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Content Planning: How to Create a Plan That Wins

January 10, 2023 | Mark Weissman

Contrary to the old adage, if you don’t know where you’re going, any road won’t get you there. Producing quality content and exploiting common marketing tactics won’t get you all the way. High-performing campaigns and brand management rely on carefully planned and executed assets to drive audience behavior and ultimately convert them to buyers.

Content planning creates a detailed path to content success. It considers the goals you have in mind, lays out the roadmap for meeting them through your assets, and creates a framework for developing each piece of content. A documented content plan is crucial to achieving goals, according to 78% of respondents featured in one Content Marketing Institute study. 

This article covers the basics of successful content planning. Read on to learn the fundamentals of successfully planning and developing content that engages and converts:

  • What content planning is
  • Why marketers need content planning
  • The difference between content planning and content strategy
  • The various types of content planning
  • Points to consider when developing content planning
  • How technology enables content planning and execution

What is content planning?

Content planning is the process of outlining production and development for a marketing asset or series of assets. It involves developing the idea for a piece of content, the channel or channels it will support, the specific form or formula it will take, the goal of the content, and the creative stakeholder or stakeholders who will produce it.

For example, let’s say your company is trying to get more leads in the pipeline. They might request a piece of content to drive engagement for early-stage prospects. The creative brief for that piece of content would cover an entry-level topic that appeals to many of the company’s ideal customers.

The creative brief would outline the following parameters for the piece:

  • Goal (to get more prospects)
  • Topic or subject
  • Keywords and headings used to attract engagement
  • Internal linking and external references
  • Digital channels for distribution
  • SEO data for increasing ranking
  • Call to action (CTA) information for acquiring leads 

The creative team responsible for development can then put together an engaging piece of content that meets all the listed requirements to get the content noticed. If executed correctly, the performance data for the piece will reflect healthy traffic and engagement along with other relevant data (like click-throughs and sign-ups).

Content planning is an effective strategy for building new content or repurposing great content already in your library. Every content creation effort should adhere to the content marketing plan. Content planning is the best way to ensure this happens.

Why you need a content plan

The main objective of a content plan is to ensure assets are produced in a timely and consistent manner. It also ensures that the content produced aligns with business goals and content strategy.

Developing a content plan for each piece of content delivers valuable benefits for the organization and the creative stakeholders involved:

Clear objectives

A content plan provides a clear destination for the project and a concise roadmap for development. A content plan lets decision-makers hand off work to individuals or teams with confidence that the project will turn out as envisioned.

Faster deployment

Planning content parameters sets up the project for quick and accurate delivery. Further, it enables smoother work management. Documenting the content plan for a piece or an asset cuts down on unanswered questions, provides guidance for the creative decision-making process, and establishes expectations. This means work can proceed quickly, resulting in fewer course corrections or edits in the final delivery.

More effective acquisition

Content planning as part of your overall content strategy supports readers and customers throughout the customer journey. Building a content plan for each piece gives you visibility into your content pipeline from early brand awareness through the mid-funnel decision phase and on to bottom-of-the-funnel decision-making. Understanding the balance of content in your editorial calendar helps identify gaps in your content library.

Better brainstorming

Content teams with a strong content management plan and effective templates find it easier to develop ideas and produce good content quickly. A content plan acts as a framework for conceptualizing new content and directing the medium, message, and intent of assets. Knowing the goal of a piece of content can help team members choose between (for instance) an infographic or a social post, or understand how a particular topic is likely to perform across platforms. 

What’s the difference between content planning and content strategy?

Although often used interchangeably, your content strategy and content plan are two different components of content operations.

Content strategy refers to the overall approach to delivering experiences. It dictates what channels your brand uses to communicate with its audience. The strategy outlines marketing objectives and goals you have for each channel. Your content strategy will in part rely on the production of content and the creation of your content planning. 

The object of content planning is to begin the production of an asset with a clear understanding of its intent and expected finished form. It’s also a plan for how you will publish and monitor your content performance.

Although they are separate concepts, content planning and content strategy are inextricable—it’s vital to ensure there are no gaps between planning and strategy. All plans driven by the strategy need adequate coverage. Identify and remediate gaps between content plans and strategy to increase personalization, increase the speed of output and scaling, and streamline production for fewer reviews.

What are the differences between content planning and campaign planning?

  • Campaign planning often focuses on the audiences you target, what messages are used, via which channels, and when this content goes to market. It involves an analysis of your access to the channels and the available resources (both human capital and cash) to execute the campaign(s). The goal is to go in-market with the campaign content and ensure the activity doesn’t overstress resources or channels.
  • Content used on the above channels is an output of the content plan. It contributes to the success of the campaign. However, the campaign plan itself does not dictate what content will ensure success.
  • Organizations put a greater emphasis on either Campaign Planning or Content Planning as their initial starting point to drive decision-making within marketing. 

