Three tools to help you shape strategy into actual plans
Creating a strategy sure doesn’t feel like the easy bit when you’re waist-deep in crumpled flip-chart paper and on your fourth flat white. But now that you’re sat there with a clear strategy document in hand, and it’s time to actually start acting on it, you’re realizing the work is far from done.
You know what your business goals are, and now it’s time to map that over to specific messages. We’re going to go over three of the must-use planning tools to help you get from the big goals to the exact subject lines you’ll be sending.
Probably the first thing to get cracking on, since it’s largely dictated by external and predictable realities. Start with a blank calendar, and map out the big unmovables. What are the big conventions, industry awards, trade shows, product launches and other landmarks that are going to provide your landscape for the year ahead? Once you have those in place, look to see where you are naturally going to be slammed, and where you need to manufacture some events and hooks.
Now that you have those visible, let’s commit the your cadence for your recurring content: Fortnightly blog posts. Bi-weekly email newsletter blasts. Twice-daily posts on your one, chosen social channel. What have you mapped out as part of your strategy, and how are you going to track them with enough lead time to get them approved, polished and posted? Get each single item up in a shared, visible location, and make sure each gets an owner as the time draws closer. Make sure you have comms meetings on a schedule that will allow you to look ahead as a team and make sure you have a plan and clear owners for every single item in the next window.
You’ll continue to use a content calendar as a basic planning and project management tool, but at this early stage, it’s key to simply getting your head around what all actually needs to be done.
We’ve mentioned this before, but it’s a biggie. You want to have a shorthand version of your major audiences. A specific, fictional person with a name, a face and a dossier. This person will become shorthand within your team meetings, a personification of a target segment, whom you can write to as a person. Once you have faces on your major audiences, you should start hearing things such as “Tim would never go for that, but it would appeal to Suzie,” or “We haven’t writing anything for Becca in a while.”
For each customer, you’ll use your knowledge gained from interacting with that market to answer the basic questions about how this person approaches their work, what they’re thinking, feeling, seeing, doing, what scares them and what motivates them. You’ll likely find this exercise will show you which of your customers you don’t know as well as you should.
What is the key message you want to convey, said as succinctly as possible? You’re going to want to capture the essential message and keep it visible as a touchpoint for all your content and communications, and you’re going to want to know what the next message will be, so you can start planning around that.
Why is this called Neon Messaging? You just don’t see a lot of faffy neon signs out there, that’s why. “We use fresh ingredients” is a bad neon sign, but “Fresh!” is more like it. Neon is a medium that requires you to be clear, but also, it can be conceptual. It can involve fireworks or a monkey or a if you want. But once your message is settled upon, it’s done; neon isn’t something you go back and fuss.
It’s an idea that you’re going to be sure of because it’s going to be around for a while. This is the message that you’ll be banging on about for a sustained period, anywhere from a couple weeks to a quarter. All of your major campaigns and comms will support this big idea, so you need to see it coming, and you need to lock it down early.
Now, how does this work?
Why wherever will we post these? If only there were some manner of calendar to support our content generat….oh, cool! We’ll just chuck it all on the content caledar! In google, you could add each message as an ongoing event. Use yarn, sharpie, whatever works on your calendar, just as long as you can see the current message, and the next two, and always know when you’re swapping over from one to the next, that’s what matters.
The current and next two Neon Messages are locked down and settled upon. The active message is that one you’re using to inform your current blogs and social content. The upcoming message is already being discussed in planning sessions, and you’re spinning up ideas for assets and topics to support it.
The messages beyond that are a constant hopper of refinement and spitballing. A shared document of draft phrases and ideas, which can be a bit of chatter leading up to an explicit decision being made to lock it down, just as it’s needed. As one message is retired, you should be locking down another out on the horizon. As you do, rejected ideas can be culled, or parked for later consideration. Deciding on the next newest message should be a scheduled decision, part of your regular comms agenda, and it should obviously be made with personas and timing on your calendar in mind.
All of these tools work together, and they should all help you translate the larger vision and strategy into coordinated and winning content.
If you want to learn about more planning tools, or have a consultation on your internal content pipeline, get in touch.