Resource Planning for Content Marketing: 4 Tactical Approaches

A major benefit of partnering with a marketing agency is that you get some impartial input for your marketing strategy and planning around what is and is not possible within your real life budgets and capabilities.

Two marketers working together are better than one, when it comes to generating creative marketing ideas and the ability to model those into hypothetical marketing plans.

Marketers easily get a reputation for being creative dreamers, but effectiveness is all about the next step: can you resolve a clear and realistic estimate of the cost of execution?

Again, two marketers are better than one when it comes to estimating honest and accurate resource requirements. Spreadsheet work isn’t the most fun, but if you can choose a plan based on optimal use of resources that are finite, not infinite, then it’s a plan that might get put into action instead of going stale in “maybe later” pile.

Measure twice, slice once

Another thing about getting help with marketing planning and estimates: being more objective, providing evidence, and avoiding bias. It’s tempting to underestimate the resources needed, to make something sound cheap and easy so it gets the go ahead… but what happens when you have to go back to the business to ask for more later – or fail to execute the plan as originally proposed?

On the other hand, over-estimating (accidentally or through defensive padding) increases the chance of rejection of the business case, as well as tying up budget and preventing you from giving the green light to other valid ideas.

So accurate estimation is an important part of marketing strategy. It’s also crucial to help your activities gain focus. There will always be orders of magnitude more marketing activities you could undertake versus what you can undertake in terms of time, money, team, and sheer energy.

To be able to do some things well, you need to not do most things.

Knowing what marketing activities cost to spin up and execute is just as important as having ideas about what marketing to do and how to do it.

Results, Activities, Estimates, Resources

There’s a lot of collaboration and modelling that’s needed to move back and forth between the following questions:

  1. What do the business plan, or the management’s targets, call on us to achieve?
  2. What are the different strategies we could consider (each strategy being a mix of tactics and channels), which we believe could match those ambitions?
  3. For each strategy, what resources are implied?
  4. Can we actually get those resources for a preferred strategy? This may be presented as an annual or quarterly budget plan with a low, medium, and high strategy options.

Use content creation and publicity work as the two main tactical measures

How do you calculate the resources you are going to need for certain activities? By looking at content marketing activities we can see how breaking things down to the tactical level will help you build back up to a more accurate overall resources estimate.

The first thing to note is that “content marketing” is not one person, not one campaign / project, and not even a distinct strategy. Every kind of marketing activity involves creating, editing, and publishing various different types of content.

Since content marketing work is involved everywhere, if you have a model to estimate the tactics and work deliverables involved, you will be able to apply these ideas to overall campaign and plan estimation, and therefore be in a better position to win these resources and execute the plan for real.

Content marketing resources are not just about the cost of generating content. Don’t think just in terms of “cost per article”: think about media publication packages and promotional budgets, in-house staff costs versus outsourcing activities to agencies, and think about time costs. Thinking ahead about all the content creation and promotional work will give you a realistic basis on which to size up possible resource commitments.

Below, we take a quick look at four tactical areas of content marketing that will help you consider the complexity of work you are committing to, and thus make your resource estimates more realistic.

1. Campaign based marketing content

Your team write content specifically for a Go To Market (GTM) campaign and then look for good places to publish. Partner two skillsets: research/copywriting + digital/publishing.

Since good quality content needs to be put in front of an audience, you’re likely to look at paid placements in media. A simple approach is to find one major placement for your main content piece, plus create variations for other places such as blog/newsletter and content partnerships. Where your content, such as a white paper, involved a lot of research, creating spinoff content is a good way to get back some of the value of that initial research time, since it’s unlikely you used up all your ideas in the main piece.

From a content creation point of view, try to predict all of the items of content you are going to need well in advance of the planned campaign start, so that the market research and solution positioning work can begin with enough time for marketers to work on the ideas fully.

