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I’d like to tell you what the true purpose of content marketing is.First, you should understand what content marketing is not:
- A quick win that produces overnight results
- A band-aid for a broken sales process or other business problem
- The least expensive marketing channel
I expect by now, you’re saying to yourself, “wow, Philip, you don’t sound very upbeat on content marketing!”Actually, I’m very upbeat on content marketing, when it is used effectively. 🙂Using Content Marketing EffectivelyContent marketing is a very effective way to build the confidence of your audience–and add new members to that audience–if you have positioned yourself or your business as a differentiated expert in a narrow market niche. On the other hand, if you have not positioned yourself as a differentiated specialist, it will be difficult to use content marketing effectively.Allow me to unpack this a bit for you.First, positioning. As you know from the previous crash course on positioning, the purpose of positioning your business is to become clear on who you serve, what problems you can solve for them, and how you do so different than others doing something similar. As a quick example, my company positioning goes like this:I help development shops get more qualified leads without hiring a sales person. I use education-based content marketing, marketing automation, and digital outreach to make that happen. I’m also the author of The Positioning Manual for Technical Firms.That’s a pretty good level of specificity about who I serve, what I do for them, and how I do so differently than other marketers.Figuring out your positioning is the first step in an effective content marketing program. You do not have to position (or re-position) your entire company, but you do need to develop a positioning that will guide your content marketing effort. Positioning is a force multiplier for your marketing efforts.A positioning makes a claim of expertise. It says, in effect, “because I have chosen to focus my skill on a narrow range of problems, I have developed considerable expertise in solving those problems.” (Higher rates and more selectivity in which clients you work with are two benefits that flow from that kind of expertise.) Your marketing is how you back up that claim of expertise.People wonder a lot about what kind of marketing is best for their business. Having a clear positioning will help you answer that thorny question. Instead of the question being, “which marketing channel is most effective, or which is the most popular/trendy at the moment?”, the question becomes “which form of marketing will do the best job of demonstrating my company’s expertise?”.That’s a much easier question to answer!It happens that content marketing, specifically content marketing that is designed to educate your prospects, is an incredibly effective way to demonstrate that you have the expertise your positioning says you do. And that’s why, for technical firms like programming consultancies, web development shops, and even SaaS firms, education-based content marketing is a fantastic marketing tool.That is the true purpose of content marketing, to demonstrate your expertise in a way that convinces your prospects and helps them believe the claim of expertise your positioning makes.
The term “positioning” was coined in 1972 by Al Ries and Jack Trout, and big product brands have used positioning to gain competitive advantage ever since then. I interviewed Al Ries (the co-author of Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, and many other gold standard marketing books) about how the concept of positioning applies to professional services businesses.Q: Is a modified approach to positioning required in light of today’s communication landscape, most notably the Internet?As time goes on, every concept needs some modification. There are two things that have affected the positioning concept.
- Visuals have become more important. Positioning was a totally verbal strategy, yet there is a lot of evidence that the best way into a mind is not with words. It’s with visuals. My daughter Laura Ries has written a book on this subject called “Visual Hammer.
- The Internet is used primarily as a tactic, not a strategy. Yet there is one difference between Internet brands and retail brands sold in physical stores.
For brands sold in retail stores, there’s always room for a second brand. Coke and Pepsi. Red Bull and Monster. Retailers always want at least two brands in every category so they can play one against the other.Not so on the Internet. That’s where you will find brands like Facebook, Twitter and Google which completely dominate their categories leaving little room for a strong second brand. Q: What is fundamentally different or noteworthy about positioning professional services compared to positioning a product?Nothing.The problem is that owners of professional services think their services are so important that they can’t focus on one feature. They need to be experts in everything.Take marketing consulting. Do you know of any marketing consulting firm that owns a word in the mind?We do. We call ourselves “focusing consultants.” But few of our competitors focus on anything specific. Q: How do you recommend professional service providers get greater clarity on their positioning? Are there some specific key steps that a firm’s leadership must go through to develop an effective positioning?That’s too broad a question for any specific answer. Let’s just say that most companies focus their attention on such issues as, What they are, What they are good at, What experiences they have had, etc. In other words, it’s all about the organization and its people.Positioning is different. You start by looking in the minds of your prospects to see if you can find an “open” hole. Then you make changes inside your organization to fill that open hole.As a general rule, advertising is about communicating something to customers and prospects. Marketing is about making changes inside your organization in order to be successful on the outside. Q: A professional services firm–particularly a smaller one–cannot simply invent a position that matches its core competencies for the reasons you have outlined in your books: the position must align with existing market perceptions. How then does a professional services firm find a viable position that also matches its core