What happened to the strategic planning that used to be the core of marketing?
You might be saying, “Strategic planning is still a core part of what we do. ”
Is that true? “Strategic planning” today often refers to semiannual or quarterly events that include “strategic planning”. Managers and leaders meet (usually starting with bagels and coffee) to listen to a SWOT analysis, participate in brainstorming sessions, and hear summaries of new ideas for strategy.
Do not misunderstand me. Creating a strategy is essential.
But when I ask what happened to strategic planning, I don’t mean strategic planning. I mean strategic planning, which involves managers at the appropriate levels of the hierarchy meeting to agree on detailed action plans and priorities for an upcoming time frame.
Once a strategy exists, strategic planning determines what activities, and in what order, will support it.
Interestingly, a lack of strategic planning is a common problem for every client I’ve worked with over the past five years, and it’s a barrier to content strategies that scale.
Why isn’t strategic content planning happening?
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Bigger content teams also don’t know how to act big
The answer lies in how content as a marketing function has evolved to power the growing number of digital channels created over the past decade.
This is what usually happens. Content teams act as small in-house producers for their companies. As demand for content grows, businesses add more resources. Before long, content needs to go beyond internal groups and require help from external agencies or freelancer . The groups are bigger, but they don’t learn to act in the “big” way.
When the sole function of a content team is to deliver more and more content based on demand, there is no need for planning and prioritization. Everything is equally important to the strategy.
Content teams get big without learning what it means to be big.
How strategic planning enables large action groups
Here’s an example based on a content marketing team I worked with recently. Over the past two years, the team has doubled its content production, added six content creators, launched two thought-led media platforms, and helped marketing drive more businesses.
But the more they add, the more they struggle. Content leaders worry that:
- Content quality has dropped
- They are losing executive support for the value of what they do
- Other departments feel impatient with the pace of content production
They wonder if they’re trying to do too much and if they’ve grown too big. When I asked about the work planning process, the answer made me question whether they would allow the team to “go big”.
They recently rolled out a new enrollment form content leaders can use to prioritize requests. The content team strives to meet service level agreements for different types of content and responds to all requests for content.
But that process will not solve their challenge. It’s like adding a microphone to take orders before the customer’s car arrives at the snack bar. It simply moves the problem. Yes, they can receive and process orders faster, but the bottleneck of producing all the food ordered is still there.
They need great actionability – in other words, to do strategic planning on what to produce instead of just taking orders.
The strategic planning process that occurs between adoption and content creation helps large action groups in the following ways:
1. It balances proactive content planning with reactive requests
If you have strategic marketing, you need to strategize and prioritize some amount of proactive (planned) content. When the calendar of the content group contains nearly all reactive content (i.e. requests from other groups), unplanned.
You will always need some level of reactivity. But to scale quality with quantity, you must approach content creation as a forward-looking process, not one where you’re always late by the time a request arrives in your inbox. your.
These agreed activities are aligned with business priorities. The output is a forward-looking content creation, production, and activation schedule that says yes to some projects and no to others. Over time, it shifts the balance from reactive requests to proactive content.
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2. It clarifies the capabilities of the content team
“It’s not what you do,” one content leader once told me, “it’s what they do.” think what you do.” Strategic planning helps you communicate what the content team does so the whole organization understands what you do.
If your team has created (consciously or unconsciously) a mystery around its content production rate, it will always be judged by the latest request made. No matter how large your content team is, it should never be considered a strategy.
The strategic content planning process involves developing a list of goals from the broader business or marketing strategy and measurable steps for how your team will accomplish them. You must then announce (early and often) that you will deploy the resources and capabilities of the content team to support these goals. This step brings purpose, clarity, and transparency to content prioritization. In simpler words: It gives the content team something to indicate when denying content requests.
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3. It creates a content seat at the table
Strategic planning allows content priorities to evolve as business priorities change.
If only responding to ad-hoc requests, the content team will be the last to hear about business strategy changes.
Content teams without a strategic planning process are often labeled as unresponsive to or resistant to strategic changes. But strategic planning puts content at the marketing and communication desk, and gives it the power and agility to evolve as marketing or business strategies change.
Don’t be afraid to go big (even if it means more processes)
When does a small piece of content become strategic in terms of planning? It often happens later than usual because people worry that it adds unnecessary bureaucracy to what was once a “quick” and “responsive” team.
But don’t resist change.
Big means you can buy a lot of things. Big means you are ahead of the game and can take risks. Big also means using words like process, ownership, governance, and standards. It means meetings are not focused on content but on how teams work together. Big means taking responsibility not acting too big and being too in charge.
Get big changes in the nature of your work. Strategic planning can keep you and others on your team from doing the work you love. But it also introduces you to work that will be a new adventure. It can force you to abandon team collaborative (but now too slow) decision-making and move into command-and-control (but more efficient and effective) processes.
But your desire to stay at your current job, the stability of your team, or your familiar workload can keep your content team from ever growing – even as it does.
Content teams that refuse to thrive must eventually retrofit their infrastructure, processes, and strategies. It is not beautiful.
So get ready for greatness. Don’t be afraid of strategic planning and don’t shy away from it.
As you grow, do the strategic planning. It is necessary to overcome the pain of growing pains and to dream big.
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Cover photo by Joseph Kalinowski / Content Marketing Institute