In a prior post, we looked at the value of social media and social selling as a business development tool for seller-doers. In this post we’re going to review a related, but totally different approach: content marketing.
Sometimes referred to as education-based marketing, inbound marketing, or thought leadership marketing, the idea behind content marketing is to provide interesting, useful information – aka, “content” – to your target audience. This is often accomplished via blogs, but can really be online or offline, and include:
o Social Media Posts & Comments
o Panel Discussions
This is not an all-inclusive list, but does cover the primary content approaches. You have knowledge, and the process of sharing that knowledge with your target audience can open new doors and even generate leads and new business. That’s the essence of this seller-doer tool: “Build it and they will come.” (Of course, it’s not quite that easy!)
Before the era of blogs and social media, I was a big fan of content marketing, although I never called it that. Writing articles for business journals, trade publications, society journals, and company newsletters were a way to provide value and demonstrate thought leadership. Likewise, giving presentations to professional and client organizations or participating in panel discussions were effective approaches to building credibility and gaining a new audience.
These approaches still work, and should be a critical component of any content marketing campaign. Furthermore, the online content approaches of today often lead to opportunities for offline content sharing. For example, you write a blog and one of your readers invites you to speak to their organization or requests that you submit to speak at a forthcoming conference.
I was blogging before I really knew I was blogging. In 2007, my son was born severely premature (14 weeks early, 19.2 ounces). He would go on to spend 124 days in the NICU, and I needed a way to communicate with family and friends. Our third day in the NICU, one of the nurses told me about Caring Bridge, and how I could provide information on that website and share the URL with people, thus updating everyone at once. I thought it was brilliant, and soon began making regular updates. Too regular, in fact. If I would miss posting one day, the next day I would be flooded with calls and emails asking if something was wrong. People became so used to watching for updates: they were subscribing to receive them via email, and sharing the URL with friends. Soon our guest book was filled with well-wishes from people we had never met. Our little blog – written in my son’s voice – was going viral!
A few months after my son “graduated” from the NICU, I was talking with the editor of our local newspaper, and he asked if I had ever blogged. I said no, but then told him about my Caring Bridge experience. He responded, “Scott, you’re already a blogger!” And soon I was blogging about historic architecture for the newspaper website. That was in 2007, and few of us were on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter yet.
Today, there are many more online tools at our disposal! Today, I can write a blog for the company website, then promote it via my social media feeds. My connections might like or share my social media comment, or post a direct link to my blog, thus exposing it to their network – and many people that I don’t know.
Social sharing is an excellent way to expand your network and gain new connections; however, the foundation for social sharing is quality content. I’ve been the sales and marketing blogger for Engineering News-Record since 2014. A recent post about business development trends led to 25 new A/E/C connections on LinkedIn. I’m an “open networker” for A/E/C – the people I connect with virtually might have a need for JDB Engineering’s services, or might invite me to speak at a conference, or might want jdbIQity to help with marketing consulting or training. In other words, it is important for me to continually expand my network – online and off. (And with networking, sharing is a two-way street, but we’ll save that for a future post!)
At JDB Engineering, we had been dabbling with a blog for several years. We had a handful of staff members that would get excited about blogging, write a few, and then be finished with it. However, when we refreshed our brand in 2016, we knew that we needed to elevate our marketing game. JDB Engineering’s slogan of “Engineering with Creativity, Leadership by Design” essentially evolved to become our mission. But it needed proof. In 2017, we concluded that a content marketing campaign was exactly what was required to promote our brand and expand our network. So we launched a campaign in November, with a goal to produce regular, informative content (3-4 posts per month).
Six months in, we’ve seen our website traffic more than triple. We’ve generated a few leads. We’ve gained first page listings on Google for several keywords. But content marketing is a marathon, and for us it has just begun.
When I talk to industry professionals about the seller-doer model, and how content can be a useful tool, I’m often met with skepticism. “That will never work,” they say.
They’re wrong. It will and does work; however, consistency is key. One blog or article a year is simply not enough. Nor is an occasional presentation. In the advertising world, they used to talk about the “Rule of 7”; that is, someone must hear a marketer’s message at least seven times before they remember it. That “rule” apparently dates from the 1930s, when there were a lot fewer marketing messages competing for our attention. The Rule of 7 has been adopted for other functions, too, like it takes seven attempts for a seller to contact a prospect before they get through, or a seller must speak with seven prospects to get a meeting with one. Or, insert the version you’ve heard here.
Sometimes the Rule of 7 is the Rule of 10 or even 12.
What really matters is the “spirit” of the rule: you need regular messaging to gain attention. In the context of content marketing, it means that you need regular blogs, or social media posts, or presentations, to generate name recognition and create demand.
Before choosing to move forward with a content marketing program, there are several basic questions you must first address:
- What is the Purpose? Why are you doing this? What is the endgame?
- Who is your Audience? Is there a certain industry or position that you are targeting?
