How to plan content for the year ahead

The best time to plan your content is to pick a time when your business is quieter, potentially in August – so you have a plan that runs from September – or in December for the coming calendar year. However, we’re running several content planning workshops in January to help our clients prepare for the year ahead. To help you plan your content, we’ve listed our top tips for preparation, described how we run content planning workshops and given a method for prioritising your content, so that a huge long list doesn’t overwhelm you.

If you’ve got a team, content planning is best done in a workshop environment, keeping it creative and inclusive. By running a workshop, you can facilitate the discussion to identify many ideas in less than two hours. And if you follow these steps, you’ll easily have 20-30 ideas on the whiteboard, enough to share at least two key pieces each month. If you can’t get together (due to pandemic lockdowns!) you can use a whiteboard tool like Miro and work virtually.

When you’ve got an initial list of ideas, you’ll want to ensure your content reaches people at different stages of the buying process and moves them along to the next step. You’ll also want to reach people on different platforms with varying types of media. So it’s worth going back through your list of ideas to categorise them into a priority order, which we will help you with below.

How to generate ideas – preparation

Firstly, to set the scene for your content planning workshop, you need to do a little preparation and share some material with the whole team. This is especially important if some people sit in functional teams or in production, because they may not have seen the results from the company perspective. If there’s a bank of case studies available for your team, you could send those out in advance. The team will feel greater confidence in their ideas of what will interest prospects, if they’ve read the feedback from clients. You can prepare for the session by gathering:

  1. Descriptions of the audiences you ideally want to reach
  2. A set of recent testimonials, where your clients have talked in depth about your service, focusing on those who are similar to your ideal clients
  3. Any complaints you’ve received or feedback suggesting you change what you do
  4. A range of questions asked by clients in the customer support or user experience environments
  5. Your company values

Facilitating the content planning workshop

To kick off the workshop, present a summary of the above, along with the question for your team – what should be the main four themes for the year? What headlines will you group the content ideas under?

As the leader or marketing director, you probably already know the key themes for your content. They will relate to your product or service, the results that you deliver and your values – but, by giving the team an element of influence over those topics, you’ll warm them up ready to share their ideas.

Creating four headline themes means you’ll have a mix of content to post over the four quarters of the year. Of course, you may want more themes – six would also work. However, it’s important that your prospects see consistency in your content. Bearing in mind they won’t see everything you post, it’s wise to repeat and overlap your content to reinforce a few key messages. Give the team a few minutes to ponder the suggested themes in pairs, then ask for wider suggestions.

As an example, our themes for 2021 at The Case Study Practice are:

  • Content marketing (building on from this blog – on planning your content)
  • Lead generation (the result you want from sharing content)
  • Celebrating success (one benefit of writing case studies)
  • Customer insight (the feedback you get from the case study interviews)

For an accountancy firm or a professional services consultancy, the themes may cover:

  • Profitability (how to make more money in your business)
  • Tax advice for directors and employees (knowledge and services available)
  • Supplier management (looking after costs and finding ways to save money)
  • Changes in legislation (like the government support during the COVID-19 pandemic)

For a software provider, your key content themes may be:

  • User experience (what your clients feel about the results from using the software)
  • Efficiency (how to save time using the technology)
  • Integration (where the software complements other tools in the business)
  • Industry knowledge (updates relating to your clients’ industries)

Once you’ve narrowed down the ideas and got your four headline themes, briefly discuss what they mean to you as a business, how they relate to your values and the audiences that you’re trying to reach. Then give everyone a pack of post-it notes and 10-15 minutes to generate as many ideas as they can.

After the ideas are all captured, ask the team to organise their ideas under the four headings, leaving any that don’t fit in a group together. Review the uncategorised ideas first, to see whether they lead to another core theme for the company. If they don’t, you’ll need to park them and save them for the future.

There are four ways to further review and group your ideas – and doing this will help you decide which content you need to produce urgently versus that which becomes part of your longer term content marketing plan.

  1. Colour or mark the ideas according to the audience they are intended for

Tip: by overlaying your audiences, you may decide to produce several versions of the same content, each one addressing a different role in the prospect’s business.

  1. Review whether the content appeals emotionally to a prospect or whether it is more factual and logical – and therefore the format you want to create it in

Tip: if you have a lot of serious, factual information in PDFs or blogs, you might want to focus on creating more videos to create more emotional appeal. People buy from people, so showcasing your team in videos can positively support the decision-making process.

  1. Check your content against the results you achieve for clients, ensuring you are covering those outcomes or answering questions in order of their importance to the customer.

Tip: not every piece of content will be laser-focused on your services or the outcomes you deliver. However, if your content ideas don’t yet cover all the results your business offers, you may need to come up with a few more ideas.

  1. Analyse which stage of the buying journey this content is relevant for – to organise the flow of information

Tip: reviewing how your content fits within the marketing funnel will help you decide which order to produce more content in; if you already have plenty of awareness-raising blogs, you may need to focus on the outreach content – posts for social media – to share them. If your prospects are at the next stage, evaluating your service, you need something more factual to email out to them. You might have a PDF version of a product brochure or you could summarise several blogs into an eBook or PDF white paper.

When you are finished categorising the ideas, you can create a clear timeline for producing the content and plan for sharing it. Blogs can serve as scripts for videos, so one idea can be used in several ways. You can also tweak the headlines to attract more click-throughs, so focus first on the idea and who it’s for – get the content together – and then write the headline last.

If you would like more help with your content planning, book a free 30-minute call to explore what you need with Debra. 

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