One of the most common struggles for business owners and marketers is content strategy and planning.
It all starts with the word ‘strategy’ – it puts a lot of people off. It sounds like a lot of boring work needs to happen before we can get to the fun stuff.
We all need to understand why we’re doing what we’re doing, and make sure we all have an agreement on the expectations to gain the best possible results from our content marketing.
In this episode Chris discusses why you need to have a content strategy and what a simple content strategy can look like.
So I’ve just arrived back from Copenhagen for a few days. Cara was speaking at a conference out there by Brand Movers, conference called Clever Content. Cara was out there talking about how to review your competitors and stay classy. How to embrace your competitions. Really, really good conference. Really great friendly people. So check out Brand Movers and Clever Content conference. They’re doing a lot of great stuff over in Denmark. We had an amazing time.
So I was actually supposed to record this episode while I was out there, but it didn’t quite work out like that. We took Luna with us. When you take your kids travelling with you, you’ve just got to be open to anything happening at anytime, so you can’t really lock yourself down. I got a few hours of work done in the evening one night. But, apart from that, it was a case of just looking after Luna.
I was asked a question recently, in fact, this has come from a couple different places. I was asked a question recently about how to not just develop a plan or a strategy for content, kind of where to start with it and sort of keep it simple as well. This was also triggered by, I sat down with Pontus from Brand Movers, who I’ve known for ages online, but we met in person for the first time just a few days ago, which was really cool, but we have known each other for years. We sat down and we started talking about strategy. Now, he loves strategy. I think most people hate even the word strategy, they really struggle with it. The word puts people off, it sounds boring, and it sounds like we have to do a lot of work before we can do any fun stuff.
We started talking about strategy, and how I approach strategy is perhaps slightly different than perhaps other people do. I approach strategy as a set of questions. The great thing about the strategy that we have, is that it’s hugely flexible as well. In other words, we’re continually reviewing that strategy and our plan, and we’re kind of reacting to what’s happening in the outside world. I think this is really good, and a set of questions allows us to do that.
So it’s not like boxing us in. I didn’t realise perhaps how different that was until I had this chat with Pontus, and that’s what’s kind of … these things have kind of prompted this. Creating a simple content marketing plan, starting to create a simple but flexible content strategy. There’s also, Gayle asked this question as well. So I want to look at … I want to look at is some more depth. I wanna give you … I’m going to bring in here a very recent example, something that we’re working on in CMA, just to give it context. But, to help you see how we develop a sort of simple, but flexible content strategy and plan to help us execute our marketing very quickly. But, also execute in a way that’s gonna drive results, and allow us to review and be flexible and kind of react as well at the same time.
So I’ve broken this down into two main parts, but the key here is for you is to listen out to the questions I’m using, and it might be worth listening back to this again when you are in a position to take some notes, and you can also print off the transcription over at cmauk.co.uk. Just go to the podcast tab and find this podcast Creating a Simple Content Marketing Plan.
So, first of all, let’s talk about why you need strategy, and then I’m going to get into what a simple content strategy might look like. So, it’s got two parts, and there’s lots in here. Lots of questions, so that’s why I want you to listen out first.
The first thing is why do we need to have a strategy in the first place? Right? When companies don’t have a strategy, it’s typically the main reason why marketing fails to meet expectations. It’s the reason why marketing never seems to be taken seriously in organisations and companies. It’s mostly because the leadership expectations and strategy expectations aren’t aligned with marketing, and, therefore; aren’t managed in the first place. Right?
So, for example, we have a marketing department, maybe there’s one person in the marketing team. Leadership expects marketing to do one thing, marketing are trying to do another, and nobody knows what a win or success looks like. We can’t even agree probably on what a failure looks like. So, we all need to understand why we’re doing what we’re doing to make sure we can have some kind of an agreement on, first of all, at least the expectations.
I think what the outcome of this, the way that this is variablised, or the way that the behaviour is recognised in companies, and even if you’re a solopreneur or freelancer, a marketer inside of a larger company, or a leader in say a larger company, you’ll see this. The result is marketing department or marketers not really knowing what they should be working on or not. Should we be marketing this product or that product? This service or that product? Should we be targeting this industry or that industry? The reason that they don’t know the answer to these questions, or they seem to be just spinning their wheels is that the marketing isn’t aligned with the company strategy. That’s really, really key if you want marketing and sales to get the best results, there needs to be some kind of alignment with the strategy.
