by Tony Vidler
Pretty much every time I get into a discussion with professionals about building up their business they begin by thinking that the answer is “get more prospects“. There is no doubt that getting more prospective customers helps build a business of course, but what builds a business faster and less stressfully is converting more good prospects into clients, rather than just burning through a lot more initial interviews that never become clients.
Converting more prospects into clients is a matter of time (or patience if you prefer), maintaining regular contact, and providing them with good information. That is “content”. This information can take any number of forms, from the written word in blogs, articles, white-papers or whatever, or visual or audio formats. It is all content.
What makes it good content is that it is pertinent to your prospective customer, and it creates relevancy and familiarity. As you continue to provide valuable and meaningful information or content patiently, the prospective customer’s trust in you (or your brand) generally grows. This increasing familiarity and trust is far far more likely to result in you creating Top-Of-Mind-Awareness and being the provider they think of first in association with your area of expertise, and then choose to use.
So “good content” which is trusted, relevant and useful becomes a very effective part of the marketing of a brand, or professional firm, as well as being an integral part of the journey from prospect to client for any given individual. It serves both a marketing and a sales purpose.
The question inevitably becomes “what do we provide then?“. This week someone challenged me to share how I think about and use content marketing personally, so here goes…
I begin by thinking strategically, rather than tactically. Instead of moving immediately to trying to figure out what article to write, think about how you are going to achieve your purpose first. Our purpose is fairly clear: Fundamentally we are trying to engage with an audience and build trust. There are many many types of content ideas, but for me it is easiest to think thematically to begin with, rather than trying to list out a hundred suggestions and actions. So I group “HOW” we can achieve the purpose of creating highly engaged customers who are familiar with and trust the brand into 3 themes to begin with. I can deliver valuable information or resources that:
Perhaps pursuing a single approach will work, such as trying to provide content which is educational for your prospects only. It may be that a single theme, or style or tone of content, is actually the right approach for the position you are trying to create in the prospects mind.
For me, why not all 3 though?
Providing content which educates helps establish authority, and it also helps prospects move further along the path of making good decisions when they begin working with you. This area is one where content curation is highly valuable I feel. Sharing other experts great articles, suggestions and ideas generally reinforces your position as a “go to” person who is looking to genuinely help raise awareness, standards or knowledge. You are clearly not just some guy on an ego trip if you are happy to give credit to other experts and share their great material, and people trust you all the more for doing so. Mixing that with considered opinion and insight of your own can assist with positioning you as a genuine authority.
Content which goes a step further and actually helps them make good decisions or self-manage aspects of their life by giving them additional skills or tools is even more valuable. While it taps into the principle of reciprocity, further improving your chances of those prospects choosing to work with you, it also creates much higher levels of trust in you and your brand. You are providing value in advance…you are demonstrating your intent and desire to help clients to achieve objectives, rather than just provide you with an income. It shows a little of your values and commitment to delivering value – and that is powerful for a prospective client still trying to work out who to choose as their professional service provider. This is where I try to provide tools or “how to” tips.
Providing content which “entertains” is a somewhat risky concept for most professionals. Humour is such a subjective thing, and it can be very easy to appear unprofessional or potentially alienate an audience, so it is not without its dangers. However, it provides a personal element whereby you can show your humanity and values and personality…and at the end of the day people do business with people. They are more likely to do business with people who they feel an affinity with, so content which entertains has some value in personalising the professional brand I believe. I try to mitigate the danger by staying away from anything to do with politics, religion, sex or controversial topical issues. It is not because I am squeamish or prudish, it is simply because these areas strongly polarise audiences – and I don’t want to do that in business. Like just about everyone else out there, I am happy in my personal world to talk about all of those topics with friends…but keep them out of the professional domain and don’t let whatever opinions you have in these areas taint your professional brand.
The final piece of the puzzle is how to deliver the content to your audience. Obviously a blog such as this is one type of delivery channel, and is suited to the “education” content. So too are some of the more serious, or business-focussed, social channels such as Linkedin or Slideshare, supported by branded email marketing, your website, and Twitter.
Content which empowers by delivering tools and how-to’s seems to work best with Twitter, Youtube, Slideshare, Google + and your website. Entertainment (for me!) is almost entirely the domain of Facebook and Pinterest, and perhaps a touch here or there on Twitter.
My final point is one that I stress when in conversations about this topic: just because I happen to use a whole bunch of different delivery channels for different themes and content does not mean that everyone else needs to. The right choice, or choices, depend on your audience, and the type of content they are looking for and the type of position you are trying to create as you engage with them.
If you have a clear understanding of your audience, and what is “good content” for them which fits with your purpose, then working out where to distribute it is as simple as working out where they go to for information. Be at that place…be on that platform. If they go to several platforms for information, then be on the several platforms that they go to. Be educational, or empower them or entertain them.
That’s what consumers think is good content, and that is good for business.
You may also find this post useful: How to come up with endless content ideas0