competencies?That’s the essential problem of marketing. Most marketers spend all their time trying to “verbalize” the core competencies of their companies. As a result, the “positions” that come up with are too broad to penetrate the minds of prospects.Think of a position as a knife. It’s hard to cut into a mind with a dull knife. In other words, a position that encompasses almost everything.It’s much easier to cut into a mind with a sharp knife. A narrow position.How does a professional services firm find a viable position in prospects’ minds? Narrow its focus so it stands for something unique and different.Emery Air Freight was the leading air-cargo carrier. What services did Emery Air Freight offer? All services. Overnight, two-day and three-day deliveries.So Federal Express narrowed its focus to “overnight” service. When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.Was overnight service a core competency of Federal Express? Probably not. But it was a great position to own in the mind. Q: A very new professional services firm may not be faced with any existing market perceptions. What should they keep in mind as they attempt to influence market perceptions for the first time?Start with strategy. What can the new service offer that its competitors do not? Then try to pick a name that reflects the strategy.White Wave wanted to get into the soy milk business. Instead of using the White Wave name, the company took the words “soy milk” and telescoped them into “silk.”Now when consumers want soy milk, the first brand they think of is Silk. Q: In selling professional services, human factors like trust and personality are very important. Do these factors play a role in an effective position for a services firm, or should they be secondary to some other factor?Remember when Richard Nixon said, “I am not a crook?”Did the American public think to themselves, I always thought he was a crook but now I know that he is not.Marketing is filled with abstract words like trust, honesty, loyalty, premium-quality, consumer-oriented services, world-class products. Very, very few of these words register with consumers.If you want your marketing messages to be believed, they need to be brought down to earth. You need to use specific words that generate visual images rather than abstract words that are meaningless to most prospects. Q: Do you recommend professional services firms anchor their positioning around a particular expertise, customer service, or some other kind of attribute?Only if that attribute is unique to the professional services firm.A better direction might be to narrow the focus of the firm’s market. Instead of being a generalist that can handle every aspect of a business, a company might focus on one aspect.A marketing consulting firm, for example, might focus on “start-up” companies only. Q: In general, a consultant can grow revenues by scaling fees, volume, or both. Firms that attempt to add additional lines of services may face the line extension problems you describe in your book on positioning. Are these problems as dangerous for a services firm as a major product brand? If a firm is determined to diversify, is there a way to do that without harming their position?What is the strongest position any brand can own? It’s leadership.Heinz in ketchup. Hertz in rent-a-cars. Hellmann’s in mayonnaise.Before a company even considers a line extension, it should try to dominate its existing market. That’s the best protection an existing company can own.Look at the advertising business I grew up with. Back in the Mad Men days, the leading advertising agencies were Doyle Dane Bernbach, McCann Erickson, Ogilvy & Mather and many others.Today, those leading agencies are still in business. It’s the smaller agencies that are gone. Nothing protects the future like leadership. Q: Are there common mistakes a professional services firm should be aware of as they develop their positioning?Positioning is not about you. Positioning is about the minds of your prospects.Every company should start a strategy session by asking themselves, What do we own in the minds of our prospects? And what do our competitors own?Then decide what position the professional services firm can own in the mind? And typically this requires changes in the firm itself.Years ago, Jack Trout and I wrote a series of “positioning” articles for Advertising Age, the leading marketing publication. As a result, we received many letters from advertising agencies around the world, complimenting us.At the time, there thousands of advertising agencies in America, but very few of them had global offices.So rather than try to compete against American agencies, I wanted to use our positioning contacts to build a global chain of agencies. In other words, franchise the “positioning” concept. Q: Are there any patterns that you see successful services firms following in their positioning?The most successful firms tend to be the ones that can generate favorable publicity. What you say about yourself is mostly a waste of time. What others say about you, however, is usually believed by most prospects.Look at the advertising used by producers of motion pictures and Broadway plays. They are devoid of traditional “marketing” copy. All the quotes are taken from media reviews of the movies and plays.A professional services firm should do the same. Generate favorable publicity in the media and then use media quotes in their marketing material.
You can learn more about Al Ries at http://ries.com
You can listen to this post instead of reading it:Or… you can read it:
In my coaching and consulting work, I’ve encountered several situations where my client sees the benefit of building a list but feels quite nervous about putting themselves out there by writing content for a list.
I have an idea that I think will help. But first… the problem.
Think about it–it’s actually quite personal to create a bunch of content for a list. You’re putting your expertise and your opinions out there for the world to criticize!
I’ve been doing this for a while now and I’ll level with you–people will criticize you.
- They’ll unsubscribe, which feels like rejection.
- They’ll react in harsh, negative ways to a sales message, which makes you feel like the jerk for trying to offer more value to your list.
- And they’ll ignore you, which feels… well, like being ignored!
All these are reasons you might use to talk yourself out of starting an email list.
