Eric Wendt

If a little planning goes a long way, just imagine what a lot of planning can do for your content marketing strategy.

Maximizing content value requires forethought. This is why so many marketers treat their content calendars with the type of reverence usually reserved for royalty. In fact, data from Promotional Products Association International showed 84 percent of survey respondents cited calendars as either important or very important in their daily lives.

In marketing, as in life, timing is everything. Content calendars illustrate where content does and doesn’t align with holidays, seasonal trends and internal marketing campaigns.

Whether you’re working solo or as part of a team, content calendars let you see the forest for the trees by drilling down from months to weeks to days. At the same time, you can ensure you don’t lose sight of overarching goals thanks to the big picture this long-term planning provides.

The question is: How far in advance should you be planning?

Deploy the spy satellite approach

Let’s get the hard part out of the way first. Yes, you should plan out your content calendar as far in advance as possible.

On the bright side, this does not mean crafting the world’s most detailed year-long content calendar first thing come New Year’s Day (bless your soul if you’re in any shape to work that day).

Taking what I like to call the “spy satellite approach” to calendar creation will help you play the long game while staying focused on the here and now.

Zoom in to fill out important content calendar details.

Think of every spy movie you’ve ever seen. There’s a good chance it featured a scene where a government agency used satellites to beam visuals of international espionage straight to their command center. However, before the satellite could drill down into whatever exotic locale the film was taking place in, it started in space, with a glorious view of the entire planet. The spy satellite approach to content calendars works in a similar fashion.

First, create a yearly calendar. Fill out as much of it as you can based on known variables. For instance, the period of time between Halloween and New Year’s Eve is ripe for content that aligns with popular holidays and seasonal shopping behaviors. Meanwhile, a product launch or important industry event may be taking place later in the summer.

“When creating a content calendar, note all holidays and count at least a month or two back – that’s when you should start creating content for that season,” said Brafton Project Manager Eric Rubino. “For example, if you’re writing holiday marketing tips for retailers in the middle of December, then it’s too late. Those businesses already made winter holiday plans in July and August. The same goes for creating major assets (eBooks or whitepapers). If you want to release a “Trends for 2017″ whitepaper, then write the copy in October or November, knowing that the final product will take a few weeks to reach a perfect point of refinement. At that point, it’ll be late December.”

Next, dive into the nitty-gritty by focusing on individual months. Obviously, the months immediately following the current one should take precedence. From there you can move on to planning weeks and then days.

Once the days directly ahead are planned for, which includes assigning authors and publishing dates, you can once again zoom out to focus on later in the year. During this part of the process, you can let the details you’ve already settled on influence future content ideas.

There are numerous templates available to help you get started, with some geared toward specific channels, such as HubSpot’s social media content calendar template.

Prioritize internal strategies

While marrying content to seasonality is often beneficial, it’s even more vital that calendars align with internal marketing efforts. The content you produce, as well as when it’s published, should ultimately support your company’s commercial goals.

For example, say your company is launching a new product or service. Your content calendar should incorporate:

  • A series of blog posts regarding this topic, either directly or indirectly.
  • An eBook and/or infographic to collect blog details and break them down into a more digestible format that can be easily shared.
  • A whitepaper that will dive deeper into the topics discussed in your blogs. This can be gated to capture prospective client information.
  • A video that acts as a final summation and appeal to individuals ready to make a purchase decision.

You should also consider how planned content will fit into different marketing efforts, like email newsletters and social media updates.

Your content calendar will allow you to keep an eye on all these projects simultaneously to ensure smooth delivery.

Be ready to adapt

No matter what approach you take to content calendar creation, keep in mind that life has a funny way of throwing you curveballs when you’re busy making plans.

Perhaps your company decides to scrap or push back a marketing campaign. Maybe someone on your staff leaves abruptly. Industry changes or breaking news can also throw existing plans out of whack. The opportunities for disruption are endless.

In cases like these, it’s essential to have contingency plans in place. While sudden changes will always lead to a certain level of scrambling, creating your content calendar with flexibility in mind will make it easier to overcome potential obstacles. The more rigid a calendar is, the greater the chance gaps will be created due to one setback or another.

In short, plan for the best but prepare for the worst.