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Planning new campaigns in 2020? It’ll be a wasted effort without honest reflection on previous attempts

Recent entries from my esteemed colleagues Arjun Kashyap and Jonathan Hopfner addressed various aspects of editorial planning: how companies can ensure their thought leadership efforts drive the agenda in their chosen spheres, rather than regurgitate clichés and jargon.

Given they’ve covered planning, I thought it’d be useful to address the yin to planning’s yang: reflection on editorial progress – or, why companies should also look backwards to take stock of whether they truly succeeded in executing previous publishing plans.

Isn’t that common sense, you ask? Sure. But at n/n we’ve discovered that – much like humans – many companies resist deep reflection. Of course, time for reflection is increasingly hard to come by in this era of likes and listicles. However, that’s not the only reason. It’s also because the sting of failure raises too many uncomfortable questions.

Nevertheless, new publishing plans will be for nought if time isn’t set aside to look back and evaluate how you’ve performed against the thought leadership plans hatched the previous year.

And so, without further ado, here are just a few of the key questions content marketers should reflect on before 2020 kicks in:

1.  Did we publish what we planned to publish? Many companies start the year with bold publishing plans — for example, two blogs, two infographics, and one video per month. They may even have plans for bi-monthly podcasts. But then the ‘tyranny of now’ takes over and the days whiz by in a blur of teleconferences, team lunches, seminars, and offsites. Q1 ends, and they’ve only managed to push three blogs and one infographic out the door. Exacerbating matters is the fact that no one is particularly impressed with the output. Everything was assembled in a mad rush, squeezed in-between other priorities. By the end of the year, the content calendar launched in January is but a painful memory.

What to do? Make an honest determination why you couldn’t follow the programme. Was it 1) budget constraints? 2) too many distractions?  or 3) perhaps that hotshot journalist you hired as Head of Content wasn’t up to the job after all? A combination of all three? Once the reason is clear, make aggressive adjustments accordingly.

2. Were our publishing efforts aligned with broader business goals? This one is crucial. Marketers today are expected to contribute to the business – whether that’s generating new sales leads, expanding market share, or creating a halo around their employer’s reputation (which ultimately leads to more sales). Come to think of it, this business-first approach was the key theme at the B2B Marketing Leaders Forum in Singapore this year. And yet, the uncomfortable truth is sometimes marketers either don’t know how to speak the language of business, or perhaps simply don’t want to, preferring to speak more like creative visionaries than CEOs.

What to do? While mapping out future content calendars, make sure the publishing strategy aligns with the broader commercial strategy of your organisation. Once this is complete, get buy-in from key stakeholders in the business and make sure the C-Suite sees the commercial impact of your efforts. Finally, make sure your marketing team has the right mindset, and understands their role in business success.

3. Did we measure the impact of our work? In other words, did we monitor click rates? Did we systematically collect reader emails and share them with the sales team? More broadly, did we even take the time to ascertain whether the published work is reaching its intended audience? Although ‘measurement tools’ are in fashion these days, you’d be surprised how many organisations just fling their content into the void and hope for the best, with little to no effort given to quantifying or measuring post-publishing impact.

What to do? Commit to formulating a measurement system. It doesn’t have to be fancy – maybe just a simple click rate analysis – but someone, somewhere should be monitoring the impact of your campaigns. Otherwise, what’s the point? Also, prepare for the harsh news: readership rates are often lower than anticipated. But there is a silver lining here: the cold shower of low readership rates could be a reminder you aren’t using the right distribution channels. This should prod your team to more actively promote the content you produce.

4. And finally, was the work interesting? In other words, were our efforts truly compelling? Or did we (sometimes) fake it, and assemble long papers that looked good on the surface, but upon closer investigation revealed themselves to be little more than tangled webs of trendy jargon and bland commentary? These are the most painful questions. Let’s be honest. It’s entirely natural for companies to believe that most of what they write and publish is brilliant. But we all know that’s not true. How many corporate publications do you read in your spare time?

What to do? Tackle lazy thinking like the cancer that it is – and accept that mediocre content just won’t be able to deliver the ROI you’re hoping for. Sharpen those pencils and leave an impression with the work that you publish, even if it means ruffling a few feathers. Good content almost always offends someone — that comes with the territory.

Good luck and we’ll see you in 2020.

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