Content production is a system, not a goal. It’s a system for the creation of information for a defined audience. It involves working out who you want to speak to, and what you want them to do. As such, your content strategy should always lead your content production system.
Common goals for a content production system is to build awareness, leads and sales. The type of content you produce needs to meet one of those goals. That’s true for written content, video, or illustration. This is also true for wherever someone consumes that content—online or offline.
The type of content you are producing will determine how you produce it. You can define content according to its format—like a blog, or an article, or a video. But it’s more useful to define content by the action you want your audience to take after consuming it. If you define content by its results, it becomes a lot easier to measure it and understand whether it is working for you.
On this page we’ll explain the different types of content followed by:
- the aims of content production;
- the roles needed to produce content;
- content production formats;
- plans and schedules;
- and ways of solving problems you encounter while producing content.
The three types of content
There are three main types of content. They are cornerstone content, gated content, and evolving content.
Cornerstone content is content that attempts to cover a single topic in a definitive way. The goal of cornerstone content is often thought leadership. You produce it to establish your authority with your audience.
Gated content is content that can be exchanged for something (like contact information). You produce gated content to establish a connection with an audience.
Evolving content is a stream of regularly produced content. It may take the form of a series of blog posts, or regular news reports, or regular episodes of a program. You produce evolving content to create awareness of you among your intended audience.
How much of each content type should you produce?
The actual amount of content you need to produce varies from company to company, and industry to industry. A short answer to is to say you should only produce the minimum amount of content you need to achieve your desired results. But that isn’t satisfactory for a lot of people.
It may be easier to think of how much content you should produce for each content type. Cornerstone content should be thoughtful and authoritative. So it would take a long time to produce. As a result, you wouldn’t try to produce too much of it, as it would be a large drain on resources. By its nature, cornerstone content demands the greatest resources of any content type. Those resources may be time, or knowledge—but thought leadership requires a lot of both.
Gated content doesn’t have to be as definitive as cornerstone content to achieve its aims. Of course, it can be. But because the aim of gated content is to establish a connection. So more pieces of less-definitive content could serve this purpose.
Evolving content requires regular production. The aim of evolving content is to create awareness. You do that by creating and distributing new content on a regular basis. If your potential audience is aware that you are doing that, they may become curious to find out more about you.
To read more about content production, click on the following stories.
The aim of content production
The aim of content marketing is to create an audience and convince them to buy something. But the aim of content production is much narrower.
The aim of content production is to connect with an individual audience member. The content is still distributed to a large number of people who make up that audience. But it addresses the interests, problems and hopes of each individual in that audience.
Understanding that fundamental point makes a huge difference to the effectiveness of content. If the goal of the content is to spur some action by an individual, it needs to address an individual. It’s the difference between speaking at someone and speaking with them. The individual you are addressing is represented by your marketing personas. Those personas are developed as part of your content strategy.
The way to connect to an individual is to create content that is either entertaining, education, informative, or all mix of all three. Entertaining content connects with people on an emotional level. Educational content connects on an intellectual level. And informative content connects on an attentional level.
Emotional / entertaining content
If you aim is to connect with an audience on a emotional level, you should be producing content about people. Emotional content often takes the form of some kind of story (but doesn’t have to). It will often include a lot of descriptive language around the five senses. That’s because we experience and express emotion through our senses. If you describe a response in terms of things you see, hear, taste, touch or smell, readers will ‘feel’ the emotions associated with those senses.
Educational / intellectual content
If your aim is to educate your audience, you should be producing content describing processes or analysis of data. It is data, evidence and structured argument that differentiate educational content from opinion. An opinion piece, by the way, may be based on your personal or professional experience. But without data backing up its claims, it is not really educational content. It’s emotional. It’s about a person—you. The difference between an educational story and an entertaining one is objectivity versus subjectivity.
