Over the past 2 years, I’ve been trying to employ the full power of templates and standardized documents. I’ve found that this works in 2 situations. First, when it comes to formats you’ll be reusing again and again in your daily work — like a blog post outline template or minutes of meeting with a client. And second, when you’re creating a document that will help inform your work in the future. The blueprint I’ll present today is a representative of the latter category.
The Content Marketing Blueprint is a one-page document that shows concisely what you’re doing with content — and why.
Ideally, I would recommend you print this and put it on every content creator’s work desk. It keeps you focused and serves as a daily reminder of the strategy you need to follow. The second-best version would be to create a recurring task in your list and review it on a biweekly basis.
But I’m getting ahead of myself — let’s see what the Content Marketing Blueprint is and how to create one.
Why do you need a Content Marketing Blueprint?
So why spend time on pretty files? Well, here are a few of the key reasons:
- It presents the details in black-and-white. There’s something about templates that makes everyone on the team pay attention. So when you show the Blueprint to your team or your client, they are much more likely to read and review it compared to a 20-slide strategy deck.
- It serves as proof for management buy-in. Once management pays attention to the Blueprint, they will need to either agree with it or express some form of concern. So if in 2 months someone comes to you with an objection, you have the power to put it on hold.
- It keeps you and your content team focused. New content ideas don’t come only from external sources — they can be generated by your team, too. And when that happens, you have a very specific and very visible litmus test that the new idea needs to pass. If it doesn’t fit the Blueprint, it stays in the backlog.
- It helps you remember why you’re doing what you’re doing and how you define success. Every time you sit down and start writing, take a quick look at the Blueprint. Within the first 2 months, you’ll already know it pretty much by heart. And it will remind you when you’re creating content just for the hell of it rather than because you’re driven by a specific strategic purpose.
- It’s the easiest way to onboard a new hire or kick-off a relationship with a freelancer. The Blueprint is a great addition to your starter pack for any new content creator. Just a copy of the Blueprint and a document describing your tone of voice and your target personas should be enough to get things rolling. Of course, onboarding a new creator takes time — but this is a better place to start than most.
All of these benefits are definitely worth the time you need to invest in creating a Content Marketing Blueprint, right?
What a Content Marketing Blueprint isn’t
One thing I want to make clear from the get-go: a Blueprint is not a content marketing strategy. It is merely a way to express your strategy. To formulate one, you need to spend a lot more time on audience research, understanding what words your target audience uses, deciding on the channels you need to be present in, and the rules of engagement for each one.
So sitting down to fill in this template without doing the preliminary work is useless. But when you have a set strategy, the Content Marketing Blueprint will help you express it succinctly and clearly.
Creating your Content Marketing Blueprint in 5 steps
This will be a rather quick process — it will probably take you about half a day to create the first version of your Blueprint. So get some coffee and get down to it!
Define your content mission statement
Your content mission statement is the big Why behind all the content you create. It’s a clear and simple reminder of the audiences you serve and the value you’re trying to bring.
The simplest way to articulate your content mission is by using a one-sentence formula, as presented by Andy Crestodina and Orbit Media:
Our content is where [audience X] gets [information Y] that offers [benefit Z].
It represents three things:
- Your audience: who you aim to help with your content. This includes both your potential buyers and other audiences you want to serve.
- Your content: what information you provide. It’s not necessarily a list of all your content formats, but a short overview of your main content focus points.
- The benefit you provide: why would people pay attention to your content. This represents the value you try to provide from the point of view of your audience.
Here’s an example for my content mission statement:
Valchanova.me provides marketers, founders, and business owners (audiences) with actionable advice, practical tools, and a healthy dose of inspiration (content) that helps them become better digital professionals and enable company growth (benefit).
It’s not just a question of making your mission statement clear. It also helps you differentiate from other brands and compete for the same audience’s attention. And it’s what informs all your content decisions.
Align your content marketing with your business goals
We start with the point of view of the audience in the mission statement. But all content marketing efforts need to also serve your business goals. So the next section of the Blueprint is focused on that very thing.
You will usually have a few editorial goals to fulfill through different elements of your content. I would generally advise keeping that list to 3 and definitely no more than 5. If you’re trying to do too much, you’ll end up doing nothing of consequence.
You want to keep the name of your editorial goal short. But that usually means using standard marketing speak like “awareness” or “engagement”. And often we use marketing jargon without stopping to think about what it actually means. So I find it helpful here to explain what do our editorial goals look like in practice.
Finally, you’ll list metrics for each goal. These are general and channel-agnostic — we will focus on per-channel KPIs later. Here’s a good list with suggestions you can use, courtesy of the Content Marketing Institute:
By this point, it’s very clear what your content needs to accomplish, both from the viewpoint of your audience and your business.
Define your channels and their purpose
The format you see here was introduced by the Content Marketing Institute as a social media plan template. I gradually built on top of it with the other sections because I believe we should talk about content in general, not just social media. And adding the other sections gives the plan some much-needed context.