You Can’t Afford to Let the Problem Stop You
Every successful consultant I’ve talked to says the same thing:
I wish I had started building my list sooner.
The reasons why a list is so important are simple:
- A list helps you build trust with potential clients
- A list helps you scale your trust building
- A list can position you as an expert in your niche
So… what do you do if you want the benefits of having a list but don’t feel confident about writing your own content for a list?
Here’s a very simple idea that is picking up momentum as we speak. I’ll explain the idea in a moment, but first I want you to know why it’s going to be a hit.
As you probably already know, content is king on the internet. Both for work and for pleasure, people head online when they want to find useful, interesting, and funny content.
The overwhelming volume of content online and the increasing skill with which marketers promote that content creates a new problem. Information overload.
I don’t need to explain information overload to you because, unless you live in isolation, you already understand it. You live with it every day.
A very relevant solution to information overload is content curation. Curators are those who have the willingness and ability to look at a lot of content, filter out the junk (most of it), and present the world with the best of what remains.
Curators–if they’re good at what they do–solve the information overload problem. Curators do something else too…
They build an audience that trusts them. I hope by this point you’re seeing how content curation is a potential solution to the “I want a list but don’t want to write” problem.
Imagine that you run a development shop that has just decided to position the business as specialists in educational tech software. You’re excited about this new focus on a growing, lucrative ecosystem of clients. But, because this focus is new and you don’t have a long list of case studies to draw from, you feel nervous about writing original content and trying to build a list.
Here’s the question to ask yourself: if you ran the best niche newsletter on ed tech, what would that do for your business pipeline?
If you play your cards right, it would do a lot of good things for your pipeline.
What would publishing a very good ed tech newsletter do for the trust that list members feel towards your business?
If you consistently curate great, useful content, it would increase the trust of your audience.
Why will this be good for your pipeline?
It won’t change things overnight. It won’t flood your inbox with leads.
But… it will:
- Position you as a leader in your niche
- Position you as someone with strong subject matter expertise
- (If you read a lot anyway…) Leverage time you’re spending anyway in a way that helps your marketing
If this idea sounds interesting to you, I’ve put together some resources to help you learn more and get started quickly.
This article won’t be very actionable. You’ll be tempted to skip it, which would be a huge mistake.You’ll be tempted to skip it because planning a successful content marketing campaign is hard stuff. It seems much easier and more productive to get busy writing some blog articles.But without a good plan, any effort you dedicate to content marketing will be mostly wasted.Do I have your attention now?Good! The Elements of PlanYour content marketing plan will need to include some decisions around:
- Who you are trying to reach
- What your content will accomplish for them
- How you will get that content in front of them.
Who are you trying to reach?Knowing who you want your content marketing to reach is very important. I personally spent months writing blog articles that no one wanted to read because they lacked clarity about who they were meant to reach, so I can tell you from personal experience it doesn’t work.Imagine this: you want to impress some potential buyers for your services and demonstrate that you are the go-to company for a certain thing. You’ve spent months preparing a killer talk and now you’re ready to pitch it to some MeetUp groups so you can get in front of their audience.What’s the smart thing to do?Option 1: Build a list of 20 MeetUps, run rand(1..20), and pitch your talk to whatever MeetUp the random number generator tells you to.Option 2: Pitch your talk to the MeetUp that has the kind of attendees who need your expertise the most.Investing time into content marketing without knowing who you are trying to reach is the equivalent of Option 1.That seems like a silly example, but I can’t count the number of dev shop blogs I’ve seen that appear to be using option 1 for their audience strategy. Their blog listing is a seemingly random assortment of topics, ranging from content meant for their peers (stuff like how to set up a development environment) to announcements about staff changes, new case studies, and new portfolio pieces. That is what a lack of a plan looks like.So if that’s what “no plan at all” looks like, what does “100% clarity about who are trying to reach” look like?It looks a lot like a job description. Here’s a quick off the cuff example:
Our content will help the manager of sales at $10MM to $100MM commercial construction companies understand how custom code can increase sales by delivering better information to the right sales staff in a more timely fashion.
That’s like a 1-line job description for your content marketing. And if you can get that kind of clarity about who you are trying to reach, you are 1/3rd of the way there to much more effective content marketing! And here’s a real-life example of content marketing built with that kind of plan: http://marcusblankenship.com/become-a-great-manager/That example leads into the next important point your plan needs to address…What will your content do for them?Or in other words, why would your intended audience take time out of their already stressful, distraction-filled day to pay attention to what your content marketing is saying? What’s in it for them?In the world of B2C marketing, you can create content marketing that is entertaining (SFW example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYu_bGbZiiQ) or informative (examples: http://mag.splashnology.com/article/35-fresh-interesting-infographics/8548/), and if it’s well done and well-distributed it gets clicks and eyeballs and is therefore declared a success. This is the content marketing equivalent of a Superbowl TV ad. If it’s funny and people share it, it’s considered a success.B2B content marketing for small and mid-size professional services has an entirely different goal, which is to earn trust before the sale. You do that by creating content marketing that demonstrates your expertise.This demonstration of expertise can happen in thousands of ways. Here are a few examples:
- Providing the solution to a painful or urgent problem your ideal customer often faces. Remember, ideas are cheap and successful implementation is valuable, so don’t fear that you’re “giving away the farm” if you describe how to solve a problem that’s core to your business.
