Remember when you worked for a company that seemingly took four forever's to commit to a course of action or to grant approval for a project? Head, meet desk. Sap on the bark of a Vermont maple in January had nothing on them.
Indecision, internal power squabbles, poor protocols, and fear of finishing and "shipping" can paralyze some companies from making gains with their marketing initiatives. But planning a content marketing program doesn't have to resemble the complexity of an IRS schedule or an IKEA furniture instruction manual for it to be effective and sustainable.
Serious about championing a content marketing program at your slow-moving company? Then target the space between spaghetti-on-the-wall and let's-name-a-committee-to-look-into-that. And though you can't ignore or balk at ingrained company culture, you can open minds with a documented, well-considered approach and effective communication.
Below are some high-level tips for instituting a content marketing program at your company. If you don't already work using an agile marketing methodology, I recommend that you consider adopting and adapting a couple of useful elements—a scrum board and weekly standup meetings—before embarking on this project.
Prepare your backstop
- Solicit an executive sponsor and formalize regular briefings.
- Identify and affirm content program priorities, and tie each to corporate business objectives.
- Establish a firm timeline for collecting stakeholder input. Commit to hearing and considering input before filtering it through the priorities and objectives noted in step 2; retain what input fits, and respectfully shelve what doesn't.
Shine light on the project
- Announce the program companywide. Secrecy, or otherwise working in the dark, breeds dissension rather than support.
- Benchmark current data points; movement from the status quo will inform future decisions.
- Be transparent about progress. Consider setting up a centrally located scrum board so team members and others alike can stay abreast of the project's scope. Even before there's anything significant to share.
Organize and document information
- Assemble files on what's happening in your space. What are the top 3-5 competitors in your space talking about on their blogs, social channels, and in marketing literature? Look for patterns, find common hooks or themes, claims, and other toeholds. Are there vulnerabilities that are your company's natural strengths? Note your opportunities as well as areas of weakness.
- Perform an audit of your company's online and offline content assets and sales-enablement support. Make note of the gaps.
- Reflect on the progressive phases of a customer's journey: Buy, Own, and Advocate. Between your audit of existing material and what you plan to create new, be sure to support customers at each of those stages.
Put pain points center stage
- Interview Sales and Customer Service. What are common complaints? Choke points? What needs are currently unfulfilled? What are competitors doing well? What problems need solving?
- Figure out what stories your company needs to tell. People are drawn to brands with a compelling genesis, and to those transparent about their growth quest or failures. Battle scars and fist pumps reflect genuine humanity and give prospects every reason to believe in your brand.
- Conduct some simple user testing of your website. Are site visitors able to quickly and easily navigate to topics and resources you specify? Is the information digestible and does it evoke feelings of confidence and trust?
Find out who your friends (and future friends) are
Use current customer profiles as a springboard for refining attributes and identifying secondary targets. The insight gained from your interviews with Sales and Customer Service could identify other target opportunities, too.
Recognize relationships and dependencies
- Content projects don't thrive in a vacuum. Collaborate with IT, visual designers, and email marketers to define areas of responsibility, affirm priorities, assign resources, and choose methods for communication.
- Set up touchback meetings with these people, or invite them to your weekly scrum standup meeting so they can report concerns and accomplishments directly to the rest of their teams.
Plan editorial and writing tasks
- Plan your content, your publishing schedule, and your promotion schedule. The editorial and writing processes aren't linear, but after the pre-work above is complete, it's a feasible time to use the information you've amassed into informing a good three- and six-month editorial plan.
- Match writer strengths up with topics or content types. Complete a project brief with all relevant information. Establish expectations for quality, due dates, and supporting visual content and links.
- Remember to stay flexible for relevant trending situations.
Focus your eyes on the prize
- Set your sights on some SMART goals for the content program, and post them in proximity to your scrum board to give context to the cards and progression. Make your goals Specific, and make sure they are Measurable; ensure that your team is capable of taking Action, that the goals are Relevant to overarching business objectives, and that your plan is Time-boxed.
- Report status up to your executive sponsor on a consistent basis. If you can't get regular face time, you could forward reports with a brief overview via email.
- Use your findings to make any feasible adjustments along the way, or to capture them for team discussion in the project postmortem review.
Assess and report
- Look back over the project. In scrum, there's a "done" or validated phase in which the objective you set out to accomplish is confirmed as having been met.
- Did you deliver on the original ask? Were there secondary or unexpected wins? What pitfalls did you not anticipate? Discuss those and other questions with your team in a postmortem review.
- What are 2-3 actionable takeaways for future improvement or implementation?
- Record meeting findings and distribute to all stakeholders. Be prepared to speak to the use of internal resources and the pros/cons of the initial stage of the project.
- What pages are now most popular on your site? Where do visitors go when they bounce? What keywords/phrases bring them to your site? Are visitors taking desired actions (conversions)? You have this information because of the benchmarking you did early on.
- Tweak your editorial calendar and future goals based on what's overperforming or underperforming.
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If you'd like more detail, watch my class titled "Plan First, Write Later: A Methodical Approach to Satisfying Content." Find it in the MarketingProfs University Marketing Writing Bootcamp course, part of the Best of MPU material.
Though your primary concern is to successfully launch and maintain a content marketing program, the methodologies and superior communication you employ now will serve as a model for future projects.
You just might be able to make corporate molasses move faster next time around by demonstrating how to effectively and efficiently get things done now!
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