Benjamin Franklin once said “Failing to plan is planning to fail,” and when it comes to content and media, truer words have never been spoken.
Until 2020, that is.
But, although 2020 saw some of the most unprecedented global events, 2021 continued to put content and media teams to the test.
In fact, 99% of content planners, strategists, or marketers who have ever pivoted their strategy say some of their pivots happened in 2021.
Unsurprisingly, the #1 reason they gave for this was the global pandemic.
To make matters more complicated, 39% of those who pivoted in 2021 changed their content plan a whopping three times throughout the year.
Despite all that turbulence, 62% of media planners say their content performed better than their goals in 2021. And, if anything, 2020 and 2021 taught marketing teams how important content planning and re-planning is.
To get a sense of how marketers planned or pivoted their way through such an unpredictable year and how they will approach media planning in 2022, we surveyed 600+ media planners to gather data on their goals, strategies, the tools they use, and how they met the unique challenges of 2021.
Curious about some strategies and insights specifically? Click below to jump to the section you’d like to read first.
Top Goals of Media and Content Planning
As you can see below, engaging and growing new audiences, maximizing the ROI of their content, and understanding which channels or platforms their audience spends the most time on are top priorities for media planners and content marketers in 2022.
But which strategies are most effective to achieve these goals?
Media and Content Planning Strategies
The Most Effective Media Planning Strategies
The top strategies media planners and content marketers charged with planning use are conducting market research to understand their target demographic and find the most effective channels to reach them, leveraging media planning templates, and running content audits.
Unsurprisingly, these tactics line up fairly well with the top goals, which include growing audiences with content and targeting the right marketing channels.
Media planners also rated setting a clearly defined budget (57%), analyzing the results of your content strategy (57%), clearly defining goals/KPIs (55%), and using a calendar to schedule content (48%) as the most effective media planning strategies they use.
To accomplish most of these, marketers can leverage media planning templates, a strategy I’ll talk about in more detail later.
Ultimately, all of the above strategies are highly effective and will see significantly increased use and investment in 2022. As you move forward in planning, you’ll want to consider a mix of them rather than just running with one or two tactics.
Next, let’s dive a litter deeper into each major planning strategy and opportunity.
Market and Demographic Research
- 64% of media planners who use it say it is the most effective media planning strategy they leverage.
- 16% of all media planners will invest more in this than any other strategy in 2022.
- 70% of media planners who do channel research say it is the most effective media planning strategy they leverage (the highest of any strategy.)
- 22% of all media planners will invest more in it than any other strategy in 2022.
While technically the second-most-effective strategy, I decided to bring this one up first because understanding the demographics of your target audience isn’t just critical for proper media planning, but essential for any marketing strategy to succeed.
You can examine a wide range of data including age, location, education, and income to start building buyer personas, which are fictional representations of your ideal customers that you can cater your content towards. And here’s the best part – you likely already have most of this data available to you for free.
Of course, you could also conduct market research studies of your own, or go through an outside agency for a more holistic view of your industry.
But in terms of media planning, I’d argue that knowing which channels your audience is spending their time on is just as important as knowing who your audience is.
Channel and Platform Research
Learning about your audience doesn’t just stop at personas or demographics.
In 2021, 43% of media planners conducted market research to find the most effective channels for reaching their targets. This percentage will grow significantly in 2022, with 53% planning to leverage it for the first time.
The data above isn’t too shocking. Before you know how much of your budget to invest in each area of your media mix, you’ll want to get an idea of which channels your target audience spends their time on.
You can also benefit from using your own data by looking at which channels are most effective at helping you meet your specific goals. But, you should also leverage outside research as it can provide crucial demographic data on the specific channels you use.
For example, in our 2022 Social Media Report and survey, we found that younger audiences like Millennials and Gen Z prefer shorter video content that is funny, trendy, and reflects a brand’s values – on platforms like TikTok and Instagram.
Meanwhile, Baby Boomers prefer interactive/educational content such as interviews/podcasts/expert discussions, and live videos, with Facebook being their platform of choice.
These facts will help you plan out your media mix by giving you insight on critical questions, such as whether your demographic is embracing social shopping tools on platforms like Instagram or other platforms.
Once the research is complete, media planners are using templates to help allocate and organize their media mix with maximum efficiency.
Media Planning Templates
Media planning templates are leveraged by 40% of media planners and 46% of them say it is the most effective strategy they use to reach their business goals.
The use of media planning templates will see significant growth in 2022 as 39% plan to leverage them for the first time and 11% of all media planners will invest more in templates than any other strategy.
There are a wide variety of media planning templates to choose from, all designed with a different purpose, but ultimately they exist to help you track, plan, organize, distribute, and analyze all your media content.
The most popular templates are social media strategy templates that help you align your media content with your audience and analytics and reporting templates for Excel, PowerPoint, and Google Drive that make the processes of pulling, organizing, and sharing data simple.
Luckily, HubSpot has both of those templates available for you to download right now, with a handful of others that may also come in handy.
Once their media plans are fully organized and executed, marketers are leveraging content audits to analyze their performance and inform their future content plans.
