Content marketing is still a fairly fresh concept to the majority of SMBs; only 28% of B2B organizations consider themselves in the “sophisticated” stage of content marketing maturity.

Some businesses start out with some blogging and engagement on social media channels. They may even have teams and tools organized to streamline these processes. But being truly successful (or testing and failing enough to begin to understand what success even looks like) requires a certain degree of consistency. And consistency requires a plan.

It makes sense; teams don’t hit the field without a plan. Teachers don’t teach without a plan. So why should content marketers attempt to hit their goals without one?

The best way to create a digital content marketing strategy (aka a plan) is by answering the Who, What, When, When, and Why of content marketing for your business.

I’ve written about the WHO and WHY in previous posts about creating audience personas and documenting content goals. This article dives into the other three questions to help you complete the foundation for a solid and winning digital content marketing strategy. Bonus: you won’t have to Monday morning quarterback your content marketing program ad infinitum.

WHAT does your content marketing include?

Action Item: Create a Content Calendar

A content calendar serves the same purpose as any calendar: planning and organization. Our best practice is to plan six months in advance with the flexibility to pivot when needed. A good mix of evergreen content along with topic-specific and funnel stage-specific content is a great start. Your content wheels should always be turning and your calendar should be able to mix in newsworthy content elements that may pop up over time.

A content calendar is a way to unify your content and topics and build out a multi-channel, multi-media strategy. It’s an integrated planning tool to help you create powerful campaigns. It’s also a wonderful way to keep people on the same page.

There are many ways to organize a content calendar. You can download this content calendar template here as a starting point and mold it in a way that works for your organization. If you have SEO goals, it can be a great place to outline focus keywords for each content piece.

Checklist for Generating Content Ideas

  • Check Google Analytics to see which of your already-published blog posts are performing the best. Generate new content from those topics
  • Use tools like BuzzSumo to see real-time data across all social networks and identify hot topics gaining traction in industries of interest.
  • Test topics via social media
    • Look at social shares and other engagement metrics to see which topics are popular
    • Create blog posts and other content from the most popular topics
  • Check out what competitors are producing content about
    • Recreate your own content based on what seems to be performing well for competitors
  • Map content to industry events, holidays or other seasonal nuances
  • Conduct keyword research to get both short and long tail keywords
  • Leverage Answer the Public to generate content ideas

WHERE will your content be promoted/distributed/amplified?

Action Item: Build a content promotion, distribution, and amplification plan

Audience personas provide an excellent foundation for content distribution planning. They should highlight where your target audiences prefer to consume content and where they spend their time researching. Those channels, publications, and media should be a starting point for your strategy. Another critical part is simply testing. Where you think your audience likes to consume content may not actually be accurate. Once you start promoting your content on different channels and in different formats, track performance and adjust accordingly. You may be surprised. In any case, measurement should always be a part of your distribution and promotion strategy, so you can validate that you’re providing the right content to the right people at the right time.

You may find that you need to adjust your owned channels to accommodate your target audience(s) preferences. Your personas might point out that your target audience spends a lot of time researching industry trends on blogs. In that case, you need to be sure you a) have a blog, and b) that it is set up for SEO success. If your audience spends the majority of its time researching on LinkedIn, be sure to set up a company page. You may also want to consider publishing articles on the platform from the personal account of one or more company executives.

Each channel has different objectives, particularly for B2B companies that have a longer sales/engagement cycle. It can be helpful to map out the objectives for each channel and where they fall into the buyer’s journey. Consider product pages, landing pages, social platforms, email, and blog posts, to start.

Checklist for aligning channels and messaging

  • Identify specific goals for each channel
  • Identify tone/voice for each channel
  • Determine if there are main CTAs/messages for each channel
  • Define which channels speak to which personas
  • Establish ownership – who is handling the content on each channel?
  • Define timing – how often should you publish to each channel?

The last point drives us into our next section: timing.

WHEN do you expect to see “success”?

Action Item: Align strategy with execution timeline

This section is twofold. The first question is: How quickly do you expect to see success as you’ve defined it in Part I? Once you’ve identified your milestones, you can map an execution plan backward from there. You’ll also want to think about what happens if your content marketing strategy falls short of expectations. What will change? Will that result in a stop to all content marketing? Or will you be able to analyze metrics, pivot, and formulate a new plan? Have a Plan B lined up.

Checklist for Defining Timing

  • How often will you publish to the blog?
  • How often will you post social media updates?
  • How often will you check social media platforms and respond to outstanding questions/issues/concerns/praise?
  • How often will you produce premium content (white papers, case studies, etc.)
  • How often will you conduct webinars?
  • What is the ideal day of the week/time of day to publish to each channel?
  • How frequently will you send email newsletters or trigger lead nurture emails?
  • How often will you run native advertising?

The what, where, and when above should help you solidify your plan as well as make it actionable. The end result should be some consistency as well as a fine-tuned machine that can help you hit your goals. For more information on building a complete digital content marketing strategy from start to finish, download The Definitive Guide to B2B Content Marketing.

A version of this post on how to create a digital content marketing plan that works appeared on the Content Rewired blog.