- What is the Stage of the Buying Process? A lot of content falls under the awareness stage – it helps to generate awareness. But in B2B marketing, there’s apparently a lack of consideration stage content; that is, thought leadership that can help inform a decision on whether to move forward with your firm or not.
Perhaps the most-cited reason for the ineffectiveness of the seller-doer model is the lack of time. Seller-doers spend all their time doing, so they are too busy to sell. This negatively impacts all the tools – account mining, networking, social selling, and more. This is why content marketing can be so valuable – if you choose to blog, you can do it anytime, 24/7.
One of the keys to JDB Engineering’s success to date – and we’re still early in the process – has been a focus on making content marketing cultural. We are now an AIA CES provider, and have more than 20 one-hour programs for which we can award Learning Units. So we can give lunch-and-learn programs at architect or contractor offices, and attendees gain a CEU for their license or certification renewal. We can also present our content at industry events and conferences, and it helps that we have CEUs already approved.
We’ve also repurposed some of this presentation content and taken it directly to owners, who often have staff in need of continuing education units – and everyone is in need of continuing education, regardless of whether or not they have education requirements for license or certification renewal.
The turn toward a blogging culture is driven from the top of our organization. When we sit in meetings and share stories, you’ll here employees say, “That would make a great blog.” For instance, we have a lighting design group, JDB Illumination, and they’ve written a series about lighting temperature and illuminance, and how it impacts facilities and occupants. Just look at their recent posts:
- Understanding Correlated Color Temperature
- What is the Ideal Color Temperature for Your Lighting?
- Illuminance and Perceived Brightness
- Understanding Selectable Color Temperature
Furthermore, these blogs incorporate content from our educational presentations, which include:
- Lighting for Occupants, Not Footcandles
- Lighting Controls 101
- Lighting for Mood
- Lighting 101: Learning the Lingo & Working with Lighting Designers
We maintain an editorial calendar, but it is dynamic. Sometimes we don’t meet our deadlines. Other times we see a lot of content generated at once. Our subjects change regularly, so we keep a master list to ensure we don’t let some topics fall through the cracks. We’ve asked experienced staff members to write blogs – and young ones as well. This is part of the process of making it cultural. In fact, in our Monday morning staff meetings (held by most A/E/C firms to review workload for the week), we now have a time category for content production.
Everyone in your firm can and should contribute to business development. Some professionals are very comfortable on the “front lines,” attending meetings, trade shows, and networking events. Others are uncomfortable with those tools, so something lower impact – like writing blogs – still allows them to contribute.
For me, one of the most valuable uses of content is not the “direct” lead (when a reader of a blog or article, for instance, is so impressed that he or she calls you about a project – this can and does happen, but not all the time!), but rather the indirect uses. In an earlier post in this series of seller-doer tools, I reviewed account management. Within the A/E/C industry, we rarely contact our clients and past clients enough, so meaningful content provides us with a great excuse to contact someone:
“Hey Susan, it’s been too long since we last spoke! I hope life is treating you well! One of my colleagues just pulled together a really interesting blog about the color temperature of light in a building, and I thought you would be interested in reading it. Check it out when you have a chance: https://jdbengineering.com/ideal-color-temperature-lighting/. And then check your calendar to see if you if you have a few dates when we could get together for lunch. I’d love to catch up and learn what’s new with you.”
The real purpose of this email is to set up an in-person visit with a former client. But having the blog made for a great excuse to reach out and contact a former client! Plus, I now have a conversation starter when I make a follow-on call.
Here’s another example: One of our staff members was meeting with a prospect, who asked about our ArcFlash consulting experience. A few clients were mentioned, and after the meeting, the staff member followed up with a short email, directing the prospect to a blog we had published on the topic. That blog post alone demonstrated our credibility and understanding better than a list of projects could. Clients are smart – they understand that just because your firm has a list of relevant projects, it may very well be that the staff members who worked on the project aren’t even with your firm anymore! As a client once told researchers from the Society for Marketing Professional Services Foundation, “Firms have pictures. People have experience.” Content marketing is a way to showcase that knowledge!
One final benefit of content marketing: personal branding. If you share your knowledge via blogs, articles, presentations, videos, and more, you will become recognized as a subject matter expert. Your personal brand will grow and new opportunities will appear: project opportunities, public speaking opportunities, writing/blogging opportunities, and even professional association opportunities – like joining a board of directors. Content marketing allows you to elevate your company while building your personal reputation, a win-win for everyone!
Connect with Scott
Questions about content marketing? Reach out to me at 717.434.1543 or [email protected]. Or connect with me and let’s continue the conversation online:
New Content Marketing Training Program
jdbIQity has launched a new half-day Content Marketing Training Program, covering types of content marketing, storytelling, audience, online vs. offline, how to find ideas, repurposing, promoting, and more. If your company is looking to move forward with a content marketing program, learn more here, then contact me!