4 Ways Brands Can Plan for Content Success

Brands are often (rightly) told they need to move fast in order to play in the content game. But that doesn’t mean planning goes out the window. Quite the contrary.

Some brand managers — and the agencies trying to win business from them — seem to think that spending a few weeks or even (gasp) a month in audit, goal-setting and research is a colossal waste of time and money. In fact, that upfront work will save marketers a lot of headaches down the road. Before you launch any content-marketing project, make sure to take a breath and start with these four key steps:

Do Your Homework
Research is one of the most crucial parts of a content-marketing project. At the outset of any content initiative, everyone on the team should be aligned: Who is the audience is we’re targeting, what do they want, where do they spend time? What will it take to reach those audiences, and do we have the resources to get there? If the brand team can’t provide solid answers to those questions, they’ve just made your case for the discovery period.

“Once you assess and determine your core values or passion points, you might see that your audience is present on LinkedIn or on Quora, or maybe they’re on Facebook and Tumblr,” says ” says Katrina Craigwell, General Electric’s digital marketing manager. “Go and spend time with those audiences, understand how they work and build an experience that’s built around how they operate, built with them in mind.”

It’s so tempting to dive in early, get started and show the client what you can do, but I’m here to tell you that due diligence is not only important, it’s critical.

Bring in the Content Strategist — Early
“Oh…” says UX designer to Content Strategist after site has been designed, “You want bylines? You need photo credits? You think you’ll have polls and slideshows? You need a section called ’Car Parts‘ not ’VW Is Cool’?”

“I so often got handed sites and told, ‘These are the tabs, go figure out how to fill them,’” says Elena Rover of Starpoint Marketing, a boutique agency in New York, which has worked with top-10 pharma, major publishing companies and global consumer brands. A favorite example: Being brought in by a publishing company a few weeks after the launch of a sponsored microsite, featuring 10 sports-expert bloggers writing 50+ posts per week.

The readership on each post was miniscule, and the bloggers were struggling to generate ideas. Her bounce rate was the size of Montana. To solve this, she created a fairly traditional editorial calendar for the year, with weekly “workshop” topics (abs, energy, injury prevention), assigning three bloggers to each.

“Each week, I created a Workshop page and promoted it on the homepage and newsletter,” she said. “The traffic skyrocketed and stayed high the rest of the year. I wish we’d done it right from the start. But it was rewarding to have ‘before’ and ’after’ data that proved the point quite clearly.”

Think of it this way: When you add a content strategist at the end of your process, it’s like designing the book jacket, creating the binding and the PR campaign before you’ve even written the novel, devised the chapters, thought of the way your story will be told.

Get Clear on the Cost and Implications of Content
Let’s say you’re a health-related brand that wants to offer a personalized experience to your users (putting aside all regulatory issues for the moment — you are an advertiser after all). You want to develop a diagnostic tool that will assess your user’s particular health concerns, mood, work-life balance, other life factors, that then spits out a weekly, health checklist featuring related articles, videos and tools customized to that person. And it changes every time she returns to the site….

Content can be expensive when you add up how much you’ll need every day, week or month: And you’ll need to allot money for more than writing. Think of photos. I’ve seen brands make the mistake of thinking that they have the budget to write 100 articles, create videos, slideshows, etc., and then forget about the photos that accompany them. Online content gets more engagement when it has photos, and the site design may even require them, but photos can be costly. Stock imagery can be more economical, but only in the short term; you may have to re-up those licenses. Original photography is expensive upfront, but if you buy it outright, it may be easier to use the images across your newsletters and your international versions.

Make sure you know all your monthly costs before you launch a project. Just like you would with your own finances, you may want to bank enough content to keep you humming along, two months after launch. Which brings us to…

Consider “Day Two”
Keeping your content plan going takes more than money. You need manpower and a plan — and you need to start the work before launch. Short-sighted brands focus on prepping up until launch to meet arbitrary goals and then let the site languish. It’s important to consider workflow and governance. Who will maintain and update the site and how will they do it? What processes, tools and sign-offs will be necessary?

Case in point, a project from my bag: A big brand that shall remain nameless (of course) decides to revise its homepage and hard-code everything so that any update means a developer would have to get involved. However, the developer, based in India, was only contracted until launch. Six months later, a series of place-holding stock photos still welcome users to the homepage. Sound like a rookie move? Some of the biggest brands make these silly mistakes because they’re focused on their department’s deliverables or KPIs, their own personal goals, and not the site experience or, most important, the consumer.

Ask yourself: What’s your strategy to maintain your “daily” site? Do you have the manpower? How often will you want to update your content, your app, how often will that newsletter go out? Will your subcategories require maintenance and frequent updates? Do you have a blog module that will look bad if the last update was in 2012? How will you manage if the site maintenance person leaves, takes vacation or gets ill?

Manage those expectations at the outset and get clear about cost so you’re never surprised, day two, 20 or 200.

Image via Shutterstock