Force of habit is pushing me to start this article with a nice and cliche definition of what content marketing is and why it’s so important in today’s world. Experience tells me, however, that I’d be preaching to the choir.
All of us here are already convinced by the magic powers of content marketing. It’s why we want to generate so many ideas for producing it in the first place. Our challenge isn’t whether we want to produce content or not, it’s how we produce more of it and make it better.
Content consumption is on the rise and as marketers, it’s our duty to increase the supply to satisfy demand. But the issue is not that simple. People don’t just want content. They want valuable pieces that genuinely make a difference. Content that brings something new to the table, is enjoyable, entertaining.
So the real challenge is to frequently produce content that rises to the expected standard. Content marketing with the “wow factor” at its core. To make that goal a reality, content marketing teams need two things:
- To have a stable infrastructure that can support a seamless production workflow.
- To constantly generate ideas that support their brand, serve their audience, and bring in the “wow”.
If at first glance, these may not seem like that big challenges, think again. Take an objective look at your content marketing machine and answer these questions:
- If someone completely unfamiliar with your brand takes a look at your content, would they understand what your brand is about and what you’re trying to send across?
- Does everyone involved in your content marketing efforts know what their role is? Are they looped in time?
- Do you have a clean and structured approach to generating content ideas? Or is it more of a spontaneous act based on a Google search, a good idea, or a quick answer to: we have to publish something next week.
Continue reading if at least one answer to any of the above wasn’t a strong “of course”. And consider these 3 questions as the starting point of what we’ll cover in this piece. We’ll start off by discussing how to design the perfect content marketing workflow that will keep all your efforts organized and your team productive.
We will then move on to content pillars and explore how to come up with the right ones and the steps to take after you do. After that, we’ll dive deep into how to brainstorm on content marketing topics that will tick all the right boxes.
Lastly, we’ll go into content marketing habits that will empower your brand and form real connections with your audience.
Ok, time to do this.
How to build the perfect content marketing workflow
I’d like to start this part by removing some preconceptions that only big teams should have a content workflow. This applies to you, dear content marketer, regardless of the team, the size, or the brand that you have. Whether we’re talking a 50+ people department or a one-man show, your content workflow should be existent and well defined.
A content marketing workflow is a roadmap that should be followed by everyone involved each time a new content piece is to be created. It starts with how you decide on creating a new piece and ends only when there’s absolutely nothing else you can do to leverage that piece (talking about repurposing here). It’s a set of rules, guidelines, and tools that lead your team along the journey of the content marketing maze.
I may have not argued why content marketing is important, but I do think we should take a second to grasp why designing a bullet-proof workflow is.
Why is it important to define a content marketing workflow
Productivity and efficiency. We’re all overwhelmed, we’re constantly on the run, and there’s always a deadline breathing down our necks. Besides a cold mojito here and there on the beach, we never stop. But all this running can be a waste of time and energy if it’s not clear where, how, and towards what we should be heading. A well-designed content workflow will keep us going in the right direction and at the right pace. A workflow is, if you’d like, similar to the equipment you need before deciding to climb a mountain. Playing it by ear will lead to inefficiency and will consume your team’s energy that could definitely be invested better.
Consistency. The problem with our fast-paced world isn’t only efficiency loss. It’s also that the chaos in execution usually translates into chaotic outputs. Building a relationship with your audience is mostly based on how that audience perceives you. Deciding what your brand represents is in vain if you don’t have a workflow that will ensure brand consistency.
Content quality. The standard to which content rises is not only in the team’s skills but in the collaboration abilities that the team masters. A dispersed team will never manage to leverage the content’s potential. But brought together? Watch the internet say “wow”.
Ok, hope I earned your attention and you’re now convinced. So, obviously, it’s time to move on to the whats and hows of the perfect content marketing workflow.
5 key aspects that define the ideal content marketing workflow
1. The first thing that your workflow should entail is that it should be bullet-proof. What that means is that you should make sure you map everything and everyone involved in your content marketing processes. No loose ends.