Types of content planning

Building website and social media content requires a thorough understanding of those outlets and the types of content needed to drive results. Whether it’s video content, case studies, whitepapers, or podcasts, each asset needs to fulfill specific content goals in your digital marketing.

Every piece of effective content breaks down into a few content types, no matter what formats your assets take: top of the funnel, mid-funnel, or bottom of the funnel. These content categories help teams produce the right content for the audience and achieve marketing goals. 

Top of the funnel (TOFU)

The top of the funnel is all about building brand awareness. Content designed for this stage covers more general topics about your product or line of business. Its purpose is to educate early-stage readers about the topics and differentiators they should consider as they go through the customer journey. Top-of-funnel pieces appeal to a broader audience and should not be salesy or pushy.

SEO practices and keyword searches often drive top-of-funnel content. This content should feature keyword-rich copy and SEO practices to drive traffic to your site.

Middle of the funnel (MOFU)

Middle-of-the-funnel content supports the consideration phase of the customer journey. In this portion of your content, readers are beginning to understand the differences between specific products and make decisions about the features that will best support their business goals. Middle-of-the-funnel content provides guidance and more specifics about your product or service to help differentiate it from alternatives.

Bottom of the funnel (BOFU)

After the consideration phase, your reader enters the decision phase of a purchase or service. Bottom-of-the-funnel content helps the reader arrive at the right conclusion: that your product or service is superior to alternatives.

Bottom-of-funnel content features conversion strategies and CTAs to get your readers to take the next step. This could mean booking a discovery call, taking a demo, answering a survey, or signing up for the service. Conversion proves that the rest of your content has done its job. 

How to create successful content planning 

Successful campaigns don’t happen by accident. They result from a thorough content planning workflow that guides every asset you develop. When building a content plan, follow these steps to ensure your content is successful:

  1. Understand your goals: Each piece of content serves a goal, whether it be audience acquisition, education, or conversion. Develop each creative brief to serve one part of the funnel. Balance the creation of assets for different goals. 
  1. Know (and create for) your audience: Understand who your target audience is, and why they engage with your content. Building a detailed buyer persona and crafting each content plan to reach that persona will increase engagement and acquisition.
  1. Solve a problem: Understand the pain points for each persona and use every piece of content to solve a problem they experience. Giving your audience solutions to problems builds trust and authority, making it more likely they will use your product or service.
  1. Show your differentiators: Every piece of content should demonstrate the unique value proposition you offer to customers. Take time to outline the value and cement the messaging in your assets to make them more effective.
  1. Have a development system: A content plan significantly enhances the system for content development and optimization. Content operations rely on a process for developing, evaluating, delivering, and analyzing the performance of content you produce.

4 top metrics for measuring content planning success

The best way to refine content planning is to measure success for your current content library using available data and metrics. Establishing and analyzing Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) allows brand managers to track content performance against the desired outcomes outlined in your content strategy. Here are several metrics you may consider using when measuring content performance:

Reuse and reach

Understanding how effectively your organization reuses content is an important metric for tracking content planning success. One component of this metric is localization—meaning, rating a content piece as ready for localization. Content prepared for localization has more reach, as you can deploy it in multiple markets. 

Traffic

Traffic gets a bad rap as a vanity metric, but traffic numbers are foundational to the pipeline. Building a strong top-of-funnel content library gets your audience looking in your direction. It’s an important challenge to overcome, and a common one, with 63% of marketers saying their biggest content marketing challenge is driving traffic and generating leads.

Social media engagement

Social media forms the backbone of many marketing campaigns these days, so keep an eye on social media engagement. This includes likes, shares, comments, and traffic to your website via social media.

Conversions

Every piece of content is created with the goal of gaining customers, making conversion the most important metric to track. If your traffic numbers are strong, but conversions lag, consider changes to content planning for your bottom-of-funnel content.

Take time to understand the deeper context of your metrics. It’s easy to mistake upfront performance for success. However, to be considered successful, your content must reliably convert audiences into customers. Tracking the above metrics enables your organization to keep a finger on the pulse of its content marketing strategy.

Use Aprimo to execute successful content planning

Once your content planning is complete, successful execution is critical to success. Aprimo Content Planning enables content teams to create assets according to plan with robust search and collaboration features to drive every element of content operations:

  • A strategic dashboard to visualize, outline, and define every element of content and associated campaigns
  • Real-time visibility into milestones, objectives, and task status from an informative dashboard
  • Automated, intelligent workflows that encourage collaboration, streamline review and approval, and speed time-to-market
  • Brand governance features to ensure compliant and on-brand usage of all assets
  • Modular content capabilities to maximize content reuse and value extension

To learn more about the power of Aprimo Content Planning in delivering high-quality content through a modern, dynamic platform, request a demo today.

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