No matter what type of marketing you do, we’d guess that this last year was, well, an adventure. You probably saw some solid wins and faced some fresh challenges, and now you’re facing a whole new year. But if there’s one thing we know for sure, it’s that starting a new year with a clean house and a strong strategy is the best way to succeed in marketing. And Q4 is the best time to do that legwork.
Luckily, whether you need to build something from scratch or realign your whole team, there are many simple things you can do to improve the way you work—and get the most from the work you do (especially if you’re one of the 67% of marketers who’ve been asked to do more with fewer resources).
That’s why we’ve compiled this handy list of 20 things you can do now to refocus and realign your content marketing operation for the new year.
How to Prepare for a New Year of Marketing
Whether you’re a two-person marketing team or a massive department, tackling these to-dos (to whatever degree you can) will help you work smarter and more effectively next year.
1) 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 to ensure that the things you plan to do in the new year are aligned.
Note: You shouldn’t only do this 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Tip: You may have a solid brand strategy in place, but we find our clients often have an incomplete or out-of-date strategy.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.
2) Make sure your goals are measurable.
We’re still shocked by how many people don’t document their content strategy—especially their goals. Without articulated goals, you have no North star to work toward. And if you do have goals, but they are vague and not easily measurable, it’s even more difficult to prove your success. (Without that demonstrated success, when it’s time to ask for more budget or buy-in on future projects, it will be that much harder to justify your ask.)
Tip: To get your goals on paper, see our free guide to set goals you can actually measure.
3) Make sure you’re measuring the right things.
Although your goals should be measurable, you don’t need to measure every single thing. (That’s a great way to paralyze yourself with data.) Focus only on the most insightful and relevant data—and make sure you have the infrastructure to gather it.
Tip: See our guide to choose the right metrics for your content strategy to identify the best things to measure.
4) 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.
5) Spend your remaining budget.
The end-of-year accounting mantra is always “use it or lose it.” If you haven’t used your whole budget, it’s time to spend it. 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 are10 ways to use it up.
6) Ask for more budget—the right way.
Budget is always a touchy subject, especially in these last few years. But if you can demonstrate a solid need, you may be surprised by the results. Whether you want to create more content next year, expand your team, or invest in some additional support, you simply have to approach your ask strategically.
Tip: Try these tips to get more budget next year.
7) Take a day to look at what your competitors are doing.
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 in their sites or social feeds (or realize that you’re creating content that is a lot better than theirs). 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 can help you document the similarities and differences you find.
8) 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 the 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.)
9) 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.
10) 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, buttons that don’t work—these are exasperating for both the user and the marketer. (We know this firsthand, as we’ve found broken links—or links to the wrong resource—on our site 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.
11) Clean up your own inbox.
Marketers are absolutely inundated with content, and clocking into an overwhelming inbox is not the best way to start your day. Feel free to go on a merciless unsubscribing spree to clear up your brain space and focus on consuming content that is actually valuable to you. If you have a “someday I’ll read this” folder with articles that are a year (or two) old, either take this time to read it or clean it out.
12) Subscribe to one new publication or podcast.
Once you’ve done your cleanup, search out new sources of inspiration. You don’t even have to subscribe—you can bookmark if you prefer. Again, the content you consume should always offer value. New ideas and inspiration are incredibly helpful to spark your creativity, which is probably waning as we head into the holidays.
13) Hold a postmortem.
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 this year’s marketing to identify what worked, what didn’t, and where you have the biggest opportunities to improve.
- What were the most and least successful pieces you published?
- 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 gives you the most ROI (e.g., e-books, articles, infographics, videos)?
While it’s easy to find flaws during this process, remember to celebrate everything your brand has accomplished, too. Even if you took a risk that didn’t pay off, you still tried something new.
Tip: See our guide to conduct a content audit.
14) Flag content to repurpose or reuse.
If you want to get more mileage from the work you’ve already done, look for low-lift ways to get fresh eyes on older content. You can repurpose that content into a different format or boost a campaign to increase visibility. This is especially helpful if you had a particularly successful piece of content. (See point 12.)
Tip: Going forward, find out how to use a divisible content strategy to maximize everything you create.
15) Share your end-of-year findings with other teams.
If this isn’t common practice, be vocal about what your department has been doing. This level of transparency is good for your company culture, helping other departments understand what exactly it is you, uh, do here.
For example, we create a quarterly report to 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—and help us get buy-in when we have ideas that involve people outside of the marketing department.
Tip: Coworkers in other departments can also inspire all sorts of great marketing. Follow our tips to turn them into content creators.
16) Optimize your content creation process.
A good content machine doesn’t work without the infrastructure to support it. Luckily, there are a lot of ways you can improve. Reassess your entire production process to identify pain points or inefficiencies that can be fixed in the new year.
Tip: See our guide to optimize your content creation process at every stage of production.
17) Poll people about what they want to know more about.
You have a whole year of content planning ahead of you, and sometimes you’re just plain out of ideas. In addition to your postmortem, ask your audience what they want to see directly. You might send out a poll in your newsletter or ask a daily question on Instagram.
18) Pick one new thing to try.
You don’t have to massively overhaul your content strategy to see better results overnight. (It’s unlikely you have the time or budget to do so anyhow.) But short, simple experiments can give you valuable data to improve your work. Whether you want to try a new format or storytelling style, incorporate one new thing into your content strategy for next year.
Tip: See our guide to run successful campaigns when you’re ready to experiment.
19) 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. Now you can prioritize those goals and translate them into some solid resolutions.
Tip: If you need inspiration, see our top 5 marketing resolutions to get started.
20) Use the right partner.
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.