2. The second aspect is that it should ensure the efficiency of the team without compromising on quality. That being said, we recommend you don’t skip feedback or approval processes – that does not mean being efficiency and comes with great risks. So to ensure quality with all the feedback steps in place, the approval cycles have to be seamless, clear, fast, and transparent.
3. Flexibility is something that you should keep in mind when designing your workflow. While there have to be clear steps that everyone should follow for each piece, spontaneity has to also fit in. If there’s a time-sensitive topic to cover, the team should be aware that your calendar’s evergreen content can be moved to make place for opportunities.
4. Make sure your workflow is clear and it won’t produce any chaos. Follow through with onboarding everyone on the created workflow and get everyone’s buy-in. Your team shouldn’t only receive the decided upon workflow that they have to follow. Loop them in right away and get their feedback on what you’re designing. That won’t only mean that you’ll get their approval, but it will also help with the first aspect mentioned above: no loose ends.
5. Place transparency at the very core of your team’s values. Give access to the same information, goals, and strategy.
Steps to take in building your content marketing workflow
When building your workflow, it’s best to start with what you already have. So the first step is to sit down with your team and map out what it is you’re currently doing. Answer these questions:
1. Do you have content pillars? If so, what are they?
2. How often do you brainstorm content topics from content pillars?
3. Who is involved in this brainstorming?
4. What is needed for the brainstorming? SEO research?
5. How often do you publish content?
6. Where do the decided topics go? What tool?
7. What happens next? Who creates content?
8. Who is looped in during the creation phase? Design, social media, PR, paid, brand, product etc.
9. Who reviews content?
10. Who is mandatory to review the piece, and who is part of the “nice-to-have” category.
11. Who gives the final greenlight?
12. Where does all of the above collaboration happen?
13. What are the main platforms where you host your content?
14. Who publishes the content and who builds the promotion plan?
15. Who implements the promotion techniques?
16. Does the plan contain repurposing?
17. Who is in charge of that?
18. How much time do you need between deciding on a piece of content and going live with it?
19. When does the reporting on results start and end? Who’s in charge of drafting it?
20. Who needs to see these results?
The answers to all these questions is 90% of designing your content marketing workflow. I mentioned you should start with what you have, but take into account the questions that don’t currently apply to you as well. It’s a good opportunity to decide if you want or need to bring something to the table. Once a content marketing workflow is designed and implemented, it’ll be hard to make changes.
After you’ve answered all of the above, the next step is to organize all these aspects. Firstly, draw a journey of your content. Include each small phase through which your content travels.
Then, link your stakeholders and everyone involved to each step. It should result in a visual map that’s clear and strong.
Now that you can see your workflow at a glance it’s time to optimize it as much as possible. Remember, this process has to happen to ensure quality, but it’s too long and inefficient, it will not succeed. You’ll be able to optimize and tweak along the way, when you see a certain phase takes up too much time. But try to start with the best version. Look at the map and imagine what phase and habit will take too much of people’s time if done wrong? Once you pinpoint a certain step, deep-dive into it. How do you imagine it being done? What could you change that would make people’s lives easier?
**Hint: it’s often the reviewing, feedback, and approval phase.
Move on to the next phase that seems wasteful in terms of resources and starts again. Repeat the process until you feel this is the best-optimized workflow you can build before implementing.
Voila! You have your content marketing workflow and all you need now is to onboard your team and stakeholders into it. I won’t go into how to this as I’m sure you know how to get your team’s trust best. I’ll just highlight that it’s crucial to showcase why this is important – present the workflow and the importance of following through with each and every step of the process. Don’t assume it’s clear. Most importantly, drill down on why the reviewal and feedback phase are essential to success. Explain that it’s not about stakeholders controlling content, but about quality, oversight, and brand unity.
How to generate the best content marketing ideas
In order to generate the best ideas, a team needs the very best content marketing pillars to start with. I’m sure you have them already, either written down or in your mind. However, I believe it’s important to go through a few tips to ensure that your pillars – which represent the foundation behind all your content efforts – are at their best.