- Putting what you’ve learned “in the trenches” or on the cutting edge of your industry into summarized form. This is often called “thought leadership” and may take the form of opinion pieces, white papers, and the like.
- Stories about problems you have solved for specific clients. Aka case studies.
Here’s the bottom line on this part of your plan: if you can’t easily describe how your reader will be better off after they’ve read, listened to, or otherwise experienced a piece of content marketing you are planning to create, then you have a problem that you should solve before beginning work. It would be like building software without a spec or user stories.Here’s the hardest part…A content marketing plan with no provision for distribution is like a web app project with no plan for hosting. And distribution is usually the most challenging part of your content marketing plan.Unless your company’s domain starts with redd*, mediu*, news.ycomb*, or a handful of other high-traffic names, you’re not going to press publish on a new piece of content marketing and get immediate results. Instead, you’ll need a plan for actively getting results from your content marketing efforts.I hear you saying:
Wait–I thought content marketing was inbound marketing, and the leads would just start piling up after I publish a few epic pieces of content!
Well, if your timeframe for success is 6 months plus, then sure, you can probably rely on search engines to bring you a limited amount of traffic, and you can rely on your on-site lead capture system to generate leads. But if you want bigger or faster results, I’d advise having a content distribution plan, which amounts to you getting your own traffic for your content.Here’s an example of a content distribution plan from Paul Jarvis, who uses content marketing very successfully to drive his business: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-jarvis/my-7day-cycle-for-generat_b_6934984.html (in particular Paul’s Monday and Tuesday sections are what I’m talking about in terms of distribution)Here’s another example of items you might include in your content marketing distribution plan:
- Hit Publish on a new blog article.
- Schedule social media mentions on biz account and ask employees to help out too
- Directly ask the following 10 people to tweet about it: [list of 10 business buddies or friendly “influencers” who would help by getting the word out and notes for how best to ask them for their help (email vs twitter DM vs other methods)]
- Send a link and teaser for the article to this list of current and past clients, ask them to forward it to a specific type of business contact they might have: [list of current and past clients who would probably be helpful in this way]
With more substantial pieces of content you may have an outbound cold emailing strategy in place to get it in front of people. Cold emailing people is a totally different game when you are offering them value instead of asking them for business.So freaking plan how you’re going to get your content in front of the right people! It’s a critical part of doing content marketing right.The part I haven’t mentioned: mediumThe part of your content marketing plan I haven’t mentioned yet is medium. As in, what medium do you use to create awesome content marketing? Should you write articles, record screencasts, guest on or host a podcast, or use any of dozens of other mediums?I haven’t mentioned it yet because it really depends. I’m a huge advocate of using a medium that is somewhat natural to you, is easy for you to consistently work in, and shows your “best side”. If your voice sounds like Steve Urkel, maybe podcasting is not your best medium. Or maybe it is, if you know how to turn a possible weakness into a strength. It’s not by accident that he was a memorable character!So pick the medium that exploits your natural preferences and makes it easy for you to be consistent.
I know this was a long article. BUT I’M NOT SORRY, because it’s important stuff! The success of your content marketing will very much depend on how well you plan.Ready to start putting your content marketing plan together? Head over to this planning page, respond to the questions, and you’ll get emailed a copy. This will help you think through the important parts of your content marketing plan. Click here to start planning.
It’s kind of a lot, but there are some important jobs that have to be done on a lead-generation site:
- https://wordpress.org/plugins/broken-link-checker/ Because broken links suck. (Edit: my WordPress expert buddies tell me to disable this except when needed because it breaks stuff.)
- https://wordpress.org/plugins/404page/ lets me create a custom 404 error page with valuable resources and a list opt-in instead of a generic 404 page
- https://wordpress.org/plugins/duplicate-post/ lets me easily duplicate pages (and blog posts, but I only use this to dupe pages) without jumping through the typical WordPress hoops
- https://wordpress.org/plugins/wonderm00ns-simple-facebook-open-graph-tags/ to put Opengraph tags on posts to enhance social sharing results.
- http://www.gravityforms.com/ middle price tier option for easily adding contact forms and opt-in forms.
