Death of the Content Calendar: Embracing Modern Content Strategy

By: Blake Bowyer, Executive Director

In 2019, let’s write the eulogy for content calendars.

You probably have three out for review right now, but hear me out. The world will need content strategists, they just won’t think in 30-day increments. A scheduling tool became the strategy – and it’s time to move on.

Why should we kick calendars to the curb? Two things:

  1. The Trendjacking Trap
  2. Post-Organic Acceptance

Let’s talk about them.

The Trendjacking Trap

Everyone knows the Monday after Thanksgiving is Cyber Monday – the Super Bowl of e-commerce. It drove nearly $6.6 billion in sales last year, according to Adobe (#client).

In 2017, it was also Bavarian Cream Pie Day, which you probably didn’t know – and Craft Jerky Day. This is probably news to you, unless you manage a content calendar. Typically, these ‘holidays’ are harmless trends that fade into oblivion within 10-12 hours. But they’ve become a crutch for content managers – a shortcut to ideas.

In 2012, Oreo’s Daily Twist ushered in an era where brands followed the Internet’s lead. Rather than craft original messages, social teams dug deep into the nooks of the Web to find anything to glom onto. It was virtually perfected 6 years ago.

The problem? It’s still in broad practice today.

Most social content is still planned with a calendar mindset using loose “content pillars” to justify weak ideas and fake, forgettable trends. High-volume moments can be used as platforms, but few brands should be celebrating Eat A Hoagie Day (Sept. 14th).

There are obvious pitfalls – saturation, banality, lameness – but it also cripples resourcing. It tempts brands to over-publish and dilute content quality. Buffer tried to put this to rest in the past 18 months by experimenting with publishing and saw increased reach with lower volume.

The calendar created a lot of bad habits. A red flag is if this ever comes up: How can we fill that gap?

Post-Organic Acceptance

A calendar approach also assumes content’s lifecycle is measured in days. In reality, it’s been years since that was true. We’re finally at the point where (most) marketers accept a Post-Organic reality – but strategies are lagging. Many are using a dunk-in-the-dark approach in a shot-in-the-dark world.

Content isn’t a moment-in-time when paid media is mandatory. We determine the lifecycle of content, making distribution strategy as important as content strategy. More than that, it allows us to drive action from audiences in targeted ways. Rather than relying on dormant social footprints built in the past, we can focus on relevant reach. Today, tomorrow, and so on.

Even when we try to game algorithms for organic only (like Facebook Live-ing everything), we’re cheapening content. Earned-first ideas amplified by paid is a better formula.

Ask yourself two questions: 1) Is my story good? 2) Is my story shareable? If yes, get it in front of people! Your audience doesn’t care about dates.

So what?

If the calendar is broken, what do we do? We become strategists as adept in distribution as we are in content. We tell brand stories amplified with smart paid.

The power of stories is well-established. Stories are a bedrock of societies, they’re key to influencing people to cooperate (buy things), and our brains respond to stories in a unique way. We can’t orient content around a narrative with a blank calendar. Storytelling is sequential, tying message back message, not back to dates.

To reframe our thinking, we use a Content Compass that structures planning around a core narrative. This grounds content strategy in four factors that make it consumer-centric:

  • Cultural Zeitgeist: What’s going on in your consumer’s world right now?
  • Consumer Mindset: How do your consumers feel about what’s going on?
  • Brand Aspiration: What does your brand want to be in their eyes?
  • Consumer Takeaway: What should they remember from your story?

This fosters an idea-first approach grounded in relevant stories rather than gimmicks. From there, identify the channels and media that will deliver your stories to the people you want. This goes beyond budgeting dollars by post with discrete dates. It uses a master fund that’s fluid based on reach, frequency, and resonance (or a specific type of conversion). This makes more sense when you’re thinking in narratives rather than posts.

When it’s time to plan your next round of content, start with a compelling narrative and build in smart distribution. Great stories don’t die, but even the best content calendars are on life support.