In the old days, before GPS, when you wanted to get someplace, you had to take out a paper map and plan your route.
You couldn’t just turn on a little computer, drive out of your driveway, and start following instructions from a disembodied voice (in our family, we call her Millie).
No, there was a time when you had to actually plan ahead if you wanted to reach your destination!
Running a profitable business will ALWAYS require some sort of map. You always need to make a plan before you start out.
In the first step of the EPIC Content Marketing Formula we laid the foundation for what content marketing is and why it is important. That was E, the Essentials.
In this, the second step of the formula, P is Plan.
You have to plan your process – map out where you are going and how you are getting there – in order to reach your goal: profitability.
As the old cliche says, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll get there every time!”
In a nutshell, these are the key steps to planning your process:
- Define your goal or objective
- Understand, define, build, and speak to your audience
- Using prospect awareness levels, escalate your audience
- Clarify your position and message in the market vs. those of your competitors
- Develop your content marketing mission statement
- Plan to improve your content maturity and processes
Keep this simple. You can put it all in one page if you would like.
Here are more details on several of these steps.
Goals and objectives
Once you know your desired destination, you can begin to identify different routes you can take to get there. But each route contains a lot of variables.
For instance, your fastest route to visit your friend might be on the highway. But if it is a Friday evening right after work in the summer, you might encounter a lot of beach traffic along the way, which would slow you down.
Or if you have to run an errand at the grocery store on the way, you might need to take a slightly different route.
It’s not a perfect analogy, but you could almost think of your end destination as your goal, and these sorts of variables as your objectives.
Do you want to get to the goal quickly, at a – perhaps – greater short-term expense?
Do you want work with an affiliate, and split the route to the goal?
If you aren’t crystal clear on your goal, you won’t be able to make informed decisions about the options you can encounter on the way.
Who is your audience?
Your next step is to understand the audience who will make up your target market.
What are their problems?
What are their beliefs that prevent them from solving those problems?
What is their life like, because of those problems?
What do they really and truly want to have happen that would make their lives better?
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First ask yourself these questions generally in order to identify a community of people whom you can serve. Then get to know that audience much more intimately.
Learn where those people hang out, especially online, and hang out there too. Forums and social media groups are a great place to start. Identify what they read – online and off – and become familiar with that material.
If possible, don’t just limit yourself to online gathering places. Attend live events where they hang out too.
Within this targeted community, it is likely you will find several different types of people whom you would like to serve. Really zero in on who those people are and create personas for them.
For instance, if you are a health and fitness coach who loves to work with women ages 30 to 50, you will have a much clearer understanding of what types of services you can offer if you create the following personas:
Jill, age 34. Up-and-coming business executive. Has an active social life, recently married. Worried about her biological clock that is ticking and making sure she remains healthy enough to be able to have children.
Sheila, age 41, mother of three. Works part-time as an office manager for a local dentist and spends her afternoons running kids around to their activities. She feels frazzled and as if she has no time to take care of herself.
Liz, age 49, stay-at-home mother of two. She is just starting menopause and is feeling kind of yucky about herself. Her doctor has told her she needs to lose around 25 pounds so she can avoid such ailments as diabetes.
Each of these personas can be filled out in much greater detail – and should be, actually. Clarify as much as you can about their questions, their struggles, their lives at home and at work. Go back and look at the questions above and expand on them for each persona.
Once you know your audience, you need to position your message so your prospect is most likely to notice it and engage with it. The problem is that various members of your target market will not all be at the same level of problem awareness.
In his seminal book, Breakthrough Advertising, Eugene Schwartz described the five levels of prospect awareness:
Level 1 – Most aware: Your prospect knows your product and only needs to be made aware of your offer.
Level 2 – Product-aware: Your prospect knows what you sell, but isn’t sure it’s right for him.
Level 3 – Solution-aware: Your prospect knows the result he wants, but not that you product provides it.
Level 4 – Problem-aware: Your prospect senses he has a problem, but doesn’t know there is a solution.
Level 5 – Completely unaware: No knowledge of any problem.
As you can see, your marketing will be determined by where your prospect is located on this awareness scale. Someone who isn’t even aware of a problem is not going to be very open to buying your solution. On the other hand, someone who knows they have a problem and is simply unaware of YOUR solution will need to be exposed to a different type of marketing message.
