For a firm that’s new to content-driven marketing, getting started sort of feels like walking a tightrope over a snake pit. As a marketer, you essentially have to build relationships with two audiences — your subject matter experts and your ideal clients. While, sometimes, it might be easy to get alignment between both, other times it’s really not; the passions and interests of your subject matter experts don’t quite align with the challenges and needs of your ideal clients. How do you stay on the rope and avoid getting bit?
Ultimately, you’re trying to build an internal culture that’s committed to writing and speaking. You want consultants to feel both comfortable and excited about contributing to your content engine. So, you have to encourage them and reward their efforts. Yet, you still need the ability to play your critical role as “editor” of the firm’s content — after all, you’re responsible for ensuring that the content you produce and market resonates with your ideal clients.
Using Knowledge Management to Drive Participation
The impetus for this post actually came from a talk at KA Connect 2013 given by Carl Davis, President and CEO of Array Architects (Carl will be joining us for a leadership podcast later this year). The subject of his talk was the role of knowledge management in advancing the firm’s practice as a healthcare-only architecture firm. What I particularly enjoyed about the talk was how little emphasis was placed on the external delivery of content as part of the strategy — useful marketing content was the outcome of the effort not the driver.
The firm had come to the realization that it needed to present itself as a knowledge-based practice, not a fee-based one. Part of that realization was a recognition that building a culture of knowledge sharing would be critical to long-term success or failure. Put simply, crafting a content strategy and editorial calendar was a fruitless effort if the firm wasn’t committed to becoming world-class at sharing knowledge internally between its offices, practice areas and functional areas of expertise.
Ultimately, the firm started by implementing a social intranet, Synthesis, developed by Knowledge Architecture. The intranet made knowledge sharing possible. It made it social. It made it collaborative. It made it central to the firm’s culture. Ultimately, it made the outcome possible — a sustained engine of useful content, codified as intellectual property, to position the firm as a thought leader in the healthcare market. And, this output has been picked up and republished multiple times by industry journals — meaning it’s good content.
This is a powerful story. The firm’s commitment to knowledge management and technology enabled it to overcome the biggest challenge to many content-driven marketing efforts — getting consultants to contribute meaningfully and write regularly. Many, many firms NEVER overcome this challenge. They’re getting content, but its half-hearted or ineffective at best.
Adding Research to Gain Perspective
But, lest we fall into the snake pit, it’s wise to engage the other side of the model — the clients themselves. What are your firm’s ideal clients most pressing challenges right now? What might they be 6 months from now? How do those challenges reconcile with your firm’s expertise? Sure, we might feel that our content is hitting the mark (and might even have some analytics, industry attention, and other anecdotal evidence to prove it), but is that content going to translate into opportunities? Is it driving to fundamental business needs? Are those needs pressing enough that clients are wiling to part with real money in the next 12 months to solve them?
To reconcile all these things, the knowledge-based practice makes client research central to its strategy. It engages clients in an ongoing dialogue on the issues most pressing to them — whether those issues fall directly in-line with the firm’s offerings or not.
The manner and scale of that research will depend greatly on the size and type of firm, but in my experience it’s the presence of research that keeps a firm’s content strategy following a thread that’s both meaningful and useful to its ideal clients. For some examples of effective client research, take a look at my 2 recent blog posts on great A/E firm marketing content:
Widening the Tight Rope
It’s the marketers role to reconcile the findings of that research with the ongoing content that derives from the knowledge and expertise of the firm’s subject matter experts. To carefully look for overlap between the topics that inspire internal folks and the fundamental challenges of clients. To study the performance of different topics and content types over time through the use of website analytics and marketing automation. And, to guide the firm down a path that widens the tight rope so, sometime soon it’s a broad path — paving the way to a more repeatable model for client attraction.