Given its impact on clients’ purchasing behaviour, word of mouth continues to be the principal generator of work for professional service firms. Firms have historically tried to leverage WOM predominantly through ‘thought leadership’ marketing; providing viewpoints, clarity to ambiguous problems, and solutions through offline ‘content’ such as newsletters, white papers and articles.
Sharing knowledge with their audiences to create demand, generate leads and maintain contact with existing clients between instructions. That is, until target audiences moved online; changing the way they talk, share opinions and consume information. WOM expanded its reach across the multitude of channels opened up by the web, presenting firms with the need to not only have an online presence, but to engage with online audiences and to ensure that the online content they produce is the right content, put in the right place at the right time, to be consumed by the right people.
We now live in a world where ‘interrupt marketing’ has seemingly failed. Media channels have become more fragmented and audiences have closed themselves off to the traditional means of marketing. This has led many industries and big consumer brands to infiltrate ‘content marketing’, using it not only as the cornerstone of their in-bound marketing strategies, but also to create trust, strengthen their brand and move consumers ‘softly’ through the buying cycle.
The challenge for professional service marketers is that consumer audiences are now subjected and exposed to more content than ever before. With huge investments being made in content marketing by other industries in line with expectations, the bar for ‘quality content’ has been considerably raised. This is compounded by the difficulties of creating and distributing ‘relevant’ and ‘valuable’ content.
Getting professional practitioners to be proactive in generating content is often met with some form of procrastination or resistance, or an unwillingness to add it to their daily chores. Or firms fall into the trap of sending out ‘directionless’ content – just because they can, and because there is a perception that it doesn’t cost anything to do (never true!). The fall-out is inevitable: poor content results in poor impact. The professional practitioners bemoan a lack of leads generated for their, albeit misplaced, efforts. To overcome these challenges, professional service marketers recognise that content marketing demands efficiency and consistency.
Detailed editorial calendars and content schedules are vital, as are delegated responsibilities to produce, edit and obtain approval for content. Essentially, they know what is needed is a ‘content infrastructure’. But where firms are coming unstuck, perhaps surprisingly, is with the basics: Who is the content for? Is the content good enough? Where does it need to be placed for maximum impact, and when?
Know who the content is for
Successful content marketing is about understanding who the content is intended for. Professional service firms must turn their thought leading authority’ into ‘audience’. Good content planning considers the audience and their characteristics. Whilst many firms will already have a good idea who their audience is, they need to go the extra mile and understand how their audiences discover, consume and act upon the content being provided.
In the ‘Google age’, marketers can naturally expect to find audiences online, but as social platforms expand firms need to start empathising with the ‘audience information journey’. Where are they looking for information? What are their discovery channels: email messaging, search keywords, social network topics, popular websites and forums? This will give insight into the essential cues for meaningful content production, promotion and optimisation.
It is also important to figure out how your target audience prefers to consume information: video, visuals like info-graphics, long or short form text, or the many other media formats that exist. And consider the devices and platforms audiences are using: social networks, websites, blogs, apps, smartphones, tablets or computers. Tapping into web analytics for devices used and media types consumed that result in conversions is the low hanging fruit for determining whether firms need to optimise for a mobile experience vs. tablet or images vs. video.
Make your content good enough
Professional service marketers understand that the road to success is paved with valuable content that audiences want. The purpose of content must be to win the audience’s attention; this is the only way results can be achieved. Firms must create content that is ‘valuable’, ‘relevant’, ‘engaging’, ‘exceptional’, ‘inspirational’, ‘unique’ and of course ‘beneficial to share’.
The benefits of ‘valuable content’ are real. As part of an in-bound marketing strategy, firms will see increased traffic to their website; receiving valuable back links from authoritative sites; and association with keyword analysis can assist with natural search rankings. Shared through social channels, content will provide firms with the opportunity to engage with social audiences. Often the dilemma is that professional practitioners want to write about the issues ‘they want to write about’, with excruciatingly formal address, technical jargon and passionless dictation.
But content marketing is about initiating a real conversation that addresses real problems and provides real solutions. Firms must be able to create content that answers the audience’s questions. Firms need to create something that will help people. They must think in terms of how to be that ‘best answer’. Firms have always focused on utility and practical value through legislation updates, case summaries and studies presented in an ‘update’ fashion. But content must be more human, personal and even emotional, helping the firm to make a personal connection with their audience.
Using a more conversational tone doesn’t need to be considered an informality – more of a way of connecting with your audience on a human level. Infuse content with passion. Sometimes firms have to pick sides on those industry issues, but present them clearly, examine both sides – form conclusions, ask readers what they think. To convert an audience into clients, firms must create a positive experience over time. Remember, the age of intrusive marketing is over. Content marketing is not about selling per se. It is about nurturing familiarity and trust with a firmís brand and its representatives.
By increasing and reinforcing awareness through quality content, firms can generate leads by encouraging their audience to leave their contact information, providing their permission to ‘market’ to them. Over time, content marketing should be used to convert prospects into clients by illustrating, through targeted messaging and storytelling, why your firm’s solution is the best fit or will meet their needs more adequately.
Ensure people see your content!
Content needs to be found. In today’s omni-channel communication environment, ‘transmedia storytelling’, as a technique of telling a story and delivering unique pieces of content across multiple platforms and formats using digital technologies, has developed because of the dynamics of how people consume and share content. Audiences have access to so much content, they filter or skim; except for the content they need.
Audiences consume content in bite-sized pieces, on smart phones and tablets, often on the go. And remember, audiences aren’t only consumers of content, but also curators and content creators, allowing further content to be generated through their participation. Because engagement is central to this form of storytelling, firms must ensure that whichever platforms are being used, audiences should not only find content but should be able to react and interact with it in a very simple way.
Firms should devise and build lists of the platforms that matter to their audiences, such as influential industry blogs, news sites, RSS feeds, podcasts, industry and trade publications, news and information aggregators and forums. But rather than simply repeating the content on different platforms, firms must adapt the content and story to match the platform’s strength to maximise user experience. This content should not only all link together, but should be in narrative synchronisation with each other. By creating interconnected content, broken down into easier-to-consume chunks, firms can embrace the technicalities and complexities that can exist in professional services content and educate audiences by distribution across varying channels.
The demise of interrupt marketing means traditional methods of thought leadership promotion don’t work the way they used to. Marketers have turned to content marketing as a way to support their firm’s efforts to attract, engage and acquire a clearly defined target audience. However, in doing this, the fundamentals must be respected if results are to be achieved. As the saying goes, ‘content is king’, so firms should reconsider dressing their monarch in rags and look to building kingdoms instead.