Content planning always seems to start the year getting short shrift.
Maybe it’s because content plans depend on other plans that are just coming together. 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. January’s plans can look great, but by May you might be expected to exploit a competitor’s weakness or support a newly hired subject-matter expert. You’ll almost certainly be adapting to changes in markets or messaging.
You might reasonably tell people that you need more time and budget to support these new initiatives, or that they have to give something up to get new content – but reason might not win that battle.
Rolling Up Your Sleeves Isn’t Enough
You’re a marketing professional. You’re highly adaptable, productive, and business-focused, so maybe you’d want to tackle these content generation needs as they come. You know the business and the market, after all. Who could create better content?
It’s not that easy. When a vendor speaks, people are skeptical. They’ll listen, but they want objective validation of thought leadership positions.
Unfortunately, you serve a lot of masters.
- Sales executives want you to position specific products and services for sale.
- Product managers want 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 you need. You’ll always be torn 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, this can be fixed.
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 – because they’ll lose the discounts, prime slots, and marketing opportunities if they don’t.
Analyst firms are similar. They won’t let annual contracts sit until vendors are comfortable. They know, and their clients know, that vendors need advice and influencers: Analysts make sure contracts get paid earlier instead of later.
But content gets sold on a more piecemeal basis. Marketers can wait for white papers, social posts, webinars, and other content until shortly before they need it. Concepts for those items don’t even get fleshed out until then anyway.
It’s a recipe for procrastination.
Unfortunately, the budget and willingness to outsource dissipate by the time marketers need the content. Discounts do, too. It’s a lose-lose, and intrepid marketers go back to doing it all themselves.
I’m just being honest here: Nobody sees more evaporating content plans than the companies that sell content. Not with a bang, but a whimper.
So turn it around. Make reasonable assumptions about the marketing you’ll need, and then create a strategy that’s flexible, consistent, cost-effective, high-performing – and 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.
A strategy is a coordinated set of policies and actions, and that’s all you need at this point. You should be able to communicate it 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 be as simple as, “We’ll provide one new industry piece per quarter. Each one will target a different differentiator or industry. We’ll support each one with social language for our top three business personas and a CIO persona.”
That’s enough to provide a vision of what you’re trying to accomplish, a measurable objective, and a basis for funding.
It’s also resilient enough to get started 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 (say) the Internet of Things (IoT) and real-time AI applications. Sure, your company’s agile methodology might make it hard to know which features will arrive first, and new customer successes have notoriously unreliable timing. That’s okay.
With a content strategy like the one above, everyone will know to adapt to changes: You, your staff, product managers, sales, and your content providers will all have a good idea of what’s coming, even if they don’t know the details.
Five Steps To Take Right Now
Here are five things you can do right away that will help you lay out a rock-solid content strategy, 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. When you know them, you can identify analysts, content leaders, and media partners who specialize in those areas. This should be an easy one: You’re probably already doing this 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. These are 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 gen 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.