Flatplanning – how to create and gain the most value from your content via streamlined collaboration
Flatplanning aligns creative thinking and supports the delivery of better content.
Flatplanning is a highly valuable process that enables copywriters and their clients to create the best content outcomes. Below we explain what flatplans are, how they work and why you should use them.
What is a flatplan?
A flatplan is a creative tool used to visualise and plan out how a marketing asset may be structured. The term itself is borrowed from publishing, where flatplans are typically employed to position articles and advertising in magazines. In content marketing terms, however, flatplans are used to map out the contents of an asset before it is written, including elements such as the ‘hook’ on the front page, the location of the call to action (CTA) and any supporting features, such as text, imagery or infographics. They also comprise structural parameters like word counts, too.
Flatplans are typically only used for designed assets. They are utilised to plan whitepapers but not blogs, for instance, because the latter tend to be a single page of copy and do not require much in the way of visual planning. If a client wanted to flatplan a blog, that tool would likely be described as a skeleton rather than a flatplan. There are of course exceptions, though, so the above is more of a rule of thumb.
Beyond contents and structure, the other key objective of a flatplan is the emphasis on flow, or in other words, the reader journey. Flatplanning gives marketers the power to design the messaging and creative design into the consumable path they want their audience to take and, by explaining their thought process through this straw person, it enables content agencies and clients to better engage in a collaborative creative process.
The flatplanning process
With the subject of flatplanning introduced, the next logical step is to outline how the process works. Let’s take a whitepaper as an example. In this instance, steps towards the creation and delivery of the asset would look something like this:
1. Exploratory briefing call or meeting between content agency and client, discussing the project requirements, such as word counts and objectives.
2. Interviews with client-side subject matter experts, sharing relevant expertise and insights on some details of the content.
3. Content agency brainstorms the flatplan on a whiteboard or digital tool, exploring different options of the structure and flow.
4. Content agency produces the digital flatplan with commentary for review, explaining their creative thought process in more detail.
5. Client reviews the flatplan with commentary, involving as many client-side stakeholders as required.
6. Client feeds back any input on the flatplan with commentary, highlighting any comments and aiming to add value where possible.
7. Content agency create and deliver the asset, using all the insights and experience gained throughout the flatplanning process.
Flatplanning content – the benefits
The above has explained the flatplanning process in both theory and practice but, naturally, you’re probably wondering: ‘why does this matter to me?’. Wonder no more, as we explain five of the most valuable benefits of flatplanning below.
Align content agency and client thinking
In a nutshell, flatplanning means copywriters and clients can align their thinking and process, with more clarity meaning less confusion and blockers.
Especially when writing a deliverable like a whitepaper or a brochure, which is typically a larger financial investment for the client, this process is particularly beneficial. Flatplanning becomes a way of de-risking the investment because the client is more aware of what they require and what will be delivered by the content agency, rather than perpetual back and forth after the point of content creation.
In this sense, it also means the content agency can ensure they best meet and manage client expectations. Indeed, when both parties have already agreed on the structure and all the core features of the asset, they can rest assured there will not be any nasty shocks or surprises. In effect, this gives the client more confidence in the delivery of the product.
Deliver the highest quality outcome
The added value of flatplanning is that it gives copywriters and clients the platform to engage in an authentic and useful exchange of feedback, opening up opportunities for meaningful improvements.
However, some flatplan naysayers could be quick to point out that clients can feedback to them in an email. Such objections overlook the material benefit of viewing a flatplan. Simply seeing the structure of the content is more likely to trigger creativity client-side, meaning the copywriter receives more practical and useful feedback, whether positive or negative. And in practical terms, it also mitigates the risk of having issues with the length and/or flow of the copy during the design phase, as these practicalities have already been agreed upon upfront.
Simplify complex concepts
A copywriter’s job is to understand a product, brand, service or process – to name just a few examples – and communicate that via content that prompts action or makes the audience feel differently about something. This is of course principally delivered via the words – aka, the copy.
However, some concepts require more than words to communicate effectively, and this is where visuals take up a leading role. These visuals are typically created by a design team, who utilise their expertise and view the concept from a different perspective.
But with particularly complex concepts, the copywriter may be in a better position to steer the creative because they have already gained a deeper understanding of the concept when creating the required words. This experience likely enables them to offer more ways of simplifying the concept because they have a more holistic understanding of it, while also giving them the power to fine-tune the creative design to the exact message they want to communicate.
Potential to increase ROI
The result of the above can help clients reduce spend on creative in some instances. It should in no way, shape or form be the reason for committing to flatplanning, but the savings on creative costs do fall into the category of ‘wider benefits’.
That is because, with a flatplan agreed and the copy delivered, the design team creating the asset do not have to invest as much time, effort and resource on the creative strategy, they just have to follow the plan. Think of it in cooking terms: the designers are following the recipe rather than inventing and perfecting it.
Accelerate the writing process
Selfishly, from a copywriter’s perspective – and as a copywriter of course I would highlight this – it is much easier and faster to write quality content when it has been flatplanned. The copywriter knows the structure, word counts, key messages for each section and so on. It becomes a more focused and efficient process.
That means the turnaround for the copy is usually much quicker, offering the client the chance to use the asset and start seeing ROI from it much faster while giving the copywriter the opportunity to increase productivity and move onto working on their next project.
If you would like support with your B2B creative strategy, whether it be through flatplanning or other consultative services, then contact us today and we will be happy to arrange an exploratory briefing call.