While marketers have relied on content in some form to power their campaigns for decades, the past few years have seen content marketing rise from something only the savviest brands did to an absolute essential for any marketing organization. In a world where 90% of the buyer’s journey occurs before a customer even reaches out to you, producing high quality, engaging content is crucial to influencing the purchasing decision.
This represents an exciting opportunity for marketing organizations to step up and own more of the sales funnel. But like any opportunity, there are enormous challenges: knowing what content to produce, creating content at scale, unifying stakeholders behind a common voice, finding great authors, ensuring your content is read by the right people, and measuring the performance of your content. Fortunately, with a smart plan, all of these are achievable goals.
There are 7 key elements to a content marketing plan:
- Forming an editorial board
- Setting your target market
- Determining goals and ownership structures
- Establishing your niche and voice
- Building an editorial calendar
- Setting up a workflow
- Measuring and making use of success
Let’s dive into each of these elements to understand the best practices that build a successful content marketing organization.
Forming An Editorial Board
While content marketing is usually owned by the marketing department, it can often evolve into a cross-disciplinary operation, especially in large organizations. Parts of your MarCom team are already working on many projects that will be closely related to your content, be they from the web team, marketing intelligence, social media, lead gen, or even events. Naturally sales and account management will want a say on what you produce as well, while certain organizations may need sign offs from legal or compliance departments.
Aligning all these disparate teams into an Editorial (or Advisory) Board not only heads off conflicts before they can occur, but assures that all your best ideas come together in a unified manner. Your whole organization will understand what content is being produced and when, so that as soon as you have a great new story written it can be Tweeted, emailed, given to your sales team, and more.
With an Editorial Board, you’ll know your organization is making the most out of every bit of content produced. In a world where up to 70% of content produced by B2B companies isn’t getting used, this is of vital importance.
Setting Your Target Market
Like any marketing campaign, your content needs to be unified around a set audience or target market. This is doubly important when it comes to brand storytelling, as you’re not just trying to sell your wares, you’re telling stories that your audience WANTS to hear. But without knowing who your audience is, you can’t begin to discern what information they’re looking for.
While your content initiatives’ target market may most likely be informed by that of your marketing as a whole, they’re not necessarily one and the same. Just as your company may use “TV commercials during sporting events” to target one subset of your market, you may find that content marketing speaks better to some of your buyers than others. Understanding the content your audience is looking for, and assessing your abilities to provide that, will inform you of not only WHO to target, but as you will soon see, WHAT to give them and WHERE to host it.
The more you already know about your buyers, the better. Additional insight can be gained not just through market research, but assessing the existing content landscape: what are your competitors doing that works, what independent news sources are popular on your topics, which authors are successful and why, and what are the overarching stories that resonate with those that are either looking to make a purchase or likely to influence others who may.
Determining Goals & Ownership Structures
Now that you know whom you’re writing for, it’s important to establish some goals for your content initiative. What exactly are you trying to achieve?
More specifically, how does content fit into your overall MarCom activities? Are you hoping to achieve thought leadership for your brand or executives? Do you wish to increase brand awareness? Or is lead generation your main concern?
The way your brand tells stories will be heavily influenced by this decision, so don’t take it lightly. In fact, this is an important first test for your newly formed Editorial Board. Once you’ve reached a decision, you can then establish ownership structures and hire or assign roles accordingly.
While smaller organizations may choose to assign content roles to existing marketing personnel, a company truly dedicated to brand journalism will look to hire either a Director of Content or Managing Editor to oversee their content efforts.
While both titles can in practice bear similar responsibilities, they represent different backgrounds for a potential hire. A Director of Content may come from a more traditional marketing background, and thus be intimately familiar with KPIs, acquisition costs, and budgeting processes. A Managing Editor, on the other hand, will most likely be a former journalist: well practiced in the art of crafting a story that connects with readers, editing other writers, and the art of writing an eye-grabbing headline.
Some organizations may even choose to hire both of these roles, with the Director of Content focusing more on the budgeting and technical implication of your content marketing, while the Managing Editor handles the day-to-day content production.
Now that you’ve decided who is in charge of content, and what your overarching goals are, you can set metrics to be achieved. Simple metrics like pageviews and social shares are easy to measure, but don’t necessarily reflect actual performance –after all a bunch of kids watching your YouTube videos doesn’t mean anyone is more likely to buy your products. More meaningful metrics like “share of voice” or “share of attention” get closer to understanding how much your content is improving your brand’s standing, but can be tricky to measure.
Oftentimes, a mix of metrics works best, with the head of your content reporting those on a weekly, monthly, and quarterly basis to the VP of Marketing or CMO: however works best for your company’s marketing structure.
Establishing Your Niche & Voice
An Example from BBC’s Language Guide
Understanding your audience, as well as the goals of your content marketing campaign, goes a long way to helping you decide what sort of stories to cover.
The next step is to research exactly what sorts of stories are resonating with your audience. There are a number of ways to start this investigation: analyze the web traffic of different industry publications, track the social shares of your competitors’ content, do research with your existing buyers, or you could simply keep an eye on social media to see what people are talking about.
