"Can't we just plan as we go?"
"Why do we need a plan? I can give you some ideas right now."
"Is a plan really going to help?"
No. Whatever. Yes. In that order.
I hear a lot of objections to doing content marketing planning the right way, and these represent a few of the most common.
The fear of planning, or what I call planophobia, is fairly common. It's closely linked with commitmentphobia, or the fear of losing options.
For a moment, though, forget about why certain people or organizations are scared of making concrete plans, and let's focus on what's likely to happen in the absence of a content marketing plan.
Your editorial calendar will fall apart within 30 days
Sure, everyone is ALL fired up when you begin this content marketing "thing." Your marketing manager is going to write, your customer service person is going to write ... heck, even your controller has volunteered to write (she'll need an editor or two, just a heads up).
You may even sit in a room and come up with dozens of topics to write about. You'll fill up multiple whiteboards, you'll take photos of those whiteboards, and people might even submit a few pieces in the first few weeks.
And then ... poof! The content disappearing act begins. The thrill wears off, you feel like you're out of new content ideas, and you have an empty calendar and no concept of where to turn.
Instead: Be systematic. Try to build all those topics around ideas, themes, and messages. Then, fill every space on that whiteboard and load everything into a calendar. And don't just include the topic and the author but also things like when the first draft is due, and when you'll actually publish and promote.
You won't find the "big idea"
In every content marketing plan, we land on one or two big ideas - things that offer enough promise that they might serve as the focal point of large chunks of your content marketing program. That big idea may be a campaign structure, or a new type of content, or a unique way of presenting a certain set of key messages.
I've never seen those big ideas fall into place using an on-the-fly content marketing planning approach. Here's why: when you dedicate the time to content marketing planning, that's all you do. You actually have the time to think. You're not worried about cranking out the next bylined article, or conceptualizing the eBook that needs to get published in three weeks. Even if you land on a big idea when the content marketing train is already in motion, it's very difficult to make it your focal point when there's a bunch of material already in produce-publish-and-market mode.
Instead: Don't settle for a generic content marketing plan. If you don't walk out of the planning process with a few big ideas, your team is not thinking hard enough. Given that just about every market is becoming saturated with content, you're going to need some big ideas - and the remarkable content to match - in order to achieve greatness.
Your subject matter experts and internal writers will lose interest
Let's face it. We all attend too many meetings. Sit in enough meetings in a given day, and unless you're leading each one, you're bound to lose interest in a few. Your mind wanders thinking about the Sam Adams you're going to drink at 6 p.m. or the CrossFit workout you're going to end your day with.
Some of those Boston lager drinkers or exercise enthusiasts are your subject matter experts or internal writers. They have a lot of stuff to do outside of your fancy content marketing initiative; all they need is a reason to ignore something, and your lack of a plan may be that perfect reason.
Instead: Show them a plan, complete with goals and objectives that address the organization's bottom line, and put their names next to some specific deliverables. Tell them about how many times their original thinking will be shared with others. Help them add authored content to their social media profiles so they recognize both a personal and corporate impact.
Your internal stakeholders (or investors) will stop buying in
In order to get your content marketing initiative off the ground, you're going to need a bunch of people to buy in - everyone from your marketing staff to your subject matter experts to your "investors," the folks who support and approve your budget.
In the absence of immediate results or proof of major progress - and this is often the case with content marketing initiatives - your stakeholders will get a little antsy. They'll grill you on what you're doing after two to three months, they'll grill you on metrics that are meaningless to the program, they'll grill you on why you're occupying so many resources.
Instead: Let them grill you during the planning process and explain to them how progress will be measured and how long it takes. Then, make sure the plan includes regular check-ins with stakeholders to brief them on progress. If those check-ins are built into the plan, you'll know they're coming, and you'll make sure you are fully prepared, right?
You'll lose the opportunity to educate your team on content marketing's myriad benefits
My own research tells me that the average businessperson, even the really bright ones, has no idea what content marketing is. Going through the planning process gives you the perfect excuse to include a heavy dose of education as part of the process. An educated stakeholder will always be a better stakeholder.
Instead: Include education in every facet of the planning process. Make it part of initial discovery, make it part of brainstorming ideas, and make it part of presenting the final plan. Remember, for some people, it may be three months between their participation in an initial meeting and the final presentation, and they're likely not thinking about content marketing during that time. Give them a refresher course.
Still think you can bypass the planning?
According to the Content Marketing Institute, 84 percent of marketers who say they are ineffective at content marketing say they have no documented strategy. That doesn't bode well for those of you who have chosen to let your planophobia win out.
Keep in mind that plans come in all shapes and sizes. Some organizations need giant, well-documented, 75-page plans. Other organizations can get away with addressing some basic research, goals and objectives, and ideas, messages and themes.
In the absence of a plan, though, you better create some kind of a strategy for what you're going to do when these problems actually start wreaking havoc with your content marketing initiative.
(planning / shutterstock)