Boost Sales by Sharing Your Expertise (pt 1)

(originally published in Costco Connection Magazine, September 2014)

image_Costco cover-sept 2014In 2009, Virginia-based River Pools & Spas was hit hard by the recession. The fiberglass-pool company depended on homeowners taking out second mortgages. But when the economy crashed, and orders fell from six a month to two, owner Marcus Sheridan knew he had to get creative. He made a bold move and slashed his $250,000 annual advertising budget and made his company’s online presence his top priority.

Sheridan embraced “content marketing,” transforming his website from an online brochure to a fiberglass-pool information resource. He created and distributed educational content his prospects sought while researching swimming pools online. He answered questions about pools in blog posts, informational videos and a free e-book titled, How to Buy a Swimming Pool the Right Way, From the Right Company, at the Right Price.

Most important, Sheridan changed his mindset from talking about his company to becoming a trusted adviser who put prospects’ needs first. “I used to say, ‘I build fiberglass pools,’ ” recalls Sheridan. “But as a content marketer, that changed to ‘We teach the world about fiberglass pools … and just happen to sell and install them.’ ” To demonstrate his commitment, he wrote a blog post listing the five best pool builders (competitors) in Virginia, and didn’t include himself.

Content marketing saved the company, helping River Pools & Spas become the most trafficked swimming pool company on the Web and one of the largest pool installers in the country. Not only did content marketing increase the company’s search engine traffic, it created prospects who were more likely to become paying customers. “People who consume our content are 80 percent more likely to become customers,” says Sheridan. “Content marketing is now our most effective sales tool.”

Teach, Don’t Sell

Content marketing centers on giving customers what they need. Rather than pushing products, content marketing helps brands earn trust and develop an emotional connection with prospects through educational blog posts, videos, case studies and how-to guides.

According to a 2011 chief marketing officer and consumer attitude study conducted by

The Content Council, a leading organization for branded content and content marketing in North America, consumers welcome content that helps them make informed buying decisions, with 61 percent more likely to buy from companies that produce useful content.

The most effective content marketing takes a journalistic approach. This means being objective and telling both sides of a story, showing 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 real-world examples, data, studies and statistics. Interview other experts and find case studies that support your position.

Costco member JacksonWhite P.C., a Mesa, Arizona–based law firm, publishes daily blog posts on topics related to its law practice. According to its website data, the criminal law section of the firm’s website received over 65,000 visits in 2013, more than half coming from blog posts. The most successful content is very specific and features experts who focus on details of a particular law, says Lauren Witte, the firm’s associate director of marketing. That content reinforces the firm’s expertise.

 


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Marketing to Chief Executives

image_freedigitalphotos-ceo sitting on chairCorporate executives wield tremendous buying clout and, increasingly, are directly involved in high-stakes purchasing decisions early in the selection process. According to a recent study by Chief Executive Group, 3 out of 4 BtoB CEOs are more engaged in major investment decisions.

Why are executives recommending brands at the beginning of new investment initiatives? According to the study, CEOs have adapted to accelerating changes in the world economy and monitor and shoulder the responsibility for the outcome of major purchasing decisions.

Most strikingly, companies have only a 15% chance of winning business if a CEO hasn’t heard of your brand. Whether your firm sells IT, telecommunications, financial and insurance services and business services to the corporate market, sellers must establish and build their brands with chief executives.

Fortunately, CEOs open to ideas from credible outside sources. This provides abundant opportunities for familiarizing CEOs with your brand while shaping their thinking early in the decision making process. Marketers who reach CEOs enjoy shorter sales cycles and fewer bureaucratic hurdles by speaking to ultimate decision-makers.

Thought Leadership Branding

As a corporate seller, you must shun self-promotion in favor of creating value for prospects throughout the sales process. This means leveraging your expertise via thought leadership to educate, advise and solve problems for CEOs about major issues facing their organizations.

CEOs are looking for companies that articulate and deliver measurable business results. Effectively building your company’s CEO-level brand reputation entails following principles:

• Total focus on benefits for the CEO – not your company

• Provide a unique point of view on issues crucial to the CEO

• Build for speed so your content makes a good impression fast

• Pursue face-to-face opportunities at conferences and roundtables

• Leverage the power of text effectively in white papers and email

• Develop social media strategies aligned with CEOs’ growing usage

Content Marketing to Chief Executives

Marketers must understand CEO media habits and develop content marketing that reaches and influences executives in meaningful ways.

This means taking time to consider both the substance and manner in which your content is delivered.

A couple of examples from the recent Chief Executive Group report are worth considering.

Print is not dead. Many marketers assume that online channels provide the most opportunities for thought leadership and content marketing.

However, a survey from Ipsos MediaCT reveals that America’s most influential business leaders are incorporating digital media into their lifestyles, but they have not abandoned traditional media with 87% executives still utilizing print.

