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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