Content Marketing: The Success Is In the Plan

This article won’t be very actionable. You’ll be tempted to skip it, which would be a huge mistake.

You’ll be tempted to skip it because planning a successful content marketing campaign is hard stuff. It seems much easier and more productive to get busy writing some blog articles.

But without a good plan, any effort you dedicate to content marketing will be mostly wasted.

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Do I have your attention now?

Good! :)

The Elements of Plan

Your content marketing plan will need to include some decisions around:

  1. Who you are trying to reach
  2. What your content will accomplish for them
  3. How you will get that content in front of them.

Who are you trying to reach?

Knowing who you want your content marketing to reach is very important. I personally spent months writing blog articles that no one wanted to read because they lacked clarity about who they were meant to reach, so I can tell you from personal experience it doesn’t work.

Imagine this: you want to impress some potential buyers for your services and demonstrate that you are the go-to company for a certain thing. You’ve spent months preparing a killer talk and now you’re ready to pitch it to some MeetUp groups so you can get in front of their audience.

What’s the smart thing to do?

Option 1: Build a list of 20 MeetUps, run rand(1..20), and pitch your talk to whatever MeetUp the random number generator tells you to.

Option 2: Pitch your talk to the MeetUp that has the kind of attendees who need your expertise the most.

Investing time into content marketing without knowing who you are trying to reach is the equivalent of Option 1.

That seems like a silly example, but I can’t count the number of dev shop blogs I’ve seen that appear to be using option 1 for their audience strategy. Their blog listing is a seemingly random assortment of topics, ranging from content meant for their peers (stuff like how to set up a development environment) to announcements about staff changes, new case studies, and new portfolio pieces. That is what a lack of a plan looks like.

So if that’s what “no plan at all” looks like, what does “100% clarity about who are trying to reach” look like?

It looks a lot like a job description. Here’s a quick off the cuff example:

Our content will help the manager of sales at $10MM to $100MM commercial construction companies understand how custom code can increase sales by delivering better information to the right sales staff in a more timely fashion.

That’s like a 1-line job description for your content marketing. And if you can get that kind of clarity about who you are trying to reach, you are 1/3rd of the way there to much more effective content marketing! And here’s a real-life example of content marketing built with that kind of plan: http://marcusblankenship.com/become-a-great-manager/

That example leads into the next important point your plan needs to address…

What will your content do for them?

Or in other words, why would your intended audience take time out of their already stressful, distraction-filled day to pay attention to what your content marketing is saying? What’s in it for them?

In the world of B2C marketing, you can create content marketing that is entertaining (SFW example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYu_bGbZiiQ) or informative (examples: http://mag.splashnology.com/article/35-fresh-interesting-infographics/8548/), and if it’s well done and well-distributed it gets clicks and eyeballs and is therefore declared a success. This is the content marketing equivalent of a Superbowl TV ad. If it’s funny and people share it, it’s considered a success.

B2B content marketing for small and mid-size professional services has an entirely different goal, which is to earn trust before the sale. You do that by creating content marketing that demonstrates your expertise.

This demonstration of expertise can happen in thousands of ways. Here are a few examples:

  • Providing the solution to a painful or urgent problem your ideal customer often faces. Remember, ideas are cheap and successful implementation is valuable, so don’t fear that you’re “giving away the farm” if you describe how to solve a problem that’s core to your business.
  • Putting what you’ve learned “in the trenches” or on the cutting edge of your industry into summarized form. This is often called “thought leadership” and may take the form of opinion pieces, white papers, and the like.
  • Stories about problems you have solved for specific clients. Aka case studies.

Here’s the bottom line on this part of your plan: if you can’t easily describe how your reader will be better off after they’ve read, listened to, or otherwise experienced a piece of content marketing you are planning to create, then you have a problem that you should solve before beginning work. It would be like building software without a spec or user stories.

Here’s the hardest part…

A content marketing plan with no provision for distribution is like a web app project with no plan for hosting. And distribution is usually the most challenging part of your content marketing plan.

Unless your company’s domain starts with redd*, mediu*, news.ycomb*, or a handful of other high-traffic names, you’re not going to press publish on a new piece of content marketing and get immediate results. Instead, you’ll need a plan for actively getting results from your content marketing efforts.

I hear you saying:

Wait–I thought content marketing was inbound marketing, and the leads would just start piling up after I publish a few epic pieces of content!

Well, if your timeframe for success is 6 months plus, then sure, you can probably rely on search engines to bring you a limited amount of traffic, and you can rely on your on-site lead capture system to generate leads. But if you want bigger or faster results, I’d advise having a content distribution plan, which amounts to you getting your own traffic for your content.

Here’s an example of a content distribution plan from Paul Jarvis, who uses content marketing very successfully to drive his business: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-jarvis/my-7day-cycle-for-generat_b_6934984.html (in particular Paul’s Monday and Tuesday sections are what I’m talking about in terms of distribution)

Here’s another example of items you might include in your content marketing distribution plan:

  1. Hit Publish on a new blog article.
  2. Schedule social media mentions on biz account and ask employees to help out too
  3. Directly ask the following 10 people to tweet about it: [list of 10 business buddies or friendly “influencers” who would help by getting the word out and notes for how best to ask them for their help (email vs twitter DM vs other methods)]
  4. Send a link and teaser for the article to this list of current and past clients, ask them to forward it to a specific type of business contact they might have: [list of current and past clients who would probably be helpful in this way]

With more substantial pieces of content you may have an outbound cold emailing strategy in place to get it in front of people. Cold emailing people is a totally different game when you are offering them value instead of asking them for business.

So freaking plan how you’re going to get your content in front of the right people! :) It’s a critical part of doing content marketing right.

The part I haven’t mentioned: medium

The part of your content marketing plan I haven’t mentioned yet is medium. As in, what medium do you use to create awesome content marketing? Should you write articles, record screencasts, guest on or host a podcast, or use any of dozens of other mediums?

I haven’t mentioned it yet because it really depends. I’m a huge advocate of using a medium that is somewhat natural to you, is easy for you to consistently work in, and shows your “best side”. If your voice sounds like Steve Urkel, maybe podcasting is not your best medium. Or maybe it is, if you know how to turn a possible weakness into a strength. It’s not by accident that he was a memorable character!

So pick the medium that exploits your natural preferences and makes it easy for you to be consistent.


I know this was a long article. BUT I’M NOT SORRY, because it’s important stuff! The success of your content marketing will very much depend on how well you plan.

Ready to start putting your content marketing plan together? Head over to this planning page, respond to the questions, and you’ll get emailed a copy. This will help you think through the important parts of your content marketing plan. Click here to start planning.

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