When it comes to content marketing, failing to plan is planning to fail. Why do some marketers struggle with content planning? It isn’t easy nor is it always properly valued. Sometimes, content planning gets overlooked.
Today’s guest is Vassilena Valchanova, a digital strategist, trainer, speaker, and blogger. She talks about why it is important to plan content consistently with a repeatable and effective framework by sharing her blueprint for content planning.
“We don't spend enough time properly planning out what messages we’ll be sharing, what different types of content we’ll be promoting, and how we engage our audience in different channels and in different formats.”
“We start creating content that pretty much feels and looks the same because we're trying to push something out quicker and will go for just an image with a standardized template design rather than focusing on really creating something unique at that point.”
“What the content blueprint does is allow you to document that strategy in an easy-to-use format. ”
“The four different segments will be the mission statement, setting up the goals, channel plan, and topic plans.”
The Content Planning Blueprint You Need for Success With @vasvalch
Ben: Hey, Vassilena, how's it going today?
Vassilena: Hey. It's great to be here and to be part of the show. I'm very excited to share more about content marketing with you guys.
Ben: Yeah, absolutely. I'm just starting my day here in North Dakota. It sounds like you're just wrapping up your day in Bulgaria. I'm glad that we're able to fit this into our respective schedules really on opposite sides of the planet. What we're going to be talking about is content marketing planning and your blueprint specifically for content planning. Before we get too far along, the first question I have for you is, why do marketers tend to struggle with content planning? What is it about planning that so many of us tend to find difficult?
Vassilena: Frankly, I think the main issue I've personally had when planning content and doing any kind of social media scheduling as well is to just focus on the right things and make sure that I'm following some structure that's been predefined. Because oftentimes, if left to our own devices, content planning falls by the wayside. We don't spend enough time properly planning out what messages we’ll be sharing, what different types of content we’ll be promoting, and how we engage our audience in different channels and in different formats.
The main issue usually is just keeping that focus, dedicating the time to that, and finding a really efficient way to actually plan content out in the long run.
Ben: Yeah, for sure. What are some of the negative impacts that marketers can expect to face if they lack a clear process for planning content?
Vassilena: Well, in my experience, what usually happens is that a marketer or a social media manager would wake up one morning and be like, I haven't posted for a while now. I don't have anything ready. They will just struggle to find something quickly to fill that gap, to be present again in the news feed of their audience. What this leads to is that we tend to go for the low-hanging fruit, which is more often than not on some form of promotional content. It would be something like check out our new product, here is our latest promotional campaign, or whatever.
What this leads to is that, first off, we start creating content that pretty much feels and looks the same because we're trying to push something out quicker and will go for just an image with a standardized template design rather than focusing on really creating something unique at that point.
We’ll also not cover all the different audiences that we’re trying to reach and all the different content goals that we might have across all the channels that we're using. Because as we all know, the end goal is to not just promote products but those who engage, ask questions, provide inspiration, give people helpful information. Those other formats that are not the brand talking about itself, they're more difficult to create and they require additional planning.
Ben: Absolutely. What led you to create your own content marketing blueprint, your own framework for ensuring that you have a repeatable process for content planning in order to avoid those kinds of problems?
Vassilena: If I can start with the joke here, my family name in our language is derived from the words of wolf and we have this saying the wolf is strong because it does its own work. It works on all the problems on its own and doesn't rely on anyone else.
This was essentially why I came to that as well. It was due to the sheer necessity of finding a way where I can plan content quicker, especially with the clients I've been working with over the past three years as a freelancer. Prior to that, I was part of internal marketing teams and the issue wasn't that apparent because I was almost always the person who's doing the planning on their own. I would essentially try to keep all this information in my head.
I didn't know it at the time but this is obviously not the best way to do things. When I started working with clients, I was working for a format that would allow us to have this single source of truth, this blueprint that we can return to again and again whenever we are not necessarily sure what we're trying to do if we forget where the focus point needs to be with a specific channel or a specific audience that we're trying to attract. It would serve as a long term reminder, a clear strategy document that will help in the day-to-day planning. Over time, I've done a bunch of different iterations of this process.
What I arrived at in the end was this really quick and dirty way of documenting all this information in a single file that you can print, leave on your desk, and just glance back at whenever you're planning content. Because even though we're in this as marketers, we’re in the planning process day in and day out, it’s very easy to forget some of the more minor details or just be so down into the trenches and fighting to push that content day in and day out that you simply feel a bit farther from the initial plan and the initial goals you had set at the beginning.
