Content Marketing with Editorial Calendars

Create Editorial Calendar

Perhaps the hottest online marketing strategy is content marketing, and for good reason: it has proven to be more effective and less expensive than other methods. The basics of this strategy are simple:

  • Create interesting, valuable content that prospective customers want.
  • Maximize the number of prospective customers who see that content.
  • Use those interactions to build relationships that turn prospects into customers.

Unlike advertising, where you “push” messages out to prospective customers, content marketing capitalizes on the fact that customers are already actively seeking information. You just have the create the right content and make sure they can find it. That, of course, is easier said than done.

To succeed, you need to produce compelling content consistently, and that takes planning. One of the best planning tools is an editorial calendar, which details the content you intend to produce and your schedule for production. If you sit down to create a calendar from scratch, you’ll probably find it difficult to get started. So, we’ve outlined a process that will make it easy to create a useful editorial calendar. It includes:

  • Defining your target audience
  • Setting a publication schedule
  • Brainstorming topics
  • Creating your calendar

Completing these tasks will make it easy to create your own editorial calendar and start attracting new business with effective content marketing.

Task 1: Define Your Target Audience

Part of what makes content creation daunting is the limitless possibilities. If you can create content about any topic, in any format, where do you even start? The task becomes a lot simpler when you narrow down your choices based on your target audience. Knowing what to produce starts with knowing who you are producing for.

Part 1:Review your previous customers

It’s almost always easier to grow a business by getting more of the same customers than by finding entirely new types of customers. In other words, your future customers probably look a lot like your previous customers, so reviewing those people is a great place to start.

Start by writing down a list of previous customers. You should write this list down — don’t do this only in your head. You’ll want to answer some questions about these customers, and writing things down will force you to be specific.

If you’re an established agent with many customers, list those that represent types of good customers for you. Keep in mind that a good customer not only generates healthy commissions, but is also enjoyable and easy to work with. If you’re a newer agent with few past customers, fill out your list with hypothetical customers that represent the types of people you intend to reach.

Part 2:Create customer personas

Now you’ll create a “persona” for each of the customers you’ve listed. A persona is a way of generalizing a single customer so they can represent a whole segment of your customers.

Look through your list of customers and see what they have in common. Perhaps you have a large number of single professionals, or families with more than three kids. While every customer is unique, similarities will likely emerge. Consider the following traits when looking for similarities:

• Family status (e.g. single vs. married, children vs. no children)

• Profession or income level

• Local vs. relocators

• Age

If patterns don’t jump out at you right away, list these traits for every customer on your list and look again. You may notice that half of your customers are over sixty years old, or that most work in white-collar professional jobs.

Once you’ve identified some similarities, choose one customer to represent each group. If no one customer really represents the group accurately, create an imaginary customer to fill the role. You’ll have to make some generalizations at this stage, so don’t get concerned if your groupings seem a bit rough.

Let’s imagine that, after reviewing your customer list, you end up with the following customers and groups:

Carmen Smith – Empty Nester

Sally is a single, Latina woman in her fifties who is downsizing after her children have left for college. She’s lived in your market all her life, and is patient in selling her home because she will continue working at her professional job.

John & Carol Jones – New Family

The Joneses just had their first child, and relocated to your market for John’s work as a machinist. They were price-sensitive, and Carol made most of the decisions when considering properties.

Ralph Clarke – Young Professional

Ralph just landed his dream job as a corporate attorney after completing law school. He plans to stay in the area and raise a family, but wants to live in the city while he’s younger.

This level of detail is probably sufficient to get started. Congratulations, you’ve just created your first customer personas!

Part 3:Identify communication habits

Now that you have your personas, consider how each would typically communicate with your business. If your list is based on real customers, you’ll want to find out how they first contacted you, and how they stayed engaged with you. If you can’t recall or don’t have this information, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask. If you worked from hypothetical customers, make your best guesses about their communication habits.

This step is critical because it will determine how, what, when, and where you communicate with potential customers. Again, you’ll need to make some generalizations about your personas, but try to establish a fair amount of detail about how they communicate:

Carmen Smith – Empty Nester

Carmen is on her computer and phone all day. She prefers email over phone calls, but seems to miss a lot of messages, and doesn’t always respond. She’s active on social media, particularly Facebook.

John & Carol Jones – New Family

Neither John or Carol seems to be on social media much, and they share an email address. Carol is a real researcher, and likes to read lots of information on new topics and buying decisions.

Ralph Clarke – Young Professional

Ralph responds to email promptly and without fail. He’s very busy, so he won’t read lengthy messages — he prefers to talk by phone if there’s a lot of information to convey. He uses LinkedIn a lot for his professional development.

Task 2: Brainstorm Topics

Creating great content topics is the aspect of content marketing that frightens most agents. As with so much of content marketing, however, this task is much easier when you narrow down your choices and focus on your specific objectives. Now, you have a way to do that — your customer personas.