Here’s the information you need to figure out and present here:
- What are the channels you will be present in: keep in mind where your audience hangs out, where your competitors are, and which channels (with their respective formats and rules of engagement) fit your brand and content mission.
- Who you will be talking to: the personas active in each channel. To do this, you will need to already know what your personas are and where they hang out.
- The goals you can fulfill through this channel: this is the purpose behind your work in said channel. It shows how this particular channel aligns with your editorial goals.
Describe the key aspects of content creation
Once you know where you want to be and to what end, it’s time to show how you’re going to do it. This execution overview includes:
- The topics you will be covering: list out the broad topics you will be talking about in each channel.
- How often will you be creating content: that’s your ideal velocity per channel. You can also list the preferred time of day for posting here. However, this is subject to change and I wouldn’t recommend it unless you have a very specific reason to add it here.
- What formats will you use for your content: outline the most common types of posts that are part of your long-term content strategy.
- The next step you want people to take: explain what are the preferred ways to deepen the relationship with your audience. It can be a direct conversion call to action like subscribing to a newsletter or a simple engagement action like sharing their opinion.
- How will you measure success: define the metrics which will help you understand if the channel is performing well or not.
The original plan template by CMI contained a separate column with team resources. That should show who’s in charge of creating content in each channel. I removed it because in most small and medium businesses there’s a small marketing team that works on all channels. But if you distribute roles per channel, then add a new column and list these out.
I often find that certain elements in the blueprint will be the same for a few channels. In this case, you can do one of two things: just copy and paste the same text in each cell or merge cells for these channels. In the example here you’ll see that I opted for the latter when describing the KPIs for the social media channels. I find that it makes it clearer and helps to make the file feel less cluttered.
Dive deeper into the topics and messages
The final section of the Blueprint gives an overview of your key topic categories and your unique point of view.
In the past, I’ve done this in a simpler format. We’d only list the broad topic categories and the types of content that will fall under each one. But what this creates is just samey content that’s not related to the brand’s core messaging. It invariably boils down to “what are the keywords we can aim for” with no regard to how this content will help further the brand’s core.
It pays off to spend some time and create a clear set of core ideas you want to communicate. It means that you will not only know what you’ll talk about but how will your content align with the general brand messaging — and, ideally, how will that be different from other brands covering the same topic.
I was inspired by Animalz and their Auteur Theory. But it’s just a succinct way of explaining a notion we all should’ve been paying attention to long ago: that you don’t only aim for the biggest keyword targets, but for building thought leadership.
This will serve as the basis for a lot of your content planning, especially when it comes to long-form content. It’s a clear and specific litmus test that you can use to assess new content ideas. If it doesn’t fit your focus areas and your core ideas, then you should probably sit this one out.
Put your Content Marketing Blueprint to work
Finalizing the Blueprint is just the start of a long and laborious process. You need to actually get approval and then get everyone on the team to use it. After all, you’ve done so much work and it will be a shame if you just put the document in some obscure folder, never to be seen again, like the other strategy documents you’ve produced in the past.
Here are a few key steps that will make sure you take full advantage of the clarity the Blueprint provides:
- First, present the file to your team and set a specific timeframe for comments and changes. After that, it should go into effect and you will use it for all strategic calls. This provides proof of buy-in.
- Once you have a confirmed final version, then make sure you distribute the Blueprint internally. Give it to all content creators, clarify any points, and discuss questions. It ensures everyone creating content understands the details.
- Work it into your standard content creation process. You can go through the Blueprint on your weekly content planning meeting or make sure that the person giving final approval for publishing uses it as a sort of strategy alignment checklist.
- Use the editorial goals, metrics, and channel KPIs in your monthly content performance review. You should also report to management/clients through the same prism. This makes every progress report an opportunity to strengthen the strategy.
- Set time frames in which you will update the Blueprint. Make sure that you work this into your standard planning schedule. So, if you’re running quarterly planning, the first step of the process would be to review and update the Blueprint. This doesn’t only ensure your Blueprint is up to date. It also makes it easier to fend off the constant will to tweak and fiddle with it.
No plan survives first contact with reality — learn and optimize as you go
Your Blueprint is not set in stone — just like your content marketing strategy, it’s a breathing living thing that adapts and evolves. While most of the time you’ll need to let the Blueprint be the judge and jury for your immediate content creation, it pays off to step back every once in a while and analyze it with a critical eye. Is there a new format emerging on one of your channels that’s working great? Or are some of the topics you outlined not resonating with your audience like they used to? Then update.
However, constantly reviewing and tweaking your Blueprint is a waste of energy. It looks like you’re doing work but it’s counter-productive, it’s not bringing any results. So permit yourself to review the Blueprint every couple of months or so — but for the rest of the time follow it to the letter. After all, there was a reason you wrote down what you did in it.
One area the Blueprint doesn’t rule is the realm of content experiments. You are still allowed to spend a certain percentage of your time to try out new things. And when something works, it will earn a permanent place in your Blueprint.
I hope this will be a useful tool for you and I can’t wait to hear your feedback!