Content calendars are more beautiful than a sunset.
They’re more exciting to read than a treasure map.
They have more knowledge in them than Sheldon and Amy combined.
In fact, if content calendars were people, they’d be Renaissance people — outstandingly versatile, well-rounded and with many areas of knowledge. They are the ultimate content marketing tool and a content strategist’s best friend. In one visually amazing glance, you can convey your company’s content marketing strategy, target audience insights, content themes and content ideas.
A good content calendar will become the dog-eared, coffee-stained document that is carried to brainstorm meetings, pinned to your writer’s cubicle wall, passed around at sales meetings and hung up for inspiration during planning time.
The term “content calendar” can be confusing because it means a lot of different things to different people. Here’s a breakdown of marketing calendars by their function:
Tactical/publishing calendars – These are hardworking spreadsheet beasts, usually organized by your owned channels like your company blog or Facebook page, that provide the tactical information needed to organize and publish content in a timely manner. They often include deadlines for content creation, who is creating the content and who is approving it, when and where it will be published, and how it will be promoted. These calendars are very important, but not what I’m talking about today.
Public relations calendars – PR calendars tend to be company-focused and list all your company’s activities throughout the year. There may be content themes or campaigns assigned to different times of the year, based on what your company wants to communicate. It may also get very tactical and provide dates for news releases, video production, trade shows, social media efforts, etc. Again, these are helpful calendars but not what I’m talking about.
Media calendars – These calendars typically represent your company’s advertising and paid content efforts. They show the media company, the duration of the paid placement and then lots of numbers and stats.
But what I’m talking about is a content calendar that showcases your overall content marketing strategy and focuses on your audience — not your company. It includes audience needs, behavior, challenges and seasons. Sounds awesome, right?
When done well, it is the one-page content blueprint for your marketing team. They can use it to understand what your target audiences care about, what information they’re searching for, what challenges they’re trying to solve, their buying patterns, behavior patterns, and seasonal activities and needs. Then add your company’s content goals and activities to the content calendar to create the most amazing marketing tool on the planet.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to this, and you need to create yours with the information you have available. Here are some categories to consider:
• Content strategy mission statement – This is your rally cry and should summarize your target audiences, what will be delivered to them and the outcome for them
• Indicator of time – Most content calendars represent a calendar year and could be set up monthly, quarterly, seasons of the year or even better, customized seasons based on your audiences’ habits or workflow (for instance, if you’re targeting landscaping companies, it’s nice to understand their busy seasons when they’re less likely to engage with long-form content)
• Content themes – List the core themes your company wants to communicate to your audiences and note whether there is a seasonality to those themes or if they can be discussed throughout the year (for instance, our agency content calendar has a first quarter theme of “new insights” because we know our clients want to kick-start their year with fresh ideas)
• Content opportunities – These are big idea starters to give your team enough information to go brainstorm a newsletter article or a month-long Facebook campaign; content opportunities are where you, the content strategist, share your best ideas for the type of content the audience wants to hear during that specific time period (for instance, the content opportunities for our agency in January would be marketing trends, trade show ideas, goal setting tips and industry outlooks)
• Content ideas – Based on the audiences’ needs and activities, offer some tactical content ideas (for example, our agency content calendar might show these content ideas for January: trade show survival workbook, annual trends presentation or content strategy case studies)
• Audience insights – Audience photos and quotes provide great visual reminders of who you’re trying to reach with your content marketing efforts and what their needs are
• Customer buying seasons – It’s extremely helpful to note the buying seasons of your target audiences so you can publish/distribute relevant content at the right time of the year (for instance, it’s helpful to create a competitive comparison of your products before your audience’s buying season begins, and not at the end of it)
• Customer activities – There is often a seasonality to your customers’ work/lifestyle that is extremely important to understand (looking at our landscaping company example, you’d list when they train new seasonal staff or when they prep for snow season, which gives your team great ideas for timely content)
• Company activities – This calendar is mainly about the target audience but it should include company events, product/service launches, important anniversaries, trade shows, even major promotions so your content marketing efforts can support them
• Analytics and smart stuff – Look for seasonal trends in online searches or customer visits to Web pages that will fuel new ideas and future content; smart sidebars to include on your calendar could include SEO terms to reach your target audience, industry trends or digital behavior charts
Once you’ve collected the information for your calendar, it’ll be a big ugly document or spreadsheet. Do yourself a favor and turn it over to the design team. A spreadsheet is not worthy of this information! It needs color! Pretty pictures! White space! Branding! Allow the design team to turn it into the masterpiece it was meant to be.
Yes, I admit it: I love content calendars. They are the visual CliffsNotes of content marketing strategy that will be read, shared and live on — long after the strategy meetings end.
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