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    3 Content Marketing Ideas For the Time-Constrained Dev Shop

    I just finished reviewing Dan Norris’ new book Content Machine.This is one of the better books I’ve read on content marketing, and it’s chock full of good advice on how to do excellent B2B content marketing. In particular, his chapter 4 on differentiating your voice is excellent.Here’s the problem I see with Dan’s advice: I don’t think it applies very well to a resource-constrained environment, particularly where that resource is your time.I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: DIY content marketing can be a second job. Delegating that job to a junior employee is appealing, but you often end up with topics like, “How We Configure Our Development Environment” and “Upgrading to Ruby 2.x.y”. These junior staff can’t easily connect the dots between the business value of what you do and the nuts and bolts of how you do it.If senior staff are charged with content marketing, it’s rare for them to be able to consistently prioritize doing it. So you end up with better content than if your junior staff did it, but inconsistent output.The right solution may be to hire help with your content marketing, but I’d only recommend doing that if what that help costs you per year is 75% or less of the average lifetime value of a new client. (My services may hit this price point or they may be too expensive…)So, if you are still in a situation where a DIY approach to content marketing is best for you, here are 3 ideas for low time investment, high yield content marketing:

    1) A Podcast

    Audio content has amazing reach. The barriers to entry on the iTunes store are exceedingly low. Getting a podcast that sounds better than 80% of what’s out there can be done for $300 or so in up-front equipment cost and $500/mo in services.My podcast spent over a month on the New and Noteworthy list after I launched with 9 episodes and about 10 ratings I begged for from my list (thank you, longsuffering list!). This podcast gets a bit over 700 “listens” per week (really downloads that may or may not turn into listens). I spend 2 to 3 hours a week producing it (would be half that if I outsourced the editing).My point? It isn’t hard to make a bigger dent in the podcasting world than you might be used to in the written content world.

    2) An Audio-First Workflow

    Maybe you and everyone on your staff sounds like Nardwuar and you’d rather not put your literal voice out there. You can still start with audio and end up with good written content. I talk about doing that here and provide a complete workflow plan.

    3) A Curated Newsletter

    Finally, you can write almost no content yourself and still build a list. Here’s how to do that using a curated list approach.And here’s a great example of that in action: http://itbinsights.com/ If you’re stuck in “neutral” with your company’s content marketing efforts because you’re short on time, I hope this helps you get in gear!

    More content, less writer’s block

    Do you hate writing?Well, I have bad news and I have good news. The bad news first.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.positioning services - Experiential marketing learning for independent consultants

    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:What an Educational Resource Center Looks Like, and An Audio-First Workflow Example

    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.


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    Demonstrating expertise

    OK, enough high level stuff. Let’s get into the nitty gritty.The #3 job of your content marketing is to help prospects understand if you’re the right fit by showing what it’s like to work with you.The #2 job of your content marketing is to increase familiarity by appearing regularly in front of your prospects.For software development shops, job #1 of your content marketing is to increase trust by demonstrating expertise. The central question of doing content marketing right becomes…How do you demonstrate expertise most effectively?

    So many ways….

    There are many ways you can demonstrate expertise. Here’s a short list:

    1. Articles that explain how to solve a problem.
    2. Screencasts that teach something
    3. Podcasts where you really go deep into a subject
    4. Talks where you explain a topic very well
    5. Slide decks where you teach something
    6. White papers that explain a topic
    7. Case studies that summarize how a project went and what challenges you addressed
    8. In-person or remote training where you teach on a topic

    Your imagination is really the limit in terms of how you can demonstrate expertise, but the list above covers a lot of the popular approaches.As I hinted at in the previous lesson on planning, you should play to your strengths. If you’re a boring writer but a more engaging speaker, then don’t make written articles the foundation of your content marketing (or hire a good writer instead of DIYing it).Choose methods where you have an execution advantage. If you’re both a strong writer and a good speaker but have a much easier time getting in front of a microphone consistently and recording a podcast episode, focus on that over writing.

    Getting your geek on

    Once you actually get serious about content marketing, you’ll be faced with the question of how tactical/geeky your content should be.If you’re a Rails developer, you’ll probably be thinking about writing articles on setting up your development environment or solving particular Rails-specific programming challenges.If you’re a front-end developer, you’ll be tempted to blog about Angular vs. .These kind of tactical-level content marketing pieces do demonstrate expertise, but don’t let them make up 100% of your content marketing.Instead, they should make up no more than 50% of your content marketing. This is because you also need something that speaks to the people who make the decision about hiring you.

