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You know you need to incorporate content marketing into your digital campaigns, but how do you go about doing so?  What steps do you need to take to ensure the maximum ROI for your content investments?

As with so many things, content marketing success begins with a strong plan.

If you haven’t ever laid out a content marketing campaign or created an editorial calendar before, take the following steps to increase the likelihood of your efforts paying off with big returns:

Step #1 – Do your homework

Before you can begin to create your new editorial calendar – let alone execute the content you plan within it – you’ve got to do some background research.

Start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What topics are popular in our industry right now?  While these topics won’t be hot forever, creating related content pieces at the front end of your editorial calendar can be a good way to build traction.
  • Are we planning any major launches soon?  Whether you’re planning out content for one month or six, make a note of any big product release dates on the horizon so that you can develop and deploy content leading up to them.
  • What questions do my customers have?  One of the easiest ways to create powerful marketing pieces is to simply answer the questions they already have with fresh content.
  • What topics will always be important to our industry?  Making “evergreen” content a part of your editorial calendar will help drive sustained traffic to your website and give you an anchor that you can connect future content pieces to.
  • What knowledge gaps exist in our industry?  Is there something your competitors are doing well that you aren’t?  Or has there been a new development recently that hasn’t been addressed with content?  Make notes of any knowledge holes you can think of.

Once you’ve answered these questions, set your notes aside.  We’ll come back to them in a minute, but we’ve got another step that must be taken first…

Step #2 – Develop a plan for different channels

Many people think that content marketing means business blogging alone, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.  A good content plan takes into account a number of different channels and techniques, from audio interviews to FAQ libraries.

When we get started with a new content marketing client, one of the first things we do is set up an internal strategy document, which includes fields for all of the following channels:

  • Blog posts
  • 5-minute update videos
  • Audio clips
  • Interviews with industry leaders
  • Case studies
  • Presentations
  • Resources libraries
  • FAQ libraries
  • Infographics
  • Digital magazines
  • Online communities/forums
  • Contests

These might not all be relevant to your business, and there might be others that you want to add to your list.  Add the channels that are most important to your business to a spreadsheet and then ask yourself the questions below for each technique you’ve included:

  • What is my objective with the channel?  Certainly, generating leads or revenue are always good goals, but you might also want to focus specific channels on engaging your community, driving traffic or helping you demonstrate authority.
  • How will I deploy content to this channel?  If you run a business blog, you may decide to post engaging “how to” style articles twice a week, with posts roughly 1,000-1,500 words in length.  Alternatively, if you plan to focus on infographic promotion, you might set a goal of releasing one image a month and sharing it on your social profiles.
  • What do I want people to do after consuming content from each channel?  While you won’t want to include a call to action (CTA) in every content piece you release, as this runs the risk of looking too self-promotional, you may find it helpful to determine ahead of time which types of CTAs you’ll use for each channel.  Your videos, for example, might encourage viewers to subscribe to your Youtube channel, while your interviews might prompt listeners to opt-in in exchange for a free gift.

Store this information – along with any other notes on tone, style or structure that are important to you – in the spreadsheet you’ve already created, then get ready for the fun part…

Step #3 – Brainstorm ideas

Now that you know how you’ll approach content marketing for your business, it’s time to get brainstorming!

What I want you to do is to set aside at least two hours where you can turn off your email notifications and put your phone on silent.  Really do your best to block out distractions that will pull you away from the task.

Then, get out a big piece of blank paper and write down every single idea that comes to your head.  Don’t stop until you have at least 50 ideas for every channel you plan to pursue.

If that sounds like a lot, it is.  But trust me on this, brainstorming all these ideas will be worth it in the long run.

When you first start writing, your ideas will be pretty weak (at the very least, they’re going to need refining later on).  As you get deeper and deeper into the process, though, you’ll find yourself really digging into what your customers’ needs are and accessing some truly inspiring ideas.

As an added bonus, when you have this many ideas in the bank, you’ll never be able to get away with the procrastination excuse of “I just don’t know what to write about!”

Once you’ve got at least 50 ideas written down per channel, step away from your desk for a few hours and come back with fresh eyes.  Now, it’s time to pare down your list.

Step #4 – Plan for content execution

To create your editorial calendar and plan for content execution, you’ll need to know a few things:

  • How far in advance are you planning?  If topics of interest remain pretty steady in your industry, you can afford to plan a few months ahead of time.  But if your niche is constantly evolving (say, for instance, your business focuses on tech issues), you might be better off planning a month at a time and leaving plenty of flexibility for hot topics that pop up.
  • Who will be handling your content execution?  If you’ll be working with internal content creators, they’ll need to be looped in to the editorial calendar creation process.  If you’ll be outsourcing these needs, you’ll need to allot extra time and money to pay others to build your content.

Take this information and pair it with the publishing guidelines you set for yourself earlier in this process to determine how many content pieces you’ll need to create and when they’ll be deployed.

Working from this framework, take your list of brainstormed ideas and pick enough of your favorites to fill the openings found in the calendar you’ve created.

Then… just do the work!

Make sure every member of your content team is on board, knows what deadlines must be met and is able to deliver the assigned content pieces.

If clarification is needed, encourage team members to ask in advance so that publishing deadlines aren’t held up by confusion.

And if additional resources are needed – say, if the production of high-quality blog posts requires the purchase of stock photography – assess your ability to invest based on your expected outlays for the rest of the content you have scheduled.

Keeping your team on track and making sure deadlines are met may require more oversight than you expect, but it’s a necessary part of planning and executing an effective content marketing strategy.

Step #5 – Refine and reevaluate

Truly, the content planning process doesn’t end just because you’ve started delivering the content outlined on your editorial calendar.

As you go along, you should be generating tons of data on everything from response rates to the CTAs you’ve focused to conversion rates that measure the number of visitors who go on to become customers.

Don’t let that data sit idle in your Google Analytics account!

Instead, put it to work by reviewing your company’s key content metrics at least once a month.  In particular, try to look for the following trends:

  • Which of our content pieces received the most visitors?
  • Which of our content pieces earned the most social shares?
  • Which of our content pieces sent us the most leads?
  • Which of our content pieces resulted in the most added revenue (if you’re tracking sales-based conversions)?

Take what you’ve learned from these trends and apply them to your next editorial calendar planning session.

Did your video blog posts perform better than your text articles?  Try adjusting your next calendar to incorporate more videos to see if the effect persists.

Did you generate more revenue from case studies than audio clips?  Deploy one extra case study in your next content calendar and see if your sales continue to climb.

Whatever you do, just don’t become complacent.  Don’t post three blog articles a week because some expert says you should.  Do what the numbers tell you to do!

As you get to know your followers, you’ll find it easier and easier to create content pieces that appeal to them.  But until you reach this place, keep plugging away at the step-by-step process described above.

With time, you’ll develop the kinds of kick-ass content pieces that get your company noticed and send your sales figures soaring.

Image: Flickr