.

Purpose is a big topic but essentially it comes down to two important elements: who are you targeting with your content, and what do you want them to do with the information you provide?

Let’s start with the audience.

Todd Wheatland, Author and Speaker, Global Strategy at King Content | @ToddWheatland
Content strategies typically fail because they haven’t really understood the audience well enough. Everything that comes afterwards is based on that starting point – make it count!

Review the information you compiled in your content audit to see who is responding to what content. As you do this, be aware that some of the business problems or trends that were an issue in the past might not be relevant to the strategy you are building today.

Also, look at your buyer personas. If they are up to date, these composites of ideal customers will help you understand the current needs and problems.

Collaborate with your sales and marketing teams. As this article notes, all too often sales and marketing act as a silos, each focused on its own effort.  But when you bring these two teams together, it can have a positive impact your content strategy.

Ask your sales team about the customers and prospects they talk to on a regular basis. What are these prospects telling your salespeople about their problems, the industry, and the role your product or service plays in making their life better? You can gather a wealth of useable information in one conversation.

Matching Content with Your Audience

With this audience defined, you then want to consider what action you want your content to inspire.

To find out, start with the information gathered in the content audit. Look at what content areas were successful, and ask yourself the following:

  • What is the message of this content?
  • Who are these messages targeted toward?
  • Why was this piece successful?
  • Are these still the right messages for the right audience?

Analyzing what content was successful with which audience gives you a start on developing your content messages.

Now let’s look at what you want the audience to do with the content you create.

For example, if you are trying to gain awareness in your marketplace, then content that is education-based will be beneficial. This type of content can shed new light on a business problem your prospects have. Then include information that shows them new ways (such as your product) to solve that problem.

If you want to gain sales or interest in your product or service, then your content will need to be more focused on specific benefits while still being educational. This type of content can encourage a new understanding of your product but should never be an all-out sales piece.

Your content can also be used to change perceptions. This level of content goes beyond an education and includes a high level of persuasion.

These are just a few ideas. To be inspired, read this in-depth look at how to connect content with your buyers.

Finally, no matter what type of content you create, be sure that your content is compelling enough to give the reader the information he or she needs to think or act in a new way.

Creating Your Editorial Calendar

Congratulations!

You’ve done your audit, defined the audience and the goals of your content strategy. If you’ve used the content audit template we have provided along the way, then you now have the information you need to develop your editorial calendar.

In short, the editorial calendar is the working document that provides everyone involved in your content effort with the information they need to produce, deliver and promote the content strategy plan.

Adele Revella, CEO of Buyer Persona Institute | @buyerpersona
When you map your buyer’s journey, make sure you first have insight into the questions your buyers ask and which answers they want to hear. Your competitors are focused only on where and how to deliver content, but buyers consistently tell us that it’s the substance of the content that matters.

At high level, your editorial calendar needs to answer the critical questions of who, what, where, when and why of your content strategy:

  • Who? Who on your content team is responsible for the creation, posting and promotion of the content? In addition, this question also asks to whom are you targeting this content? Customers, prospects, the market as a whole?
  • What?What is the goal of the content? What information will it include and what is the desired action you want the reader to take?

Also, what format will the content take? Is it a video, blog post, infographic, or podcast? Keep in mind that a lot of the content you create can be repurposed in another format. A blog post can easily be turned into an infographic, for example. The editorial calendar is a good place to note what can be repurposed and how.

  • Where?What channels will you use to promote the content? This can include your owned channels such as your Facebook Page, blog, website, YouTube channel, email newsletters, etc. You can also include any paid promotions that further promote your content.

The editorial calendar is also a good place to keep the URLs associated with where your contented has been posted.

  • When?You need to plan all the critical dates associated with creating and distributing your content. Be sure to allow enough time for the development of written or visual elements you’ll want to include with your content, including images, illustrations for infographics, and charts.
  • Why? Why create this content? What outcome do you expect to receive from this effort? Charting this information ensures that your content aligns with the goals of your organization, and can also show you where you need to add additional resources or subject areas.

You’ll also want to note what results you achieved from your content marketing activity. Including details about the actual outcome helps you understand where your success has been and lets you prepare for the next content audit!

Now that you’ve got the high-level view of how to create an editorial calendar, read more about how to capture and track this information so that your team – and your strategy – stays on target.

Tracking and Reporting on Your Success

There are dozens of ways to measure the effectiveness of your content strategy. But, as Rebecca Lieb, Digital Advertising, Media & Content Analyst, Altimeter (@lieblink) notes, what matters the most is that you are providing data on the metrics that are important to your organization. She says:

It makes no difference whatsoever what MY most important content marketing metric is—the real question is: what metric, what key performance indicator is most important to your business? No two marketers’ objectives are exactly alike. What matters is aligning against business goals, not all the abstract things you can measure.

As we have noted all along, sharing your content strategy with others in your organization ensures that you get their buy-in and demonstrates how the content strategy supports other sales and marketing initiatives. It is critical to keep that spirit of collaboration alive during the reporting process.

Before engaging your content strategy, ask what metrics are important to your company and be sure you can provide the relevant data on that metric.

Larry Kim, CEO of MobileMonkey & Founder of WordStream | @LarryKim
Use Google Analytics (User Explorer), Facebook Audience Insights, Twitter Analytics (etc.) to get a better idea of the demographics, behaviors and interests associated with your prospects and customers. Ensure that your content creation and promotion efforts are aligned with your audience data.

For example, if your organization values the consumption of content, then you will want to provide details on how many people are consuming your content, how often it is being shared, and by whom.

If leads and sales are the yardstick by which your efforts are measured, you’ll want to offer a different set of statistics. Provide your organization with data on how well content marketing is supporting lead generation and lead nurturing activities. Or, include data that shows how the content strategy is supporting sales, helping to fill the pipeline and move prospects along until they ultimately drive revenue.

Here’s an example of content marketing analytics and the type of information that can be detailed in your report.

 

Content marketing can be a vital resource for an organization. Be sure you have the data you need to fully demonstrate just how valuable it is. A vital part of your content marketing plan is the editorial  calendar. For a detailed editorial calendar template, look here.

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