A content marketer's guide to annual planningWe’re officially entering “planning season.” At Two Rivers Marketing, our conference rooms are filled with teams huddled around phones and computer screens, beginning their annual process of creating marketing plans for next year.

Content marketers, this is our time to shine. Our toolboxes have some of the most valuable, relevant, and insightful tools for this work. Now’s the time to remind everyone why we’re on the team: We are the guardians of customer knowledge. What power we wield!

Dig out all the amazing documents you’ve created, and get them in front of the planners. These four content marketing tools can help take the guesswork out of your 2018 planning efforts:

1.     Audience/buyer personas

2.     Content audit

3.     Competitive content analysis

4.     Audience interviews

Hello, Persona, nice to see you 
Remember these guys? The fictitious people you spend hundreds of hours creating? Yeah, it’s time to dust them off and make them the VIPs at every planning meeting. Showcase your personas:

  • Print new copies and leave them on everyone’s desk with a little note, “Remember me? You still haven’t solved all my challenges …”
  • Send an email to your team written in the voice of your persona and attach a copy of the persona. Highlight five to 10 insights to focus on during planning.
  • Schedule an audience-understanding workshop. Create a hands-on experience for your team by setting up several stations where they can view raw footage of customer interviews, search for new industry trends, scroll through social media comments, brainstorm new content ideas, etc.
  • Create big posters or cardboard standees of your personas to place in conference rooms, hallways, around your team’s desks, but probably not in the bathroom (that would be weird).
  • Make persona summary cards and pass them out before planning meetings. Ask team members to think or brainstorm like one of their personas.
  • Kick off your planning meeting with a Who’s Who persona game – show a smartphone screen with different apps on it, and ask your team to guess which persona it’s based on. Or show them a customer quote and guess the persona who might have said it, or make a list of challenges and match them to the correct personas.

Update that audit 
We all love a good content audit (it’s OK, you don’t need to feel ashamed). Planning season is a great time to update last year’s audit with all the awesome new content the team created this year (bonus points to anyone who’s been updating it throughout the year).

Another fun activity is to combine your content audit with your content metrics reports and give your team an overview of the year’s best and not-quite-as-good content. Focus on a few key metrics, like most engaging content, most shared content, headlines with the most clicks, etc. Understanding what content worked and didn’t work is the key to success for next year’s marketing plan.

Keep an eye on competitors
Our content marketing plans always include an in-depth analysis of competitors’ digital and social sites. It’s important to understand their content themes and topics, channels, publishing frequency, visual style and voice, and audience size. We usually audit four to six competitors. Once you’ve done the initial competitive audit, it’s easy to update it each fall.

Spend a couple of hours visiting competitors’ websites and social channels:

  • What new content is on their website? Are there new topics? What’s the focus of their content marketing efforts?
  • How’s engagement on their social channels? Take screenshots of the most engaging content. Grab links to their most viewed/most interesting videos.
  • Are there new channels? Last year’s audit makes it easy to see if they’ve launched anything new. Have they started a blog? Launched a Snapchat account? Offered live online chat? If your marketing plans contain new channel recommendations, it’s helpful to see how your competitors are doing on those channels. Their success, or lack thereof, can help you set benchmarks and realistic goals for your 2018 tactics.

Get on the phone
There’s no need to update and redesign your audience personas every year, but you will absolutely benefit from conducting new customer interviews and sharing your conversations with the team. Yeah, I know it’s tough to get contact information and to get customers on the phone. But it’s totally worth it!

Talk to a few customers for each persona. Record the conversation and play the best, most insightful quotes for your team. Ask about new challenges they’re facing, industry trends they’re interested in, opinions about your content, products, services, and whatever else can help with your planning efforts.

If their answers have significantly changed since you created your personas, consider updating them. If you don’t have the budget to do it immediately, factor it into your 2018 marketing plan.

Annual planning season is the ideal time to bring out your best content marketing tools and encourage your team to keep using them. Be the voice of your customers. Make it your mission to keep your target audiences’ needs at the center of planning.

Want more marketing planning insights? Check out Patrick’s blog, “Should you rethink your annual marketing plan?”

As always, we’d love to hear your questions or comments.

About Keesia Wirt

Keesia Wirt, content strategist at Two Rivers Marketing, is a self-proclaimed content nerd. With a background in newspaper and magazine journalism, she now helps clients connect with their target audiences by creating relevant, valuable content that they want to read, watch and share with others. Her favorite tools include audience personas, crotchet hooks, whisks and duct tape. If you want to talk content, email her at KeesiaW@2rm.com.