In 2011, on the Wednesday before the Super Bowl, a new Volkswagen commercial was released on YouTube. It featured a child dressed as Darth Vader (from the Star Wars franchise) walking down the hallway of his suburban home. The child was then shown attempting to use “The Force” on his parents’ exercise bike, washing machine — even the family dog. When his father arrives home in his Passat, the child runs outside and tries one last time to use his powers on the car. Upon seeing what his son was trying to do, his father starts the car’s ignition with the remote control from inside the house. The boy turns around, astonished that “The Force” has finally worked. Voila!
That Volkswagen commercial ultimately went on to become the advertisement that changed super bowl commercials and even the Volkswagen brand trajectory forever.
It galvanised customer attention, engagement and emotion, and it proved to be a powerful predictor of the end-performance in content marketing.
Over the years, some of the most popular and credible brands have chosen a customer-centric stance in their content pattern.
As a matter of fact, brands that get content marketing right never forget “Who” they are targeting. Regardless of the nature of the business, its products and services are there to solve a problem. When a business has a clear customer-centric content calendar, it is more likely to meet customers’ needs. This eventually results in bringing customers into the fold.
A customer-centric stance and a content calendar will ensure that content teams do not stray from their mission or get lost in self-promotion.
Here is a checklist for businesses looking to create a content calendar:
- Who are the end customers?
- What is their need?
- How can the business solve that need through its content?
- How does the business solve this need better than others?
- What are the platforms that the target customers explore?
- Why does the business intend to create and share content? Is it to inform readers, build brand awareness, generate leads or a bit of everything ?
Now, if everything is about the customers, when does a company put the need for growing its business in the content loop? The answer is more straightforward than expected. When a company or organisation is making its customers happy and solving their problems with its content, it is the victory of that company as well. Customer satisfaction goes hand in hand with a company’s brand credibility and revenue generation.
Let’s look at one of IKEA’s many content strategies worth learning from.
IKEA conducted a phone survey of 1,000 adults in the U.S. and found that 72% of respondents said a stressful morning affected the rest of their day. To help their customers overcome this challenge, IKEA launched the “First:59” campaign, with a website featuring tips for getting their day off to a good start.
They re-organised their website around chunks of knowledge from lifestyle and design experts and bloggers, talking about everything from getting the children ready on time to finding the wallet or phone. Their particular focus was to improve organisation, utility and comfort in the bedroom and bathroom. To date, IKEA’s website revolves around inspiring lifestyle content while their furniture is just a part of it. It appeals to the customers without even having to scream for attention. They replicate the same strategy on all their social media and email marketing campaigns. Needless to say, it works like a charm every single time.
How does a content calendar help?
For the most obvious and therefore, neglected reasons.
Firstly, a content calendar will ensure that all the content-related tasks are actually happening. Without an organised schedule, efforts are sporadic, and it becomes harder to measure and obtain the true value of the content.
Secondly, a calendar makes it easier for the team to understand and coordinate. The calendar provides a bird’s eye view of every team member’s responsibilities, so it becomes easier to hold people accountable and keep up the pace.
Thirdly, a content calendar helps in visualising a broader perspective of the content plan. It becomes easier to track the results of each piece of content so one can optimise one’s next content cycle based on existing results.
(we can add a screenshot of our content calendar here)
The key elements of a content calendar
1. It is important to determine the primary goal of one’s content calendar. Businesses will do well if they focus on achieving one aspect at a time for the best results. Regardless of the nature of goals, it is imperative that the goals are SMART; specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. This will also facilitate measuring the outcome of content efforts more efficiently. Here are some goals businesses may have:
- Brand awareness
- Customer acquisition
- Lead acquisition
- Lead nurturing
2. A content calendar doesn’t need to be complicated. One may start with something simple and actionable. However, it’s important to note different kinds of content the team will be working on. Some content types might be:
- Blog Content
- Newsletter Content
- Social Media Content
- Podcast Content
- Case Study Content
- Whitepaper Content
- Multimedia Content
- Updating Website Content
3. After selecting the kind of content needed to be created for the next year, an essential step is to build a style guide. This will streamline the structure of the content. Within a content team, everyone has their own style of research, writing and execution. It is safe to have a common ground and have a brand voice that is consistent throughout all the content types. To achieve this, businesses must ask the following questions:
- What is the tone of the content? Is it casual or formal? Direct or suggestive? Will it be written in the first person or third person?
- What is the structure of this content?
- What is the average length of the content, depending on each platform?
- What are the elements that one will use for one’s content on each platform? It could be images, videos, infographics, screenshots or any other form.
- Is there a legitimate level of consistency in the design elements? One must choose the colour palette or fonts thoughtfully.
- Is there a specific SEO strategy in place based on the industry’s standards?