Ben: Yeah. Can you describe at a higher level how your blueprint or your process works from start to finish? What are the steps that you've mapped out?
Vassilena: A very, very big caveat that I want to start with is that the content blueprint is a representation of the strategy but it's not building the strategy. You need to have the strategy over the outline and that usually entails all sorts of different preliminary research, competitor audits, and so on and so forth. I won't get into those details. You've had a lot of wonderful guests who talked about that part of the whole strategic building purpose before.
What the content blueprint does is allow you to document that strategy in an easy-to-use format. The way we do that is to go from looking at the big picture. We start with the content mission statements of the brand and then get all the way down to the different editorial goals that we’d have, the different channels that we’ll be using to reach those goals, and then the different key topics that the brand needs to cover in their day-to-day content.
The four different segments will be the mission statement, setting up the goals, channel plan, and topic plans.
Ben: I think that that makes sense. That's a pretty clear orderly framework to follow. The last question I’ll throw your way is, if listeners want to apply this process or a similar process for their own content planning, how would you recommend they begin?
Vassilena: I'm just going to dive a little deeper into each of those four sections I mentioned earlier. I think this would basically go through the nitty-gritty details of putting this together. The first element I mentioned is the content mission statement. This will essentially serve as our one-liner that describes everything we're trying to do with the content strategy and everything we need to keep in mind with our content planning.
For the content mission statement, I really like to use Andy Crestodina from Orbit Media. He has this really nice very short framework for setting up your content mission statement, which is our content where audience X gets information Y that offers benefit Z. You need to cover those three elements. What are the audiences you're serving, what information are you giving them? When I say information, I mean the different types of content you're providing. What’s the benefit that people will get out of consuming that content?
If I can give you a quick example with my own goal for my own blog, my mission statement reads like this, Vassi’s blog provides marketers, founders, and business owners—so that's your audience I'm targeting—with actionable advice, practical tools, and a healthy dose of inspiration—so those are my three content pillars—that help them become better digital professionals and enable company growth.
What I'm trying to do is whenever I'm sharing content, this needs to directly or indirectly help all digital professionals achieve company growth. This is a very simple way of putting things together, but it's a very nice reminder when you’re sitting down and planning your months’ worth of content to get back to that mission statement and to really use it almost as a litmus test to analyze, am I actually doing the job? Am I really creating this type of content? Is my content really doing the job of bringing those benefits to my target audience?
The second section I mentioned is the goals and marketing metrics. We're going to define the different editorial goals, what the business goal that content marketing is trying to help with. I’ve organized this information into a really simple three-step process. What's the name of your editorial goal? What does that go look like? What are the metrics to follow?
I think the name of the goal and the metrics are pretty clear to most marketers. What I want to point out is that this decision of what this looks like, it turns out that it's very helpful to a lot of my clients to make sure that they are aligning their whole team. They're helping even people who are not part of the daily content planning to really understand what we mean by awareness building? What do we mean by engaging an audience?
This really helps to bring that marketing jargon that we’d oftentimes use without thinking about it into specific terms that speak to everyone within the team, to everyone in the company.
Then the next element here would be the channel plan. This is actually the biggest portion of the content blueprint that you'd have. Here you’d layout really the nitty-gritty details around what channels you're using and what are the types of content you’ll be creating in each of those channels. How often are you posting? What’s your velocity? What are the formats that you're using and so on and so forth?
Often I would see that with a lot of clients when we're talking about the details around planning a few different channels because most brands usually have at least four or five different channels that they're using. You would have a couple of social media accounts. You would have some form of email communication, and then you would have a blog or website or someplace where you're posting more long-form content.
Keeping in mind how channels play together, that's very difficult without having a clear visual representation of that information. In this section, you will clearly see we're posting on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. We’re working with our target audience A and target audience B on Twitter. We are working with that same target audience B on Facebook as well. We're using LinkedIn to reach a completely different audience C.
You can easily see where you have those points where you're having customer touchpoints with the same person across different channels or where you're using a channel to reach a completely new audience.
Again, the same thing applies to the topics you'll be covering and the format you'll be using for each channel. It's very easy to see, am I repurposing content across those three different channels? Is there a unique format that I want to create on Instagram that's not applicable anywhere else?