Running content audits to inform media planning strategy is used by 37% of media planners and is the third-most-effective tactic for media planners to reach their business goals.
- A whopping 81% of media planners who run audits say they have been effective for reaching their business goals and 67% say the results of their content audits have had a moderate to significant impact on their media planning strategy.
- The use of content audits will grow significantly in 2022 as 37% plan to leverage them for the first time and 15% of all media planners will invest more in content audits than any other strategy.
So what are the goals of a content audit?
By analyzing the performance of the content you create, you get insights on what exceeded expectations, what falls flat, and why
Identifying content gaps is the #1 objective of content audits, but that doesn’t mean it has to be hard. Here’s a guide on how to run a simple content audit specifically to find and fill those content gaps.
Identifying issues with your website and improving the user experience is another highly effective strategy for driving traffic to your web content, improving SERP ranking, and increasing engagement. In our survey of 400 web traffic analysts, we found that web analysts who reported an effective website strategy in 2021 were 25% more likely to optimize their website for loading speed.
If you’re still not convinced to audit your content, we also asked media planners about the biggest benefits they’ve seen from auditing. Here’s a graph with the results:
How often should you run a content audit?
Most media planners who run content audits do so on a monthly or quarterly basis. If you’re ready to start auditing your content, you can either create your own template or use this one from HubSpot.
Not only did we craft it ourselves, but 46% of media planners who use templates for content audits use it, making it the most popular third-party template. Our data also shows that 86% of those who use HubSpot’s template say content audits have been effective for reaching their overall business goals, so you should give it a shot.
Which Channels Marketers Use in Their Media Mix
The top channels media planners leverage are paid and organic social media content, email marketing, and organic search.
As this data is directly in line with our previous marketing research, here are a few quick bullets on each:
- Email marketing is the most leveraged media channel used by 1 in 2 media planners and will continue to grow this year with 22% planning to leverage it for the first time. Email marketing has the 3rd highest ROI of any channel.
- Paid social media content is used by 47% of media planners and has the highest ROI and highest engagement of any channel. Channel usage will grow significantly in 2022 as 14% of all media planners plan to invest more in it than any other channel and 25% plan on leveraging it for the first time this year.
- Organic social media content is used by 43% of media planners and will continue to grow this year with 22% planning to leverage it for the first time and 9% planning to invest more in it than any other channel in 2022. Organic social has the 2nd highest ROI and 2nd highest engagement levels of any channel.
- Organic search is leveraged by 36% of media planners and 45% of them say it has the highest ROI of any channel they use. It will grow in 2022 with 23% of media planners planning to leverage organic search for the first time.
- 84% of media planners leverage a mix of organic and paid media.
But, what’s the ideal media mix look like? Check out this helpful guide with even more data.
The Benefits and Challenges of Media Planning
The Benefits of Content and Media Planning
Media planning can help you organize, plan, and analyze your content, but what are the biggest benefits marketers get from having a dedicated content plan? Here’s a breakdown of our survey results:
One interesting theme to note above is that the top three benefits relate to understanding channels, where your audience is, or where and how to target them. From what we’ve seen over the past decade, the secret to effective, ROI-generating marketing or content is understanding and knowing where to meet your targets.
So, while the idea of media planning might seem daunting in times when plans constantly change – it’s still incredibly valuable, worth your time, and is likely to return on its investment.
Ultimately, the work you do as a media or content planner will teach you how and when to create new content, when to pivot, or how to effectively change course in times where competitors are struggling to understand changing consumer thoughts and behaviors.
Media Planning Challenges
For all its benefits, media planning also comes with some challenges. Here are the biggest challenges marketers face with media planning:
Determining the most effective media mix is an incredibly important aspect of media planning, but also the one media planners struggle with the most. Check out this article for tips on optimizing your media mix.
Aside from finding the most effective media mix, a limited budget is the second biggest challenge media planners face, so let’s take a look at some data on content marketing budgets.
Budgeting Your Content Marketing Efforts
How Much of Your Budget Should Go to Content Marketing?
Chances are you already have a budget dedicated to content marketing, but if you don’t, it may be a good idea to join the 94% of media planners who do.
The real question is how much of your total marketing budget should go to content marketing, so here’s a look at our results:
Half of brands spend under 50% of their marketing budget on content, with 72% of media planners saying the primary brand they work with spends between 20%-60% of their total marketing budget on content marketing.
Where Marketers Invest Their Content Marketing Budget
So, how much is that content budget we just discussed above? Here’s a look at how much marketing departments delegate to content.
- 1 in 4 brands have a quarterly content marketing budget under $40K
- 38% of brands have a quarterly content marketing budget between $40K-$100K, while 35% have a budget over $100K.
With your budget in mind, let’s take a look at how often you should be creating a media plan and how far in advance to start laying the groundwork for your content strategy.
Timing Your Media Plan
How Often Should You Create A Media Plan?
Nearly half of media planners create a media plan for their primary brand once per quarter:
Whichever cadence works best for you, you’ll also need to start your planning process ahead of time. Let’s find out how far in advance marketers are creating their media plans.
How Far in Advance Should You Start Formulating Your Media Plan?