They need to move along in their decision-making process from unconscious –> aware –> considering –> deciding.
You can’t help them progress in this buying journey unless you know where they are starting.
How to escalate your audience
Another key component of your content marketing strategy is to plan for escalating your audience.
Compare it to meeting someone whom you end up marrying. Before you know each other you are strangers.
After they know and like you, they become your “friend”.
When they trust you enough to buy something from you, they are a “fan”.
And ultimately, when they fall in love with you to the exclusion of anyone else, they marry you. They become your raving fans – who not only buy everything you put out there just because you created it, but who also evangelize for your company. These people are your “Alpha Audience.”
A great example of a company that has created an Alpha Audience is Apple. Their raving fans stand in line for hours to buy the next greatest product and many of them have disdain for anyone who doesn’t toe the Apple line! Wouldn’t we all like to have fans like that!
Your content marketing goals should include something about how to build and keep your Alpha Audience. Because if you don’t have a plan to escalate your audience, you just don’t have a plan.
How do you do this? By becoming absolutely indispensable to them.
Ask yourself, “If my content were to disappear tomorrow, would anyone miss it?”
If the answer is “no”, then you need to sit down and figure out how to make the answer “yes!”
You want to create not just desire, but longing, in their minds, so they are looking forward to hearing from you.
You need to create content so you become part of their daily lives. Again, think Apple.
Your content mission statement
Most companies have a mission statement. School districts and non-profits have mission statements. And as a parent coach, I even encourage families to develop mission statements.
So you also need a mission statement for your content marketing.
Too many times companies spend a lot of time developing mission statements that end up sitting on a poster on a wall, and not as part of the daily decisions that run the company.
Don’t let that happen to you. When done right, it helps you create clarity and focus when things start to get busy and confusing. When you know your content mission inside and out, it becomes easy to make decisions.
A simple but compelling content mission statement has three parts:
- Your core target audience
- What you deliver
- The outcome for that audience
Here is an example:
Welcome to Inc.com, the place where entrepreneurs and business owners can find useful information, advice, insights, resources and inspiration for running and growing their businesses.
This is simple, yet extremely clear, concise and actionable. You know exactly what they offer, to whom, and what they can expect to get out of their interaction with Inc.com’s content.
Any time Inc.com has a decision to make about their goals and how to achieve them, this statement helps keep the focus on the end game.
That is the purpose of a mission statement. You are absolutely clear on whom you serve, how you serve them, and what outcome you expect to help them reach.
If you are providing content that doesn’t match your mission, you are off-base, and likely helping neither yourself nor your audience as well as you could be.
Finally, your content marketing process needs to have a plan for the maturity of your content.
When you are relatively new at intentional content marketing, it may take a while to get good at it.
It may take some trial and error to figure out who is responsible for which aspects of the content marketing program and which metrics are most meaningful for you to follow.
And sometimes, it can take a while to get the company decision-makers on board.
Don’t give up.
As your content marketing escalates from “ad hoc” to “rudimentary” to “organized and repeatable” to “managed and sustainable” and finally to “optimized”, it will take some advance planning.
So know where you are on the scale right now – honestly – and identify the processes you need to put in place to move to the next level.
Another consideration is the type of content you provide. If you don’t want to be seen as just another player in a crowded market, identify a unique position that helps you stand out.
You want to be a thought leader – the person others turn to for ideas and advice – and stay on the cutting edge of innovation in your industry.
Create content that tells this story and that drives where your market goes.
A quick review
This is the P (Plan) part of the EPIC Content Marketing Formula.
— You really have to know your audience, and this is the place to start. First identify a community of people whom you will serve, then drill down to create several different personas within this community, so you can clarify their needs.
— Plan for how to escalate your audience from hardly knowing you exist to raving fans.
— Begin to craft different messages for your prospects, based on where they are in the level of awareness of their problem (that you solve).
— Create a content mission statement, incorporating whom you serve, what you deliver, and the outcome they can expect.
— Plan to increase the maturity of your content so you move from simple ad hoc content creation without a unique message, to systematic, optimized content that leads your market.
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