By Steve Henke, Founder of Harpeth Marketing.
What is Content Marketing?
As simply as it can be stated, Content Marketing is the creation and sharing (“giving away”) of useful information that will help the reader/viewer to better understand a particular subject and, in doing so, help him or her to do their job better. As an example, for a research firm, that could include providing content with titles like:
- Conducting ethnographic research in the digital age
- How to save time and money with online bulletin boards
- The top 5 trends in innovation research
Notice anything? None of the topics are ‘salesy.’ None of them are internally focused. Content Marketing is about providing genuinely helpful information – the selling opportunities will come later.
Why use it in the MR industry?
Imagine a research buyer looking to find a new research agency. How do you get them to choose your firm?
A key criterion – maybe THE key criterion – is that they want to know that your firm is an expert in the specific area of importance to them… that you have the knowledge and experience necessary to get the job done.
But just saying you’re an expert doesn’t make it so. You have to prove it. And one way to prove it is to share some of your expertise with them in the form of helpful content.
Author articles and blog posts, publish an in-depth eBook, host a series of webinars, etc. Showcasing and sharing your knowledge and expertise – coupled with a list of other clients for whom you’ve done similar work – provides a very compelling “proof source” to help potential buyers make a decision.
Why engage in Content Marketing?
There are many benefits of doing Content Marketing:
- The kind of topics you write about help to position your firm in the industry. E.g. Write a lot about ‘ethnographic research’ and pretty soon, your firm will be looked to as strong in that particular discipline.
- Likewise, if you (as an individual) write a lot about a particular subject, it won’t take long before you become recognized as a Subject Matter Expert in that area.
- Lead generation. For your high-end content – like eBooks, white papers or webinars – people need to give up their contact information to access these resources. These downloaders/registrants provide an on-going pipeline of potential new sales leads.
- Content Marketing is a key component of the ‘lead nurturing process’ – as a way to stay in touch with sales prospects, over time, in a non-threatening way until they are ready to make a buying decision. It’s also a great way to stay top-of-mind with existing clients.
- Good content can be used by your sales team to help open doors and as a leave-behind following an in-person conversation. Additionally, Content Marketing can be used to help move prospects through the sales funnel.
- Updating your website and blog with fresh content on a regular basis is good for Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
- Providing good content on a regular basis will help to differentiate your firm from your competitors in two ways:
- By providing content on topics that your competitors aren’t writing about
- Because most of your competitors are not providing much content to begin with
Kinds of Content
Here are the 12 most popular methods for delivering quality content to your target audience:
- Blog: Your blog should be the cornerstone of your content program – the place you go to most often to provide your readers with good information, insight and observations.
- Social media: In addition to linking to content on your website and others, social media platforms also provide an easy way to deliver short nuggets of content to your connected audience (via your LinkedIn posts or Tweets, for example).
- White papers: These are ‘clinical’ examinations of a particular topic. A white paper might have a title like “How Online Bulletin Boards can Save Money and Time vs. Traditional Focus Groups.” They often include charts and graphs that prove the claim is true.
- Case studies: These are reviews of specific projects for specific clients showing, in the end, how working with your firm benefited them.
- eBooks: A broader and deeper exploration of a particular topic, eBooks are anywhere from 8-50 pages, attractively-designed and looked at as a legitimate resource for your clients and prospects.
- In-person presentations: Stand in front of a room to deliver a presentation and the assumption is that you are the “expert.” Leverage that assumption, deliver a presentation that genuinely helps to educate (not sell to) the attendees and the result is a level of credibility and trust that money can’t buy.
- Webinars: Like Presentations (#6 above), webinars provide a forum for sharing your expertise – only in this case, remotely. While the attendees don’t get to “look you in the eye,” there are several benefits to webinars vs. live presentations:
- Generally, there is no limit to the number of attendees.
- They’re convenient – attendees can participate from the comfort of their home, office or favorite coffeeshop.
- The session can be recorded and re-purposed.
- There are no travel-related expenses.
- Podcasts: Since nearly everyone has a smart phone in their pocket at all times, podcasts provide a way for your clients and prospects to “take your message with them” and listen to it when and where they want.
- Videos: We are a video-centric society… so take advantage of it and present your content in the way that many people like to process it. And with outlets like YouTube and Vimeo, it’s easy to put your video on the internet for all to see.
- Engage in social media: To disseminate content, you need to participate in others’ online conversations. For example, post comments on top industry blogs, initiate or participate in discussions within popular LinkedIn groups, get involved in Twitter Chats, etc. Remember, never be salesy – your goal is to be seen as a “helpful expert.”
