What is a content marketing plan?
Content marketing is the creation, publication, and distribution of content that reinforces important company messages. Content is primarily used to attract and build trust with target audiences by sharing expertise and establishing authority. Consistent, quality content also helps organizations achieve thought leadership within their market, build brand awareness, boost organic search, and generate and convert leads.
Content is the foundation of nearly all types of marketing — from product marketing to email marketing to social media. But it is also a strategic marketing approach in its own right. So while content is typically one aspect of a marketing team's overall marketing plan, most marketing teams build out separate content plans to define content activities, set production schedules, and keep the team in sync.
The importance of a content plan
A content plan aligns content work with your overall marketing team strategy, defines the content you will create, and sets timelines for getting it done. It should serve as a high-level guide that defines the topics, cadence, and channels that make it possible to communicate with your audience in a way that inspires them to engage and take action.
Your content plan will include the content needed to support specific campaigns, product launches, or other initiatives to reach new audiences. It should also define the plan for your regular production cadence, which might include blog posts or newsletter content. Creating a calendar is a great way to bring all of these deliverables together. Calendars not only help set the timelines for getting work done, but they also help you visualize everything — from the status of a particular piece of content to its associated campaign — in a single view.
Content plans are essential for a number of reasons:
Strategy alignment: Content plans align content work with marketing and overall organizational objectives, ensuring that content teams focus on the work that matters most.
Coordination: The best content plans clearly define what will be completed and when, keeping teams on schedule and in sync.
Messaging alignment: Content plans get the whole team on the same page with approved messaging by providing a framework for communicating company messages.
Visibility: Content plans offer visibility into a company's content work. This is useful for the broader marketing team as well as executive leadership.
Agility: Well-crafted content plans give content teams the agility to quickly adapt and respond to current events that resonate with audiences.
Components of a content plan
Content plans can incorporate many different types of content. When creating a content plan, consider the types that resonate best with your audiences. For example, consumer audiences are more likely to engage with social media or email content, while business audiences tend to consume more educational content such as white papers or blog posts.
Here are the definitions of the types of content you might include in your plan.
Blog posts are articles written from the perspective of individuals within an organization and live on the company's website. Blog posts typically share best practices and commentary on topics relevant to customers.
Ebooks are digitized books that are used to share high-value information relevant to a company's customers, such as industry-specific best practices. eBooks are often created to establish expertise and generate leads.
How-to guides educate readers about how to complete a task that is either specific to their use of the product or relevant to their customers' needs. Content teams use how-to guides to establish trust and expertise among target audiences.
Infographics are graphical representations of data or other information. They are used to visualize content to attract and quickly inform an audience. Infographics are great for survey data or conveying a complex topic and can be used within any other forms of content, such as blog posts or ebooks.
Newsletters are emails sent to customers or other subscribers that include company updates, links to other content, promotions, or other timely information. Companies typically send newsletters weekly, monthly, or quarterly.
Social media post
Social media posts include any content that is posted on a company's social media pages, such as LinkedIn, or Facebook. These can provide short-form standalone content or be used as a channel to promote and link audiences to long-form content.
Success stories describe how customers are achieving goals and deriving real benefits by using a company's product or service. They are designed to provide a third-party perspective on the value of a company's offerings.
Syndicated content is material that was originally created for one channel and is then used on other channels. Content teams syndicate content to reach a wider net of readers. For example, an article might be published on a blog first and later shared on LinkedIn.
User generated content
User generated content (UGC) is any content about a company created by the company's customers. UGC can be shared on social media or on a company's owned channels. UGC most often takes the form of social media posts from customers.
Videos are used in content marketing to establish expertise, offer educational content, or promote products or services. Videos are often used in place of or to supplement written content because they are easy to consume and visually pleasing.
White papers are long-form educational reports or guides on topics relevant to an organization's products or services. Content teams use white papers to establish or reinforce their organization's expertise. They typically live on a company's website behind a gated form that captures leads.
How to create a content plan
Content is a vital part of any organization's efforts to attract and convert leads. At their most basic level, content plans provide a production schedule for upcoming content work. But building an effective content plan involves much more than that. You must ground your plan in measurable and time-bound goals, define workflows, determine your content mix, and much more.
As a start, a monthly calendar can help you visualize your content plan. This whiteboard template in Aha! Notebooks is a great option for sketching out your content schedule, annotating ideas, and collaborating without the rigidity of a normal calendar. Plus, once everything is mapped out, work can easily be converted into a strategic plan in Aha! Roadmaps.
Follow the steps below to build a plan that helps you get the most out of your content as well as your overall marketing efforts.
Set your goals
Start with your overall business and marketing goals and determine how content will help you achieve those goals and when. This step must always come first. The goals you set now will influence the remaining decisions you make about your content plan. Content marketing goals might include increased website traffic, conversions, or share of voice.
Complete an audit
If this is your first content plan, document all of the content you already have and how well it performs against KPIs. And identify where your content is failing to support the customer journey or speak to customer needs. Keyword analysis is also important here — look for missed opportunities based on your target terms. Your audit will help you decide what types of content or topics to include in your plan and what you want to leave out in order to achieve your goals.
Decide your content mix
Each type of content brings a unique set of benefits, so it is important to use your goals to determine which types of content you will create. Search-optimized website content and blogs are great for increased web traffic, while social media content can help boost brand awareness. Remember who your customers are too. Know what types of content they will read and engage with and create your mix accordingly.
Determine delivery channels
After you decide the type of content you want to create, determine how you will deliver it to your audiences. This decision should be based on the typical buyer journey for your company's products or services. What channels do prospects use to interact with your company before converting? How much research do they conduct before making a purchase? Email drip campaigns, paid advertising, and social media are commonly used channels for distributing content.
Brainstorm themes and topics
Once you have decided on your content and channel mix, decide at a high level what themes you want to write about and identify specific topics within those themes. It is important to ensure that the themes you choose tie back to the company's overall vision and strategy. Your content must always help move overall organizational objectives forward.
Detail production workflows
It is important to determine what steps are involved in the creation of each piece of content. Who within your organization needs to review each piece? What does the editing and approval process look like? This will help you create a plan that is possible to be completed within your set time frame.
Set a production cadence
With workflows in mind, determine how often you want to publish content. Do you want to post two blog posts per week or three? What about daily social posts? Then determine the resources you need to accomplish it. You might need additional in-house support or maybe freelance writers if your desired cadence is not manageable with the resources you currently have. Or you might need to adjust your cadence so it is realistic for your current team.
Create a schedule
Once you have defined production workflows and cadence, set timelines for each piece of content and assign the work to the appropriate internal team members or outside resources. This will keep your team in sync and on schedule. Schedules are often visualized in a calendar that clearly show go-live dates as well as any associated themes, campaigns, or personas.
Lastly, determine what all needs to happen for your plan to be successful — including cross-functionally. This will help you prioritize work and set your team up to meet deadlines. For example, a script must be completed before a videographer can begin working on a video.
Content marketing can be incredibly effective — especially in B2B where buyers are increasingly conducting their own research before reaching out to companies to make a purchase. Content can serve as a way to attract potential customers and differentiate your products or services during this critical research phase.
To get the most out of your content marketing efforts, you need a solid plan that sets strategy, defines the work, and keeps your team on schedule.
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