The question “how do I use content marketing to benefit my professional services business” comes up a lot. If you Google that exact query string, you’ll get a lot of useless advice.
Advice on the benefits of content marketing. Reasons why you should do it, even if you’re a small services business. Listicles with 59 benefits and 19 reasons.
In reality, it’s not that complicated. Here’s how I think about it:
Content marketing is how you prove your claim of expertise.
Content marketing is how you prove that you have the expertise you claim to in your positioning, and it’s how you build trust with prospects.
That’s a nice, neat definition, but it really doesn’t tell you:
- How should you spend your limited time or money resources on content marketing? (DIY vs. outsource)
- What forms of content marketing will deliver the best ROI for your time or money?
Here’s a very clear criteria you should use to answer those questions:
Would this piece of content marketing make a compelling call to action (CTA) for a podcast guest appearance, in-person talk, or high-profile guest blog post?
So here’s how this criteria works…
Imagine that you’ve just been invited to be a guest on the The Big Web Show or The Shop Talk Show podcast. Or your application to speak at An Event Apart or Pressnomics has been accepted. Or your pitch to write a guest post for 99U.com or WP Tavern has been accepted.
Do you have any content marketing that would make a good CTA to place at the end of that guest spot, talk, or guest blog post?
Here’s what would make a very weak CTA:
- Join my list!
- Check out my blog!
- Go to my site’s home page and read stuff!
These are all weak CTAs because they do not extend the value of your guest spot, talk, or guest blog post! They’re about as value-added as saying “look me up in the phone book”.
The holy grail of a content marketing CTA is getting some of the audience members of the podcast, conference, or publication onto your email list, where you can build relationships and trust at scale. If they’re already on your list, the purpose of the CTA will change to something else, but if we’re talking about your public-facing content marketing, the CTA’s job number 1 is to get anonymous people onto your email list.
For your CTA to accomplish the job of encouraging someone to join your list, it has to offer a really good reason for someone to hand over their email address to you!
And I believe that’s the acid test for good content marketing. Does it offer enough value that someone would invite you into their inbox?
If you’re out there in the world publicizing yourself through podcast guesting, giving talks, or contributing content to an established publication with a big audience, would your content marketing (or a specific part of your content marketing) be a compelling reason for someone to join your list?
Let’s revisit the previous three example CTAs in light of this acid test:
- Join my list! OK, but WHY? If I thought this thing you put out into the world was great, how will joining your list give me even MORE great stuff? In other words, what’s in it for me?
- Check out my blog! Again, WHY? What’s in it for me? I wasn’t born yesterday–I know that most blogs are usually full of all kinds of unrelated content produced with little editorial value-add and published on an inconsistent schedule. I may have thought your guest blog post on the business value of test-driven development was great, but HOW EXACTLY will looking at your blog take me deeper, teach me more, or make me more awesome at what I do?
- Go to my site’s home page and read stuff! Again, what’s in it for me? ’Nuff said.
There you have it: three forms of content marketing that fail the compelling CTA acid test.
So what will pass that test? What kind of content marketing is compelling enough that someone would willingly hand over their email address to gain access to it?
Well, it depends, but here’s a list of several forms of content marketing that pass the test:
1) An Email Course
An email course offers value on its own (for example: “learn how to solve problem X with solution Y”) and it can also extend the value of a podcast guest appearance, talk, or guest blog post. It’s a great way to say, “if you found this interesting or valuable and want to go deeper, head over to this web address and check out my email course.”
I’ve added over 400 email subscribers to my list using this exact technique as my CTA on 6 or so podcasts. My standard podcast CTA is, “Check out my crash course on positioning at http://positioningcrashcourse.com”. The positioningcrashcourse.com vanity domain is super-easy to remember, it makes the course look more like a thing with standalone value, and the landing page there converts at a very respectable 34%.
Obviously, the email course needs to be topically-related to your podcast guest spot, talk, or guest post, but there’s no reason you can’t develop multiple email courses.