- E-newsletters: While generally thought of as a way to help readers access your content, e-newsletters themselves can also contain quality content in the form of short articles, images and graphs.
- Infographics: Infographics are large, attractively-designed, graphics intended to present complex information quickly and clearly. Since most people are visual learners, infographics present data in a way that is easy for readers to process.
What to Write About
We stated at the beginning that the content you provide must be beneficial to the readers/viewers, should help them better understand a particular topic or issue and, ideally, help them to do their job better. There are two keys to being successful here:
- Give ‘em the good stuff! Give the reader/viewer real, usable, beneficial information. Don’t hold back. Give them big-picture ideas. Give them details. Share resources. Do whatever it takes to get the idea across. Do that and you’ll not only look like an expert, you’ll help to position your firm as a go-to resource.
- Balance the content you provide with your firm’s business objectives, that is, make sure what you write about is aligned with what you do as a business and supports it. As an example, if you work for a quant-only shop… don’t write about qualitative methodologies.
The most common type of content share by firms in our industry centers around what we do: survey research, focus groups, online journals, ethnographies, social media listening and so on. If your audience is corporate research or consumer insights professionals – this is a good starting point. If your target audience also includes marketing and brand pros, consider writing about the application of research – concept testing, product development, market segmentation and so on.
This category can include such things as your opinion on what’s going on in the industry, observations you’ve made, thoughts on new services and technologies, interesting ideas you have and the like. These posts also give you the opportunity to show a little of your personality. Your blog is generally the best place to opine. Done effectively – and regularly – your comments can help to build your reputation as a true “thought leader,” someone that people want to hear from.
There are many places in which to start and/or participate in online conversations. The most popular are in LinkedIn groups or certain industry blogs, like on Greenbook. Your comments in these threaded conversations benefit you in the same way as the more traditional kinds of content… they build awareness across your target markets, allow you to share your knowledge and help to position you as a Subject Matter Expert.
You’re in the research industry… so do some and report on the results. For example, we have a client that focuses on the healthcare industry and conducts surveys on the current state of healthcare, insurance and patient experience in the U.S. They then write about their findings on their firm’s blog and share bits of it on social media. It is positioning them as true experts in healthcare research.
There are a lot of really smart, interesting people in our industry… you probably know and even work with many of them. Why not interview them for their perspective on what’s happening in our industry or in the verticals in which they work? It doesn’t even have to be a live interview… they could just respond to 8-10 questions you email to them.
Going to any conferences this year? I’ll bet you are. Certainly to network, but also to learn new ideas, new methodologies, new technologies, coming trends and industry issues. Take what you learn and write about it – you can summarize it, expand on it, give your perspective on it or even disagree with it. All of that is fair game for content fodder.
Final point #1… your content has no value if no one sees it.
What if you throw a party and no one shows up? Miserable, right?
The same thinking applies to Content Marketing. What if you write a blog post that no one reads? Or publish an eBook that no one downloads? Or host a webinar that no one registers for?
The key to a successful Content Marketing program is to make sure that as many eyeballs as possible see your work… and that means a strong promotional effort to drive people to the content. With every piece of content you develop, make sure there is a specific marketing plan to help promote it. Take advantage of email marketing, social media marketing, SEO and PPC advertising, etc.
Make sure your ‘party’ is a big hit!
Final point #2… Remember who you’re writing for.
Don’t just sit down to write a blog post or article on a topic because YOU like that topic. Frankly, what you want to write about doesn’t really matter… it only matters what your readers want to read. So, in the same way you might create a “buyer persona” for your firm… create a “reader persona” for your content:
- What’s their job? Their title? Their responsibilities?
- What’s important to them? What do they care about?
- What keeps them up at night?
- What’s important to their internal clients and bosses?
- What do they need to be successful at work?
- What problems do they have (that you can help solve)?
In all of your content creation, keep your client/prospect front and center. Write through their eyes. Write from their perspective. Do that and your message will always be well-received.
Content Marketing is simple… but it ain’t easy. To be successful at it requires a commitment of time, more than anything else. And not just every once in a while. The key to long-term success with Content Marketing is consistency. Create an ’editorial calendar,’ stick to it and soon, you’ll find the marketplace looking forward to receiving your content.
There is a business adage that states, “Seek first to help… then to sell.” Using Content Marketing is the ideal manifestation of that concept.