Years ago, I published an article in a business magazine about self-publishing as a marketing tool. As a result, I landed two clients, submitted several proposals, and made reprints for my marketing materials.
In one instance, a reader who later became a client had already made a decision to hire a competitor, but reconsidered when she came across my article. “It made the difference,” she said when she contacted me. “We knew from reading your article that you could help us.”
What really made the difference? My article was published in a trusted media outlet, not merely on my own website. This bestowed a level of credibility and gravitas that tipped the scale in my favor and closed the sale.
Validate Your Expertise
Building trust is never easy, especially when everyone claims to be an expert. As more and more professional services firms flood the Internet with e-books, blog posts and webinars, professional service firms must do more to establish their credibility than (according to the current mantra) creating and distributing “quality” content.
What others say about you matters more than what you say about yourself. For professional services firms, it’s not enough to publish content on your own website or blog. It’s imperative to establish a presence on credible third party media.
Have a Strategy
Content marketing programs should be designed to achieve specific business goals and tailored to your marketplace and prospects. Professional services firms in particular should build their content marketing strategy around the following goals:
Establish industry expertise and thought leadership
Attract inbound sales leads through traditional and online channels
Boost search engine findability and optimization
Provide materials to aid the sales process
Once you’re clear on your business goals, you can develop a content marketing strategy to lead your efforts. For example, I’m currently helping a healthcare management consultant launch a new firm. Our primary goal: establishing his firm’s national reputation around helping companies implement the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare).
To achieve this goal, our marketing strategy includes securing speaking slots at business conferences, publishing op-eds in national newspapers and pitching articles and webinars to industry associations that position my client as a credible thought leader (and potential consultant) among corporate decision makers.
Of course, content plays a role. Our blog posts, articles and webinars support our overarching strategy of establishing my client as a thought leader around businesses healthcare reform and helping corporate America interpret, navigate and implement the Affordable Care Act.
Media Still Matters
Credibility (not content) is king. A blog is a great place to demonstrate your expertise, build your personal brand and expand your network. But anyone can publish a blog. Not everyone can earn a platform for their expertise in top media and trade outlets, earning an implied endorsement from sources your prospects trust.
Despite the rise in social media and online news sources, gaining earned media coverage still remains one of the most effective ways to reach buyers and build an industry-wide platform. When you develop a strong message around your expertise, and approach the media as a partner in the newsmaking process, your ideas, opinions and content can appear in newspapers, trade magazines, top blogs and websites that position your business as a true thought leader.
My clients are often surprised to learn that media outlets will help you spread the word about your business. Moreover, by combining content marketing with public relations, you’ll leap ahead of your “online-only” competitors who believe that third party credibility is no longer necessary.
A Journalistic Approach
Many content marketer evangelists tell businesses to see themselves as media companies. They applaud the “death of media intermediaries,” instructing companies to communicate directly with customers and prospects who desire nothing more that a compelling “story” and relevant information.
Yet, prospects are not stupid. They know content marketing is meant to advance sales. And as more firms develop and flood the Internet with content marketing e-books, blog posts and webinars, professional service firms it’s getting harder to establish credibility.
The most effective content marketing takes a journalistic approach. This means being as objective as possible, proving both sides of a story, and providing context. It means telling prospects not only what to do, but when not to apply your advice, even if it means turning away a potential sale. Fill your content with research, data, studies and statistics. Interview other experts and find case studies that support your thesis.
This is how the traditional media make the news. It’s also how to get increasingly savvy prospects to embrace your content marketing, which should avoid overt (or subtle) sales pitches, hyping one approach (yours) or providing irrelevant proof points that stretch your case.
It’s not enough to articulate your expertise. Your content marketing program must be build around third party project a credible halo of authority and trust within your industry.