Somehow, it feels that content planning receives short shrift at the beginning of each year.
Maybe that’s because content plans depend on other plans which haven’t fully coalesced. Plus:
- Account-based marketing (ABM) depends on sales targeting
- Product-related content depends on launch plans
- Content plans themselves often depend on other lead-gen or conference activities
Worse, content needs can change unexpectedly. Although the plan looks great in January, by May you might be shifting gears to exploit a competitor’s weakness or support a newly hired subject-matter expert. Five months into the year means you’ll likely have to pivot to address to changes in markets or messaging.
It’s reasonable to tell people you need more time and budget to support new initiatives or that something’s got to give to get new content — but reason might not win that battle.
Rolling Up Your Sleeves Isn’t Enough
You’re a marketing professional: highly adaptable, productive, and business-focused, so perhaps it makes sense to tackle content generation needs as they arise. You know the business and the market, after all. Who could create better content?
Alas, it’s not that easy. People tend to skew towards skepticism when a vendor speaks. They’ll listen but want objective validation of thought leadership positions. And unfortunately, you serve a lot of masters.
- Sales executives need you to position specific products and services for sale.
- Product managers expect you to highlight their cool new features.
- Consultants want you to focus on their areas of expertise.
It’s tough to create objective, credible thought leadership when people narrow your focus to specific sales, product, or service targets.
You can work your tail off and still not get the results your clients expect because you’re buffeted between competing forces and left without the credibility, social media pull, and lead-generating attraction of outside sources.
And that’s your competition’s opportunity to use objective content to set the tone for the year.
Fortunately, you can fix this conundrum.
Changing The Approach
Content plans get squeezed because marketers treat content differently from other marketing requirements.
Consider conferences. Marketers schedule them months — even a year or more — in advance to avoid losing discounts, prime slots, and marketing opportunities.
Analyst firms are similar. They won’t let annual contracts sit until vendors are comfortable. They and their clients know that vendors need advice and influencers: Analysts ensure that contracts are paid earlier not later.
But content tends to be sold on piecemeal basis. Marketers can wait for white papers, social posts, webinars, and other content until just before they need it. Concepts rarely get fleshed out before the content deadline looms, anyway.
It’s a recipe for procrastination.
Unfortunately, the budget and willingness to outsource dissipate by the time marketers need that content. Discounts do, too, and it’s lose-lose situation that leaves intrepid marketers to do it all themselves.
I’m just being honest here: Nobody sees more evaporating content plans than the companies that sell content — rarely with a bang and more of a whimper.
So turn it around. Make reasonable assumptions about the marketing you’ll need and create a flexible, consistent, cost-effective, high-performing strategy that can start now.
Plus Ça Change (The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same)
Note that I said “strategy.” Don’t get bogged down in a detailed plan.
What you need right now is a coordinated set of policies and actions — a strategy — communicable to your stakeholders in a single paragraph or PowerPoint slide. Napoleon nearly conquered Europe with a strategy that was just five sentences long.
A beginning strategy might look like this: We’ll provide one new industry piece per quarter, each targeting a different differentiator or industry. We’ll support each one with social language for our top three business personas and a CIO persona.
That snapshot provides enough of a vision of your content’s goals, a measurable objective, and a basis for funding. It’s also resilient enough to start now while accommodating future direction changes.
For example, since you’re reading this on RTInsights, you may already know that your company is focusing on the Internet of Things (IoT) and real-time AI applications. Granted, your company’s agile methodology might make it hard to know which features will arrive first, and new customer successes have notoriously unreliable timing, but that’s okay.
With a content strategy like the one outlined above, everyone will recognize that changes may happen. Even if they don’t know the details, you, your staff, product managers, sales, and your content providers will all have a solid grasp of what’s coming.
Five Steps To Take Right Now
Here are five steps you can take now to help you lay out a rock-solid content strategy while still leaving space for your own content as well as objective, market-based thought leadership.
- Identify key industries and your differentiators. Any future messaging will depend on what your company is selling and to whom. Once you know those parameters, you can identify analysts, content leaders, and media partners who specialize in those areas. This should be an easy step because you’re probably already doing it for other activities, such as conferences.
- Consider target market segments and personas. Identify two or three things that are consistent across markets and personas – especially as they relate to your differentiators. These will feed into and clarify your themes for ABM and demand generation.
- Identify major themes. Focus on big-picture ideas not features or technology details. If you have a choice between “using Kafka to feed real-time Tensor Flow applications” on one hand and “Using real-time data in AI applications,” choose the latter.
- Identify major events Targeting new content production around conferences, user events, or product releases will give you some lead generation and awareness ahead of time as well as useful follow-up materials.
- Create your basic strategy. Remember to keep it short, clear, measurable – and budgetable.
Then? Get started. The five steps don’t take long, and there’s nothing stopping you once they’re done.
Your prospects are busy working out plans and establishing budgets right now, so starting as early as you can in the year will get them looking your way for thought leadership – just in time for new sales cycles to develop.