Marketing maven Dan Kennedy is fond of saying:
“The difference between chicken poop and chicken salad is timing.”
And when it comes to content marketing, we have to consider British journalist, musician, broadcaster and the inventor of Franglais, a fictional language, made up of French and English, Miles Beresford Kington’s view on the topic:
“Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.”
And if we look at inbound marketing from a pragmatic perspective, we can instantly see how perfectly both Dan’s and Miles’ maxims apply to it.
Inbound marketing is really the type of content we distribute and the timing of the distribution.
And when it comes to connecting with your target audience using content marketing, a content calendar is one of the main engines of your campaign.
What Is A Content Calendar?
A content calendar is a visual representation of the timing and the nature of content that your marketing team distributes to various segments of your database, depending on…
- What they’re interested in?
- Where they are in your sales funnel and at?
- What pace they’re moving forward?
The purpose of good content is to generate new sales leads and gently nudge existing sales leads towards the next stages of their decision-making processes inside the sales funnel.
The main benefit of the calendar approach is that…
- You can see the consistency of the distributable or already distributed content.
- You can see the exact timing of the distribution.
- You can adjust your content creation team’s time frames.
And now we can move and start building our content calendar starting with the first step…
Design Your Marketing Persona(s)
Before we can create sales cycles, funnels and other nipple-piercingly fancy bits and bobs, we have to decide who we want to send all that content to.
This video from the late Gary Halbert can help you to better understand the importance of the person to whom we send our messages.
One part of marketing is the target market, but the other, and often neglected part, is the very person who is going to receive our content.
The more you know about the type of that person, the more receptive your audience will be to your message.
For more about creating a buyer persona, please read Hubspot’s How to Create Detailed Buyer Personas for Your Business.
Inspect Your Sales Cycle
This inspection is based on your target market’s buying process.
But don’t make the mistake of examining the sales cycle from the seller’s perspective, following a process like…
- New client
If you map your content calendar based on the above steps, you go against buyers’ buying processes, and it sooner or later result in a serious clash. And after the dust has settled, what you see is that otherwise high quality buyers have committed mass exodus from your sales funnel, and no amount of Baileys Irish Cream or Nutella on toast can seduce them back into your funnel.
Use the buyer’s perspective to:
- Recognize problem
- Define possible long-term consequences
- Define cost of problem and consequences
- Allocate budget
- Define deciding criteria
- Assess alternatives
- Select solution
- Select solution provider
Listing Your Content Pieces
We know that different pieces are suitable for different stages of the sales funnel.
Buyers at the beginning of their “funnel journeys” need eye-opening pieces that help them realize that there is a problem that costs the company big money and needs to be solved.
Also consider that some buyers love reading but hate videos or podcasts.
And some content pieces are…
- Social media posts
- New articles
- White papers (B2B) or Special reports (B2C)
- Case studies
- Research studies
- Social media channels
- Templates, cheat sheets, checklists
- Games and puzzles
At the beginning of the funnel, buyers need problem-driven articles because first they try to solve their problems in-house.
At the end of the funnel, after buyers have realized the problem can’t be solved in-house, buyers need case studies and some social proof to make their final decisions.
Brainstorm Your Content-Friendly Subjects
Decide which parts of your subject matter expertise land themselves to relatively easy content development and distribution.
Yes, every profession has some areas that are not exactly content-friendly, partly because they are very hands-on skills, and it’s pointless to write content on them.
In Knowledge Creating Company, Ikujiro Nonaka and Hirotaka Takeuchi make a distinction between explicit and tacit knowledge.
- Explicit knowledge is easy express in words and numbers. It’s easy to codify, document and then memorize. Large number of people can learn it in a short space of time. E.g. learning the chromatic scale.
- Tacit knowledge is impossible to put into words and numbers. It’s impossible to codify, document and then memorize. E.g. learning to compose like Mozart.
We have to make sure we use explicit knowledge for content. Trying to explain tacit knowledge would leave your audience as frustrated as a centipede on a shoe-shopping spree.
And this leads us to…
- Explicit capability that can be delivered quickly and cost-effectively using various codified methods, like written text, audio or video. E.g. online courses.
- Tacit capability that must be delivered in a hands-on manner over an extended period of time. That makes the delivery expensive. E. g. medical residency.
Mapping Out Your Sales Funnel And Calendar
This is where you map out what gets sent out to which segment of your list and when.
The timing is defined how buyers behave inside the funnel. If there is indication of a specific piece’s consumption, then the system can release the next piece of content.
So, the sales funnel dictates what piece of content goes into the calendar at what point.
We want to make sure that the calendar reactive in such a way that it sends out the next piece of content in reaction to buyers’ action.
If you publish an article on how to select a SaaS software development firm, first the buyer has to read about why his company may be losing out by running off-the-shelf cloud-based software and how custom-made cloud-based software can be more effective.
Other Factors That Can Influence Your Calendar
There are some other factors that must be calculated when assembling your calendar.
This is an area where marketing people should compare notes with salespeople, since they’re out in the field and they know about infinitesimal nuances that can make a big difference in buyer behaviors.
Some factors are…
- The target market’s seasonality.
- Special industry trends.
- Industry-specific conferences, tradeshows, etc.
- Anticipated new product or service launches in target market.
- Anticipated news announcements.
- Industry’s regulation level – Highly regulated industries can be quite unpredictable.
- Effects of economic and political changes on industry.
Granted, many factors can’t be foreseen or anticipated, so the best thing you can do is build some flexibility into your content calendar.
When you find out about a major industrial tradeshow, you can tie your next few pieces of content to that tradeshow.
Mentioning these events also gives your content pieces a chance to be picked up by other news outlets.
Elements Of A Calendar Entry
Here we specify what is what in a specific content piece.
- Title: Title of the content piece.
- Problem: Clarifies the problem of the market which the piece addresses.
- KW 1: Long-tail keyword #1
- KW 2: Long-tail keyword #2
- KW 3: Long-tail keyword #3
- Key points: A short explanation of what the article does.
- Type: Blog, tip sheet, special report, case study, etc.
- Length: xyz words
- CTA (call to action): The action you want readers to take after consuming this piece.
- Preceded by: Title of the previous piece. (Vital to mimic the buyer’s thinking process)
- Succeeded by: Title of the next piece. (Vital to mimic the buyer’s thinking process)
You may use fewer or more fields in your calendar entries depending how complex your sales funnel is and how thinly you segment your database.
There are more content calendar tools out there than stars in the sky.
You can read The Complete Guide to Choosing a Content Calendar, and most probably, you’ll find the one that is most suitable for your purposes.
Also, to complement the tool of your choice, you can read Michell Hall’s article on comprehensive list of calendar templates.
Once you select a tool and have a structure, then you can start creating your own content calendar.
Content type and timing are the two arms of the proverbial inbound marketing giant.
Yes, when you have both arms, you have a giant that can do amazing things seemingly effortlessly. The proverbial juggernaut that moves forwards unobstructed and generates dream clients for your business.
But if you miss either the type or the timing, you can end up with a paralyzed giant with his dominant arm missing and the other arm aimlessly flailing.