Then obviously, depending on your availability and the amount of work you can put into creating content, you can make that decision, which is okay, do I really need this unique format to work in this channel or not? Do I really want to create a short story format Instagram videos as my key long-form pillar content on Instagram, or is this channel just a supporting channel where I don't necessarily want to put too much effort into that and so on and so forth.?
It's easy to compare and contrast those different channels, how they play together and what are the different types of content you'll be planning. Going back to content planning, what are the different content pieces you'll be planning across those different channels?
Then the last section, which I mentioned, is the topic plan. This is an area where if in the channel plan you've said where am I creating content and what different formats am I using in these different channels? The topic plan is more focused on what am I trying to say across all of these different channels, or at least in the channels that are key for my brand and how am I going to almost marry this content topic with the key messages that I want to promote this brand.
Again, just to bring this into concrete terms, if we're talking about content planning as a key focus area for my personal content on my blog, I'm trying to convey the core idea that long term content success does not rely just on quick hacks or tricks, but on understanding the reader's needs and really serving those needs in a consistent manner in the long run. This is a core idea that I try to cover in different pieces on my blog, in the editorial section of my newsletter, in different social media channels, and so on.
This is a point I bring back to people again and again in a long period of time just to make sure that I'm really bringing this point home. Then tying that core idea to my brand and the services that I'm providing because that's obviously where people would come in and commission me to build a content plan for them.
Actually, this last idea of the topic plan is something I was inspired to include from a blog post from Animalz, they're one of the most popular content marketing agencies. They have this idea of Auteur Theory, for example, if you watch a Wes Anderson movie, you immediately know this is a Wes Anderson movie because the style and the general ideas that he covers are coming up again and again. Getting that repetition in is not necessarily a bad point, it's actually something that can create your unique style.
Ben: Yeah, for sure. First off, thank you for offering such a thorough and detailed breakdown of how your blueprint works. I think that sounds very actionable, very clear, and if anyone had any questions at all on how to plan content marketing or how to plan content from start to finish I think you've pretty well covered it.
I really like the way you ended that with that Wes Anderson analogy because anybody who's familiar with Wes Anderson's films knows exactly what you're talking about. You would not mistake one of his movies for anybody else's, and that's extremely powerful. If you apply that concept to a brand, if people can know that something is yours before they may even hear a word of audio, read a line of dialogue, or copy, that can be super powerful just for building brand awareness, recognition, and all those other things.
Vassilena: Yeah, definitely. Again, if I have to quote someone, I frankly don't remember who said it first, but it was something along the lines of, if you have your own brand style, "if the label comes off," if I look at your blog post without seeing the title and the logo on the page, will I know it's yours?
These finer details, actually, I think that's bringing it back to content planning. I think that once you have a clearer idea of what you want to do in the long run and you have this clear so you're not spending any more mental energy on focusing on that day in and day out because you have this robust reminder of what you're trying to achieve and how and why, then you can really focus as a marketer on building those finer details and building those things that really set up a brand apart from everyone else.
It's just about like posting on a regular basis. It's about what you're creating as types of content or as pieces that will really resonate with your own audience. That only happens when your minds clear from the minutia around creating your day-to-day pieces.
Ben: Yeah, for sure. You're not going to make a masterpiece just off the cuff, just relying on your own creative genius without any kind of plan or process. This has been fantastic. Before I let you go, I understand that you actually share your content marketing planning blueprint? I believe it's on your blog. Would you mind sharing with our listeners where they can go find that if they're interested?
Vassilena: Of course, happy to do that. I've actually created a short link that will point them exactly to the blog post that covers the blueprint in more detail and where they can download the template. It's on my website, which is valchanova.me/coschedule. That's easy to remember, I hope.
Ben: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you so much, once again, for coming to the show. I know this is going to be super helpful for our audience.
Vassilena: Glad to be here and I hope it's helpful as well. If some of your listeners want to provide any feedback on that and let me know how they're using it in the long run, I'd be happy to talk some more.
Ben: Thanks again to Vassilena for coming onto the show and for sharing all of her insights.
Ben was the Inbound Marketing Director at CoSchedule. His specialties include content strategy, SEO, copywriting, and more. When he's not hard at work helping people do better marketing, he can be found cross-country skiing with his wife and their dog.