4. Once deciding specifically on the kind of content to be created, the next stage is to assign work roles. This will build a clear picture of the roles of individual team members. Everyone must get access to view the calendar. We wrote a detailed article on the kind of people that make up an epic Content Marketing team, feel free to check this link here.
Alternatively, here is a list of some of the work roles one may choose to assign as per one’s budget and content requirements.
- Content Analyst
- Content Strategist
- Content Writer
- Content Researcher
- Content Editor
- SEO Specialist
- Visual Designer
- Social Media Manager
- Email Marketing Manager
- Content Marketing Manager
- Project Manager
5. A good question to ask at this point would be: "How long should one plan for?"
In the year 2017, Airbnb sent out a regular newsletter featuring an image of a water-themed house floating on a sea. Let us observe the messaging: “Stay above water” and “Live the aquatic life with these floating homes”. It was customary for Airbnb to emphasise unusual homes through such messaging. However, the campaign was launched on August 28, 2017- the same week Hurricane Harvey submerged 400 square miles of the Houston area, leaving thousands of people homeless.
There is no doubt that months of planning went into the campaign, but there was no way the company could have foreseen this. This miscalculation made Airbnb look appallingly insensitive at that time. Here are a few lessons that can be learnt from this example:
- Planning long-term campaigns (say, year-long) is wise. But what’s wiser is to break it into smaller quarterly or biannual segments.
- One must be mindful of the seasonal and festive occasions so that one can assign a dedicated time and budget to specific campaigns. It’s essential to know that the content calendar is a guide, not a mandate.
- Another good thing about having a long-term content plan with short-term checkpoints is it facilitates an analysis of the strategy, which in turn steers the plan towards factors helping the performance.
6. The next important step is to find the right platform to organise all the content ideas. Depending on how big the project is and the number of people involved, one can find the right fit for oneself from one of these tools :
Using content management tools to manage the work and team can keep the content producers organised and updated about tasks and responsibilities. These can be stand-alone applications or tools that can be integrated with a company’s CMS. It is helpful to ask these questions while choosing a tool for the content calendar:
- Does it involve collaboration and sharing with many people?
- What are the features that the business will need the most?
- How available and easy is it for one’s team to understand and use the calendar?
- Does the tool or template fit one’s content plan?
1. Excel Sheet: One can never overestimate the simplicity and ease of the Excel Sheet. It is a free resource that can efficiently be utilised for a business of any level. In order to utilise this tool fully, it’s advisable to create the list of elements that one would like to add, such as task details, the status of the content, deadlines, people assigned and even a calendar.
2. Hubspot Content Planner: Hubspot allows the downloading of their content planning sheet by way of a form that asks for one’s name, phone number, website and email address. The sheet is available in Excel, Google Sheets and Google Calendar formats. It is easy to customise, and with a little tweaking, it can be one’s map in achieving content goals.
3. Notion: Notion is a fairly new application designed to organise everyday tasks in one place. For a content team that prefers minimal and clean UX, this tool is ideal. This tool’s best feature allows the selection of different forms of views - be it grid, column, to-do or calendar. One can assign work, add details to any extent and make it available for one’s team to view or edit. With Notion, one can also leave detailed notes under a task headline. These notes won’t show up on the main layout, but any team member may access the notes by clicking on the task and going through all the details.
4. CoSchedule: Upon sign-up, CoSchedule sends a comprehensive package of different templates through an email. These include a complete content calendar template, blog post schedule template, social media editorial and schedule template. It is helpful for keeping a bird’s eye view on the main content calendar or keeping separate ones for different content processes. All these templates are available in a PDF format that facilitates making physical copies, too. These templates sufficiently cover the needs of an entire content team. CoSchedule can easily be integrated with a Chrome extension, Evernote, Google Docs and WordPress, making it even more functional. The only disadvantage is one needs to sign up with a company email ID that prevents freelancers or students from accessing it without an official ID.
5. Trello: It has been our favourite content management tool to collaborate with team members on work projects and tasks. Trello’s boards are an organisational bliss where one can manage each board for different processes. One can add multiple cards to each board that accommodates a considerable amount of detail. One can set deadlines, have conversations and share files within each card too. One can invite one’s entire team, so everyone has the information they need within a few clicks. Therefore, unlike other platforms, Trello facilitates having the plan as well as people on the same page.
The possibilities are endless when it comes to planning a content calendar or for keeping it organised to move towards business goals. Our advice is to create a content calendar that aligns with one’s business’ brand values and long-term vision. A calendar that is simple to execute yet as comprehensive as necessary.
Does your brand have a content calendar that you follow diligently? What are your favourite tools to plan a content calendar? If you have any additional tips and ideas that worked for your calendaring efforts, do share them with your fellow content marketers in the comments.