A 5-Step Content Planning Framework for Effective Digital Marketing

Planning is the critical first step for effective content marketing. Here's a five-step framework we use to map out a successful content plan for healthcare organizations.

As with any marketing strategy, a well-planned approach to content marketing can mean the difference between success and failure—especially as healthcare organizations are embracing content like never before. In fact, a recent eMarketer report found the use of content-driven campaigns will increase in 2020 and continue to grow over the next two years. A part of this content planning framework can be a make or break in a campaign's ultimate success or downfall. 

In our latest webinar, Managing Editor Heather Hammond guides you through a content planning process used to map out channels, cadence and other elements of an effective content strategy. 

Here’s a recording of the webinar, along with highlights from the session below.

To set your content strategy up for success, here’s a five-step framework our team uses to ensure every piece of content we create aligns with the respective client organization’s goals and target audience.

Step 1: Align Audiences with Goals

If building brand awareness and/or shifting perception is your goal, consider a content planning framework focused on those audiences who most frequently interact with your organization and/or influencers within the community. This typically includes your employees, patients, prospects and referring healthcare providers. 

Keep in mind that not all consumers are a match for your content or campaigns, and let data be your guide as analysis often challenges our assumptions. For example, who would have guessed that Generation Z—the largest generation of consumers at 25% of the population—are spending more time reading print than digital platforms? 

If volume/revenue growth is your goal, consider a content plan focused around target consumers and healthcare providers. Start by identifying your ideal patient based on gender, life stage, propensity for needing specific services and other characteristics. For example, we’ve found there is a defined profile for bariatric candidates in terms of demographics like age and income, as well as motivation for seeking treatment. 

For physicians and other healthcare providers, create or deepen referral relationships by reaching them with educational content in the channel they prefer to receive it. This consumer-centric approach to delivering relevant content shows users that you care and you are there for them.

Critical questions to ask at this stage:

  • How many audiences are you speaking to? 
  • What action(s) do you want them to take?
  • How will success be measured by your leadership?

Putting the plan into action:

Create 1-2 personas that connect with your organizational goals.

Pro Tip: Keeping in mind channel mix and goals, start with the content/story/idea first before planning deployment and promotion.

Step 2: Get in Sync with Stakeholders

A content planning framework shouldn’t exist in a vacuum in the marketing or communications departments. The most successful strategies are developed in partnership with peers in PR, service line management, operations, foundation, advocacy and other areas.

This typically involves meeting with department leaders to discuss key content elements, including:

Differentiators—What sets your organization apart? Is it your specialists, techniques, technology, location/convenience?

Subject matter experts—Who should we feature in our paid/earned/owned media channels based on expertise, personality and reputation?

Capacity—What is the waiting period for a featured service line, and how many patients can they accommodate within a reasonable timeline after content deploys?

Calls to action—What do we want users to do after consuming the content?

Lead intake—How can we reduce friction when someone interacts with our content?

Pro Tip: If you have a large organization with multiple campuses or facilities, you are likely facing an issue where you are trying to be equitable with who you feature—from what service lines/physicians/campuses across multiple content forms. The good news: You’re not alone. Even content marketing leaders at Cleveland Clinic—the No. 1 hospital blog in America with 7+ million sessions per month—deals with this issue.  In our experience, identifying a peer within your organization who can partner with you to track this and reach out to those various internal players is an effective strategy.

Critical questions to ask at this stage:

  • What makes your organization unique?
  • List three subject matter experts you can use.
  • List new innovations or partnerships planned in the next 6-12 months.

Putting the plan into action:

For each piece of content, identify the purpose, the audience and the call to action.

Step 3: Review the Data

Everything can and should be data-driven in this day and age. We have so much information at our fingertips and opportunities every day to use it. The key is knowing which data to use for what. 

This includes the following data sets typically used to create a content planning framework:

  • User/Reader surveys
  • Focus groups
  • Website metrics
  • Keyword research
  • Consumer data
  • Social metrics
  • Headlines

Critical questions to ask at this stage:

  • What is the community’s perception of your brand?
  • Which topics do your communities care about?
  • What keywords are you ranking for? Which ones have the most potential?

Putting the plan into action:

Brainstorm a list of places where you can gather data and information about your audience (anything from surveys to social engagement to consumer data trends, etc.)

Pro Tip: Of course, there’s still room for “heart” and “gut” checks in marketing, but it needs to be both/and. Start with the data and let that be the primary driver, alongside your gut, and go from there. 

Step 4: Define Your Topic Categories in your content planning framework

Based on internal perspective and audience data gathered, consider how to engage your audience around topics they care about, while strategically incorporating elements that position your brand as the authority and trusted advisor. 

Here are a few areas that guide our content planning efforts:

  • Service line priorities
  • Seasonal health observances and initiatives
  • Hospital news and updates
  • Evergreen health and wellness issues

One way to think through all of the content topics that you will cover is to think about how they will be featured within a specific channel, like a quarterly print magazine or a blog. What are all the categories that you would want to include? 

A few of the more common ones we feature are patient stories, health and wellness topics, news and events and technological innovations and awards.

Critical questions to ask at this stage:

  • Which topics are most closely associated with your strategic priorities?
  • What content can you create that can’t be found anywhere else?
  • Which categories can help you rank on page 1 of Google?

Putting the plan into action:

Create a brainstorming map with strategic priorities as the center and spokes of the wheel for all your major topic ideas. 

Pro Tip: Source interviews and sources early—and make friends with the clinical resources who are willing to help and be featured in posts. 

Step 5: Map Out Your Plan

Now that you've collaborated with stakeholders and analyzed data to define your audience(s), topic categories and channels, it’s time to map out the content plan itself. 

This typically includes the following elements that can make or break a content strategy:

  • Audiences
  • Channels
  • Formats
  • Cadence
  • Calls to Action

When it comes to content planning and management, keep it simple and remember: The key is not having the right tool but understanding your goals and thinking content first. In fact, we often use Google Sheets as one of the easiest and most effective tools to plan, manage and track content.

Critical questions to ask at this stage:

  • How frequently can you deliver relevant content to your audience?
  • How often does your audience want to hear from you?
  • What format do you use to track your content? 

Putting the plan into action:

Move your brainstorming formats into a calendar for planning. Be sure to include enough time in the schedule for copywriting, designing, editing/proofreading and fact checking. And build in time on the back end for reporting. 

Pro Tip: Plan out and deliver assignments as far in advance as you can—if you know Heart Month is a focus, get started in October or November to leave room for adjustments, more creativity, and the ability to pick up last minute requests.

Bonus Tip: 3 Ways to Error-Proof Your Content during the Planning Process

Based on my experience, here are some tips for avoiding most common errors when building and executing a content plan:

  1. Make time for stakeholders to weigh in during your process. If you need legal to review, build in time for that. If you need a physician or patient to approve, build in time for that.
  2. Create checklists for each step of the process and the process itself. This will reduce errors and keep your content consistent.
  3. Choose a style guide. I can’t not mention this as an editor. Your high school English teacher was wrong: Grammar is subjective. Some grammar and punctuation is brand preference, so decide those things and stick to it. Most healthcare and business orgs use journalistic style guides like AP and Chicago and then add some exceptions. Write this down and use it consistently across your organization. Consistency builds an unconscious trust. No one notices your grammar until you make a mistake or it’s not consistent. 

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