It’s really hard to make a decision on what marketing to do when you do not know what’s going to have the greatest impact for the company. So, we need to make sure that marketing has a clear purpose. Wherever your resources are going in your company, time, money, human resource, effort, energy, there needs to be strategy. Even if this means this is your own time because your own time is actually very expensive, probably more expensive than you truly understand it to be. So, there’s some questions that we should be asking ourself at this stage.
This section is why you need to have a strategy. Here’s some questions to ponder to even take and ask:
- What areas of our business are the most profitable?
- What areas of our business are actually under revenue or profit targets and why that might be?
- What areas of the business are we trying to grow or increase new or repeat customers or perhaps increase retention, increase average spend, and why are we trying to develop those specific areas?
- Are we developing any new products or services?
- If so, when will we be launching these new products and services?
- What are our expectations?
- How will marketing support this new product or service of this launch?
- If we were to focus on one specific growth area right now, what would that be?
- What would have the greatest impact on the business?
- How does marketing support that impact?
In other words, what we’re searching for here is we’re trying to spot gaps, areas where marketing can provide support. What are our goals? What are our expectations? What is the strategy for our organisation in this area and where does marketing fit into that? The only way to do that is to get marketing involved in these questions too.
So, if you’re around the table or on a call with your team, and you’re asking questions like this, and you don’t have someone from the marketing department on this call, then you are really … you’re not digging yourself a hole, but you’re not doing yourself any real favours there. You want to align marketing with strategy, as close to strategy as you possibly can so there’s nothing lost in the process or bottle necked in the process. So, what may happen is you have a meeting with the business development team, for example, and leadership, and then someone’s job is to relay that information to the marketing department which might take days. Then something’s lost. By bringing everyone together, what you allow the marketing department to do is ask questions, and allow them to get clear. Right? So this is really key. Absolutely, so key to do this. If you’re, like I said, if you’re a department of one, a company of one, or perhaps a very small team, then there’s no reason why you can’t be asking yourself these questions too. Right? It applies to everybody.
Other challenges at this stage are consistency. Right? So, I’ve got four or five things I want to share with you before we get into what a simple content strategy may look like. So, consistency is a problem.
So, we have all these great ideas that never get executed, or we execute, but we struggle with consistency throughout the campaign of the project. We start, but we don’t see it through until the end. What happens here is it leads to never really knowing if anything works. If we want to be a true learning organisation, then we have to see things through. We have to review. We have to have some element of consistency if we want to get some results that we can rely on. Right?
What happens here is if we never see anything through, if we have all these ideas in the very execute, if we struggle to see things through to a natural conclusion, we dangerously assume that marketing doesn’t work, or a specific part of marketing doesn’t work. Assumptions are really the cause of many problems with an organisation and within companies.
Marketing … at a very high level, marketing always works. That’s especially true if learning something is one of your objectives within your marketing strategy. Right? So part of your marketing strategy should be, look whatever happens, we’re going to learn. If we deem this to be a failure, if we deem it to be a success, we’re going to learn, we’re going to review, we’re going to improve, we’re going to develop. Right? We have to approach our marketing with some element of consistency, and this is often reflected with marketing departments especially, but also even in our own companies as leaders, we’re oftentimes pillar from pillar to post with new ideas, new areas of focus. It’s rarely in the marketing a very effective way to work. For example, you’re like, “Right, we’re going to focus on this area. We’re going to do this for a specific period of time. We’re going to do it in this way.” You’ve got your plan. You know what you want to do. Then, someone from leadership comes in and says, “No, this is your new priority.” Right?
There just constantly just spinning their wheels, never really learning anything, never really getting to develop anything, never really getting to improve as an organisation. We need to be able to develop our projects and our campaigns, understand and respect our capacity. We need to be able to say, “That’s a great idea, and you know what we should push that to our next quarter. Then, what we’re going to do is we’re going to sit down, we’re going to qualify that idea first, and disqualify ideas. We’re going to plan them in for the future. Is this as urgent as you think it actually needs to be?” We need to have some level of organisation. We need to be able to qualify ideas. We need to be able to say no to things, and we need to be able to, and the whole purpose here is so we don’t get distracted, we need to be able to see things through to some kind of natural end where we can actually have something that allows us to use to improve and develop our organisation. Those two kind of go hand and hand.