Informative / attentional content
Informative content gets a reader’s attention because of currency, novelty, and relevance. News is a great example of informative content. The daily news is about things that have recently happened (novelty). It is reported as soon as possible (currency). If you can deliver informative content that is relevant to an audience, they’ll reward your effort with their attention.
Any one of those types of content can get attention. Attention is a limited resource, however, so the content needs to make a promise to the audience, and deliver on it.
Here are some more articles that go into greater depth around content writing and content production:
Content production roles and responsibilities
The main roles involved in each stage of producing a piece of content start with coming up with the idea behind it. Then you have to present it for an audience. Finally, you have to make sure it’s accurate, and says what you intended it to say.
It’s a good idea to document those team roles, so each member of your content team knows what’s expected of them, and when it’s expected.
You can break those tasks down to writing, design & production, and editing.
The role of writing in content production
Writing begins any content production process. Writing is always the beginning, whether you intend to make a video or a blog or a piece of street art. The act of writing translates the goals of your content strategy into a tactic to engage an audience.
Some people find writing difficult. There are many reasons for that. It’s common for people to get bogged down in detail when they’re writing. They stop mid-sentence, and try to rewrite what they have written. Or they spend an hour trying to think of the perfect sentence that will express their thought.
Professional writers don’t do that. They just get the words down on paper (or on the screen, as the case may be). Then when they’ve finished, they expect to rewrite what they’ve written. And rewrite it again.
Everyone is intimidated by the act of writing. Because they compare themselves to writers they consider to be great. They are looking at their writing as an audience member. But when you approach writing as a writer, you don’t expect it to be great the moment it lands on the page. It requires redrafting and rewriting. And after that, it often requires further help from production experts or designers and editors before the finished product is as good as it can be.
The role of design and production
All content, from the humblest blog to a feature-length movie or book, goes through a production process. If the content is consumed online, it will be presented by a UX and/or UI designer. If it’s in print, it will be presented by a graphic designer. If it’s a video, someone has to film it and record the sound.
While good design is often invisible to an audience, that doesn’t mean it’s not there. While a UX designer does a very different job to, say, a cameraman, there is one key thing they have in common. They are looking at ways to visually represent an idea.
Great design and production always starts with the ideas expressed by the writer. Designers and production people then bring their visual vocabulary to bear on that idea, which reinforces the communication. For example, if you wrote a script about the quality of a product, you wouldn’t then shoot a video based on that script on your iPhone.
The role of editing in content production
Editors play a number of important roles in content production. On a micro level, they are checking things like spelling, expression and sense in a piece of writing. On a macro level, they are looking at what a writer is trying to say, and whether they are achieving those goals.
For video or audio production, the editor might be assembling the final version of a story from raw footage or audio, and based on a script. If that’s the case, their role is the same, even if the tasks they do are different. They are still the bridge between the writer and the audience.
It’s common for people to think, “I have a spell-check on my computer, I don’t need an editor”. And it’s true that there are some digital tools that will make checking your own writing a little easier. While some of these tools are quite sophisticated, none of them can check whether your writing makes sense.
It’s impossible to edit your own work, because your brain knows what you wanted to say. As an efficiency machine, it will force you to see what you meant, rather than what you actually wrote. An editor is the only person who can help you overcome that problem.
The best editing is invisible to readers. Even better editing is invisible to writers.
Here are a few more articles that offer in depth advice around content writing, design and editing:
Content production for digital publishing
Beyond the basic principles of writing, designing or producing, and editing, there are specific production concerns for individual platforms.
If your content is going to appear on a website, it should also be optimised on the page for search engines. Many years ago, this would involve trying to slip many target keywords into the text. This practice, called “keyword stuffing”, isn’t necessary now. In fact, it can earn you a penalty.
Search engines would prefer you write your content with people in mind. They argue that if lots of people like and trust your content, the rankings will follow naturally. But you should still pay attention to your use of keywords in a couple of key places in your articles. The use of those keywords helps search engines understand what your content is about. That, in turn, helps them serve it to people who are searching.
