Audience journey planning can transform your approach to planning content production. This is because for the first time you can have a structure in place for determining what content to produce that is inextricably linked to your commercial goals. The result is that every piece of content is created with a clear commercial purpose and can be measured not just based on the levels of engagement it receives but its ability to contribute towards the fulfilment of your commercial goals.

How to use audience journey planning to inform content production

The fundamental premise behind audience journey planning is to understand and map the journeys your audiences take towards buying from your company. These are probably not the same as the customer journeys you may have already mapped – the difference is that the typical customer journey that businesses define only represents the final stage of the journey when the customer has decided to buy and how the business then needs to serve the customer. The reality is that the actual buying journey is far longer and starts with the initial engagement that marketers achieve on a day-to-day basis.

From that point, the audience will make their own personal journey towards your goal of selling them something. That will almost certainly involve research, consideration and comparison – this is why Google has stated that the average consumer consumes 18 pieces of content en route to purchase a typical product. Obviously different products and services will therefore have different averages.

So by accepting that audiences go on these journeys, it makes sense for the brand to provide the content that could support and guide the audience through that journey. After all, if you do not provide it, the audience will go elsewhere to find it.

By mapping the journey, you can then understand how the content can fit together to support the buying journey and make it easier for your target audience to navigate themselves towards your goal. In so doing you must, of course, recognise that people do not behave in a straightforward, linear manner and will go backwards and forwards, stop and start, go away and come back to their heart’s content. They will also have different reasons for starting on the journey and different reasons for buying. However, if you map all of this and produce the content to support all of this diversity, then you are creating the ability for audiences to go on personally relevant journeys towards your commercial goals.

Audience journey planning helps you navigate all of this complexity. By doing so, it then informs what content you need to produce to support these journeys.

From a practical content production point of view, this then creates a three step process for content production once the initial audience journey planning is completed.

  1. Analyse
  2. Develop & Prioritise
  3. Plan & Review

You may already have determined how much content you need to produce on a weekly or monthly basis. This should not be the sole determining factor behind your editorial planning as that is not strategic. Instead, you should begin by analysing your content needs for the week or month ahead beyond the amount of content required.

There are three forms of analysis that, with audience journey planning in place, should be undertaken to inform the editorial planning process:

  • a.Content consumption analysis
  • b.Content gap analysis
  • c.Campaign/event support

Using whatever tools you have – Google analytics being the most basic – assess your content consumption not just in terms of which content is receiving the most attention by your target audiences, but which journeys this indicates your audiences are on. Using this insight, you can then determine whether these journeys warrant additional content support either to amplify the success of your existing content or to guide the audience forward on the journey. If the content is rolling content – i.e. content that will be created against the same brief to fulfil a constant need – then this content consumption analysis will allow you to prioritise the journeys that are working best.

The editorial planning meetings are the ideal opportunity to review your audience journey plan to identify which journeys need more or fresh content. This may also throw up new catalysts and red threads that you to use that would create new journeys and therefore require fresh content.

Although some content marketing campaigns still stand alone from other marketing and customer engagement activities, with an audience journey plan in place integration becomes even more vital. Therefore, the editorial planning meetings should look at what content from which maps need to be used to support campaigns, events, social media as well as other ad hoc content requirements. Similarly, having analysed content consumption in relation to your audience journey plan you will also be able to consider using campaigns to support progress of your target audiences along their journeys.

Next come the practical considerations of what content will need to be created between now and the next editorial planning meeting. The end result of this will be the ability to create content briefs based on your audience journey plan – in other words that the content briefs will always be linked to aspects of the audience journey. Of course, that is not to say that ad hoc pieces of content cannot be planned and created. However, more often than not you will find that these can then be retrospectively placed within a journey when it is considered fully.

So in this stage you will be producing the list of content that needs to be created with clarity about which audience journeys these content items relate to. This could include brainstorming different types and approaches to content which will best engage the audience and work best within your various content platforms – e.g. website, social media platforms, etc. What is interesting is that by creating content briefs that ensure the content serves a defined purpose within the audience journey, you will be aiding the creative process. After all, the best creatives enjoy a clearly defined brief that they need to work to.

Finally comes the practical stage of assigning content to your internal and external teams for creation and reviewing the content that is already in the production process. This will include resource balancing, deadline review and so on.

The impact on your content production planning

For content marketers, shifting to an approach built around audience journey planning will transform the editorial planning process. In essence, production planning will have strategic outcome firmly embedded into the decision-making process around what content to produce next.

Today, the vast majority of content teams focus their planning efforts around the functional task of producing content – brainstorming ideas, discussing deadlines, assigning to content creators and reviewing budgets. All of these tasks are essential but do not in themselves ensure a laser-like focus on the target audience in terms of producing commercial benefits. Through an audience journey planning approach, the planning shifts from being a ‘list review’ and becoming more akin to a rolling strategic plan.

In turn, the briefs that are then generated are considerably more useful to the content creator. By being able to understand more about the target audience the brief is for and how the content fits into that audience’s journey, the content creator has far clearer parameters for the content they are trying to produce. This is regardless as to whether the content is an article, blog or social media post, video, photo or infographic. Additionally, as already mentioned above, this enhances the creative process as it is able to work within a fixed set of parameters based on a clear goal for the content.

As the content briefs are now richer, it is also more appropriate to embed within them within the production workflow. Currently this does not typically happen and yet it is does not make sense to review the content without understanding the original brief.

Finally, an audience journey planning foundation stops brands trying to incorrectly mimic the newsroom editorial process and in so doing overlook the commercial outcome by focussing too much on content production and leaving evaluation to periodic reviews.