“The Business Elite are using digital to help them pool relevant information from numerous sources,” says James Torr director at Ipsos MediaCT. “However, instead of replacing traditional media, digital supplements their use of print and television.”

Thought leadership events. CEOs overwhelming prefer live, face-to-face opportunities to network and learn from other chief executives. Some companies are creating executive events that brings CEOs together for conversation and knowledge sharing thereby positioning their brands as a true benefit providers.

Thought leadership events do not require huge attendance to be successful. It’s more important to attract the right quality people to generate excellent conversation and substantive one-on-one interaction.

As you develop your thought leadership strategy, try to see the world through the eyes of a CEO: resonate with their challenges, look for opportunities, develop an understanding of their competitive landscape.

Focus on making a difference, not making a sale. Think like a journalist and provide value without spin. Develop articles, reports, talks and blog posts that address pressing marketplace issues and how CEOs can address these three months, six months, a year down the road.

Help CEOs keep abreast of market changes with prescriptive content. For example, a healthcare consultant could develop an e-book explaining five strategies for navigating health care reform.  It’s simple, it’s prescriptive, and it’s a top-of-mind issue that many CEOs worry about every day.

Ultimately, trust opens the door. CEOs have ongoing pressure to perform. They want seek brands that can help them. To engage CEOs, you have to think on their terms and go where they go. Thought leadership appeals to corporate decision makers’ need for relevant, useful information and helps you stand out from a crowd of cold callers.


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The Business Case for Thought Leadership Marketing

Thought leadership is often seen as an intellectual exercise. Something that’s ‘nice to do,’ but not a revenue generator or central to core business strategy.

Yet, when approached strategically, thought leadership marketing can serve as the foundation of your brand and a key driver of new sales. Thought leadership marketing helps companies enter new markets and dominate a niche or industry, earn industry prominence, attract media coverage, speaking engagements, book deals and even investor funding.

Best of all, thought leadership marketing can help you attract high-end opportunities by leveraging the expertise you already have.

Generate Higher Quality Leads and Sales

Thought leadership works because it carries over to your companies products and services. This explains why thought leaders tend to attract better quality leads, command higher fees and close more sales. Prospects seek out and buy from those who’ve achieved a credible industry reputation.

Need proof? Consider conferences where industry experts are regularly invited as keynote speakers and panelists. Not only do speakers enjoy invaluable publicity leading up to the event (which further cements their thought leader reputations), they attract prospects to their talks. When they’re finished, audience members line up to hand over their business cards.

Cut Through the Clutter with Real Expertise

In our ever noisier world, everyone is talking. Websites, blogs and social media have given everyone a megaphone. Thought leadership marketing helps you rise above the noise by demonstrating not only your expertise, but others’ validation of your expertise.

Real expertise is demonstrated by more than social media activities, blogging or content marketing. Thought leaders realize that earned media coverage, public speaking, publishing articles and publishing traditional books are part of the equation.

Demonstrating real expertise requires work. This explains why many of your companies never get around to it. It also provides opportunities for your firm to step up, elevate your industry positioning ahead of your less prominent competitors.

The Media Will Call You

Thought leaders magnetically attract media opportunities that give them free, valuable exposure. National newspapers, magazines and top websites and bloggers regularly seek thought leaders. This works because they rely on the tips, inside knowledge and story ideas from subject matter experts.

When the media call you, and you become a partner in the newsmaking process, the free exposure is only one benefit. Often, the credibility provided by article reprints, guest blog posts and expert interviews give your website more credibility and, when used in your marketing and sales materials, carry far more weight than any self-created marketing piece.

Boost Your Online Findability

Content may be the currency of the web, but not all content is created equal. Increasingly, search engine optimization rests on creating “valuable content” to push your website to the top of the search results.

Google’s recent search algorithm updates have dramatically changed the rules of SEO, rewarding higher quality content with better search rankings. What constitutes quality content? According to Google, some indicators include:

  • Would you trust the information presented in this article?

  • Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?

  • Would you trust the information presented in this article?

  • Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?

Thought leadership is fast becoming the only real strategy for boosting online findability. As you articulate your expertise, you’ll gradually attract links to your website from high quality sites in your industry. The more websites reference your work, the more a cumulative effect occurs as others share your content.

Work and Persistence

Thought leadership doesn’t happen overnight. It requires work and a commitment. Thought leadership marketing is most effective when it becomes part of the essential fabric of a company.

Start by taking a good look at your target market. Identify the point on the horizon where your want to take your firm. Your thought leadership efforts should ultimately position your firm as a resource within your target market based on your key competitive advantages.

Never forget that thought leadership activities such as speaking, publicity and writing articles often take time to produce results. Some activities may show quick ROI, while others may indirectly boost your credibility in ways that attract high-end clients, new opportunities or more referrals.


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