How to reach your perfect content marketing pillars
If we were to analyze what makes or breaks content marketing pillars, I’d split it in 3 key aspects:
- Audience relevance
- Brand & Product relevancy
Let’s take a closer look at each of these.
Audience. Like any product, the first thing you have to make sure of is that there’s an audience who’s interested in it. As you already know your buyer’s persona – map it out and find out what their interests are. At this step, don’t take into account what’s important to your brand just yet. Write down absolutely anything you know your audience has an interest in. Feel free to use any tools you have for this: from looking at past research on your audience, to simply scrolling Facebook communities.
Brand & Product. This is the easy part because marketers are best at knowing what their brand wants to talk about. But write it down – both brand and product topics. To make sure you understand what I’m referring to, let’s say you’re a female shoewear company that stands for modern, elegant, but comfortable and empowering shoewear. Your brand would probably want to talk about powerful and successful women that do it all, gender equality, and maybe about sustainability in equipment and materials. Your product is at the end of the day women elegant footwear so you’d want to talk about either comfort, style/fashion, or both.
Before moving on to the third aspect, put everything that came out of the brainstorming in two circles that intersect – yep, it’s the Venn diagram. Take each pillar at a time and place them where they belong. During this phase, don’t be afraid to tweak the initial words or phrases. Try to combine audience interests and brand interests into one topic where possible.
In the middle, you’ll find your rough content pillars. The reason I say rough is because there’s one more test they should pass: capaciousness. This step is really important because if the content pillars are limited and don’t offer a lot of topic-possibilities, you’ll get stuck in a couple of months. You can test them and see how expendable they are. To figure this one out, here are 2 methods:
- Try to find a few sub-pillars and start saying topics from the top of your mind. If you find yourself coming up with narrow topics only, they’re not broad enough.
- There’s another way to do this: take each content pillar and see if you could find a broader category from which it originates. If so, would its category companions still meet your audience-relevancy and brand-relevancy standards?
The techniques above will bring you to the right content pillars that should represent the foundation of your content for a while at least. If you’ve established the right content pillars, there should be no reason to change them unless there’s a re-branding or a change of strategy in brand messaging.
There’s just one more small step before moving on to content marketing topics: correctly defining the established pillars. This is just to make sure that everyone fully understands each pillar and that their meaning won’t be changed with time. Clearly define what they represent and encompass.
Brainstorming for the best content marketing ideas
When it comes to brainstorming, there are so many techniques and so much advice out there. There are experts and coaches on the topics, so I will not pretend that I am worthy of your attention here. What I can do, however, is share 3 tips that have worked for me and my team in the past.
- Homework. We’re very focused on “let’s do this” at Planable so making brainstormings efficient is pretty much vital to their success. To that end, we have to come prepared in order to not waste anyone’s time. Together we decide that everyone should come with a specific number of ideas at each brainstorming. No homework means that we’ll just gather in a room and stare in different places while we think of something.
- Stress-testing ideas. Of course, any idea is welcome during brainstorming, but when we do start the actual picking, we establish a few questions to decide whether it’s a usable idea or not. For example, you can ask: is it what our brand wants to say? Are there any relevant keywords we could rank with for this topic? How much effort does it take? How about impact? Deciding on these questions is important because otherwise, it will be just a battle of opinions and arguments. Stay focused on the end-goal.
- Ask before you criticize. This goes hand in hand with the previous tip but it’s somewhat different. It’s really important to ask questions about the idea before dismissing it. What did you mean by this? Would this be something our audience will like? What’s the spin you’d put on it? And so on.
Ok, done, we’ve efficiently gone through what global content marketing teams need in order to produce and scale quality content. You may be on the go now, but I hope that as soon as you get to a pen & paper, you’ll start mapping your workflow and pillars and re-shape your current efforts.
Miruna Dragomir, Marketing Manager @Planable. Social media fanatic, tech geek & a sucker for learning. Past experience? Social Media Comms Manager @Oracle & Marketing Coordinator @Uber