- https://wordpress.org/plugins/drip-gravity-forms/ Lets me hook up Gravity Forms to Drip and bypass Drip double opt-in as desired.
- https://wordpress.org/plugins/gravity-forms-no-captcha-recaptcha/ adds the least awful Capcha I’ve found to Gravity Forms.
- https://wordpress.org/plugins/header-and-footer-scripts/ To let me add custom script to header or footer. Rarely needed since I’ve migrated away from LeadPages and started using GeneratePress premium.
- https://managewp.com/ for backups and maintenance.
- https://wordpress.org/plugins/quick-pagepost-redirect-plugin/ for page redirects as necessary.
- Thrive Leads for rapidly building opt-in forms and AB testing.
- https://wordpress.org/plugins/dvk-social-sharing/ My GAWD are most social sharing plugins overbearing and ugly! This one fits my preference for creating simple text social sharing links.
- https://wordpress.org/plugins/wordpress-seo/ for SEO tweaking (I don’t do much, just manual page title and descriptions)
- https://wordpress.org/plugins/postmark-approved-wordpress-plugin/ for handling outbound SMTP mail from the site, which tends to be way more reliable than letting the hosting provider do this.
- https://wordpress.org/plugins/shortcoder/ for creating re-usable text, HTML, or code snippets.
- https://wordpress.org/plugins/open-external-links-in-a-new-window/ makes it so external links open in a new window without manually checking the “open in external window” checkbox, which I prefer. You can build an exception list to exclude certain domains from this behavior.
I use the GeneratePress theme, Beaver Builder, and Thrive Theme’s landing page builder. All three play well together and give me all the flexibility I need to crank out pretty much any kind of regular page (I just use a regular theme-styled page), sales page (I tend to use Beaver Builder layouts for these), or landing page (Thrive’s landing page builder is nice for these).
I frequently interview my clients in order to produce articles and big ‘ole series of educational content that attract leads and build trust.This is the question list I usually use:
- What do things look like today for the reader that needs the help this article will deliver?
- Why is the problem this article addresses commonplace?
- What is the history of the status quo behind the problem this article is addressing?
- What benefit will the reader get from taking the action this article recommends?
- If readers took this article’s advice to heart & fully implemented it, what would things look like?
- What resistance would arise for the reader implementing this article’s advice?
- What is your advice for solving the problem this article is addressing? Specifically:
- Where should readers start?
- What order should they tackle issues in?
- What should they do at each step?
- What challenges will arise with each step?
- When will they know it’s time to move to the next step?
- Are there any resources that readers can use to make each step easier/more successful? Don’t forget other articles you’ve written if they’re relevant.
- Is there any parting advice you’d leave the reader with?
- Is there any way you like to summarize this issue for people in your work?
- Are there any next steps in the bigger picture this article leads to?
One of the ways to learn more about the expensive problem(s) your development shop solves is to survey people. You can survey past clients, current clients, and companies that aren’t even your client at all.Here are some suggestions on how to do that.Nothing kills a survey response rate like a long survey, so keep it short.Nothing gets skewed survey results like closed-end questions that present a false dichotomy or a biased set of answers, so ask open-ended questions.I like these questions for learning about expensive problems:
- How does your business make money?
- What about your business keeps you up at night?
- What 1 or 2 things would improve your business if you learned how to do them?
- If you could wave a magic wand, what 1 thing would you change now to make your business better?
- Is it OK if I ask you a few followup questions by email?
I love Typeform for creating simple surveys because it’s beautiful, free, and easy for survey takers to use.A 20 to 30% response rate to surveys is normal, even for people who like you and the work you’ve done for them, so don’t get discouraged if you are seeing numbers in that range.Reminding people is 100% acceptable if you do it politely.
Do you hate writing?Well, I have bad news and I have good news. The bad news first.Every professional services business should be looking to content marketing1 as a critical tool to support growth beyond their existing referral network and good luck. Done right, content marketing begins to attract clients to you, lowering your cost of new client acquisition.But, content marketing requires that you create… content. Most folks automatically think writing when they think about creating educational content.If you want to do more content marketing, I can’t eliminate the need to create your own content (though I can do it for you). And your content still has to be good, meaning it must be appealing, accessible and drop-dead useful.In this article I’d like to show you an alternate workflow for content creation that keeps you from having to write very much at all. This is the good news that I promised you. It’s called an audio-first workflow.An audio-first workflow largely takes writing out of the content creation process. You’ll still end up with a lot of textual content for search engines to rank and for people to read. The bonus with an audio-first workflow is that you’ll almost never be staring at a blank page, wondering what to write this week.
An Audio-First Workflow
Let’s walk through an audio-first workflow.
1) Do a Little Bit of Planning
Start with some planning that answers these questions:
- What are the top 3 business results your company creates for your clients?