    Getting your suit on

    You also need to market effectively to the person or people who make the decision to hire you, allocate the budget to hire you, or have authority over the business unit that hires you.This person also needs to trust you before you can make the sale, but they have different concerns. They want demonstrations of your expertise in:

    • Lowering risk for them
    • Skillfully getting results on time and under budget
    • Helping them make good decisions that pay off for their business

    The other 50% of your content marketing should demonstrate that you have this kind of expertise. Expertise in turning your tactical skills into valuable business outcomes.Case studies tend to work well for demonstrating this kind of expertise, though they are not the only way. Educational content aimed at business decision makers also works really well.For example, if you created a thorough and unbiased guide that explained the business-level considerations around integrating a modern ERP system into a particular e-commerce platform, you would do a lot to build trust with any potential clients who might hire you to help with that kind of project.Here are some of my favorite examples of this kind of content:

    That’s it for this lesson! In the next lesson, I’ll give you some hacks for creating content marketing with less effort and disruption to your business.Please email me if you’ve got any questions.If you’d like my help with your content marketing, Content X-Ray is for you. You’ll get an actionable, custom-tailored report that will help you optimize your content marketing, eliminate confusion about next steps, and support you with an exclusive private library of how-to content. Check it out here.


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    The success is in the plan

    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.ImageDo I have your attention now?Good! :)The Elements of PlanYour content marketing plan will need to include some decisions around:

    1. Who you are trying to reach
    2. What your content will accomplish for them
    3. 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:

    1. Hit Publish on a new blog article.
    2. Schedule social media mentions on biz account and ask employees to help out too
    3. 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)]
    4. 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.


    PS – Questions! Just email me at philip@philipmorganconsulting.com. My inbox is always open to you.Finally, do you need some expert help with this stuff? I build a content marketing plan for you and set you up with the tools you need to be successful right away. See what I mean here.—<< Back to the indexOn to the next chapter >>

    The #1 problem with content marketing

    The #1 problem with content marketing is that it’s a job.Doing content marketing well and consistently is. a. job. It takes specialized skills, time, effort, and a calendar.This crash course is here to:

    • Show you all the shortcuts I know about
    • Help you avoid wasting time doing content marketing activities that won’t work
    • Build content marketing that’s specifically designed to sell professional services (not SaaS apps and not B2C stuff, which is what a LOT of content marketing advice is geared towards)

    There are other ways of acquiring leads for your dev shop, each with benefits and drawbacks:

    • Paid acquisition through advertising or pay-for-leads services like letsworkshop.com (an awesome service BTW)
    • Cold calls and outbound sales (example: http://carb.io/)
    • Referrals
    • Giving talks, workshops, training events, or guesting on podcasts (al forms of content marketing that are more outbound in nature)

    Paid acquisition requires only skill and money to produce leads, but it stops working when you shut off the ad budget.Cold calls and outbound sales can get immediate results, but they also don’t work unless you put time and/or money and effort into them.Referrals are amazing, because they come with unbeatable pre-established trust (that you didn’t have to build up over time with that particular prospect), but they are largely out of your control.Giving talks is another heavy hitter in terms of rapidly building trust, but unless the talk is recorded or repurposed in some other way, it can be a 1-hit wonder limited to those in attendance. When it does get recorded (like a podcast guest spot), it may end up on someone else’s platform where you have little control.Unlike these methods of acquiring leads, content marketing works 24×7 on your behalf, years into the future. It is (usually) published on a platform you control and fuels a marketing funnel that you own and benefit from over the years. It quietly and steadily builds trust and generates leads without you doing anything after it’s published. But… producing it is a real job.


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    The True Purpose of Content Marketing Might Surprise You

    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.


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    Is Positioning Professional Services Different Than Products? Al Ries Explains.

    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 MindThe 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.

    1. 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.
    2. 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

    Can you build a list even if you have NOTHING to say?

    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.

    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?

    A Solution

    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?

    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.

    Useful Information

    Useful Tools

    Content Marketing: The Success Is In the Plan

    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.ImageDo I have your attention now?Good! :)The Elements of PlanYour content marketing plan will need to include some decisions around:

    1. Who you are trying to reach
    2. What your content will accomplish for them
    3. 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:

    1. Hit Publish on a new blog article.
    2. Schedule social media mentions on biz account and ask employees to help out too
    3. 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)]
    4. 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.

    The WordPress Plugins I Use For a Lead-Generation Website and Why

    It’s kind of a lot, but there are some important jobs that have to be done on a lead-generation site:

    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).