Instead of creating topics that might appeal to anyone, you can hone in on ideas that speak to the specific types of customers you’d like to reach. Moreover, you have an idea of how they like to communicate, so you can further refine your ideas to the formats your customers are most likely to consume.

Part 1:Be unique and knowledgeable

For each content marketing topic, you should strive to be knowledgeable and unique. This may seem obvious, but most content fails on both counts. Too often, people drone on about subjects where they have little knowledge or nothing unique to say. Your goal to engage and interest potential customers, so failing to be knowledgeable and unique in your content is deadly.

Before brainstorming specific topics, jot down a few ways in which you are unique and knowledgeable. Here are a few examples:

  1. I know a lot about rehabilitating income properties.
  2. I’m a great gardener and landscape designer.
  3. I love old television shows and know every episode.
  4. I walk everywhere and know every street in town.

By themselves, none of these statements is a content topic, but we will use them as “sharpeners.” A sharpener is a slant or angle you can add to a topic that takes it from boring to fascinating.

For example, your topic for a blog post might be “Improving your home’s curb appeal.” That’s okay, but it doesn’t promise readers anything with unique, special knowledge. Apply the second sharpener from the list above, however, and you get: “Five fast-growing trees to increase your home’s curb appeal in one summer.” By applying your unique knowledge to this topic, you create something distinctive that will engage readers. As we discuss different types of topics below, remember that every topic will benefit from a sharpener.

Part 2:Content that answers questions

While people seek out content for a variety of reasons, the most popular motivation is getting answers to questions. It’s become instinctual for modern consumers: When you don’t know something, Google it.

So, content that answers questions is a good place to start when brainstorming topics. Return to your personas again, and for each, remind yourself of questions you answered for them. For example:

Carmen Smith – Empty Nester

  • Will it hurt my selling price if my house is on the market for a long time?
  • Should I leave my kid’s rooms intact or remove the children’s furniture?
  • Would replacing the kitchen appliances help me get my asking price?

John & Carol Jones – New Family

  • Are there parks in the area where it’s safe for the kids to play?
  • Will sellers know how much credit we were approved for?
  • Should we rent in the area before buying?

Ralph Clarke – Young Professional

  • What neighborhoods are seeing the greatest rise in prices?
  • What should I expect for a condo fee?
  • Will my student loans hurt my credit?

Be sure to list questions your customers actually asked, even if you weren’t able to answer them. We’ll discuss ways to produce content for such cases later. For now, what’s important is to record the questions that will interest your customers most, even if they fall outside of your expertise.

Part 3:Content that entertains

Too often content marketers get bogged down thinking only about topics that inform. They forget that much, if not most, of the content we consume is for the purpose of entertainment. We’re not suggesting that you become a stand-up comedian, but don’t forget to keep things entertaining.

Return again to your personas and consider what each type of customer finds entertaining:

Carmen Smith – Empty Nester

Carmen is sentimental and likes heart-warming stories.

John & Carol Jones – New Family

John and Carol live for sports, particularly the NFL.

Ralph Clarke – Young Professional

Ralph is obsessed with celebrities and musicians.

Part 4:Content that builds your brand

Successful content marketing prioritizes informative and entertaining content over more “salesy” fare, but you should still incorporate some content intended to promote your personal brand.

As with other forms of content, you want to stay focused on your audience’s interests. That is, instead of touting what you think makes you great, concentrate on what your customers value. For each of your personas, define the factors that were most important in their choice to work with you:

Carmen Smith – Empty Nester

Carmen values friendly, considerate people. She liked that I always returned her calls and asked questions about her family.

John & Carol Jones – New Family

As relocators, the Jones’ appreciated how much I knew about the local area and that I was well connected.

Ralph Clarke – Young Professional

Ralph likes people who are no-nonsense and liked that I didn’t waste time on properties that didn’t interest him.

Part 5:Bringing it all together

All this preparation will pay off when it’s time to choose content topics. Whereas before “brainstorming” content topics probably left you with a blank page, now the task becomes easy. The formula is simple:

Persona + Content Type + Sharpener (optional) =  Content Marketing Topic

Let’s walk through an example with Carmen Smith, our “empty nester” persona. First, the type: Content that informs. We know that Carmen wanted to find out whether upgrading her kitchen appliances would boost her sales price, so we should produce something that answers that question. A blog post titled “Appliances that Impress Sellers” would do, but it’s not particularly original, and doesn’t give you an opportunity to apply your unique knowledge. That’s why we need to add a sharpener.

Remember how you love old television shows? That’ll do the trick. Try this: “Five Kitchens from Classic Sitcoms That Would Scare Buyers.” Do a Google image search and find some images from the kitchens of the Brady Bunch or the Jeffersons and use these to demonstrate how the style and color of appliances really date a kitchen.

Now let’s try an example for John and Carol, our new family. They wanted to know if there were parks where it’s safe for children to play. You could list the local parks, but they can get that information from the Parks Department. Again, add a sharpener. You walk everywhere in the neighborhood, remember? Put that unique knowledge to use with a walking tour of the best parks for kids. Pull out your smartphone on your next stroll and take some snapshots to include as well.