Being relevant is another major as well. Oftentimes, and what I mean by this is that if we think of the word or the term strategy, we often think that, “Well, that’s going to box us in.” That we’re not going to be relevant anymore because we won’t be able to react perhaps to recently trending topics and conversations and news, stuff that’s happening in our industry, but that’s not really strictly true. I think when we think strategy shouldn’t be something that’s going to box us in and commit us to something for a long time. A strategy shouldn’t be like we’re going to do this for 12 months, and we’re not going to give up, or we’re not going to change things. Strategy is, like I said, a set of questions you’re going to ask yourself periodically to make sure that not only the strategy develops overtime, but also that our output develops overtime as well so we can improve.
Also, strategy doesn’t really hold you to one thing either.
For example, you in the marketing department, you may be managing multiple projects or multiple campaigns that are linked to multiple different strategies or strategic intent. You can always continue to be relevant. Right? A strategy isn’t going to box you into only doing one thing. But within a campaign or a marketing campaign, we should be trying to achieve perhaps just one thing, or getting as specific as possible which is the final part of this first part is that if we want to be successful with marketing and with alignment with strategy, we want to approach marketing in a very specific way, solving very specific marketing problems for specific products and services for specific segments. Right?
So getting specific becomes the goal of a marketer is to be able to ask questions allow us to really get more and more specific so that our marketing can be more successful as a result. The more specific we are, generally speaking, the more success we have with our marketing.
This first part is really about that … is coming to terms in our heads that we need to have a strategic approach to marketing first. We need to align the marketing with strategy. We need to get, if you’ve got a larger company, we need to get the marketing team in the room with sales and business development and leadership. If you’re a small team, a solopreneur, a freelancer, it’s the same advice to you. You’re one in all the same department. Right? So, you need to be asking yourself these questions too.
Let’s get into the second part. Let’s dive into the second part. Like I said, you probably going to want to listen back to this. The funny thing about writing out this content and preparing this podcast, then sharing it with you is that I’m literally talking to myself as well. Right? So, I was filling my own gaps as I was going through this and learning myself. So, it’s actually a really good process for me to take an example from CMA. Think about how we came to this point, and then be able to work through it myself, almost like reviewing my own work at this stage.
So, let’s get into what a simple content strategy might look like. And like I said, I’m going to give you an example from CMA. It’s very recent. It’s still ongoing. It’s relevant. It’s very much in the experimental stage. It’s really great time to talk about it, and there’s also budget and time and effort and energy being thrown into this. Right? It’s been a joint decision between the three of us at CMA. It’s a big decision. I’m not entirely sure how much it’s going to cost in the end, but I guess if you include the time that Nic and I will spend on it, it’s probably going to be perhaps close to 10 or 15,000 pounds over the course of a year for this very specific project, and it is very specific. That’s why I want to get into.
This is why I’m really pushing you down this path is encouraging you to really ask these questions to really focus in your attention to very specific marketing projects that are going to get specific results and specific wins for the company that are aligned with strategy. Right? We want to achieve this. Marketing is going to be able to support it in this way or in these ways, and then we’re going to have very specific plan that goes along with that.
So, here’s question one. Who do we want to work with more and why?
So, we want to work privately in a consultant capacity with in house marketing teams. We know that the right size of companies have in house marketing teams. The right size of companies particularly they have the ability and willingness to spend money on this type of business development. We know that we’re effective in that space. We know that we can make a difference, and we know that marketing departments are typically an underdeveloped business function. In other words, they lack attention, leadership attention and development. We want to help change that and help in house marketing teams to have more impact in the company, and do more work that has a purpose. Okay? So, that’s who we want to work with and why. So, we know who we’re trying to talk to.
We have a very specific segment, in house marketers. Could it be even more specific? Yes. Absolutely, could be more specific than that, and that’s part of our experiment. That’s part of this whole process is to find out if we could be more specific. Let’s see what kind of results we get from our first campaign. Right? Let’s go out there and see what the conversations are.
So how can we get into, this is our next question is, how can we get into conversations with in house marketers? How can we get their attention? Where do they hang out? Where are they in the world? Right? So this is what the outcome of that question was is that we’re going to create a video series that specifically addresses the challenges in house marketers and leaders are having with their in house marketing teams. And we’re going to publish these videos every single week. LinkedIn is going to be our main platform because that’s where they all hang out. How do we know what to talk about? We’re going to use our experience working with in house teams. The questions that we ask. The problems and challenges that they’re having. We’re also going to write out to our main contacts our in house marketers and leaders, and we’re going to get them involved from the very start. Okay?