According to our survey, 41% of media planners will change their media mix in 2022, but how far ahead will they start planning?
Over 80% of media planners formulate their strategies less than 4 months ahead of time.
Another crucial piece of formulating your media plan will be the tools you use, so let’s look at which tools marketers find the most effective.
Content Planning & Marketing Tools
Here’s a chart showing the biggest benefits of leveraging media planning tools:
Another tool leveraged by 78% of media planners is automation, here’s what content strategists and media planners use it for:
Pivoting Your Content Plan
Pivoting can be intimidating due to the uncertainty of abruptly switching up your content plan, so here’s a high-level look at our survey data on the topic. You can also find a deeper dive into our data and tips in this post.
Is Pivoting Your Content Plan Effective?
Whether you had every marketing campaign for 2020 and 2021 fully planned out or were just winging it, the pandemic forced us to toss whatever plans we had out the window and adapt in real-time.
As we mentioned above, most marketers who pivoted their content plan in 2021 did so because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The good news? A whopping 74% of media planners say their most recent pivot was effective for reaching their overall goals and 78% of media planners say their content plan changed a moderate to significant amount the last time they pivoted.
When do brands pivot a content plan?
Here’s how media planners knew it was time to pivot. Spoiler! It’s not always due to global events.
Of the media planners who have ever pivoted, over two-thirds did so to try a new social media platform, and 77% pivoted to try a new feature.
Which platforms or features have media or content planners pivoted to?
Facebook and Instagram Shopping platforms; YouTube Shorts; and live chat rooms like Instagram Live Spaces, Clubhouse, and Twitter Spaces have been receiving high interest from strategists lately.
What’s more, our survey discovered that:
- Marketers who say their last pivot was effective are 10% more likely to have pivoted to use Twitter Spaces.
- Marketers who say their last pivot was effective are 10% more likely to have pivoted to use Facebook Live Shopping.
- Marketers who say their last pivot was effective are 8% more likely to have pivoted to use YouTube Shorts.
- Marketers who say their last pivot was ineffective are 9% more likely to have pivoted to use Spotify Green Room and 8% more likely to have pivoted to use Spoon.
What should be your first steps to pivoting a content plan?
Switching up your content plan can feel like going into uncharted territory. To help you, here’s how the media and content planners we surveyed take on the challenge.
I found that marketers who talk to sales and customer service teams to better understand their customers and their pain points have more effective pivots than those who don’t. They’re 16% more likely to say pivoting was effective.
Also, those who adjust their media mix to reflect changing consumer habits have more effective pivots. They’re 9% more likely to say pivoting was effective.
To get a more detailed step-by-step guide on how to pivot, check out this post.
How often should you pivot your content plan?
While, most brands that pivoted did so at least three times in 2021, this doesn’t necessarily mean you have to make big changes once a quarter.
However, it’s smart to have flexible aspects of your planning that can change if external factors, like world events, arise.
And, if and when the unprecedented does happen, you’ll want to take a stp back and ask yourself what adjustment or strategy is right for your brand.
Although consumers care about responsive content, they also care about ethical marketing and social responsibility of the brands they follow. Because of this, they’ll be quick to spot (and call out) inauthentic and opportunistic behavior, which could damage a company’s image.
And while we’re on the topic of avoiding mistakes, I also asked media planners about the biggest mistakes they’ve made when changing their content plan. Let’s take a look at where they’ve gone wrong.
Mistakes to Avoid When Pivoting Your Content Plan
Pivoting your content plan is effective, but also has its pitfalls. These are the top mistakes media planners have made when switching things up:
As you can see above, changing your content strategy drastically to cater to just one segment of your audience isn’t recommended.
And to reiterate the advice of Karla Hesterberg, the Sr. Manager of Content Growth Strategy at HubSpot, “Remember that content strategy is always a long game —your short-term strategy can’t compromise your ability to solve for the ongoing, long-term needs of your content property.”
Speaking of long-term goals, switching up your media plan on the go could wind up being expensive. Here’s how much of their budget media planners are spending when they pivot.
Key Takeaways for Content & Media Strategists
Content and media planning can get complex and complicated in today’s world where everything – including your target buyer – is constantly changing.
Ultimately, strong preparation will help you be ready to create and optimize your content strategy to cater to your evolving target audience.
Although we went over a handful of different strategies and data points above, here are three key themes that you can take away from this post.
- Understanding your audience is vital: As a marketer, creator, and media planner, you need to know your audience to know what they’ll respond to, what will motivate them to engage with you, and where they’ll go to consume content. You’ll also have to know where your audience spends the most time. With this knowledge, you’ll be able to create campaigns that meet them where they are and nurture them into buying your product.
- Plan to re-plan: The world is always changing. An effective media planner creates a plan, but also prepares for things to change and identifies ways they can optimize, shift, or pivot it when something unexpected happens.
- Always be auditing: One strategy won’t work forever, in any field of marketing. So, it’s important to continue to track and audit your efforts. That way if something stops working or needs to be fixed, you can optimize it or shift away from it promptly without losing time or money.
Want to see even more data on this topic? Check out the free, downloadable resource below which highlights the bulk of the data from our survey all in one place.