In a GTM campaign you are likely to need main pieces as follows:

  • main lead capture piece, usually a white paper or guide of some sort
  • landing page and emails for lead capture publishing
  • main media piece: advertorial
  • social media friendly graphics and banners to promote the main content pieces
  • press release and attachments
  • collateral for PR
  • collateral for sales / launch communications with prospects
  • scripts / attachments for follow-ups from initial conversations

Consider also:

  • infographic
  • interviews (blog, magazine, podcast, video)
  • video vox pops
  • video explainer
  • FAQs
  • internal sales enablement materials such as competitor summaries and objection handling guides

When creating main content for lead capture placement, ensure on the one hand that the quality is high enough to work in terms of a professional publication, event, or membership organization context. On the other hand, ensure that the reach of the publication is big and targeted enough to justify the amount of work you have put into the content piece.

Publishers ought to offer you a guide to estimated audience aimed at advertisers and advertorial content. Look at reach in terms of print, online, and email. Content published on third party sites is typically not possible to track directly so you just have to take their word for it from their brochure and campaign reports.

Your best KPIs are lead captures from white paper publishing projects, and referral traffic to your own site, if clickthroughs are the purpose of the advertising campaign.

 

2. Thought leadership content

If you want to get coverage in magazines, 3rd party blogs, podcasts, and even conference speech line-ups, and you don’t want to pay for outright advertising, or less-than-outright advertorial and native content, then you are going to have to produce some very high quality content.

Thought leadership refers to packaging, publishing, and gaining audience for the knowledge and views of the expert people in your organization. To repeat that: marketers are not the ones to create thought leadership (unless for some reason the topic is about expertise in marketing) – they are the ones to help elicit ideas, develop stories, create or edit the copy and media, and then go and publicize it.

Most businesses have large amounts of untapped knowledge and ideas from experts in the team, whose thought leadership is not well connected and exploited within the business, let alone leveraged for your marketing publicly. In other words, to reiterate, marketers should not be told to create (or volunteer to create) thought leadership content… they need to go and find it.

Although you need to have content creation targets, such as one major piece per month, thought leadership content marketing is a permanent commitment of resources. Your editor(s) will create and maintain a backlog of ideas to pitch to publishers. Similarly, the work of pitching ideas to editors is a permanent ongoing activity to which you allocate a certain amount of time each week.

At the backlog stage, all you need is an idea where you know the expert(s) that you can go to, to create content if there’s a publication that wants it. You do the full research and create the content only when you have a definite taker for the article.

Editorial calendars are helpful for this, because editors will respond to specific ideas matching the themes of their issue, rather than having to think about a list of ideas you provide. Hopefully you will be willing to pay for some coverage sometimes: editors tend to be a lot more receptive when you are a past or current advertiser with their publication!

Thought leadership articles can be either technically focused or more high level, i.e. general news/market commentary. Both technical specialists and senior management are candidates for a marketing editor’s internal networking efforts.

It’s absolutely great when your subject matter experts are also good communicators:

… But if your experts are not good at presenting speeches, appearing in videos, or writing readable blog articles, then you need to connect them with a marketing copywriter and take a journalistic approach.

In summary, if thought leadership is going to be part of your marketing strategy, you can’t fake it, you need to get motivated experts on your side, and don’t rush it.

 

3. SEO-driven content

In a truly organic sense, Google and other search engines (reportedly there are others) discover great content that is already out there and help match it to people’s queries. But SEO has always been about trying to take a more active approach to this, and create content specially to match people’s searches.

It’s likely your ongoing content creation, for campaigns (1, above), thought leadership (2, above), and social media (4, below) do not primarily begin from a search intent and keyword point of view. So your marketing resource planning will need to include additional activities specially focused on keyword research and content publishing on these topics, if you plan to put SEO into your strategic mix.

