Have you ever read a non-fiction book that was so poorly structured that you couldn’t finish it, because you were constantly confused about what you were supposed to be learning?
I know I have. And I know that my not being able to finish it or not learning whatever I was supposed to wasn’t my fault — it was the fault of the author and their editors.
Learning is a journey. Effective teachers help students navigate that journey smoothly. The major difference between learning on your own and learning from a teacher is the fact that the teacher knows where you need to go and how to help you get there.
Content marketing is a form of teaching (among other things), so what’s true of teachers is true of content producers.
Teaching via content marketing requires you (the content producer) to know where your readers are, and to have a plan that will help them get there. If you do it well, your readers learn what you’ve promised and are better off.
If you do it poorly, they’ll end frustrated and dissatisfied with you, for the same reason we’re dissatisfied with those murky authors.
I’ve come up with three simple questions to help make sure your readers are never disappointed in you, and don’t lose track of what you’re trying to impart …
Effective teaching requires planning
Good teachers can show up and wing it; great teachers plan their students’ journey and stay on track.
Why are the latter better? Because they make the content they share subservient to their students’ needs, rather than making their students’ needs a secondary, almost accidental, consideration.
Yet many, many content marketers show up and wing it every day. Their blog posts are persistently the thoughts du jour. Their newsletters are whatever random information they can send out on schedule. Their social media streams are a constant reaction to what’s going on today.
And their audiences are understandably confused or disengaged. If they hang around, it’s because there are occasional glimmers of brilliance amidst the cacophony.
Developing a content plan helps increase the frequency of those glimmers of brilliance. And those glimmers of brilliance are what will get shared, liked, commented on, and purchased.
Developing a content plan also helps avoid the dreaded “but what do I say?” problem that so many creatives end up grappling with from time to time. It’ll be clear what you need to say, because you can follow your own script.
1. Where are you taking your students?
Here’s a paradox that goes back to Socrates: If you don’t know what you don’t know, how do you figure out how to learn what you don’t know?
A good teacher avoids this problem altogether … assuming the teacher knows where they’re taking you.
Answering that deceptively simple question drives your content plan. Remember, simple isn’t easy: to nail that question down, you have to decide who you’ll be talking to.
2. What’s the first thing they need to learn?
Are your students beginners or experts? Do they keep up with trends or live under rocks? What do they already know?
By picking what the first thing your students need to learn is, you’ve necessarily picked a niche. For instance, many of the teachers reading this post are likely thinking “Duh!” because they already know what I’m saying, whereas content marketers who haven’t considered themselves teachers are (hopefully) having lightbulbs go off.
Experienced teachers: knowing ≠ doing; Do the work!
Developing the rest of the content plan is straightforward: keep asking what the next thing is that they need to learn to get them where they are wanting to go.
Note: if you want to be creative, do so in the content and (perhaps) the delivery method, not in the journey itself.
3. When are you going to create the content?
I’ve seen brilliant content plans and many of them have had an obvious flaw: they don’t consider the amount of time it’s going to take to create them.
Effective teaching content doesn’t create itself.
After you develop your draft content plan, you have to assess it in light of the other activities you have planned during that time period.
A content plan that you mean to execute has to be incorporated into your operational plan. Otherwise, that content plan just ends up becoming another thing you “should” do that you’re not going to have time for.
Most of the time, syncing your content plan with your operational plan means that at least one of the two will have to change. If your content plan is the priority, some other things will have to shift.
If it’s not, either trim your content plan — teachers always stuff more into the plan than actually needs to be there — or stretch out the timeline so you can get the necessities in there.
It’s for this reason that I added a monthly planner to our premium blog post planners; too many people weren’t incorporating their content plans within the context of their total business activities.
A content plan that would require 20 hours of content creation a month simply won’t work if you only have 10 available hours to do the creation that month. (Note that this isn’t just a problem with content plans; many plans fail to address the reality of how long the plan will take to execute.)
In summary …
To be an effective content marketer, you have to develop an effective, executable content plan. When you think like a teacher, the three questions that you’ll have to come to grips with are:
- Where am I taking my students?
- What’s the first thing they need to learn? (Followed by a rinse and repeat of “what do they need to learn next?”)
- When, specifically, am I going to create that content?
Answer those questions clearly, execute the plan, and watch as you create satisfied customers.