Startups are turning their attention to creating content to get their name out and attract some inbound interest. It's not as easy as it sounds. Many companies use the try-it-and-see-if-sticks approach, which may eventually work, but is not the most efficient way to spend your team's time. I've tried a few different approaches ourselves and observed some common places where startup marketers get stuck. I thought I'd share a template that has helped me and my clients better organize their content marketing. You'll note this is mostly useful for B2B startups or companies that are selling a product with a longer complex sales cycle than say, a pack of gum!
Before you begin: Choose which buyers and which stages you want to focus on
If you are an early stage startup, you likely have very little content at all. And if you're a more mature company, you probably have lots of content, but it may not be focused on the right buyer or the right stage. For example, I recently did an audit of content on the websites of 40 growth stage technology companies. Many of them had a good volume of content - blog posts, white papers and product sheets - but the content was really only useful for people who were in an evaluation stage, in the final stages of deciding what to buy. If you're a startup, you don't have the resources to be everything to everyone. Choose your priorities in terms of buyer type(s) and even stages, and focus your content planning accordingly.
Using MY Content Planning Template
I created a simple template below for startup marketers to use for content planning. In order to make the sample template less abstract, I filled it in as though I'm planning content for a fictitious company that makes a product for demand gen marketers to optimize their content for mobile devices. Below the template I've outlined my step-by-step approach to filling this in, following the numbering system below.
Step 1: List the buyer stages
For the purpose of this blog post, I've focused on one buyer and two buyer stages, but you can easily extend this further on your own. The stages I've decided to focus on are when the buyer has no need for the product (because they may not know this kind of thing even exists) and when the buyer is aware they have a problem or a need but haven't gone any further to investigate how to address it.
Step 2: List 3 key insights that help you understand what the buyer is considering at this stage.
The purpose of this column/exercise is to help you create content that will address a buyer consideration, versus creating content that just your company thinks is important. These insights can be things you heard in customer conversations, hot topics in LinkedIn Groups, or what you're hearing from your sales team.
Step 3: Choose the content topic
The content topic is not the same as the content title, though it can be. You are not writing content at this point so I suggest not spending too much time wordsmithing. You are simply trying to narrow the focus of your content so it aligns with the buyer consideration. In my example, the buyer doesn't know that content marketing is important, so our content will focus on B2B marketing trends, and include some stats or insights on how other demand gen marketers are including content marketing in their plans.
Step 4: Determine the content type(s) and call to action
Rather than creating one-off content, it's good to think about how a piece of content can be part of a collection of content on that topic. You also want to give some thought to additional assets that will be required in order to get the content out in the world. Again, in my example, I am planning to create an infographic but I'll also need to create supporting emails to get people to view the infographic. I also know for the buyer at that stage, it's way to early to be asking them to see a demo or get on a sales call. But if they like what they read, it would be reasonable to have a call to action asking if they'd like to subscribe to get more content from our company.
Step 5: Assign an author
For a startup this may feel like overthinking things, but the biggest problem startup marketers run into is trying to get a lot done with fewer people than their bigger-company-competitors. One way to avoid this? Map out who is in charge of creating what, so you can look at your plan at a glance and see if it's realistic to achieve this.
Step 6: Note who is the sales expert on this topic
I've used this when I was heading up marketing at a tech startup and I found it super useful. Why? Talking to someone on your sales team is the next best thing to talking to your customer, since they are on the frontlines, having conversations with prospects every day. Talking to them about what you're doing or showing them an early draft can be a good litmus test to see if your content is effective. Also, it's good to have an advocate inside the sales organization so he/she can influence the other reps to use it and support your efforts.
A few things I didn't include
I purposely left a few things out of this template. Most obviously, I didn't include a timeline, mainly because this really depends on who you have inside your company to focus on content production (or freelancers if you are outsourcing this). In general, I recommend early stage startups plan content on a monthly basis or at most a quarterly basis, because things tend to move too fast in their market as well as inside the company, to plan much more beyond that. Later stage startups can definitely plan at a high level for 6-12 months, and create shorter marketing sprints to ensure things get out the door on a regular basis.
I also didn't include any project management details in this template, because the purpose of this tool is to help you plan content that your audiences will want to read. When it comes to managing publishing schedules we recommend either a project management tool like Asana, Trello or Basecamp, or a dedicated editorial calendar too like Kapost, DivvyHQ or Marketing.ai.
Let me know what you think
I imagine there are other ways startup marketers are doing their content planning and I'd love to hear what you are doing. If you do use this tool, please share any feedback on whether it was helpful or if there were any limitations that you'd like to see me address in the next version.