If you can afford the resources to work on SEO-driven content, there are a lot of side benefits, because you are essentially paying for your marketing-minded people to research your market, your solutions, and your competitors from a customer’s point of view which will certainly lead to new insights in terms of how customers find and perceive your brand and solutions. Not a lot of businesses do this systematically, and it’s valuable to have marketers empowered regularly to look at your business in this way.

A big part of SEO is acquiring links, so content marketing work here will look a little like your thought leadership work, in that you need to allow for the research and outreach time to contact potential third party publishers of your content, i.e. guest blogging.

When planning work assignments and creating resource estimates, a common approach is to do blocks of 5 articles as a project. Frequency / bandwidth just depend on budget: serious SEO effort will have multiple concurrent content research and creation projects running at all times, and publishing of new content on a weekly or even daily basis.

Our recommendation generally for SEO is to develop strategy and resourcing on an annual basis to ensure there is enough context and staying power for the work to have an impact. If you can’t commit resources to that kind of work, then it is easier to ignore SEO completely and focus on more direct marketing activities like GTM campaigns, which have plenty of content work involved already.

 

4. Content creation for social media

If you want your organization’s social media channels to be more than just an occasional news release and promotional announcement, you’re going to need to weave other branded content into a regular stream of posts.

It’s great if your company has a lot going on, especially events, community, or CSR activities. These show your brand is not just about the hard sell, but has an identity and is part of a social network IRL. But to supplement actual activities with additional content, you will need to block off resources to create content specially for social media: when you think ahead to what’s going to be like/share/retweet-friendly, it really helps you get the most out of Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. All the more so if you are also able to take advantage of the paid reach / boost capabilities… which are after all these media’s raison d’etre!

To come up with ideas and block off resources for social media content marketing, we recommend creating “micro content campaigns” around creative infographics or research reports.  In this case you can scope the work as a time-and-resource-delimited project including social media campaign management and accompanying/spinoff content. Because of the nature of social media, timing campaigns to match events, anniversaries, news trends etc can be a good way of prioritizing creative ideas.

As mentioned, this all works best with a paid social media strategy. Apart from boost dollars being the difference between practically no audience, and loads of eyeballs, paid social means you can boost content towards targeted audiences in a way you absolutely cannot control when trying to go along for a free ride.

At the same time, similar to your thought leadership and SEO outreach work, ensure you allow enough time for your marketers to research and develop alliances with other businesses’ social media contacts and industry influencers.

To state a content marketing mantra, if it’s important enough to create nice content about it, it’s important enough to spend the time and money to get it in front of your audience.

 

Conclusion

When planning your marketing mix, ideally aim to include both long term, indirect influences for awareness and brand identity, as well as more direct campaign tactics. Direct response campaigns always work better if people have already heard of you, and you have built a solid foundation in terms of your brand image (0th and 1st moments of truth) and presence in organic search.

Since you can’t promote something without first creating the content, and since there is no point creating content without promoting it so people actually see/read it, you are going to need both content research/creation and content publishing/promotion in all your marketing activities.

Estimate both content creation and promotion work in terms of:

  • time taken (quick rule of thumb for cost estimates and campaign complexity comparison)
  • actual time to execute given other workload (contention)
  • skillsets required
  • costs of personnel with skillsets and work capacity
  • costs of research and tools
  • costs of advertising

All content marketing will involve some costs on all of the above.

Any plans which tacitly pretend resources will not be needed on any of the above, will not be able to execute fully 🙂

TAANSTAFL

Also, when resource planning, don’t forget to consider opportunity costs. It’s hard to measure but be transparent about tradeoffs you are making, and be able to say you are not doing things. Don’t pretend you will be able to do ‘all the things’ when you obviously don’t have infinite resources: that guarantees disappointment of unfinished or sub-quality work, and burnout on your team.

Finally, the whole point of tracking results of your marketing – including cost efficiency – is to be able to try new things and stop doing things that are not working. Stopping activities that are probably not working and freeing up finite resources to test something else… is a fundamental agile principle 🙂

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