Jumping on board with content marketing without thinking can be like sprinting for a train, head down, without checking the departure board. Who knows where you’ll end up and you probably wasted the price of the ticket.
Content publishing and social media can be highly cost-effective ways to market your business. The potential reach is almost unlimited, most of the tools are free, and many of the traditional barriers to making a sale simply dissolve.
But you can also burn up time and budget without any discernible impact on your business. Without the right preparations and planning you might also end up trying and rejecting potentially productive approaches, not because they are wrong, but because you didn’t think them through.
So, if you’re using content to market your business do you know whether you’re on the Marrakesh Express, Last Train to Clarksville, or the 3.15 to Cleethorpes?
What you’re trying to achieve with content is no different to any other type of marketing. You want to let people know that you exist, get your proposition in front of potential customers, identify leads that you can convert into sales, and get people to trust you enough to buy from you.
The sequence should always be: understand your customers; devise the best strategy to reach and engage them; plan the tactics to deliver the strategy.
Over the next couple of articles we’re going to look at practical steps to make sure you end up with triumph rather than disaster and that content marketing takes your business somewhere meaningful.
And that meaningful place is more or higher value sales at lower cost.
An end to the hard-sell?
Content marketing is much less of a hard sell. Potential customers find you because you’re answering their questions (rather than you interrupting them). Your content then proves your specific expertise and builds trust to overcome many of the barriers to an eventual sale.
In the B2B world this can save at lot of time and cost at trade shows, the slog of cold-calling and countless meetings and presentations as you attempt to earn credibility and trust, while simultaneously trying to sell. The resistance of potential customers is lowered simply because they feel more in control and they are consuming content that helps them, rather than promotional content produced with the sole aim of selling your services or products.
BUT, as with traditional approaches, you still need clarity about what you are selling, who to, and how you are going to ease and track the journey from becoming aware to making a purchase.
In this article we’ll concentrate on putting the foundations in place: identifying the business areas you want to grow and the customers you need to reach. This is the first step towards creating productive content marketing as opposed to ‘scatter and hope’ followed by despair.
What are you selling?
An obvious question? Well maybe not.
For a growing business (particularly in B2B services) defining a core offer is not always as straightforward as it might be. For one thing, many mid-sized businesses didn’t get to where they are following a master plan. Opportunity often has a lot to do with it.
I’ve sat in many interminable meetings where directors and senior managers attempt to thrash out a coherent vision of exactly what their business is and what they want to take to the marketplace. History, prejudice, pet projects, individual ambition and casual assumptions all muddy the waters. This is why involving an independent ‘outsider’ usually helps get a bit of clarity.
Quite probably, when you made the transition from working for yourself to being responsible for putting food on the table for employees, winning new sales was a higher priority than following a rigid plan. There’s nothing wrong with opportunistic growth when you have staff you need to keep busy, but it’s a devil when it comes to marketing strategy and content creation.
Profitable growth opportunities
Important clients can also pull your business in different directions. Add-on services that it’s expedient to provide can dilute your focus. And sometimes they can present more profitable growth opportunities than your original core business.
So before embarking on a content marketing expedition it’s vital to draw breath. Be absolutely clear about your strengths, core offer and most significant opportunities. Not exactly ground-breaking, but a simple SWOT analysis can help you focus on where you want to take the business and the niches where you need to concentrate.
Above all, make sure you are clear about which profit lines are distractions and which ones are genuine profitable growth opportunities. Diving into the data about profitability of different business lines can often throw up surprises. And be prepared for the fact that the products and services with a profitable future might not be the ones that founded the business.
Dangers of the opportunistic mind-set
Responding to opportunities as they arise is natural for SMEs. But marketing, and content marketing in particular, needs a more structured and focused approach. Acquiring this marketing discipline can also help you take more control over your destiny and grow in a more sustainable and focused way.
Having established the expertise that can be transferred to other customers or sectors, and the market sectors where you want to focus, it’s time to put your target customers under the microscope.
Before you create a content marketing plan you need to construct clear pictures of who you are creating content for. You want to identify who they are and the questions they are most likely to be seeking answers for.
One option is to commission market research. Apart from the expense there are some potential issues you need to consider.
Any market research is prone to a number of pitfalls. These include:
- confirmation bias (subconsciously filtering evidence to support a pre-conceived view)
- sub-conscious priming of participants to elicit the ‘expected’ answers
- the tendency for respondents to want to please the interviewer by giving the ‘right’ answer
- and the simple fact that the buying experience cannot always be explained rationally and out of context.
If you want to explore these issues in more detail I recommend reading Consumer.ology by Philip Graves. Worth a read too if you’ve ever found market research a less than reliable compass for a marketing or business development strategy.
You might still find market research useful because of its independence. And, in the interests of balance, I’m sure that market researchers will tell you that correctly designed research will avoid the issues above. But I would always cross check any research against your own business intuition and input from your sales team about the questions they really get asked – these may still be your best guides.
Again, having an objective outsider involved is always helpful.
Executives in large corporations can hide behind ‘we only did what the market research was telling us’; as a marketing manager or CEO of a mid-sized business you can’t afford to do this.
However you arrive at them, you need to create robust profiles for your targets:
- What sort of business do they work in?
- What job do they do?
- What keeps them awake at night?
- What are they most interested in?
- What are their typical attitudes and behaviours?
- How do they prefer to receive information?
- What’s likely to make them look good to their superiors?
- What do they most want to achieve?
Linked to this will be some possible terms that you can investigate to tell you what people are really searching for. If nothing else, a sound content strategy WILL improve your ranking for important keywords.
Above all you’ll have a sound basis for understanding topics and headlines that will make potential customers sit up and take notice; and what will make your content irresistible to them.
Check the basics
Imagine a potential customer picks up on a blog article or infographic you’ve published. Or just registers the name of your business through a social media discussion. What’s the next step?
In all probability it’s a brand search on Google or a search for your name. What will they find?
Do your website, Google+ page and company LinkedIn page all tell the same story? Are you promoting the same expertise and using the same arguments? Your Google+ or LinkedIn page may show up above your company website in the search results. Make sure the first impression is a good one and consistent with the themes you plan to use in your content.
While we’re on the subject, have you included your most relevant search terms in your teams’ social media profiles? Offer people as many routes as possible to find you for relevant skills and experience.
Content Promotion and Amplification
Your first blog article, ‘how to’ video, infographic or ebook will be just one of millions of pieces of content published that day. How will you make sure that somebody is listening?
Building an appropriate network and reaching out to people with the potential to influence your target readership is always worthwhile. It pays to build these links and networks before you start publishing. Comment intelligently on and share relevant content from other people and there’s every chance they will reciprocate.
I’ve also noticed how content from people I’ve circled or conversed with on Google+ increasingly pops up on page 1 of my Google search results, together with their profile picture. The networks you build, particularly on Google+, will increasingly help make all of your content more visible to your connections – and not just your most recent posts.
Critical questions include who in your organisation will actively build these connections and how are you going to give them the time to do it? Be realistic – the time is not there waiting to be found, it has to be created by changing something.
There are a couple of other big issues you have to think through that we’ll explore next time. The big one, of course, is how you are planning to make your content top class so that it doesn’t fade into the noise.
You also have to decide what content you need to support each stage of the buyers’ journey, how you are going to track this and, ultimately, how you are going to know when it’s all working.
If you found that helpful take a look at the next installment. This looks at how to design content that helps your customers move through the buying process and why even free content has to be good enough to sell.
Richard Hussey, Founder, RSH Copywriting & Content Marketing
If you’re struggling to get your content marketing on track, get in touch:
01823 674167 firstname.lastname@example.org