After list subscribers complete your email course you should send more useful content their way via email automation, but you’d want to do that anyway to keep your list warm and build trust over time.
2) A PDF Lead Magnet
A PDF lead magnet could take several forms, including:
- A guide to solving some very specific problem
- A “cheat sheet” summary that is a useful reference
- A list of useful resources or tools
- A deeper treatment of some specific subject, perhaps presenting some original research or thought
No matter what the subject matter, a PDF lead magnet needs to be short, easy to use, and hyper-focused on solving a specific problem or providing value in a specific situation. Being super-specific about the audience the lead magnet is for and the result it will help them create creates that “gotta have it” emotional response that leads to filling out an opt-in form.
I hear you asking: “What about infographics? I’ve heard those are really viral.”
The answer: if the signal to noise ratio of the infographic is high enough, then yes, it may make a “CTA-able” content asset. Most of the infographics I’ve seen do not have a really good signal to noise ratio, but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible.
3) An Educational Resource Center: When most people think of content marketing, they think of “blogging”–semi-regularly writing stuff and posting it to your company blog.
I think that’s a terrible idea. Instead, I recommend you take the same basic format–a list of articles–and design it as an educational resource center instead. Here’s what that looks like in practice:
- http://www.remarq.io/consulting-value/ (Built by PMC)
- http://marcusblankenship.com/become-a-great-manager/ (built by PMC)
Building an education resource center is quite different than “blogging”. Instead if sitting down weekly (or much less frequently, as it turns out for most busy shops) and asking yourself “what shall I write about this week?”, you are designing a focused, valuable, multi-part piece of content that’s designed to solve a problem for the kind of client you hope to attract.
You set yourself up for a closed-end project (which, as a professional finisher of projects I wager you know how to do successfully) instead of an open-ended whole new job role (Amateur Content Marketer, which usually turns into Professional Avoider of Sitting Down to Write Blog Posts). Most people have much more success with the project approach vs. the new job role approach.
The content in your educational resource center does not have to be written content. It could easily be screencasts, audio, interviews, useful resources like a code library, and so on. The important thing is that it is cohesive, it addresses a relevant problem your ideal client has, and it’s easy to make use of the content it contains.
If the value is high enough, you can put most or all of your resource center’s content behind a registerwall (kind of like the New York Times paywall but free) and use that logged-in experience to deliver even more value to visitors.
The icing on the cake is that you can actually promote an educational resource center. If you’re a SaaS that helps photographers get better at marketing themselves and you create an educational resource center full of useful marketing resources for photographers, you have a very CTA-able content marketing asset! One that beats the pants off of saying “check out our blog!”.
4) A Curated list
If you just do not have the time to create original content, there is another option: the curated list. This is another very CTA-able form of content marketing where instead of creating original content, you take on an editorial role and sift through the metric crap-ton of content that’s produced every week or month, pull out the minority that’s great, and send it to your list subscribers, perhaps with your own commentary or editorial perspective added in.
When done well, this works so well that some people have managed to build an entire business by running one or more curated lists and renting ad space in the list to advertisers. If you use a curated list as a content marketing asset the purpose is to build trust with your list members and position your business as an authority, not to sell ad space.
As a side note, the day to day work of running a curated list is easier to delegate to a junior employee. Instead of asking them to generate content to educate your ideal client–which requires experience, taste, and a feel for your clientele that a junior employee is unlikely to have–you can ask them to sift through the last week’s worth of content from the top 10 news aggregators in your space and tag the best articles for further review. That’s a job that a) they’re likely to enjoy, b) will help with their professional development, and c) they can probably do a great job at.
So there you have it! Four forms of content marketing that pass the “good CTA test” with flying colors.
Even if you never plan to actively promote your content via guest podcasting, speaking, or guest posting, you should consider whether a CTA that points someone to your content marketing would be compelling. It’s a great acid test that helps you design really effective content marketing assets!
If you enjoyed reading this article, check out 3 Content Marketing Ideas For the Time-Constrained Dev Shop next!