- What are the top 3 problems your clients ask you to solve again and again?
- What are the top 3 areas of interest in your specialty that clients like to hear about?
- What are the top 3 broader issues affecting your clients in their industry in the next 12 to 24 months?
- What issues or changes in your specialty are your clients concerned about or interested in?
If you come up with three answers for each of those questions, you will have a fantastic list of topics to create content marketing around.The main point in your planning is that your content should not be random; instead, it should be focused around what your clients find interesting, compelling, or valuable.
2) Record Interesting Conversations
Even if you don’t think your voice sounds great, even if your microphone skills are weak, you can use an audio-first workflow to kick off the content creation process. After all, you don’t have to turn your audio recordings into a public-facing podcast, you can instead use them to drive the creation of text content. Here’s how to do that.Expand your topic list from the previous step into short outlines. So for example, if one of your topics is “Client concern: how will the prevalence of mobile web access affect my e-commerce business now and in the next 3 to 5 years?” then you might expand that into an outline that looks like this:Getting Your E-Commerce Business Ready For the Mobile Web
- The mobile web is coming, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. Head in sand is not an option.
- If you don’t take action, here’s the dire consequences you can expect.
- The good news: it’s pretty easy to start adapting to the mobile landscape now.
- Three simple changes you can make to get ready: A, B, C
- Conclusion/CTA: Hope this is helpful. BTW, we have been solving this problem for clients now for 5 years. We can help you…
Next, figure out who in your company could have the most interesting or most educational conversation about this topic? Maybe it’s:
- The company founder and the lead developer
- The project manager and the lead developer
- The company founder and the salesperson who has closed the most business in this area
- The lead designer and a client who just finished a successful project in this area
You get the picture. One person having a monologue can be interesting, but probably won’t be unless they’re a great speaker. But two people who have been deeply involved in the topic at hand almost certainly will have an interesting conversation.Next, record those people having that conversation for about an hour. Do your best with the recording (quiet area with no background noise, decent equipment, etc.) but don’t obsess about it. Obsession begets more obsession, but it rarely moves a needle that’s been stuck on zero.If the audio sounds good and you want to have a podcast for your company, then release your recordings as a podcast!Podcasting Protip #1: Get about 4 or 5 episodes recorded, edited, and finished before you release your podcast to the world. This will validate that you can consistently follow through on your podcasting schedule and hopefully keep you out of the embarrassing graveyard of 5-episode, abandoned podcasts.Podcasting Protip #2: Unless you are a budding audio engineer or have lot of time to kill, just pay someone to edit the dang podcast for you. Devreps and podcastmotor are excellent, and I’m sure Fiverr and Odesk are rife with other options too. After you get certain one-time items like opening music, intro voiceover, and general workflow issues sorted, a budget of about $120 per podcast is about enough to turn a raw 60-minute recording into a finished podcast.
3) Transcribe the Recording
Send the recording to a transcription service. Both Rev.com and Castingwords.com are excellent and affordable options. Rev is both cheaper and faster ($1/minute, 24-hour turnaround) but Castingwords is probably slightly higher quality but slower and more expensive ($1.50/minute last I checked).
4) Maximize That Transcription
Take the transcription for your podcast episode and turn it into one or more articles! Either do so internally (risky because I guarantee that you will back-burner it and probably never get it done, especially if you have a deadline or are busy with client work), or just pay a writer or editor to do it for you.A budget of $200 per article should be more than enough to cover having a competent writer turn your hour of conversation–which will be around 6,000 to 8,000 jumbled words of unrefined gold–into pure gold. In fact, you may get 2 or 3 articles out of one 1-hour conversation. Need a writer or editor? I can refer you–just let me know.Either publish these articles to your blog (making sure you remove the publication date and call it something other than a blog) or publish them in your Resource Center.Send the articles to your list (you are building a list, aren’t you?) and make sure the best ones are part of your “list welcome experience” (the email sequence someone gets when they join your list).Repurpose articles into SlideShare decks. I use a tool called DeckSet to make this easy and keep me out of my personal hell of Microsoft Office.Take your articles and turn them into spiffy-looking PDFs. I use Remarq for this, but other tools will also work. When you are having sales conversations with clients, email them relevant PDFs to help them see how you’ve thought through issues of importance to them. Use the PDFs to spice up your press kit if you have one.
BOOM! The $520/mo Content Marketing Program
There you have it! For around $520–and let’s say about 6 to 8 hours of staff time per month– you can have a content marketing program that involves almost no writing! That doesn’t even cover the low hanging fruit offshoots from this audio-first workflow, which could easily include screencasts, speaking engagements, and podcast guest appearances.
