Trouble Sleeping? Try Documenting Your Content Marketing Plan

March 7, 2016

You’re a successful, creative marketer. You can riff with the best of them and roll with whatever crosses your path. You’re optimistic. You’re optimizable. And you’re well aware of the optics. Of every situation.

But what is your plan?

Like it or not, that is the question that separates the grown-ups from the babies. According to this year's B2B report from the Content Marketing Institute and Marketing Profs, content marketers today seem to be headed in a backward direction: A whopping 55 percent of you are unsure what success looks like because only 32 percent of you have a documented content marketing strategy—down from 35 percent last year.

So after putting together this year’s plan for my own team, I thought it might be helpful to share our process. We start with an overarching goal, and then drill down to the nitty-gritty pieces and parts. This is the order of things:

Goal > Objectives > Strategies > Tactics

Step 1: Set your goal.

A goal is like your team’s elevator pitch for the year. What’s the big picture? What does all your hard work drive to? Goals seem easy because they’re qualitative in nature. For example:

Create a world-class global content engine that fuels demand generation, increases brand awareness, and drives thought leadership.

Easily said, right? But if you belong to the marketing organization of a large company, you need to make sure your content marketing goal aligns with the rest of your company, particularly your sales and product teams. A year from now, when you supply evidence to your C-suite of your progress, you want them to thank you handsomely—not sit there looking confused about why you did what you did.

Step 2: Build your objectives.

What is your plan of attack? How will you work toward your goal? Objectives can be broken into three key parts, according to Amber Naslund in this oldie-but-goodie post:

  • What you intend to do
  • How you’ll measure it
  • Your deadline

In other words, objectives are quantitative, rather than aspirational. You’re pinning yourself down here. Objectives ladder up to your goal, and you should have several. Here are a few examples:

  1. Increase MQLs driven by Big Rock content by 20 percent in Q2 2016.
  2. Establish your CEO as a thought leader by placing three bylined columns in major publications in the next six months.
  3. Increase blog subscribers by 15 percent in the next three months.
  4. Establish a Company Page on LinkedIn with 500 followers within three months.

As Naslund points out, it’s important to start with a baseline for objectives measured on growth, so you know where you're starting from. If you don’t currently have a process in place to collect a metric you need, stop and figure that problem out first.

Step 3: Define your strategy.

How will you achieve your objectives? Your strategy is a compass, pointing you in the right direction. For example, to achieve the first objective above, your strategy might look like this:

  1. Determine who your customers are and what their buying journeys look like.
  2. Create helpful, relevant content for each stage of the journey.
  3. Deliver it to the right person at the right time.
  4. Measure content effectiveness and optimize accordingly.

Sounds like Content Marketing 101, right? Still, it’s important to be clear about what you’re doing, and why. The next step is where you really earn your stripes.

Step 4: Determine your tactics.

What are the actions you take that cause the strategy to work? What are the events and interactions that, when taken together, comprise your strategy? –Seth Godin

To follow through on your strategic initiatives, you have to think them through carefully and come up with a detailed plan of action. For the first strategy above, your tactics might look like this:

  1. Write down a detailed list of buyer persona questions. Where do they get information? How do they spend their days? What do they care about at each stage of the journey?
  2. Interview customers, prospects, and members of your sales team to answer those questions.
  3. Create a survey and an incentive program to gather information from current and prospective customers.

For strategy number two, the tactics follow logically:

  1. Gather a list of topics important to current buyers at various stages of the journey.
  2. Determine Big Rock topic, focus, format, and timeline.
  3. Develop a list of tactical elements (webinars, blog posts, sponsored updates, infographics) that tie into the Big Rock at each stage of the journey.
  4. Create an editorial calendar combining tactical elements and topics.
  5. Identify team members responsible for each tactic.

And so forth. Each tactical step may require even more drill-down and planning. Get as detailed as you can, but understand that tactics are easier to modify and flesh out as you go than strategies, objectives, and goals.

Tactics are, in fact, flexible by their very nature. What may seem like brilliant insight today may be old news by the time you execute it. Leave room for real-time responses to market and political winds. Stay on top of technology and design breakthroughs, and strive for the element of surprise. Ultimately, a content marketer’s goal is to be agile and responsive, as well as supremely organized.

For more insight on how to produce great content consistently, download The Sophisticated Marketer's Guide to Content Marketing today!

Photo: Moyan Brenn