This post outlines 3 critical tools you can use to generate more leads from your thought leadership marketing.
If you’re finding it increasingly difficult to “monetize” your thought leadership these days you’re not alone. Over the last few years, we’ve found more and more firms struggling to take their compelling ideas and turn them into leads and revenue. And, this is not solely a problem for firms that are relatively new to content marketing. The firms sharing these concerns are seasoned thought leadership marketers — they’ve published more than a few business books, they’re sought after speakers, and considered global experts within their craft. Yet, they’re telling me the same thing — turning that recognition into revenue is more difficult than it used to be.
While every firm is unique, as we’ve unpacked this problem in multiple clients over the past few years I’ve noticed a common thread among them. Each of these firms produces a ton of compelling thought leadership content. But, too often, this content exists like an island, sitting on the other side of a canyon, that’s seemingly a world away from the marketing content on the other side (if that content exists at all). Of course, a lot of that thought leadership is physically connected from the marketing content of the practice (it’s published in HBR or a book). Other times, it’s only virtually separated — it co-exists on the same physical web server, in fact it’s just 1-2 nav elements away from the practice’s marketing content, but in practice these content elements are separated by a canyon that requires a seemingly insurmountable leap for clients to cross.
Closing this canyon requires building a bridge between these two types of content — a bridge that leads prospective clients from your big ideas directly into your practice. The rest of this article describes this bridge in more detail. It’s broken into 3 parts:
- Thought Leadership v. Marketing Content
- Your Bridge Moves Visitors to the Right
- The 3 Tools Used to Build Your Bridge
#1 — Thought Leadership v. Marketing Content
First, let me provide some quick clarity on what I mean by these two terms. Thought leadership is about your clients and their problems. Developed correctly, it educates clients on how to solve the most pressing problems faced in their business. And, it presents your firm’s unique perspective on a more effective or efficient way to do so. Thought leadership comes in the form of blogs, articles, research reports, eBooks, interactive content, speeches, and published books. At its core, thought leadership is intellectual capital.
Marketing content, by contrast, is all about your firm. It describes how you actually go about solving those problems in practice, shares examples of how you’ve solved them for other clients in the past, and shares the people in your firm who actually do it day in and day out. Marketing content comes in the form of case studies, practice area summaries, processes and methodologies, service line summaries, and consultant bios. At its core, marketing content is intellectual property.
#2 — Your Bridge Moves Visitors to the Right
Your job, as a digital marketer, is to advance any client through their buying journey — to guide them from learning how to solve a problem, to seeing how you’ve solved it before, to seeing how and who might actually solve it for them. While your business development team might work hard to get “left of the RFP,” your digital marketing team needs to work equally as hard to move “clients to the right” on your site.
So, why “to the right?” Think of the structure of a website’s traditional navigation bar (not a mobile ‘hamburger’ menu). Often, we place thought leadership content on the left side of the navigation. By contrast, at the far right, of the navigation is the contact page. Just like a business development conversation you’re starting with information “about your clients” and ending with information “about your firm.” So, your objective is to move people to the right:
Now, I know what you’re thinking — that’s why we have navigation, to help people move through the site. If someone is reading our thought leadership, if they wanted to learn more about our firm, wouldn’t they just click into services or case studies and move themselves to the right? After all, that’s why we designed the navigation bar as we did. The short answer, is not usually. Our research has found that users that start their journey with thought leadership content are much more likely to interact with the navigational elements within the page itself. By contrast, visitors who arrive at your homepage will interact with your primary navigation. This makes sense. Visitors who are consuming thought leadership are there to learn how to solve their problems. Visitors who arrive via a homepage are often there to learn about your firm. Also, chances are good that these two different visitors are at different stages of their buying journey. One is a researcher. The other may be an evaluator.
But, remember your job is to advance them. To help someone who’s researching a problem, to build the resolve to do something about it, and consider reaching out to your firm to start a conversation — to systematically move them to the right. You might do all this in a single site visit. Or, you might do it through 10s of visits spread over the course of a year. So, your bridge will be built both within your site and within your offsite marketing activities.
#3 — The 3 Most Important Tools Used to Build Your Bridge
These are the tools you have at your disposal to construct a bridge that works. A smart digital marketer will use any resource available both to bring people back to the site and systematically move them to the right when they arrive. That said, the tools we’ve found most effective are these:
- Intelligent User Flows — Any good website should be designed with a user flow in mind. Your goal isn’t simply to build a database that makes it intuitive for people to come and find topical content in your thought leadership or filter your case studies. Your goal is to build an intelligent site that systematically moves people to the right. This means designing every section and every page with the thought of what you’d like the client to do next in their journey. This doesn’t mean you’re looking to jump everybody to a contact button using flashing neon lights or big contact blocks everywhere. What it does mean is moving people through each logical phase of their progression and designing site pages to facilitate that process. Most clients will need to go through the entire progression before they talk to you.
- Calls-To-Action — “CTAs” are on-page tools that shape what you want users to do next. They’re the tools you use to activate your user flows on-site. Ideally, your firm is using smart CTAs that progress visitors through each stage of their buying journey based on what they’ve already done (a subscriber to a newsletter never sees a subscription offer again, but rather sees a recommended case study perhaps). Regardless, you need to place appropriate CTAs at each phase of the journey to facilitate your client’s systemic movement to the right. A thought leadership page generally exists to generate leads (think email subscribers) so your most important CTA on those pages may simply be a sign-up form. The appropriate CTA on a services page might be a link to a related case study or the bio of a practice leader.
- Lead Nurturing — Lead nurturing is a process that begins the moment a website visitor converts and becomes a lead in your system. It’s the tool you use to activate your user flows off-site. Any marketing automation system and some email marketing systems provide lead nurturing tools (sometimes called “drip campaigns”). Lead nurturing programs are generally automated programs that rely on if/then sequences — if a visitor reads this article, then send them this content. It’s fairly obvious how you can use this to move visitors to the right. As a potential client consumes topical content, it’s wholly appropriate to email them related marketing content to the right of this progression (occasional links to relevant case studies, webinar or other events). Some automation systems even enable you to distribute offline content within a sequence (think automated direct mail).
If you’re struggling to monetize your thought leadership, I’d suggest looking at each of the key sections of your site with an eye towards user flow. Is it clear what you’d expect the user to do next based on what you see? If you were a reader of thought leadership would you know what to do next? If you were on a service page, where would you go next? If you found yourself on a case study page, where would you go from there? And, maybe most importantly, if you were on a contact page looking to initiate a dialogue with your firm would you even know what to do?
If your answers to these questions are vague you can be sure your clients’ answers are too. Outline a handful of action items for each key content section and begin the process of continuous improvement.