Every year brings something new in content marketing, and 2020 brought a lot. As our industry navigated an unprecedented global pandemic, and we all figured out how to navigate it within our own companies, it was a pretty challenging year.
Obviously, we’re looking forward to better things in 2021—and thinking about what we can all do to make it a better marketing year. The good news is that, while there are always larger forces beyond our control, there are plenty of things we can do to set ourselves up for success next year, and now is the perfect time to do them.
That’s why we’ve compiled this simple checklist to help you start 2021 off on the right foot. These tips will help you refocus and realign your content marketing operation in both big and small ways, giving you a strong foundation to build on going forward.
[bctt tweet=”Want to work smarter, not harder in 2021? Better start planning in 2020. ” username=”columnfive”]
How to Prep for the End of Year
Before we dive in, remember that the holidays can come in full force, so it’s smart to start planning a little early. Read through this checklist, then think about tackling one or two of these tasks a week through the end of the year. That way you can think critically and intentionally about your goals without the end-of-December pressure. (Good luck!)
1) Take a look back.
When you’re working on content marketing day in, day out, it’s hard to take a step back and look at your efforts as a whole. That’s why it’s helpful to do a proper review of every aspect of your marketing, from your publishing to your promotion, to identify what worked, what didn’t, and where you have the biggest opportunities to improve.
It’s especially important to do this for your content, whether you published a few pieces this year or an article every day. As part of your year-end review, ask:
- What were the most and least successful pieces?
- What did the most successful pieces have in common?
- What subjects did people gravitate toward?
- What formats worked best?
- How can you improve or experiment going forward?
- What content gets you the most mileage for the effort you put in (e.g., e-books vs. articles, infographics vs. videos)?
While it’s easy to find flaws during this process, remember to celebrate everything your brand has accomplished this year, too. Even if you took a risk that didn’t pay off, you still tried something new.
Tip: We create a quarterly marketing report to share with our whole company. This helps us track our progress, share our wins, deconstruct our fails, and keep people in the loop about what we’re doing. At the end of the year, these reports give us a holistic snapshot of our content marketing success.
2) Audit your tools.
With so many tools available, marketers have plenty of support. But success relies on choosing the right tools for you.
- Is everything working the way you need it to?
- Are you using everything consistently?
- Are there more efficient tools or resources that can combine tasks?
- Is there something you’ve wanted to experiment with?
A proper audit will help you identify areas where you may be wasting your budget or can use it more effectively.
Tip: If you’re not sure what tools you might add to your arsenal, check out these 100+ tools and resources to improve your content marketing.
3) Spend your remaining budget.
The accounting mantra for the end of year is always “use it or lose it.” So, if you haven’t used your whole budget, it’s time to get to spending. Whether you want to create some seasonal content or experiment with a new tool (as we just mentioned), make the most of your remaining budget to help you hit your goals.
Tip: If you’re looking for opportunities to spend your budget, here are 10 ways to use it up.
4) Check in on your competitors.
If you want to know how to strategize for the new year, it’s good to catch up on what other people are doing (or have done) well. You may find some good inspiration (or some stuff to avoid entirely). Either way, knowing what competitors are doing will help you strategize effectively.
- Did your competitors do anything particularly unusual or unique this year?
- How does their content compare to yours?
- How are you positioning yourself differently?
Tip: To help you assess your competitors, check out our competitive analysis template. The questions outlined there can help you document the similarities and differences you find.
5) Check in with inactive contacts.
In the spirit of out with the old, in with the new, it might be time to let go of some ineffective practices—and contacts. After all, content marketing isn’t about quantity; it’s about quality. Also, most marketing automation software charges by number of contacts, so cleaning out unengaged subscribers can be cost effective.
Give people an opportunity to stay or go with a simple check-in email.
- Use a distinct subject line like “Still want to keep in touch?” or “Are we breaking up?”
- Emphasize that you love sending stuff their way, but acknowledge that you want to be respectful of their time and energy.
- Include two buttons: one to stay subscribed and one to unsubscribe.
Tip: Chances are your inactive people won’t open the email, in which case you might want to check in with them once a quarter or twice a year. (We count inactives as people who haven’t opened an email in 2 months.)
6) Check in with engaged subscribers.
Naturally, you want to provide the best experience for the people who are happy and willing to stay with you. Use this time to check in and send well wishes. (The holidays are a great excuse for this.)
- Let them know you appreciate their support this year.
- Ask for feedback/ideas about how you can help them or provide the content they need.
- Tease exciting things you have in the works (if you do).
This is a great excuse to stop “marketing” and remind people you’re here for them and care about providing real value.
Tip: You might also want to send a recap or roundup of your best pieces of content.
7) Revisit your Brand Strategy.
A lot of things can happen throughout the year that shift your strategy in one direction or another. A product launch, a company change, a surprise announcement—these are all things that need to be immediately addressed, but they can also nudge you a little off course.
Everything you do in marketing should be in support of your brand strategy, so it’s important to review your current strategy and goals, and ensure that the things you plan to do in the new year align to it.
Note: Don’t do this only at the end of the year. Get into the practice of reviewing your brand strategy once a quarter to make sure your team’s efforts are on track.
Tip: You may have a solid brand strategy in place, but we find our clients often have an incomplete or out-of-date strategy. If you fall into this camp, see our brand strategy toolkit and guide to create a strong strategy that supports your brand long term.
8) Check for broken things.
There are all sorts of things that can detract from your brand experience, and it’s often the little things that can turn someone away or diminish your brand in their eyes. Broken links, 404s, contact buttons that don’t work—these are exasperating for both the user and the marketer. (We know this firsthand, as we’ve found typos on our landing pages and linked to the wrong resource more times than we’d like to admit.)
If you have some extra time as things are winding down, take a day to double and triple check landing pages, contact info, ads, functionality, and all those other seemingly small (but very big) things.
9) Make your resolutions.
A new year is an exciting opportunity to start fresh, and now is the time to get a jump on your planning. If you’ve completed your end-of-year retrospective you should have some ideas for how you can improve, which will be incredibly valuable as you build your strategy.
Tip: As you start planning for next year, craft a strategy that provides a strong foundation but is flexible enough to adapt if things change.
- Put your strategy on paper. Download our guide to build a content strategy.
- Get out of your comfort zone. Let your team have a chance to dream big or think outside the box.
- Mix it up. Beyond coming up with fresh ideas, try experimenting with different visual content formats too. You may be surprised by what resonates with your crowd.
And remember, too, that you can only bring your strategy to life if you have the infrastructure to support. For more tips, find out how to build the right content team and optimize your content creation process.
10) Stay updated.
Things change quickly, especially in digital marketing. Keeping up with trends, news, and tech is crucial to help your brand become a leader. (For example, this year we saw Instagram launch Reels. Brands that were quick to experiment with it got more eyes on their content—with less competition—helping them expand their reach.)
The more you know, the more you can prepare your brand to make the right moves for you now and in the long term.
Tip: Think about what you want to learn more about, and subscribe to the publications or resources that can guide you. (Of course, feel free to subscribe to us.)
One Final Tip
Look for content marketing support if you need it. While there are plenty of things you can do in-house, outside eyes can offer some refreshing insights. That said, a good content marketing agency is a collaborative partner, and not every agency will be the right fit. Follow these tips to find a good content agency, and if you have anything you want to chat about, hit us up. We’d love to help you make next year your best.