Editor’s note: You may have missed this article when CMI published it last year. We’re sharing it now because the misperceptions about editorial calendars and content marketing strategies are still common.
Marketers often talk about how they have a strategy … then proceed to say they are set because they have an editorial calendar.
At the risk of sounding ranty, I’d love to yell from the rooftops: An editorial calendar is not a content marketing strategy!
While this conflict may seem like semantics, the meshing of these terms points to a bigger issue.
You need to have both a strategy and an editorial plan or calendar. And you need to understand how they differ because the absence of one may explain why you are experiencing uncertainty in your content marketing efforts.
Architect and civil engineer
Let’s say you are building a home. An architect leads the design of the structure by creating an architectural plan. But a civil engineer makes the design possible – implementing and adjusting the plan to realize the architect’s vision.
Do you need an architectural design for your new home? Absolutely. It’s the vision of what you want to achieve. You help your architect understand your needs (your why) – your strategy. Where do you want to move? How big do you want your house to be? Do you want room to grow or something more compact? How much do you want to spend? These are some of the questions you need to answer before the architect creates a plan for your house.
The architectural phase of your new home is akin to your content marketing strategy.
With that architectural strategy, the civil engineer can create a building plan to implement the vision. That’s akin to your editorial plan or calendar.
In short, just like when you are building a home, you can’t have an effective building plan without an architectural strategy, and you can’t execute your strategy without your plan. (And, if you are designing a house with your spouse, you both need to get on the same page as well – just like your team needs to get on the same page with your strategy.)
First comes the content marketing strategy
If your editorial plan isn’t feeling quite right, chances are you don’t have a solid strategy – or your team doesn’t have a shared understanding of what that strategy is.
In simple terms (this doesn’t account for all the nuances), your strategy needs to answer these three questions:
- Who are we educating/helping? (Note: I did not say “targeting,” as your goal should be helping. Creating a persona is one way to do this.)
- How can we help them in a way that no one else can? (This is your content tilt.)
- How will we know we are successful? (These are the business goals of your strategy.)
You need to clearly understand the answers to these three questions – and having this clarity isn’t as common as you may think.
In our most recent content marketing research, 37% of B2B marketers say they have a documented content marketing strategy, with 38% indicating they have an undocumented strategy. (I won’t rant about the importance of documenting your strategy … but you should do it.)
But not enough of their strategies have a content mission, a deep understanding of their personas, and goals tied to their content. If you don’t have these things, something is going to feel off. And, while your strategy typically comes from the leadership team, don’t make excuses if you don’t have one.
Here are a few other things to consider:
- Does everyone on the team have the same understanding of the strategy? Ask your fellow team members the three questions above and see how consistently everybody communicates the strategy.
- Post simple answers to the three questions on each team member’s wall (or close by). You want team members to internalize the answers. I can’t stress this enough: If you don’t stick to your audience and mission – with a focus on your goals – you will flounder.
- Unlike your plan, your strategy is relatively set in stone and won’t change often.
Then comes the editorial plan
Each item you publish and communicate needs to support the three key items in your strategy. Every. Single. Thing. And that’s where your editorial plan comes in.
Your editorial plan is tactical and detailed. It explains what you are going to do and who will do it. If you have your big ideas nailed down and are struggling with execution, chances are you need to spend some time with your editorial plan.
While you must consider many details, include these activities in your editorial planning (many of which should show up in your editorial calendar):
- Five to seven key areas or categories for editorial coverage
- Topics in those categories to cover
- Team members’ responsibilities – who will do what
- Key pages from your site that require ongoing attention (Not sure which pages require your attention? Learn about the four key reports to help you, as well as the five opportunities to consider.)
- Content to update and republish (Learn about a system to decide which posts to republish as well as details on how CMI does it.)
- Social media marketing plan
- Measurement plan (See a template CMI has used to share insights with the team on a monthly basis.)
As you can see, all these details are tactical and important. A high-level strategy is necessary, but without an editorial plan to support it, your content marketing program will have a tough time gaining traction.
Remember, you need an architect to draw your vision of a new home (the strategy), but you also need the civil engineer to create the construction plan to practically implement the vision.
Do you have both strategy and a plan? Does that create a comfortable home for your content marketing? Or do you have a plan, but without a strategy – your content marketing program lives day to day but it doesn’t live up to your vision?
Where are you feeling discomfort in your content marketing program? Would it make sense to fine-tune your content marketing strategy or your editorial plan – or both?
HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT:
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute
Michele Linn is the co-founder and chief strategy officer of Mantis Research, a consultancy focused on helping brands create and amplify original research they can use in their marketing. Before starting Mantis, Michele was head of editorial at Content Marketing Institute, where she led the company’s strategic editorial direction, co-developed its annual research studies, wrote hundreds of articles, spoke at industry events and was instrumental in building the platform to 200,000 subscribers. In 2015, she was named one of Folio’s Top Women in Media (Corporate Visionary). You can follow her on Twitter at @michelelinn.
Other posts by Michele Linn