The keyword you target in any given piece of content depends on the type of content it is. If you’re producing cornerstone content, you would target a shorter keyword or phrase (like “red shoes” for example). If it’s a blog entry, you might target a longer, more specific keyword phrase (like “red running shoes for men”, or “The Red Shoes korean horror film”).
There are various online tools you can use that read your web pages in the same way a search engine would. Most tell you (via a traffic light system) if it is optimised. The best known is Yoast, which is a plugin available for WordPress and Drupal sites. Often on-page SEO checkers are included in marketing automation software like HubSpot or Marketo.
Content production for video and audio
The advantage of video and audio content is it can catch an audience member’s attention in a variety of ways that the written word can’t. Soothing sounds or images followed by sudden, unexpected sounds or images, can grab attention in a way the written word can’t.
The disadvantage of content production for video and audio is it requires specific equipment such as cameras, microphones and video or audio editing software. The costs of both this equipment and the expertise needed to use it correctly may be prohibitive for some businesses. Buying good quality equipment can be expensive, and it’s misleading to think you can get away with just using your smartphone.
The microphone on your smartphone doesn’t pick up good enough quality audio to make your content look professional. To rely on it for both audio and video can render all the work you’ve done developing scripts and concepts useless.
The extra time, cost and expertise needed for video and audio production can also be an advantage. Bringing extra people and ideas into your production process can make your content more interesting and engaging than it would have been otherwise. More engaging content will build you a larger audience.
If your company can monetise that audience in multiple ways, and your strategy allows for that, then the extra investment required for this type of content is worthwhile.
Content production for print and apps
Both print publications and apps for tablets and smartphones are often described as “lean-back” media. What’s meant by that is, they are media that is consumed at leisure, with the full attention of their audience. Research conducted into custom magazines by McNair Ingenuity found that audiences devote, on average, 39.7 minutes reading time to their favourite custom magazines (including one for the Restaurant & Catering Association published by Engage). It’s unusual to get that amount of undivided attention from any other media. It’s not as easy to read a magazine while watching a TV show or reading something else.
The production of print magazines requires knowledge and experience. Most businesses that use print magazines as part of their marketing arsenal tend to contract specialist agencies to produce them. Magazines are expensive to print and mail. They also require a staff of at least an editor, a designer, and a sub-editor or proofreader, as well as a budget for writers and photographers.
Publishers and publishing agencies spread those costs across many publications. They often supplement the costs with advertising revenue. It’s difficult to cover those costs when you’re targeting a single audience.
The production of an app requires all the skills mentioned above, along with developer accounts (with Apple and Google) and some kind of platform to publish on. There are a number of different app platform providers, including Adobe, Zinio, PixelMags, and many others. They all come at different price points and offer different levels of interactivity for readers.
The problem with apps currently lies in their distribution. Distribution is controlled by either Apple (through the App Store) or Google (through Google Play). There is currently no automatic way of tracking app usage by an individual user—or even knowing exactly who your individual users are. So at present it’s difficult to measure the effectiveness of the platform.
Your promotional prospects are also limited, as the app stores from both Google and Apple are more like search engines than shops. Browsing is an awkward experience for the user. Much better results are achieved if you know exactly what you’re looking for.
Here are a few more articles that offer advice on content production.
Creating a content production plan
A content production plan tells you what you’ll be publishing. It is different to a content strategy which is a document outlining your marketing personas, expected goals and tactics for achieving those goals.
A content production plan is a map of where each individual piece of content you produce will sit in an ideal customer’s sales journey from awareness to advocacy.
It requires predetermined personas, along with an idea of what problems those personas may be trying to solve; your products or services that solve that problem; and an idea of how you can exceed their expectations. The plan will then map out each of those stages and indicate what sort of content will help a customer through them.
The main types of content you will be planning matches three stages of the buyer’s journey—awareness, consideration and conversion.
Mapping your personas to content to lifecycle stage
Part of the process of developing marketing personas involves identifying the problems people are trying to solve by using your products or services. Once you’ve done that, your content production plan matches ideas for individual pieces of content to those problems.
