Shhhh….don’t let your accounting firm hear this. We’re going to take that annual marketing expense of yours and turn it into an ongoing asset that generates potential leads for you long after you made the investment. Oh, and tell firm leaders we don’t have to depreciate it either (as long as we don’t share the secret).
This post is really designed to help the professional services marketer make the case for a content or thought leadership driven approach to marketing to firm leaders. Really what we’re talking about is the contrast between two things:
- Traditional Marketing — Everything you’ve done to market your firm since you’ve been able to do so are largely a collection of discrete one-time expenses. The outcomes of the effort are fairly clear within the first 2-3 months after the investment, and the expense is largely forgotten about soon thereafter.
- Content Marketing — It’s a lot harder and may require a larger investment now to get it right, but the lion share of what you’re doing has long-term value. You invest in it now, and it has the potential to create an ongoing flow of outcomes for a much longer period of time. 6 months, 12 months, 24 months. Quite possibly even longer than that.
Let’s look at each of these concepts in more detail.
Traditional Marketing is an Expense
Let’s start by lumping together all the things that we traditionally have done in marketing — attendance and booths at industry tradeshows, all the marketing and promotional items surrounding those events, direct marketing, advertising and promotion. We’ll group it all together and call it “the stuff we do to promote what we do and who we serve.”
There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these activities except that once they’re done, they’re done aren’t they? So, your firm invests in booths at 10 industry trade shows each year. You send your key people to each show with the hopes of connecting with a certain number of potential clients. You measure the success of your effort based largely on the number of quality conversations you had with people actively seeking a firm like yours and any qualified opportunities that come from them.
3 months from now, that investment has pretty much run its course hasn’t it? Those 30 people you met who were just curious about what you do, probably aren’t really going to hang onto your materials or remember your conversation much beyond a few weeks are they? Do you when you attend industry events?
If you consistently attend every year, you probably start to see some of the same people and build up some rapport. But, you’re still making that same investment every year, aren’t you? And, when leadership suggests adding an 11th large tradeshow to your event list, you don’t even think twice about expanding that investment another $10k, $30k or $50k do you?
So, while the investment may be a sound one, it’s still quite expensive on a year over year basis. And, each year you’re prerty much starting fresh. You’re incurring an annual expense with the hopes of generating some short-term returns. There are definitely long-term benefits of staying the course and investing in the strategy, but they’re difficult to measure.
Content Marketing and Thought Leadership is a Transferable Asset
But, a content driven approach to the same desired outcome looks nothing like that does it? Instead of adding that 11th event, you push back. “Hey, Bill, I’ve been thinking. Instead of investing $30k in that 11th event, what if we used the resources to produce some really useful content for the clients in that industry we really hope to attract. Maybe we do some research, or produce a steady flow of thoughtful articles, or develop an eBook. We could probably do some combination of those things and we’d have something with a much longer shelf life that could connect us with potential clients long after Tradeshow #11 has come and gone.”
“What do I mean? Let me show you…”
“The investment we make in content lives online. As long as it’s high quality, we produce it steadily, and we search optimize it, potential clients can find it (and us) long after we produce it. If we commit to it, potential clients will start finding us through search. Over time, if the content proves really valuable other industry partners may start pointing other people to it. With some upfront thought, investments and hard work, we could build something that connects us with potential clients for months or even years to come.”
“We’ll have ourselves a tangible asset that keeps producing value for us the more we invest it. It’s like every new person who finds it is entering into a new conversation with us like they do at that tradeshow booth. Yet, those first conversations can happen anytime, anywhere.”
“If we’re really successful, that asset is even something we could place a value on if you were looking to sell or merge the firm — What’s that? Your firm generates 1,000 qualified people to market to in the educational sector each year from your valuable content? Hmmm….I like what I see in your firm, and I’d sure like to get access to that content engine you’ve built.”
Some Outcomes From Our Efforts
We try not to make a habit of recommending things to our clients we haven’t seen work in some way within our own agency. If we can’t apply it and see that it works for us, why would we expect it to work for you?
Our site relies heavily on content to present our agency as experts related to marketing professional services firms — more specifically A/E and consulting firms. Here are some of the tangible outcomes of that effort:
- We’ve been fairly public about our model (our goal is to produce 4 useful blogs a month, 1 helpful article a month, 1 webinar a quarter and 1 high quality eBook each year). We’ve been committed to this model for over 3 years. In the last 12 months we’ve seen our website traffic grow almost 120% from the consistent application of this approach.
- Through the first 6 months of 2014, one piece of content we developed almost 2.5 years ago, was the second most frequent landing page on our site (in fact, ~11% of visitors to our site come into the site on this page –it’s driving traffic to our agency via web search and other industry resources that point to it.) While other pages on our site also attract people via search, this particular page tends to perform the best.
- On average, ~3% of visitors to our site convert by signing up for our marketing newsletter. Essentially, they’re raising their hand and giving us the right to market to them.
- About once each week we send a useful piece of content to those people who’ve signed up for our newsletter.
Business Opportunities + Revenue
- Over time, some of these folks initiate conversations with us in one way or another. In all, those conversations led to 18% of our revenue opportunities in 2013. In 2014 to-date, they represent over 70% of our revenue opportunities. Of these opportunities, almost half are with potential clients we didn’t even know existed a year ago. They essentially found us through our content (via search, social or some other means). In fact, many of our best opportunities this year have been with firms we weren’t even aware of at the start of the year.
- Our content has been our tool for creating a number of high value speaking engagements, which in turn have been valuable sources of substantial revenue opportunities for us. In fact, over 10% of our 2014 revenue will be derived from client engagements that began as the result of a speaking event.
While there are no long-term guarantees in the world of marketing, content and search, the approach functions sort of like a self-perpetuating model. Google correlates the content with certain searches because it appears to be good content. As people read it, click it and share it, it reaffirms to Google that what appears to be good content, probably is good content. So, the likelihood that this content will perform well for us in 2014 and 2015, is pretty good as long as we continue to produce other helpful related content similar to it.
Now, we have an asset. An asset that continues to connect us with potential clients who might need our services. An asset that earns us the right to market to those people over time. An asset that leads us to real, tangible business opportunities. An asset that we could probably consider as part of the overall tangible value of our firm if we sought to sell the agency. And, an asset that, at least some of which, we paid for over 2 years ago.
So, what do you think…add that 11th tradeshow or make a small investment in content?