Finally, let’s consider an example that promotes your brand. The Ralph Clarke persona appreciated that you didn’t waste his valuable time, which gives you a perfect topic to promote yourself. This can be as simple as a testimonial from Ralph about how efficient you were, or something more complex, like a brochure highlighting how you work with busy professionals. Since this topic already conveys your uniqueness, you don’t need to add a sharpener, but stay focused on the particular interests of the persona. Generic “I’m a great agent” messages don’t carry as much weight as messages fine-tuned to your customers.

Now that you have an effective formula for creating topics, you can brainstorm much more efficiently. For each of your personas, create a list of suitable content topics. Include a mix of content types, but informative content should take precedence. As a rule of thumb, having 5 informative topics, 2 entertainment topics, and 2 brand topics for each persona should give you plenty to work with.

Task 3: Create Your Editorial Calendar

With your audience and topics pinned down, it’s time to create your editorial calendar. A calendar does more than set a schedule for your content production: it helps you make a commitment to creating content.

Many people attempt content marketing, but few follow through. That’s because while content marketing can be very effective, it doesn’t produce results overnight: success requires consistent effort over the long haul. Creating an editorial calendar can help keep you dedicated to producing content that will eventually pay dividends.

Part 1:Choose a tool

You’ll want to plan your editorial calendar with a tool that is accessible and easy to use. There’s no need for specialized technology — a variety of common software applications will work well, so pick one that’s familiar to you. Here are a few common choices:

Excel, Numbers, or Google Sheets

Spreadsheets are a handy way of creating calendars. Microsoft Excel, Numbers for Mac, and Google Sheets are all good choices, and you can find pre-made calendar templates for each.

Word, Pages, or Google Docs

Word processing applications can be a little clumsy for creating calendars, so definitely start with a calendar template if using one of these tools. A Google search will turn up lots of options for you to download and use.

A Calendar App

The built-in calendar apps on your PC or Mac, or a Google calendar can be adapted to work well for this purpose. Just create a special calendar for your content and enter “appointments” for the dates you intend to publish content. One handy byproduct of going this route is that you can have your calendar send you reminders about upcoming publication dates.

Trello

Many professional editorial teams use Trello to manage their editorial calendars. Trello is an application designed to replicate a bulletin board, where you create a “card” for each task. Cards can be grouped into stacks and moved around to help you organize your calendar. Trello is very powerful, but it will require some learning to use well.

Part 2:Schedule your publications

Previously, you created a list of topics for your personas, and identified the communication habits of each. Now you’ll marry those two pieces of information to publish content that reaches your targets at the right times, and in the right places.

For each of your personas, you’ve generated 5-10 content topics. You’ll want to space these out over time so that you’re in regular communication with your audience and have enough time to produce high-quality content. Pencil your topics in, spread evenly across the time period you’re planning (typically a year). Along with each topic, note the format you intend to use (e.g. email, blog post, brochure, ebook, webinar, video).

Choose formats that work well with each persona’s communication habits. For Ralph, the avid emailer, creating email blasts is ideal, while Carmen is more likely to read something posted on Facebook. Whatever format you choose, you can always promote the content via other channels as well. If you publish a blog post, for instance, share it on Twitter and include an excerpt in an email newsletter.

If you have 5 personas with 10 topics each, you should have a piece of content scheduled for nearly every week of the year, which will keep you quite busy. It’s important to be honest with yourself about how much time you have, and how much quality content you can produce. Remember, consistency is key, so you’re better off with a more modest publication schedule you can keep than a packed schedule you ignore.

If your schedule is too full, look for opportunities to consolidate. For instance, if you have similar topics for two personas, consider creating a single piece of content that serves both audiences. If several of your content pieces use the same format, consider consolidating those into a single publication: one long brochure will likely take less time to create than three smaller ones. Also, consider some time-saving content strategies like:

  • Using guest contributors to write blog posts
  • Re-using or refreshing older pieces of content
  • Sharing or re-publishing relevant work from others

While none of these strategies is a substitute for creating your own content regularly, they can help you give yourself a breather and ward off fatigue. Note: Using guest contributors is a powerful way of producing content on subjects where you’re not an expert, which can really broaden the topics available to you.

Part 3:Schedule time to create

With your publication dates in place, your calendar is almost complete. Finish it off by scheduling time to create the content you’ve planned.

Some marketers do better with regular schedules, like dedicating an hour every morning to creating content. Others prefer to set aside larger blocks of time to polish off an entire piece of content in one sitting. Whichever strategy works for you, put time into your calendar for creating your content and stick with it.

One tip: If you tend to ignore your own deadlines, give yourself a little extra push by sharing your deadlines with your audience. For example, announce that you’ll be publishing a blog post every Friday. Your audience will anticipate your content, and you’ll feel compelled not to let them down.