For example, you might be selling school holiday computer coding workshops. One of your marketing personas will be working mothers with children under the age of 12. One of their problems is trying to find school holiday activities that take up a whole day. Another more specific problem is finding an activity that is beneficial to their kids.
So you may plan to produce some awareness content around all-weather activities for kids in the school holidays. You may also produce some consideration content on the skills a child develops learning to code. Finally, you would produce some conversion content on why your particular coding workshops are unique and beneficial.
The content production plan aligns each of those pieces of content to a stage in the customer journey. Awareness content leads to consideration content, which leads to conversion content. A plan like this should be produced for every marketing persona you are targeting.
There are no hard and fast rules as to how much content you need to produce for each stage of the customer journey. But it makes sense to produce more consideration content than conversion, and more awareness content than consideration.
To be safe, work backwards. For every piece of conversion content, produce two pieces of consideration content and four pieces of awareness content.
By clearly planning a content-led customer journey, it becomes easier to track and measure the effectiveness of each individual bit of content.
Creating a content production schedule
A content production schedule tells you when you’ll be publishing each bit of content you produce. A content production schedule is also sometimes called an editorial calendar. It’s useful for both your customers and your team, as it sets each piece of content you produce on a timeline.
One of the most important aspects of content marketing is publishing on a regular basis. It is easier for your audience to build trust in you if you are publishing on a regular schedule. That’s why magazines come out at the same time each month, and why TV and radio programs air at the same time each week.
A content production schedule also helps you maintain consistency with your marketing efforts. Once you’ve drawn up your content production plan, you need to determine when you want to publish each piece of content. You also need to estimate how it will take you to produce each piece.
Your schedule can also indicate where and when you want to promote each piece of content. For example, you may plan to publish two pieces of content every week. Your schedule can ensure that one of those pieces is awareness content, where the other one might be either consideration or conversion content. You can see if you’re publishing too much of one type of content, and see when you need to start producing more so you maintain consistency.
An important part of your production schedule is working out the different deadlines for writing, editing and designing as well as publishing.
Click here to download an editorial schedule generator—you just enter your deadline, and it will create a production schedule for you.
Creating a content production workflow
The final piece of the content production puzzle is a content workflow. This is a system for storing and retrieving content at each stage of your production plan. It is a step-by-step guide to what happens when that can be followed by every member of a content production team, no matter what size that team is.
There is workflow management software you can buy that helps you do this. Workflow functionality is also built into various content management systems. However, I have always found the easiest and cheapest workflow is just a numbered series of folders on your computer. Each folder is numbered. The first folder might be for story ideas. The second might be for copy received or written. The third might be for edited copy, and so on.
The image below shows the content production workflow for a magazine. Each member of the team can see at a glance whether there is work waiting for them in each folder. And each team member knows where their responsibilities lie in the production system.
Your content production workflow makes your production plan and your schedule work together. Without a workflow, your plan and schedule can fall apart rapidly. That will have an impact on the effectiveness of any marketing campaigns you are running.
Managing Content Production problems
Even the best laid content plans can run up against unforeseen problems. Some of these problems may be out of your control, but most of them aren’t. Documenting and tracking your content production allows you to mitigate against these problems. Then you can deal with them quickly if they arise.
Some of the problems you may run across include issues around privacy, defamation, copyright, and plagiarism. There are also factors out of your control, such as distribution issues, and issues with external suppliers.
These problems can appear catastrophic if your content is produced in an ad-hoc and disorganised manner. However, if it is produced as part of a robust system, the content production process can continue while the crisis is being dealt with.
One of the other content production issues faced is finding good help. Identifying good content writers, whether freelance or for an in-house role, can be tricky. You can’t do everything yourself, so having a system in place to find and keep talent is important.
Here are a few more articles that offer advice on managing problems you might face in the process of content production, and ways to solve them: