This post outlines how to take your firm’s big ideas to market to drive more leads and opportunities.
The sheer weight of the content explosion is collapsing on top of us. A recent study by the Economist Intelligence Unit found that 60% of executives were “overwhelmed and confused” by the sheer amount of content they encounter. So, if you’re selling ideas for a living, as most professional service firms are, how do you cut through this noise? How, do you turn your ideas into leads and revenue?
In the past, firms might rely on 1-2 straightforward marketing tactics to take their thought leadership to market. A presentation at a top industry event, an article in HBR, or a published book was enough to drive a steady diet of leads. Unfortunately, most firms are finding that’s simply not the case anymore. In fact, many of our client engagements start from this place of frustration — marketers finding that their existing model is driving less leads than it used to and they’re looking for assistance to improve their digital marketing efforts.
And, our data shows this to be true. Our 2016 Thought Leadership Research study, done in partnership with Bloom Group and AMCF, surveyed 117 consulting firm marketers on all aspects of their thought leadership and digital marketing strategies. From the data set, we identified a group of leaders and a group of followers based on the effectiveness of their thought leadership marketing. Roughly 40% of the followers were relying on just 1 tactic to take their ideas to market. By contrast, 40% of the leaders were leveraging at least 4-5 channels to market their ideas.
The next logical questions I’m sure you’re asking are, which channels? And, how do we best leverage them?
Revisiting the Content Marketing Wheel
At Rattleback, we use a hub-and-spoke methodology called the Content Marketing Wheel. I first outlined this model to our readers over 2 years ago. Since that time, we’ve expanded on it through our client work and research.
The premise of the model is simple. A firm’s thought leadership should be grounded in a big idea. The big idea represents your firm’s unique point-of-view on an important business topic that is both a critical challenge or opportunity for your clients and a direct extension of your expertise. Ideally, that big idea is grounded in both substantive research and direct client experience.
There is a single piece of published content that is the comprehensive representation of that idea in all its glory. We call this Flagship Content. It’s long form and it’s the center of everything. Surrounding your Flagship Content are a variety of different types of content used for different purposes. It all exists to very slowly step a client up the stairs towards higher levels of engagement. We start with Micro Content to attract clients to the edges of the idea. The edges of the idea are published within Short Content. The Short Content leads the client up to the Flagship Content or to Spoken Content, which is used to engage with clients in a 1:many fashion. After referrals, Spoken Content is generally your best source of 1:1 conversations with high value clients. In a sense, the other forms of content all exist to either deliver the speaking opportunity for the firm or deliver attendees to the speaking event itself. And, the speaking event exists to deliver opportunities.
The rest of this article will take a closer look at each of the five content types:
- Micro Content
- Short Content
We measure micro content in characters and seconds. A tweet is purposely limited to 144 characters. An effective email subject line generally has 8-11 words. While someone may give you as much as 10-15 seconds to read the body of an email, they’ll only give you 1 second to determine if they’ll do so. The best Micro Content finds a way to be both intriguing and direct at the same time. Micro Content’s purpose is literally just to give us a chance to present a small sliver of our idea in our Short Content.
Our research has found the most effective forms of Micro Content are LinkedIn Company Updates, Email and Twitter (generally in that order).
We measure Short Content in words and minutes. A well-written, search-optimized web article should likely be somewhere between 500 – 1,500 words. A web video of that same content should probably cap itself at around 2 minutes. In total, a client should be asked to invest little more more than 3-5 minutes in a piece of your firm’s Short Content.
The role of Short Content is to slice off a small section of the big idea and explore it in some reasonable depth. In some instances, it may make sense to use an article to go a bit deeper on one aspect of your big idea in a way you might not in longer form content. Its purpose is to demonstrate the depth of your firm’s expertise on the big idea and step the client towards a larger investment of time — either by stepping up to your Flagship or Spoken Content.
Our research has found the most effective forms of Short Content are search-optimized articles on your firm’s website, published articles in leading business or industry journals (online or off), and videos streamed through your website.
Your Flagship Content may take a couple of forms. It could be a published book or an eBook. Usually it’s a research report. It’s the anchor of everything to follow. It’s well written. It’s elegantly designed. It’s witty. It’s intelligent. It’s interesting. It’s entertaining. And, it’s comprehensive — so it’s long. It could take a client as much as 30-60 minutes to truly read it and digest everything it has to say.
Flagship Content exists to demonstrate the true depth of your expertise on the big idea. Your goal is to eloquently bring together everything you’ve come to understand on how your client should think about the challenge at hand or pursue the opportunity you see. Its primary purpose is to open doors to speaking opportunities. Its secondary purpose is to open doors to conversations with new potential clients.
Spoken + Interactive Content
I’ve been fond of saying that nothing really happens in professional services marketing until there’s a conversation. That’s, of course, not true, but a conversation is the end goal of your effort. It’s hard to imagine a qualified opportunity emerging in the absence of a discussion with a senior client executive. Time and again our research has found that, after a referral, a live presentation is the most effective marketing tactic for a professional services firm in terms of creating 1:1 conversations. The highest value speaking opportunity is hosted in-person by a trusted 3rd party or by the firm itself. Alternatively, a presentation hosted online either by a 3rd party or the firm itself is the next best thing.
The purpose of Spoken Content and Interactive Content is clearly to generate meetings and conversations though, clearly, one should never approach it as such. When at its best, the firm finds a way to present the big idea that was so eloquently presented in its Flagship Content in a way that’s more interactive and more story-driven than ever before.
If you read this entire post, I’m guessing you fall into 1 of 2 camps. The first camp is probably over-reliant on a single form of content (speaking or publishing). For this group, look at the tactics within the Content Wheel. Look at how you might diversify to include different content types at each stage and length. The second camp is probably saying we already do all these things. If you’re in that camp, take a look at the intersections between your content types. Are you really using your different content types to stair step clients up towards higher levels of engagement? If you are already, how might you do that better?