The idea of planning out the content you are going to create seems like an easy enough task, right? I mean, just take some time and jot down all your awesome ideas and done! Well, sort of…
See, if you’re feeling completely overwhelmed by the whole content planning process, you’re not alone. Your content planning hurdle isn’t a lack of great ideas; it’s validating these good ideas for the right audience in the right way. With just a little more direction and structure to your content planning process, you’ll be organizing your content for success in no time.
Here are 10 manageable steps you can take to plan your content out like a content marketer and start seeing better results:
Step 1: Create Your Content Mission Statement
To create content that is going to serve your brand, you have to first identify how you want your content to support specific business goals. Therefore, the first step is to have your firm’s business objectives front and center for everyone responsible for content marketing success.
By doing this, you will be able to identify which goals your brand is having difficulty achieving and this will inform a content strategy highly focused to overcome it. And this will then lead into creating a content mission statement: an outline of your company’s reason for creating content and the priorities and perspectives it will uphold in pursuit of that mission (as defined by the Content Marketing Institute).
Knowing why you are creating content and towards what purpose is the cornerstone of successful content marketing. Don’t skip this step. It will keep you and everyone else on the team aligned with creating content that helps achieve business goals.
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Step 2: Set Content Program Goals
Speaking of goals, once you have your mission statement created, it will be that much easier to identify your content program goals. These content goals are set in addition to an overall business goal and are more specific to the function of the content itself!
Here’s a simple example:
Business goal: To grow revenue by 25% in the next 12 months.
Challenge: The company is not on pace for this increased revenue and is challenged to bring in new clients who have never done business with them before.
So, perfectly acceptable Content Program Goals could be to raise awareness in the marketplace and increase sales leads through its website.
When your content program is focused on a couple goals and it is documented, it will prevent the knee-jerk “do everything” or “throw spaghetti at the wall” temptation. Instead, you’ll be much more poised for success when you have a clear destination in mind.
Step 3: Map Out Your Sales Funnel
What specific steps do your clients go through to become a client? Write it down, draw it out – each step. Every brand’s sales funnel is different with some similarities, so make sure you map out yours specifically. How do the majority of your customers find your business? What do they do first? Next? How do they contact you? What action do you guide them to take? What is the hand-off from marketing to sales? Sales to customer service?
Knowing the experience your potential clients walk through that leads them on the path of becoming beloved clients will come in handy in just a few more steps.
Step 4: Identify Your Audience
This step is so important I harp on it in almost all of my articles. No matter how good your plan is, the only true measure of successful content is whether or not your audience love it. Period. End of story. If you’re creating content and feel like it’s just not working – it’s you, not them. You have no idea how generous your audience will be with their time and support if you provide them with valuable content they can use and that makes them look good to share.
So friends, if you have avoided creating buyer personas up to this point – it is time. If you don’t, Steps 4 through 10 will be worthless. I mean it. You absolutely must know who your audience is, intimately. If you need help developing these, go here to download a guide for defining your ideal client. This will walk you through building your buyer personas and supply you with free templates you can fill out as well.
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Step 5: List Out Your Audience’s Biggest Challenges and Priorities
Step five is a continuation of Step 4. In building out your buyer personas, you will have researched and identified your ideal client’s biggest challenges and most pressing priorities. Isolate these and generate a separate list with just this information.
Having this list of your ideal client’s biggest challenges and priorities will help you create content topic ideas that help them in these most important areas. If you are a financial advisor targeting a professional woman between the ages of 30 and 40 years old who runs her own business, one of her biggest challenges might be keeping her business finances organized, because she is simply too busy to stay on top of it. Remaining focused on her and her challenges is going to help you position your brand and your content in the next step.
Step 6: List Out Your Brand’s Value to Your Customer
When you really understand your audience, what’s most important to them and where their biggest challenges exist in their life, you can more effectively plan content that serves them and their needs.
On the same page where you listed out all of your audience’s biggest challenges and most pressing priorities, create a second column next to these and write down the value your brand delivers that helps address or solve their needs. It can literally be as simple as this quick image I sketched out here that uses the example of a financial advisor targeting a woman business owner.
Know what you bring to the table for your ideal client. When you focus your value to their problem, you can really cook-up some wonderful content ideas that will resonate.
Step 7: Generate Your Awesome Ideas
Now you’re ready to put pen to paper and generate some content ideas. You know which business objectives your content program is supporting. You understand the goals your content should achieve. You’ve mapped out the sales funnel so you know when and where content will be most valuable. You deeply understand who your target audience is, their challenges and the value your brand delivers to them.
Each content idea should map to a goal and speak directly to your target audience. Have fun and think outside the box. I personally go through an exercise in which I generate ideas freely on a blank piece of paper. I give myself the freedom to brainstorm without limitations and then carefully organize my ideas into a simple Excel spreadsheet before transferring my ideas into a well-planned editorial calendar. If you’re not one to sit down and write, dictate to yourself to capture all your ideas before transcribing. As strategic as content planning is, it is still a creative process and this is the step where you need to let yourself explore.
Step 8: Align Your Content Ideas to Sales Funnel
Then organize all your awesome content ideas content by audience, stage in the sales funnel and format. This will ensure that your content ideas aren’t just ideas, but strategically planned to achieve its mission and goals.
Generally speaking, most sales funnels follow a progression like this, but be sure to follow your firm’s sales funnel that you prepared in Step 3 so that it’s customized to your client’s unique experience with you.
- Certain content will be used for awareness or first impression. This is the content that someone might be looking for that provides them a first introduction to your brand and starts building trust.
- Other content maps to consideration or deeper understanding of what you do. This is the content that moves your ideal client from just a general awareness of your brand to closer engagement where they may download a unique offer in exchange for their contact information so that you can continue to follow-up with them directly.
- Then you’ll have content specifically for decision-making. This is the content that helps them make a purchasing decision. Maybe it’s a special they can’t resist.
- And finally you’ll have content that’s geared towards deepening your relationship on an ongoing basis. This is the content that continues to add value to your audience long after they become a client.
Step 9: Organize Your Editorial Calendar
By this step, you are so organized and ready to go it’s ridiculous! Wow! All that’s left is to organize all your content into an editorial calendar so that you keep yourself accountable and consistent. Your editorial calendar will organize content due dates, roles, formats, audience, sales funnel stage, distribution channel, publish dates, content-specific goals and maybe even your target keywords.
There are some great editorial calendar templates out there and many marketing automation tools have more advanced tools you can use. The free and easy way is to create an Excel spreadsheet with a column for each of the items I list above. To get even more organized and automated so that you can more efficiently plan, publish and distribute your content – I highly recommend CoSchedule, an all in one content marketing scheduler.
Step 10: Create
You’re ready now. Create with confidence that your content will connect, engage and perform. And one more word of advice: create content as if you were creating for an audience of one (good thing you have those buyer personas!). When you have someone very specific in mind, you tend to create content that is more personal, more valuable and allows you to connect deeply. Remember to be yourself. As a professional service provider, one of the ways you differentiate your content from others in your industry isn’t necessarily by the topics you address, but HOW you address them and the unique personality you unleash to deliver value.
And that, my friends, is how to plan your content. Good luck and you know where to find me if you have any questions or need help along the way!
Ready to finally define your ideal client and successfully plan your content?