A few weeks ago I was a featured speaker at Interact 14 — a content, search and interactive marketing conference hosted by Oxiem. It was truly an enjoyable day; most importantly because I came away with 5 strategic insights that you can apply in your consulting or A/E firm right away.
My talk was on the Integrated Lead Development System (for more on that, check out this article). Because the audience was quite broad (businesses of all sizes from across a wide range of industries), the speaking lineup was also quite broad (folks talking about everything from Big Data to video storytelling, SEO and content strategy).
For me, the highlights of the day came from the 2 keynotes — Andrew Davis, author of Brandscaping, and Joe Pullizi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute. Because both talks skewed heavily towards consumer marketing, they were chock full of interesting, accessible examples from industries where content marketing is much more pervasive and competitive than it is for most professional services firms. From a combination of the two talks, I’ve coalesced 5 key insights and am applying them here to the practice of marketing a professional services firm.
1. Target a Niche to Get Rich.
This was a phrase coined by Andrew, and I particularly like it because it speaks to something that I talk often about (that firms frequently don’t make the difficult decisions necessary to focus their marketing efforts appropriately). Andrew outlines a process he calls fractal marketing to isolate narrow and underserved niches inside your market with a need for your expertise. The idea, is basically to break your market down into smaller and smaller demographic and psychographic segments to build content that is truly useful and tailored to the needs of a certain type of buyer. Below is an example of an underserved niche targeted by the retailer, Tractor Supply, utilizing a recognizable expert — The Chicken Whisperer — to market to consumers interested in various aspects of urban gardening. (Read his post for more on this story).
While Andrew’s example of the Chicken Whisperer isn’t very applicable to a professional services firm, the concept is a very good one. Let’s say your responsible for marketing a consulting firm with a specialty in post-merger integration. You could probably break that market down into mergers between publicly-traded companies, private companies and cross-mergers between the two. From there you may find there a whole variety of factors that change the dynamics of the integration activity — the industry categories, the relative size of the companies involved, possibly the purpose of the merger; all these factors can create unique complexities to a merger integration that a client is looking to solve. At the “end of this branch” may be a niche market that’s largely underserved by the consulting industry. A niche where potential clients are actively seeking a firm like yours to provide advice, but are finding nothing but generalist solutions that don’t quite fit their unique situation. A niche ripe with consolidation where you could position your firm as a subject matter expert and command premium fees.
2. Build a Mission for Your Content.
“Stop focusing on leads and start focusing on audience.” – This quote from Joe Pullizi really resonated with me because it ties so closely to many of our past learnings on content marketing in professional services firms. Joe advocates for marketers to build a mission for their content. An effective mission combines a clear focus on your audience with a summary of how it’s going to help them and ideally an outcome you hope to enable. Some useful examples of content marketing missions Joe shared:
Indium = “Help engineers answer the most challenging industrial solder questions.”
Inc. = “The place where entrepreneurs can find useful information, advice, insights, resources and inspiration for running and growing their businesses.”
This dovetails very nicely with the findings of our 2012 content marketing survey of professional services firms. In that survey, we learned that the firms that focus first and foremost on educating and informing their potential clients are much more successful in translating their content marketing efforts into leads and revenue than those that focus primarily on lead generation. Focus on understanding your audience, provide useful perspective that can help them, and opportunities tend to follow. A mission for your content seems like a really smart way to go about this.
As an example, if your firm was an architecture and design firm that specialized in working with zoos, aquariums and entertainment destinations, like our friends over at PGAV Destinations, which we’ve highlighted in the past. An effective content mission for this firm might be:
PGAV Destinations = “Provide owners of entertainment venues with insight, perspective and inspiration to create memorable, compelling destinations.”
3. Attach Talent to Your Content.
Somewhere in the middle of his talk, Andrew offered a really important insight that is critical for all professional service firm marketers — “People build a relationship first with the content, and then with the people who produce it.”
While this is a somewhat interesting insight for a consumer marketer, it is a critical success factor for a professional services firm.
Ultimately, the desired outcome of a firm’s marketing effort is to create a conversation with the right client at the right time about an issue the firm is capable of solving. The key word in there is conversation. A client is never going to buy anything without a conversation. A firm that is committed to marketing with content or thought leadership then has to do an exceptional job of helping the prospect connect both with the firm’s content and the people who produce it. How do we do that?
First, we have to make sure all content is appropriately authored whenever possible. Second, we have to make our authors as accessible through the website as possible. This includes developing firm bios that read more like stories and less like resumes. This means providing insight into the personalities of the firm’s leaders and connecting them both with authored content and example outcomes of their work. Oh, and it would be helpful to commission some really good photography of your people — no more suit-and-tie headshots; get some casual photos of real people interacting comfortably with a camera.
The example below is from the website of consulting firm, Faber Novel. It’s short partner profiles give you a glimpse into what each consultant has done, what interests them and a bit of their personality. The only thing better would be to link out to content published by the consultant on the firm’s blog or content channel.
4. Build Your Audience.
For the better part of 12 months I’ve been talking to firms (both directly and via webinars) about the importance of early-stage calls-to-action. An early stage call-to-action is generally a subscription form. The goal of the subscription form is to get a small percentage of people from your sea of web visitors to raise their hand and say, “hey, I think what you have to say is useful…it’s okay for you to market to me.”
Joe reinforced this message for me with some really great statistics from his work at the Content Marketing Institute.
- As it turns out, the Content Marketing Institute has about 70k people subscribed to its email newsletter on content marketing.
- It generates about 120 subscribers per day to its opt-in list.
- And, about 80% of its total revenue comes from people who’ve subscribed to its content for over 6 months.
While these numbers will clearly look different in a consulting or A/E firm, the premise is the same. Start by building the audience — simply ask for the right to market to the potential clients you attract with your content. Nurture them over time with useful follow-on content that exists between the cross-section of your client’s most meaningful challenges and your firm’s expertise. Stay committed to this model, and over time conversations, opportunities and revenue will follow.
5. Carve Out Time in Your Prospect’s Inbox.
This fifth, and final, takeaway was one of my favorite ones because it’s fairly easy to implement yet quite effective. When you invite site visitors to subscribe to your content, do it by being clear about what they will receive and when they will receive it. Andrew’s example, a great one I might add, comes from Say Media with their Venn Fridays. Every Friday, this media company, delivers a Venn diagram to its online subscribers. The Venn diagram is used to offer perspective and commentary on the media landscape. More importantly, it’s used to “create an appointment” with the company’s subscriber list. Every Friday, we’re going to send you this useful piece of content. Over time, people begin to expect that Friday email; possibly even look forward to it. Marketing that people not only value, but also anticipate, expect, and enjoy. Definitely a smart way to go.
Wrapping it Up
Identify underserved niches, create a mission for them, connect them first with your content, then with your talent, and build your audience by delivering timely content in a predictable, repeatable fashion. It’s really a fairly simple blueprint. So, go do it! Oh, and if you need help with it, just give us a call.