Some Educational Resource Center Examples
Previously, I mentioned that you should kill your blog, take any on-topic blog content you have, and then integrate it into an educational resource center on your site. I’ve gotten a few questions about exactly how to do this, and I thought it would be helpful to show two examples of what an educational resource center looks like.Check out this quick 11-minute screencast where I walk you through those examples and show you a live example of the results of an audio-first workflow:
Finally, on Reach
In terms of reaching your audience, it’s interesting to think about where and how they can engage with content that’s been produced using an audio-first approach.
|Setting||Content Types That Work Well||Notes|
|At a desk, in front of a computer||Written, Audio||This modality has the most flexibility, but it has the most competition from other stuff like work, YouTube, the whole rest of the Internet, etc.|
|Away from desk, in front of a desktop or laptop computer||Written, Audio||Again, lots of flexibility, but potentially lots of competition from other stuff.|
|Away from desk, mobile device, filling idle time||Written, Audio||In this context, attention spans are shorter and so interesting audio content and shorter form content–even micro content like tweets, Facebook posts, and Tumblr content–play best.|
|Away from desk, mobile device, doing something else like exercise, driving, etc.||Audio||In this context, only audio works. For some people, this is a lot of time you could gain access to!|
Keep these differences in reach in mind as you are thinking about how to use your limited time and energy to produce educational content marketing. An audio-first approach may be a very efficient, effective way to get it done while also capitalizing on the wide reach of audio content.
- Content marketing is very simply a way of demonstrating your company’s expertise. You declare your expertise through positioning, but you demonstrate your expertise through content marketing. ↩
The last article I published here was called Kill Your Blog. As the reactions1 to this idea rolled in over the last week or two, it’s become clear that people agree with the idea, but I could do a better job of explaining its nuances and how to implement it. So here goes.
What About Current, Cutting Edge Content?
One question that came my way was this:
I have a friend who loves writing about cutting edge stuff. Are there categories of content where the blog format is actually better since it does include that freshness factor in the publication date?
Yes, there is content like this. But, and this is a big but:
- It should be handled differently based on its ephemeral nature.
- It should play second fiddle to a strategy focused on creating “evergreen” or “cornerstone” content on a topic.
This all comes back to positioning. Your positioning is what my colleague Jonathan Stark calls the “tip of your marketing spear”. He means it must be extremely sharp–extremely precise and “sharp” in who it speaks to.For anyone who is using their website to position themselves or their company, all the content of that site should reflect their positioning. That includes blog content too.So back to that notion of “cutting edge” blog content. Here are some examples of what that might look like:
- You’re very interested in a technology that’s 3 to 10 years out from mainstream adoption. Maybe it’s even an extension of the kind of problems you solve for your clients right now. You want to write about it because you can really understand the impact it’s going to have in 3 to 10 years, and you’re just plain fired up about the subject.
How to Handle This Kind of Content
- Do NOT have it appear in your main list of blog articles.
- Consider using a secondary microblogging tool like Twitter, Tumblr, or Facebook to publish this stuff. You can link to it from your site (see below for ideas for what to name this secondary blog).
- If these articles are long or philosophical in nature, set up a blog on Medium and post them there.
- If you want it on your website, set up a secondary blog for this stuff. Consider naming this blog something that reflects the cutting-edge, ephemeral nature of this content. Some ideas:
- The [Company Name] Lab
- The [Company Name] Garage
- The [Company Name] Skunk Works
A Quick Intermission
Real quick… I just want to remind you that the idea I’m reinforcing here is very simple:
Your blog should support your positioning as much as possible.
Remember, your positioning is simply being precise about who you serve, what services you provide them, and how you are different from others doing the same sort of thing.Your blog content should rally around the flagpole of your positioning. It will be much more effective if it does.
More on the Idea of an Educational Resource
In the podcast where I originally started riffing on this idea of killing your blog, I suggest replacing your blog with an “educational resource”. What a stuffy word!While building your company’s authority does involve a lot of teaching2, using academic language is often the wrong way to describe what you do.Again, the basic idea is this: instead of calling your blog a blog, call it something that describes its educational value. Here are some ideas for less stuffy ways to do that:
- Resource Center
- [Topic Name] Resource Center
- [Topic Name] Resource Roundup
Configuring This in Your Website
So how do you set this up? I mean how do you really turn this idea into a website information architecture? Well, as usual the answer depends…It depends on your current situation with regard to blog content.In my experience with My Content Sherpa clients, I see several common patterns:
- You’re sitting on a pile of blog content, some of which is relevant to your positioning and some of which is not.
- You have a lot of blog content that’s not relevant to your positioning, because you haven’t understood how to create that kind of content or you’ve recently clarified or changed your positioning and your old content doesn’t match your new positioning.
