3 Important Steps to Prep Your Content Plan

Get ahead of your marketing this year with these take‑charge tips.

You’ve set smart (and SMART) goals for your business. Now’s the time to take action by planning your content strategy, so your customers (and more importantly, you) know what to expect and when. Let’s start by defining your customers, the variety of content, your scope, and timing.

Taking time to understand your customers’ needs can help make sure you’re only sending relevant content. Breaking that content down further may make it easier to meet them wherever they are in their journey. And scheduling the whole operation ahead of time with an easy-to-follow calendar can help save you time and sanity.

So, whether you’re just beginning your content journey or looking to tighten things up on the way, here are a few steps to help you take your content further.

1. Know your audience

Before you draft your next piece of content, start with a refresher course in understanding your audience. The best way to help build strong customer relationships is to understand their wants and needs.

Begin with some reflection: has your content previously resonated with your audience in a notable way? What stood out about that content? Where do customers typically engage with your brand? When does your site tend to receive the most visits? Asking measurable questions like these will help reveal meaningful customer behavior. You can apply that behavior to your next campaign to help spend your time, effort, and money in the most impactful way. (Be sure to use an analytics tool like Google Analytics to make it easy to find performance results and other key data.)

It never hurts to take a peek at your competition’s content, either. Keeping up with your competitors (especially larger brands in your industry) is a key way to keep your content fresh. Understanding when and how businesses similar to yours reach your shared audience can help clue you in to when a bigger marketing swing is called for.

If you’re looking for a more direct line to your customers’ desires, why not ask them? You can make your research phase more proactive by connecting with them personally. From a survey on your website to direct outreach through email, asking your customers what they want to see from your brand can help you discover new areas for content while helping them feel more connected to your brand.

You can use this approach for the long term, too. That way, your current content can get out the door while you consider future tweaks to help optimize engagement.

2. Deliver relevant content at every step

The beauty of automated marketing is that your customers can receive tailored content wherever they are in their customer journey—whether they just joined your list, made their first purchase, or keep coming back for more—all without you having to lift a finger. Making sure content is personalized to their interests or their stage of the buying process is essential to help keep them subscribed.

If you’re recycling the same content for all types of customers or if your messages become stale after the welcome email, you’ll want to rethink your approach to an always-on content ecosystem. Consider what content would be relevant at each step of the customer journey.

Before purchase: Does your content drive awareness and consideration of your brand to potential customers? This is the perfect chance to put your customer research to the test. Define what sets your brand apart at a high level from the competition, then create relevant content that speaks to their needs and preferences. Consider broader avenues like social media, paid search, and SEO to make the first introduction.

At purchase: Can your content persuade customers to consider (or reconsider) a purchase? Try highlighting customer reviews or shouting out your benefits so your products can speak for themselves. And with Mailchimp’s retargeting ads and abandoned cart reminders, it’s easy to give window-shopping prospects the push they may need to come back and finish the sale.

After purchase: Does your content keep customers connected to your brand after checkout? A post-purchase outreach plan is key to growing your community and meeting future goals. It’s also key to your bottom line: retaining current customers tends to be cheaper than finding new ones.

Encourage customers to follow your social media accounts and engage with you directly and often. Then, show them their worth with follow-up emails asking for feedback or offering product recommendations and exclusive discounts. Having a brand kit ready to go will make creating these and more types of content a cinch. Use Mailchimp’s Creative Assistant to automatically compile your website’s colors, fonts, logos, and other elements for easy use.

3. Make the most of your marketing calendar

With your content planning complete, let’s get organized to make executing content easier. If you haven’t yet, consider adopting a marketing calendar to keep all your campaign dates in one place.

A marketing calendar can help you plan your content schedule in advance, so you know what’s in store for next week, next month, or next season. It can also help you visualize your marketing, so you can see at a glance if you’re engaging with your customers too much or too little.

One great way to cover all the bases your customers might expect is to set up your calendar using the Hero, Hub, Help, and Heart strategy.

  • Hero content is large-scale, tentpole events or big moments designed to raise awareness and customer engagement. These are your big swings for the year—special pop-up events or campaigns with larger investment to help move the needle in big ways.

    Take last year’s Mailchimp E-commerce Masterclass Series as an example, where e-commerce experts joined our Mailchimp pros for one of our biggest digital events of the year.

  • Hub content is medium-scale, high-impact content designed to demonstrate industry expertise and drive conversion. Think video content, blogging, and other promotional or educational content. Consider your experiences as a business owner or how your brand brings value to your industry. Those specifics may make potential customers connect more deeply with your brand.

    One example of Hub content that we do at Mailchimp would be this very article you're reading now: educational content to help you get the most out of the Mailchimp platform.

  • Help content is small-scale, always-on content designed to grow brand affinity and solve customer problems. Think of this as your day-to-day social posts, how-to articles, and product benefit highlights. These can be customer stories and reviews or even surprise-and-delight moments like giveaways.

    A good example of this would be The Happiness Planner, a personal development brand that started holding virtual workshops to stand out in a crowded marketplace.

  • Heart content demonstrates empathy with your audience by, for example, sharing the stories of the people and culture behind your brand. Letting customers connect with you on a personal level may be a great way to drive customer loyalty and boost retention.

    Some examples of this at Mailchimp can be found on our Instagram page, where we use Instagram Guides to spotlight and show appreciation for our most unique, interesting, and successful customers.

Adopting this strategy can help get the ball rolling on your content calendar or show the gaps to fill in your current setup.

Things to keep in mind

As you’re fine tuning your marketing strategy, keep these questions in mind:

1. Are you staying consistent with your branding and voice across all campaigns? Customers won’t experience every piece of your content, so make sure your brand purpose, vision, and values consistently come through.

2. Is your content plan achievable for you and your team? Not all businesses are alike, so don’t bite off more than you can chew. Sometimes, less really is more. Balance content fatigue and resources so you can always deliver with intention. As you learn more about your customers, you’ll be able to make more informed and impactful content.

3. Is there a consistent cadence to your content? No matter how big your business is, you can’t do it all. But making sure you stay consistent will help your audience keep your brand in mind while helping you stay on top of things. Try to avoid large gaps in content so your customers can be engaged all year long.

Consistently delivering great content is a tough ask when there’s also a business to run. But planning your content ahead of time may provide even the busiest businesses a bit of breathing room.

Understanding your audience and planning relevant content early and consistently can help you focus on your business needs without letting your marketing go limp. With a strategy and schedule in place, you can help make achieving your end-of-year goals even easier.

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