Boost Sales by Sharing Your Expertise (pt 2)

(originally published in Costco Connection Magazine, September 2014)

Know Your Customer 

image_Costco cover-sept 2014There is no single content marketing approach that will work for all businesses. For example, a software company that sells exclusively to online customers might create a blog to boost inbound search engine leads. Conversely, a local moving company might offer a free moving tips e-book to boost the effectiveness of its radio and newspaper advertisements.

Although every business must determine its own strategy, content marketing should always flow from a clear understanding of how customers investigate your products and ser- they validate buying options).

Next, develop buyer personas—general snapshots of people who make purchasing decisions for your products and services. Buyer personas can be based on demographics, job responsibilities or how prospects prefer to receive and consume content. You can research buyer personas by studying your website analytics, analyzing search trends or polling your existing clients and customers.

“Brainstorm with your staff and salespeople about common questions your prospects ask before they ever arrive at your site,” says Scott Benson of Benson SEO, a Washington, D.C.–based inbound marketing consultancy. “Then, build your content marketing strategy around answering these questions. This ensures your content is useful and relevant, and can help smaller companies compete for competitive search terms.”

For example, Toronto-based Costco member inFlow Inventory, an inventory management software company, developed its content strategy around keyword research that showed prospects searched for an “inventory template” before purchasing inventory software. Taking advantage of this insight, the company created a blog post listing downloadable inventory templates. This strategy boosted inFlow’s search rankings and attracted thousands of website visitors who later became customers.

Promote Your Content

To ensure that your content spreads beyond your own website, develop relation- ships with industry websites and influencers, trade associations and journalists who cover your industry. Use your content to earn third- party credibility, grow your brand and expand your network by earning endorsements from sources your prospects trust.

Voices.com in Ontario, Canada, a company that connects businesses with professional voice talent, created an extensive online resource center with free educational webinars, video tutorials, articles and e-books. David Ciccarelli, the company’s co-founder and CEO, credits third-party credibility with landing major clients, such as PBS, Microsoft and the Discovery Channel. “Content marketing is our single most effective source of new business, especially when it’s been mentioned or published on high-profile media sites, including Wall Street Journal and Forbes,” he says.

“Social media can advance your content marketing efforts by connecting content with more people in your target market,” says LinkedIn group product marketing manager Lana Khavinson, who cites how AmeriFirst Home Mortgage uses social media to pro- mote its blog articles, e-books, infographics and videos that help people navigate the home-buying process.

“LinkedIn connects us with real estate agents and builders 
who refer their clients
to us for financing,” says
AmeriFirst inbound marketing
specialist Dan Moyle. “Combining con-
tent marketing with social media helped our website go from 3,000 views per month, with virtually no lead conversions, to over 5,000 views per month, with 2.5 percent converting to new customers.”

As consumers increasingly go online to research products and services, it’s imperative that businesses maintain websites with fresh, useful information. However, content marketing should not be viewed as a panacea. It is most effective when integrated into an appropriate marketing mix for your business, which can include search engine optimization, social media, advertising, lead nurturing, strategic partnerships and offline marketing.

“Content marketing is not a silver bullet that will drive your entire marketing program,” says expert Nick Stamoulis of Brick Marketing. “But when approached realistically and strategically, content marketing can boost your website traffic, generate more leads, establish your expertise and lower new-customer acquisition costs. Patience and consistency is key. Content marketing is like brushing your teeth: It should be done on a regular basis and never end.”

Experts agree that content marketing should be approached as a marathon, not a sprint. “Content marketing establishes trust that can lead to sales,” says Sheridan. “But you have to commit for the long haul and not expect instant results. But when you commit to being the most helpful teacher in your industry you can earn attention, loyalty and ultimately more business.”

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.

 

Content Marketing: Earning Credibility For Professional Service Providers

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.