Earlier this month, I explained why your team needs a content calendar. However, it’s also important to understand why your team will benefit from using this handy tool.

I’ve spent the better part of a decade working with content calendars. My first foray into content planning came at my college newspaper, the venerable Stetson Reporter. A few career steps later, and I can now proudly say that I’ve planned content for more magazines, websites, and social media accounts than I could have ever imagined.

Today, I want to share the three most important benefits that have come from my years of working with content calendars; hopefully they’ll inspire you to get excited about crafting your own content strategy.

Benefit #1: Creating a content calendar will give clarity to your subject matter expertise.

It’s Monday morning. You’ve had your coffee, cranked up some tunes, and now you’re ready to work on your content calendar for the week. You stare at the empty fields, full of possibility. And 10 minutes later, you’re still staring. I’ve been there. And I’ve also figured out a few exercises for breaking out of that creative inertia.

The art of turning your experiences, knowledge and insight into compelling content ideas takes a little bit of practice. Here are a few questions that can help you get started:

  • What am I passionate about? Producing content will always feel like a chore unless you’re passionate about the subject matter. Identify what revs your engines, and you’ve won half the battle. Make a list of topics that excite you; for example, if you’re an independent restaurateur, you might choose to explore the benefits of eating organic ingredients or new cocktail trends.
  • What sets me apart from my competitor? Maybe you take a more hands-on approach to your business than the other guy; maybe you’ve been in the game longer. Answer this question thoughtfully and honestly — and if you’re hitting a brick wall, think instead about what you would like other people to see as your key differentiators. Then, craft your content marketing strategy around those qualities.
  • What are the most common questions my customers ask? This question can lead to a goldmine of content ideas. If your customers are asking you these questions, then there are potential customers who want that same information. Craft your content so that it addresses the questions your average customer might ask. An existing FAQ page can be a rich source of content ideas. Enhance the answers to those questions with case studies, personal insight, and research.

Benefit #2: Researching your content calendar will help you discover the context for your content.

If you’re serious about contributing meaningful content to the conversations in your industry, then you have to understand what has already been said. There’s just no way around it. It is critical to identify whose voices are the most authoritative and where your own voice fits in that landscape. The act of creating a content calendar will force you to discover the context within which your content will live.

You need to become a voracious content consumer if you want to be a successful content planner (and no, scrolling your Facebook newsfeed for ideas isn’t enough). Investing time into reading is the single most effective way to gain an edge on other content producers in your space. Read your industry’s top blogs and magazines on a regular basis to stay abreast of important trends, news and cultural shifts. Find podcasts and webinars from professionals you idolize, and take notes on their presentation style. Don’t just stop there, though. Peruse comics and graphic novels for a lesson in succinct storytelling. Study the art of longform narration. And, of course, read your local newspapers and magazines to see what stories resonate with the customers in your own backyard.

In addition to helping you gain a better understanding of the ins and outs of your industry, this exercise will give you a pool of resources to cite in your own content. Be sure to link back to articles and other content that you find especially helpful.

Benefit #3: Using a content calendar will ensure consistency over time.

Consistency breeds loyalty. Media outlets, from magazines to television stations, rely on this truth to attract readers and advertisers. Over time, your audience should learn what type of content to expect from you, when to expect it, and what insights they will gain from it.

As you work on building a content calendar for the next week, month or year, strive to maintain consistency in these three areas:

  • Quality: Artists don’t rush, and neither should you. Schedule deadlines in your content calendar to allow enough time for you to research, draft, edit, and refine your content before it’s shared with the world. An errant punctuation mark, misspelled word, or outdated statistic can compromise your trustworthiness. Resist the urge to sacrifice quality in the name of quickness.
  • Timeliness: If you’ve ever had a standing date with your couch and a favorite television show, you know how important a structured timeline is for content distribution. (For the record, I’m taking recommendations for how to fill my Sunday nights now that “Mad Men” is over!) When you plan and execute an effective content calendar, your readers, viewers and listeners will know when to expect fresh content — and they’ll seek you out for it.
  • Tone: Craft your content calendar around the message you want to send your audience. Is your goal to empower and inspire, like business coach and lifestyle guru Marie Forleo? Is it to inform and educate, like The Content Strategist? Or is it to share industry-specific news and updates, like Adweek? Think critically about the tone you want your content to embody, and use your content calendar to build on your key messages over time.

There are many more benefits that come with a disciplined content planning strategy. What benefits have you experienced while working with a content calendar? Let us know on Facebook, or tweet us at @wingardcreative.