So we know we’ve already got a group of people that we know really, really well. We’re already doing work in that area. So, this becomes are listening platforms. We’re kind of listening out for the problems and the challenges, and we’re going to create content that addresses them. We’re going to start to get involved in the conversation. We’re going to start to get other people involved or in that conversation as well. In other words, we want to be kind of like the campfire that people are talking around these topics. So, that’s what our plan is, is to do this.
Now, when are we going to do this? We’re going to, in advance we’ve booked out six recording days for video across the year. All video is going to batched and recorded in our offices. We’re going to do that with another company. We’re going to hire a video production company to work with us. We’ll have all our video ideas planned in advance, but batching is ultimately going to save us a lot of time and energy week to week, month to month. Right?
As a leader of this organisation and of this company, I don’t want to, like I’m considering the amount of time and energy and focus that we’re putting into this. Right? There’s no point in us every single week having to do a video. So, with the best and most effective process is to plan it all in advance, batch it, and then release it out every single week.
Who’s going to do it. Right? So, we’ve got when, we’ve got the how, we’ve got the why, we’ve got the who. At first it’s going to be me that’s going to do a lot of this video. Then, we’re going to scope out ideas for others getting involved in video. We’re not going to do any of the editing or filming. We’re going to outsource that. We’re not even ready to invest in our own video equipment yet. We want to move fast. We want to beat the learning curve to be as flat as possible. We’re going to really focus on where our time is best spent. We’re not trying to be videographers, but, perhaps, in time, if this programme takes off, and we see lots of the results we’re looking for from this which we’ll get into in a second, is that perhaps that we will invest in our equipment, and maybe it will be a more effectiveness.
One question that we need to ask ourself in time. Do we have a resources budget? There’s the question. Right? What kind of resources do we have? Do we have money, time, effort, energy, all that to be considered in here. So, we considered about 500 pounds a month on production costs. One hour per week on promotion between two of us. And one day every other month on filming, and that’s multiplied by two because Chris, myself, me, and Nic will both be involved in that. The question is horrendous. Do we want to, do we need to spend any of our budget on this? Is there a way to do it cheaper? But I’m also thinking about not, cost is one factor, but actually where our energy is best spent is another factor as well. So, we need to consider this.
So, the decision that we made was that we actually spend money on most of the production stuff. We’ll take on most of the promotion, and also obviously the planning of the content which is where we feel our attention was best spent. That’s where we should be putting our attention on.
Like I said, we don’t want to turn into videographers. That’s not what we want to be. There’s people out there that are much better at that than we are, than we’ll ever be. You could imagine that. Right? Weekly video series could take up a lot of time from your team.
So, we had to make a decision. We talked about this in the podcast before. What are we going to in source? Who are we going to outsource? What kind of results would you like to see from this? This is, again, aligned to over action annual goals and strategy for the company. Right?
We want to see more interaction and engagement with our specific audience. We already know who that is. More specific conversations with in house marketers and leaders that have marketing and sales teams. Very specifically, we want to be having different conversations so part of our business is really targeted towards entrepreneurs, freelancers, and business owners. So, this is a shift in attention. We want to see engagement from different segment of people. The right kinds of people. In this case, in house marketers and leaders with marketing and sales teams. We’re obviously going to be measuring things like views, comments, perhaps even things like connections on LinkedIn, general engagement, and we want to have at least three consulting projects from this marketing campaign in 2019. That’s our primary revenue generating target for this campaign which is linked directly to our annual goals for the company. So, we know what we want to achieve this year in 2019. We then got to the point where we know exactly how. We have a campaign that supports that target.
So, other questions that you might want to ask yourself. Is it possible that we could break this down into smaller steps? Is there a smaller step we could take first? Could we validate the idea without the need to go to market with it? So, that’s the question you should be asking yourself. Right? Could we break it down? Could we just dip our toe in the water? We did that. I was doing videos and podcasts about this topic. We’ve created lots of content. We’ve worked with companies before. We sort of validated the need for this way before we actually spent any money on it.
