Once upon a time, a company (who shall remain nameless) took a chaotic product launch approach. Product managers feverishly developed their marketing messages at the same time they worked with writers and designers to create their marketing materials. The marketing executive stayed out of the process until a draft was in layout, and took an “I’ll know it when I see it” approach to evaluating both content and design.
The writer and graphic designer churned out sample after sample, hoping to please the executive. Months and much iteration later, no one liked result and the company went back to the drawing board.
The solution for this type of wheel spinning is strong planning. Determine your objectives and what you want to say before a writer or designer ever puts fingers to keyboard. If you know what you want, you’re more likely to get it — quickly and for less cost. With customers deluged with ever increasing amounts of content, ensuring that your content is on the mark is more important than ever. (For more information check out our Content Planning video on YouTube.)
The following are areas you need to address before you begin. In addition to providing guidelines for executing your project, such a plan will also help reviewers assess its quality.
Define the Prerequisites
Start by learning about your customers’ buying process and then define your messaging strategy.
Your customers’ buying process
To figure out what content to create to move buyers from one stage to the next, you need to understand your customers’ buying process. What are the stages? Who’s involved in each one? What factors cause them to start looking for a solution like yours? What do they need to know at each stage? Where do they look for information?
By understanding what information your buyers need, you can design overall content strategies to guide buyers through the process each step of the way.
For example, a generic buying process might include:
- Initial education stages—A new industry trend may prompt the company to realize it has a problem to overcome or an opportunity to pursue, or the customer may wonder whether a particular trend effects the organization.
- Evaluation—once the customer is convinced the issue is worth pursuing, they’ll want more targeted information about this issue and your solutions.
- Decision criteria—finally the company wants to make sure it’s making the best choice in addressing its issues or in achieving its goals. They’ll want specific information about your offerings, including competitive comparisons.
Your messaging strategy
Marketing is a two-way conversation. Not only do you need to understand who you’re talking to and what information they need to know, you must also determine what specific and concrete attributes you want to portray about your brand.
For example, the messaging for the Mini Cooper automobile is:
- Assertive, ready to perform as a driver’s car
- Proactive and supportive of spontaneity
- Experienced and savvy
According to Margot Bloomstein, in a recent presentation, defining your messaging in such a concrete fashion allows you to establish and defend your brand’s editorial voice and it gives you a structure for measuring your content so you can tell whether it’s relevant and appropriate.
Plan the Individual Project
Once you know your audience and its information needs as well as the messages and personality you want to communicate about your brand, you’re ready to start planning individual projects. Your plan should contain the following.
What is the product or service?
Include the name of the solution the piece will address along with a brief description.
Goals/stage of the buying process
What do you hope to achieve by creating this piece of content? In particular, what phase of the buying cycle will this particular content address?
- Are you targeting a particular industry?
- What buyer persona will you be addressing and what do they want to know at this stage of the buying process?
Type of content
Is it a corporate brochure, a line-of-business brochure, a strategic-services brochure, a solutions brief, a product brief, an educational white paper, a thought-leadership white paper, a case study?
The one key message the paper should convey
Your paper will be clear and effective only if you convey a single theme or message. Your key message should be the one thing you want your reader to think and feel as a result of reading the content.
Method of distribution
Will you use it in print for tradeshows or sales calls, digital for a website or online knowledge base? This should be determined based on where your personas indicate they look for information at this stage of the buying process.
The challenge and trigger your customers face
What is the key buyer challenge your piece will address and what triggers your customers to actively look for a solution? Often companies will have a problem for a considerable period of time before they decide to do something about it. Knowing the trigger can put more urgency into your content and make it more compelling.
What words do your buyers tend to use when they’re looking for solutions to their problem?
Value the reader will gain by reading this
This depends on the nature of the piece. An educational piece might give the reader an understanding of the three to five key benefits he or she can achieve by using your product to solve a particular problem. If the piece addresses an objection, the value is a solution to the customer’s problem. For example, the value of a piece on “How to Sell DR to Senior Management” promises the solution to that problem for the IT manager looking to implement a Disaster Recovery program.
What real, or perceived, obstacles prevent the buyer from purchasing your product at this stage? You can work your answers to these objections into your copy even if the entire piece isn’t designed specifically to address them.
What are three to five reasons that the buyer should believe they can achieve their priorities by purchasing your solution? Include factual evidence that’s persuasive enough to overcome buyer obstacles.
Call to action
What next steps do you want the reader to take?
Who’s your competition? What are they telling the audience?
How is your product different from the competition?
Relevant background materials
Include links to reports, research, and company collateral that provides background for the project
Identify any requirements and brand considerations that impact format, copy, and visual elements, including:
- Format—web, print, video, sound
- Layout—considerations in accordance with brand guidelines
- Visual—color palette, typography, graphics, photography, logos, icons
- Who will the approvers be? Make sure they’re involved in the early stages of the project, reviewing the outline and first draft. This will prevent someone from incorporating new ideas at the end of the project, thereby derailing the entire process.
- Deadline and project schedule. Tell your writers, designers, and reviewers exactly how much time they have to complete each step and give them a deadline so review cycles won’t stretch on indefinitely.
By addressing all of these issues up front, your process will go much faster. You won’t waste money. And your content quality will improve.Are there any elements you add to your planning process?