“Chance favors the prepared mind.”
– Louis Pasteur … or “Under Siege 2: Dark Territory” villain Travis Dane, depending who you ask.

Few – if any – successful content marketers just wing it. Sure, you want to constantly evaluate content performance and make changes as needed. But you should never be in a position to just churn out content with no clear strategy or goal in mind.

Every piece of content, from blog to white paper to tweet, should play an important role in your overarching content plan. Without that strategy in place, content marketers essentially throw stuff out into cyberspace on a wing and a prayer, hoping for the best.

Here’s what you need to know about creating a successful content development plan:

1. Start with asking the right questions

You don’t want to get too deep into the weeds of creating a content development strategy without first nailing down the fundamentals. Start by answering the following questions:

  • What are your content goals?
  • Who is your audience?
  • What channels do they use?
  • What do they care about right now?
  • What do you want them to know?
  • How are you measuring content performance?

You can’t craft an effective plan without knowing exactly who you’re trying to reach, what kind of messaging will be relevant to them and what success will look like.

In most cases when we talk about content development, we’re referring to digital material like infographics, newsletters, videos, eBooks, etc., but your own strategy might incorporate traditional media as well. Account for everything when devising your content development plan.

2. Prioritize content around your commercial goals

High-quality content isn’t just well-written and engaging; it helps drive business goals. When crafting your content development plan, keep your main goals in mind and make sure that every single component supports those aims.

Are you looking to build brand awareness? Improve organic search traffic? Are you strictly interested in lead gen? Depending on what you want to accomplish, your content development strategy could come together in a number of different ways.

For example, a company that is really keyed into brand awareness and organic search will want to lean hard into top-of-funnel content like blogs and infographics, while spreading the word with a strong social media presence.

Meanwhile, businesses looking for cold, hard conversions will want to create downloadable, gated material like white papers and eBooks. Then again, if your goals are more along the lines of the lead nurturing variety, newsletters and email campaigns may be more your speed.

As always, be as specific as possible with your commercial goals. The more detailed those are, the easier it will be to assess your content development plan’s success – or lack thereof – later on. If the goal of the Brafton blog is to get 1,000 unique visitors and generate 10 high-quality leads each month rather than, say, “increase brand awareness,” that’s a much clearer metric to measure performance by.

When in doubt about what type of content to create, consult a content funnel.

3. Know your audience

Successful content not only reaches your target audience, but taps into their specific pain points and concerns, while providing a clear and meaningful message. Having done thorough research on your audience gives your writers, designers, social media team and anyone involved in the content development process some much-needed background before they get to work.

If you know what social media platforms your audience tends to congregate on, you can build in tweets, LinkedIn Pulse articles or Facebook posts to get your message out to them. If there’s a particular business challenge they’re grappling with – like, say, preparing for GDPR (seriously, people, it’s less than a month away!) – that’s good fodder for content ideas.

Mapping out specific personas is helpful for content creators if you have the time and means to do so. You may discover that there isn’t enough awareness out there around pressing issues that will have a major impact on your target audience (like GDPR – seriously, how are people not freaking out about this!). If that’s the case, educational content can help answer whatever questions people have or even address questions they didn’t think to ask.

By digging into user metrics, you can find all sorts of interesting insights regarding your audience. For instance, your targeted buyer personas may not even be the ones actually consuming your content (you’re not alone – we’ve dealt with these situations ourselves). In those cases, it might make more sense to focus your efforts on influencers rather than the buyers themselves, because if they never read what you publish, what good will it do?

Or, you might want to put extra time into creating middle-of-the-funnel content that specifically addresses your influencers’ day-to-day pain points and try to win them over.

Thinking hard about who you’re trying to reach and what matters most to them should guide your content development plan, from the broad strokes of your strategy to the nitty-gritty details of each blog, video or social media post.

4. Get your content development team ready

Even though each one of your content creators will have their own projects to work on, no one should be working in a silo. Everyone should be on the same page and collaborate as much as possible to ensure each facet of your content development plan neatly fits together.

Hold brainstorming sessions, get input from different stakeholders on your planned projects. At Brafton, writers, graphic designers, videographers, strategists and project managers all work together in the early stages of content development to hash out a strategy and ideate around topics that our target audience will interesting and relevant to their work.

Working out a viable production and delivery schedule is key. You wouldn’t believe how easy it is for the wheels to come off a content calendar because of a single delay. These things tend to snowball, especially when more complex content types are involved.

 

Meticulously plan out a content calendar that includes plenty of room for team members to complete initial drafts, provide and apply feedback, produce a finalized product and promote those materials on social media channels.

If you have enough material to map out an entire quarter’s worth of content, that’s awesome, but don’t feel like you need to necessarily look that far into the future. Focus on high-quality content first, even if it means you only have a concrete plan for the next month or so.

In conclusion

A successful content development plan requires a lot of work upfront, but it’s totally worth it. Your content will be more focused and relevant to your target audience, and it will better serve your stated business goals. That little extra time investment will establish the right mentality when your content marketing team sits down to create material that speaks directly to your audience.

Or, as Steven Seagal put it in the classic 1990 revenge flick, “Hard to Kill”:

“We’re gonna win. You know why? Superior attitude. Superior state of mind.”

Too true, Steven. Too true.

Jeff Keleher is a writer and editor at Brafton. A man of simple tastes, he enjoys playing guitar, playing video games and playing with his dog - sometimes all at once. He still hasn't gotten over Illinois' loss in the 2005 NCAA National Championship game, and he probably never will.