When will we review this? Right? This is like absolutely key as we will obviously have a major review period when the first batch of videos go through. So, we’ve just passed that period. So, we’re at the point where we’re reviewing this before we go into spending any more money and time on it. We’re obviously reviewing weekly, but we’re also going to review the whole programme after 12 weeks, after 90 days or so. Right? A 12 week campaign is essentially what it was. At that point we’ll be able to decide whether or not it’s worth continuing with it, what changes we need to make, what have we learned, how can we make improvements, how can we develop the next part of that campaign based on what we’ve learned in that first 12 weeks. So, there’s this review process to sort of review and improve process in here.
What does failure look like? It’s a question you need to ask yourself. What if this completely flops? Right? What would that look like for us? Perhaps we got this completely wrong, but we’re never going to know it until we do it. So, that’s where the experimental mindset comes in, being able to do something and prepare for failure. And final engagement people might not like the content, we may completely get it wrong, but ultimately we’re not going to know that until we do it. Fortunately, it hasn’t been a failure.
That’s the sort of questions that I would be asking myself. So, developing your strategy and your plan from a set of simple questions that you need to answer. This allows you to get specific. I like this approach because it really helps us to be flexible in what we’re working on. It also allows us to run multiple campaigns and projects with a small team. Right? Because they’re all very specific. So, we’re able to kind of develop each project and campaign individually, but also run them at the same time.
The great thing about being specific is that we know who we’re trying to talk to. We know who our specific audience is, and we can align those specific campaigns with the larger company goals and strategy for the year. Strategy should be fun. It should be simple. It should be flexible. You should be able to review often and change things. You should never feel like you’re boxed in or you’re being … Nine months after we set a goal, or we develop a strategy, it should be changing. Right? There should be things that don’t change, perhaps. For example, what we’re trying to achieve in the company at a high level. That might not change for the year. But how you do it, potentially, you could argue with change, and it probably should. Even if it doesn’t change, you should be reviewing it periodically, and be open to change as well.
So, we don’t even want to have the mindset where we’re fixing ourself down to something. We always want to be prepared that we’re going to get some information that’s going to force us to change or help us to change and be … and to be more successful. That’s really the purpose here is that we want to be flexible so that we can be more successful. It’s so key especially in faster changing market places.
I think one of the biggest challenges perhaps in this stage is, just wrap this up, is not to think about jumping from having no strategy to full blown strategy and planning perhaps in the whole organisation. So, if you’re listening to this, this is my challenge to you at this stage is could you pick one specific campaign or one particular challenge at the organisation is having at the moment, perhaps, and hopefully, aligned with something strategic, could you take that and then develop some marketing question around that problem to help you just create one campaign that’s more strategic in this, and then, develop it, and learn as you go.
My question here is are you comfortable experimenting? Are you comfortable with learning as a goal? Pick one campaign you’re working on at the moment, perhaps, or one campaign that you’re planning at the moment. Then, look at the questions that I asked you today and think, “Could we make this more strategic? Could we be smarter here? Could we be better here?” That’s what this whole process is about. We’re better now at strategic marketing than we were five years ago. Right? But it’s only because we have this mindset that is about getting better. It is about improving the process. It is about getting more strategic. It is about developing your approach to marketing. And we know that in five years time, we’ll be better than we were today.
But if we’d waited until we had all the information writing down in a strategic document, there’s a good chance we would never actually do anything that has a great impact or has purpose. It’s the ability to be able to work simultaneously and learn and review and improve and align that with strategy at the same time is the key. So, it’s kind of like it’s this process that we’re going through to make progress and to improve and get better both individually and as a company.
Over to you now, think about all the questions I’ve used here. How could you use some of these questions? Perhaps develop your own questions to help you have a much more strategic approach and much more specific focus on the marketing for your company and developing more strategic campaigns and projects. That’s the purpose here. How can you do that so that it stays simple? Creating a simply content marketing plan and strategy is what this podcast was all about.
I hope you’ve enjoyed it. I hope it’s maybe creates some ideas for you, sparked off some thoughts and something you can take back into your company. I’d love to hear the outcome of this for you, any questions, any thoughts, any ideas, any wins, any successes. Perhaps you’ve got something you’d like to add as well. You can do that on twitter @ChrisMarr101. You can email me firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also head over to the website cmauk.co.uk. You can print off the transcription. You can get involved in the comment section there as well. I’d love to hear from you. My door is always open.
Until next time, don’t forget to be awesome.
Thanks so much for joining me on the CMA podcast today. If you found today’s episode interesting and intriguing, and you want to get better results from your content marketing, then join the CMA membership today at CMAmembership.co.uk.