- You have a pile of on-topic, timeless blog content. Businesses in this situation don’t need to hire me, which explains why I never see this pattern with my clients. But if you’re in this situation, go buy yourself an ice cream right now. You’ve earned it!
1) If You’re Sitting on a Pile of Great Content, Some of Which is Relevant to Your Positioning
This is easy, but will nevertheless take some time. Here’s the simplified recipe, assuming you are using a modern content management system (CMS) like Squarespace, WordPress, Expression Engine, etc.:Note: Avoid changing URLs. We don’t want to freak Google and other search engines out. When you change names of anything, do so only at the site presentation level, not the URL structure level.
- Go through and make sure every blog article is categorized. While you can get as fancy as you want, make sure topical articles (ones relevant to your current positioning) are categorized one way, and off-topic stuff is categorized differently.
- Configure your blog index to not show the topical articles. What is left on your blog index is the off-topic content.
- Make sure your blog name as it appears in your site navigation reflects the off-topic or ephemeral nature of the content it now displays.
- Set up a new page on your site. Not a new auto-generated blog index, but a new page. Call it something that suggests that it contains valuable, educational resources for your ideal client. Make sure it is prominent in your site navigation.
- From this new page, link to every on-topic blog post that solves a problem, provides relevant insight, or clarifies an issue for your ideal client. For each article, make sure the title is good (both accurate and interesting) and write a 1-paragraph synopsis describing the benefit of that article. If possible, order the articles top to bottom in a way that has a logical progression, and if necessary, group them according to topical areas. Here’s a great example of this type of resource page: http://karenmcgrane.com/2011/12/14/mobile-content-strategy/ (hat tip to Jonathan Stark again for pointing me to that example). Here’s another great example. (You have to create a login for that second example, but it’s worth it to peek around.)
2) If You Have a Lot Of Content That’s Not Relevant to Your Positioning
If you’re in this situation, maybe it’s because you’ve recently repositioned yourself, clarified your positioning, or it may be that your existing blog content is crap. By “crap”, I mean: low quality, extremely inconsistent, or all over the map in terms of topical focus.In this case, I recommend the following:
- Have a good, long think about whether you want to use content marketing more strategically. You don’t have to, after all! There are other very effective ways to generate business! There are ways that have a faster ROI, ways that are still under the content marketing umbrella but are better suited to people who hate writing, and approaches like outbound marketing that can also work very well but don’t contribute to building your firm’s authority. You get to decide, and you should choose business development methods that you can consistently execute on or afford to hire out.
- Decided you really want to make use of content marketing? Great! Do the following:
- Remove your blog completely from your site navigation but do not delete or modify any existing blog articles. You want to hold on to any SEO benefit3 those articles are providing but hide the off-topic content so it doesn’t confuse your messaging and dilute your positioning.
- Plan out 6 to 12 blog articles that exactly match your current positioning. When I say “exactly match”, I mean they are stuff your ideal customer would want to read and would benefit from.
- Write those articles as quickly as you can. If writing is not your thing, look at other ways to rapidly generate the content, like interviewing experts, interviewing clients of yours, or just rambling into a voice recorder and turning that audio content into written content using a transcription service and an affordable but very skilled editor. Publish these articles on your blog.
- Set up a new page on your site. Not a new auto-generated blog index, but a new page. Call it something that suggests that it contains valuable, educational resources for your ideal client. Make sure it is prominent in your site navigation.
- From this new page, link to those new blog articles. For each article, make sure the title is good (both accurate and interesting) and write a 1-paragraph synopsis describing the benefit of that article. If possible, order the articles top to bottom in a way that has a logical progression, and if necessary, group them according to topical areas. Here’s a great example of this type of resource page: http://karenmcgrane.com/2011/12/14/mobile-content-strategy/ (hat tip to Jonathan Stark again for pointing me to that example). Here’s another great example. (You have to create a login for that second example, but it’s worth it to peek around.)
- After you’ve gotten this far, buy yourself an ice cream! Then, either repeat this approach for a new batch of content or call it a day and get back to running your business while looking for opportunities to send prospective clients, influencers, and bloggers to your resource page.
- I should have done a better job of giving credit where credit is due. There’s nothing new under the sun, right?My friend Eric Davis pointed out that Naomi Dunford of IttzBiz has previously advocated a similar approach, which you can read all about here: http://ittybiz.com/content-marketing-without-blogging/I’m pretty sure I read that blog post, promptly forgot about it, and then rehashed the idea as if it was my own. Sorry guys! ↩
- Teaching travels under many guises. You “teach” your clients by: ConsultingExplaining stuff on podcastsWriting educational or “how to” blog articlesTrainingSpeaking at events, conferences, and the like ↩
- Though if these old articles aren’t aligned with your current positioning they won’t bring in much qualified traffic, but thats OK. ↩