The following Modern Marketing column by Evanne Schmarder, principal of Roadabode Productions, appears in March’s issue of Woodall’s Campground Management.

It’s no secret that businesses with a focused, written content marketing plan are more effective than those with a spoken plan, a plan existing only in their mind, or no plan at all.

Interestingly, only about one-quarter of respondents to my Digital Marketing Benchmark Study for Outdoor Hospitality 2016/17 have a written content marketing plan. And I must admit, I was a little surprised to discover that nearly two-thirds of participating park marketers are creating content either on the fly or a week or less in advance.

Some digital marketing content may be simple or easily developed — for example a reminder of an event or theme weekend or an invitation to subscribe to an e-newsletter. But digital marketing should drive goal-oriented results, not just an item to check off your daily to-do list. Other types of content, including marketing messages for Facebook, images for Instagram, text for a website, a few paragraphs for a blog, or a well-crafted email piece, are more challenging to pull off without a bit of foresight and planning. There’s the question of success and, inevitably, ROI.

Developing an actionable plan takes an abundance of time and effort; it’s no easy task. With some hard work, digging for details, and introspection I believe great strides can be made in regards to marketing outdoor hospitality.

How do you succeed?

Before your business can claim success, you must be crystal clear on what your specific definition of success looks like. Building a foundation, in the form of a content marketing plan, helps clarify the desired end result, making content marketing a series of targeted actions and reactions rather than posting haphazardly and hoping for the best.

This type of planning is critical and separates businesses that are marketing for growth and success from those that are simply online because that’s what’s being done these days.

If you are really serious about developing a content marketing plan that drives business (and relieves the “post something, anything syndrome) here’s where to start:

  • Get a notebook and a pen. Schedule time away from the operation and prepare to create a written plan. Make a pot of coffee and settle into a comfortable chair, this is going to take a while.
  • Take inventory of your current content program. What platforms are being used? How frequently is content posted/released? Are there goals for each content campaign/piece of content? If so, what are they? What results are being achieved? What conversations are taking place around your content or, if none, around your topic?
  • . Review success and statistics of paid campaigns, including social media and email marketing programs, based upon goals.
  • Clarify – really clarify – your program goals. What is the intended end result? This might not always be a bottom-line answer. Instead, it may be to create a conversation about the outdoors, increase engagement regarding specific topics, understand what customers want, need, and dislike, or develop a meaningful FAQ webpage.

Sure, you like to have a variety of customers — who doesn’t? — but always, there are specific demographics that make up your most viable (read: profitable) base. Those are the ones on which you should focus your time and money, just like you do with your facilities.

  • Identify your ideal customers. Create personas/avatars to understand who they are, how much money they make, their travel habits, what they like, what they do not want, where they spend time online, what (or who) influences them, what they spend money on, how they spend their free time. The clearer you are on your target market, the more directed the content plan.
  • Using all of the above steps, begin parsing the collected data. Is there an association between the customer base, the strategy, and the tactics being used or is there a disconnect?

Shape your program and develop your plan

Armed with an abundance of insight from the steps above, now is the time to begin shaping content and platforms.

Everyone knows that marketing is storytelling. Identify the story to be told about your business, its customers, property, and offerings. Is there a long family history in ownership? Have generations of families grown up around a park’s campfire? Are there local complimentary businesses that can enhance a customer’s experience?

Choose the digital platforms that best mesh with the previously determined personas/avatars.

Research competitors’ social media accounts and programs to glean insight into what appears to be working and take away lessons from their experiences. Remember, your competitors are any businesses that are directly competing for your customer’s discretionary travel budget.

Armed with the understanding of your goals, ideal customers, current program participation and results, what’s working (or not) for others, and your story, it’s time to think about tactics by creating a content calendar in writing.

To do that, you need to:

  • Identify ideal platforms to reach your audience.
  • Settle on posting frequency on each platform.
  • Consider who will be responsible for creating content, if there will be an approval or proofing process, who will post/release the content, and how the content will be tracked and measured.
  • Using a calendar, note the platforms, content topics, responsible parties, dates of release, cross-posting promotion, goals, and any other information that will be useful to facilitate and measure this program.
  • Schedule review time monthly to begin and quarterly once a baseline has been established.
  • Adjust the program according to goal-based results as needed. Before doing so, however, give the program time to work. Three months is a good starting point.

Great content marketing can excite customers, help broaden a market, boost online rankings, and assist in reaching goals and benchmarks. Poor content marketing steals precious time, drains energy, frustrates, and delivers substandard results.

Take the time to develop a detailed plan of action and execute. Base decisions on well-researched results. Help relieve the stress of yet another daily chore. Those enjoying the highest levels of digital marketing success plan well in advance and know what they are looking for. Do the work and you’ll have a plethora of data to inform your program and direct your actions. It’s smart modern marketing.