Now that you have a sense of what your audience wants, you need to assess your own ability to meet that need. Your company is going to have expertise in certain areas, less so in others. Are there writers internal to your organization that are natural fits for certain topics? Do you need to bring in contract writers for some stories, either on a one-off or ongoing basis?
Even more crucial is understanding what it is that is UNIQUE to your company that you can write about (and that your audience wants to hear) to differentiate yourself. Think about the problems your product solves and how your organization does that uniquely. Share learnings from your events and product launches that not only humanize your brand, but provide value to outsiders.
Once you’ve established the topics you’ll cover, it’s important you come up with a voice, tone, and style that will represent your brand. What are your company’s values? Are you a “serious business” or the playful underdog? Say you’re going to be writing mostly about technical specifications – are you better off keeping things dry and corporate, or would using more flowery language represent a way to differentiate your brand?
There’s no universally right answer; every company will find something else works best for them. But once you’ve decided on that, establish it firmly in a Style Guide, capturing not just the tone of your brand, but specifics like which words to use and which not to. This is something news organizations have been doing for decades, so use theirs as inspiration; here is a clever one from The Economist.
Building An Editorial Calendar
An editorial calendar is what separates smart content marketing from mere blogging. With a schedule of posts and their backed-out deadlines, you’ll be hitting the right topics at the right times, providing consistently interesting fodder that keeps your audience coming back for more.
Map the next quarter out, and then set to fill that three-month calendar in. How much content per week is your organization capable of creating at a sufficiently high quality level? Keep in mind that not only will some subjects take longer to address, but certain types of media – videos, infographics – will too.
If you’re struggling to understand when to schedule what, you can start with news events that have a known timeline. When is your next product release? Schedule a post around it. What events are you attending this quarter? Have some stories ready about those, followed up with videos from the event afterward.
Next, fill out your calendar with regularly scheduled long-form pieces that represent your thought leadership and expertise in the field. Suddenly your calendar is already looking pretty full; fill in the remaining space with trend pieces and reactions to industry happenings that will necessarily be more real-time. As your content organization continues to churn out stories and you get a better sense of what works, what doesn’t, and how long things take, you can adjust your schedules accordingly.
Setting Up A Workflow
Just as your calendar says when which content will go live, your workflow is a calendar of all the sub-steps that go into making that piece of content come to life. After all, a fantastic whitepaper isn’t written, edited, and published in a single day (and if it is, we’d like a word with your author!)
The amount of time that goes into any one piece varies linearly with the length of the content, the complexity of the subject, and the diversity of the assets that need to accompany it.
A simple blog post can be written on day 1, edited on day 2, and go live by day 3. But even a blog post can grow into something more complex if you need to source an outside writer for it, verify facts, get graphics made for it, and then set up a content distribution plan for it once it’s gone live.
There are a number of great tools out there that not only ease this process, but keep everyone abreast of the status of any piece in production: Contently, Newscred, & Kapost to name a few. Different tools have different advantages, some let you source writers from their network, while others have pre-licensed content you can republish.
It’s important to keep in mind that a workflow doesn’t necessarily end once an asset has gone live. You need to distribute & promote it, monitor its success, and then repurpose successful content into additional formats.
Measuring And Making Use of Success
Content marketing doesn’t end once your story is out the door. You need to monitor the performance of your assets, learning from what works and what doesn’t, and making the most of your high-performance content.
Measuring success in content marketing is a topic open to constant debate, with the industry currently shifting from pageviews to time-on-page or time-on-site. At Appinions, we think “share of attention” is an even more important metric, as it captures the efficacy of your content programs as a whole. We’ll explore our thoughts behind this in a follow-up post; what’s important for now is that you have some benchmarks you’re using, so that you can confidently say Asset A outperformed Asset B.
Then, when you see that Asset A was a hit, you can prepare to make the most of it, improving your ROI and ensuring you don’t run out of content. For example, if this blog post does well, we will expand it into an eBook. The possibilities are endless – a single great story can be turned into a number of blog posts, a long-form eBook, a podcast or video, a behind the scenes or making of slideshare, and you can even present it live at an event. Then, each of those represents an opportunity for a landing page, a series of Tweets and updates, and some more fodder for your drip email campaigns. If you’re creative, the possibilities for content reuse are endless.
In fact, that speaks to the real power of content marketing: clever marketers will find that they are unbridled, and can express themselves and their brand in myriad smart ways that get people thinking about them. And when people are enjoying your content, and thinking about your brand, you’re taking back the buyer’s journey. Suddenly, you’re back in control; your marketing team looks smart; and it’s all thanks to content planning.
If you don’t already have a strategy for your content marketing initiatives, don’t fret. Sadly, only 35% of B2B marketers have a documented content strategy; so let this be an opportunity to get ahead of the curve and codify what may have been your existing informal processes. While you’re working on that, check back shortly for a follow-up piece on some of the common pitfalls of content planning, and our thoughts on how Appinions for Content Marketing can improve even the best content plans.