Recently, Jason Mlicki, Principal of Rattleback, sat down with Sonja Jefferson, founder of the UK-based marketing consultancy, Valuable Content for a discussion on content strategy, content development and content marketing.
Sonja advises midsize professional services firms on how to apply content-driven strategies to their business development and marketing practices and has just published the Valuable Content Marketing book with co-director Sharon Tanton. Below we share a summary of our interview:
We’ve seen many firms who have started content initiatives only to see them stall a few months after launch. What would you say to a firm that is about to launch a content initiative? How can they avoid a similar fate?
If you are thinking about focusing your business development activities around content marketing in 2013 then firstly I’d like to say congratulations. You have sensibly selected the most effective and satisfying form of marketing open to you today.
It is worth understanding however that content marketing is not a magic bullet. Although it is much cheaper than traditional marketing pound for pound you need to know that getting results takes a significant amount of time and energy. If you don’t know that before going into this kind of marketing you’re more likely to give up on it.
There’s a lot of content out there today and if you want yours to stand out from the pile it’s going to take some thinking about. Before you get started do some planning – spend time understanding your particular clients and their issues and think about what sort of content they’d really appreciate. We find that asking clients directly will give you the very best steer.
Before launching your program, it’s important to develop focus. Be clear about why you’re doing it; who you’re doing it for; and, who’s going to be doing it internally. Some good questions to get yourself started: Who do you want to win business from this year? What do they need?
We set out several starting options in our book but a blog, an active social media feed + an email newsletter are a popular combination to start with. Commit to a schedule that is achievable and then build your content efforts over time.
Be patient: don’t expect results overnight. If you’ve thought hard about what content your clients will appreciate and keep the valuable content coming, have faith that your focus and hard work will be rewarded.
What are the biggest cultural hurdles that hinder a firm’s ability to adopt a content marketing model?
Firstly, content marketing touches much more of the firm than traditional marketing models. Marketing in a professional firm used to be something that you could pigeonhole. You had external partners who were brought in, but the technical experts in the firm were pretty much left alone, expecting the marketing and business development function to deliver new business. This is no longer the case. To make today’s marketing work the firm’s leadership team and technical experts have to be more involved in the marketing process. It’s their knowledge and expertise that is translated into valuable content. Content marketing takes top team commitment and company-wide involvement. Essentially, marketing becomes part of everyone’s job.
The second hurdle is around the notion of giving valuable information away. Content marketing means giving away some of your hard earned knowledge for free. This simple principle throws up a lot of questions: “Really, give our hard earned knowledge away for nothing? Won’t our competitors steal it and use it as their own?” But if you give away some value in advance people will start to trust that you know what you are talking about, that you are credible, reliable and helpful; that you are the kind of firm they’d like to work with and buy from. Our friend Bryony Thomas calls this ‘commercial karma’. Really, the more you give the more you will get back in terms of business.
What should a good editorial calendar look like in a professional firm?
An effective editorial calendar is many layered:
- The first layer focuses on your content commitments. Your calendar should provide a schedule that is set out monthly or quarterly the commitments you’re making on the valuable content side. For instance, a good calendar might commit the firm as follows, “From January to December we will send out 5 tweets a day, 2 blogs per week, 1 newsletter every month, and 2 campaign based e-books, whitepapers, or videos per year.”
- The layer below that is what you have to say. You want to define the conversations you will have and make sure you’re covering off the right message at the right time. There needs to be a degree of flexibility in the calendar. Don’t stick to the plan for the hell of it. Feel free to flex to market conditions, events and opportunities.
- The final layer is your resource plan – who does what when. Who’s responsible for the content we’re going to produce? It’s important to make sure you have your team behind what you’ve committed to produce.
The companies that work best are the ones that are organized in this way: what we will do, when; what we will we say, when; who will say it.
Any tips for getting a useful editorial calendar in place that actually works?
Don’t forget to create content that caters for different points in the sales cycle. Your buyers have different information needs when they are doing initial research to when they are just about to buy. Remember to cover all bases with the type of content you produce.
Making an external commitment to producing content will help you. When you tell someone you’re going to do something you’re much more likely to do it. There’s nothing more powerful than saying that you will send a newsletter every month to web visitors who subscribe to your content. Then you have to do it. Having that sort of established commitment every month helps sustain the process.
A Little Bit More About Valuable Content
Valuable Content is a specialist content marketing consultancy, helping owners of professional service businesses to create, write and share valuable online content to promote and sell their services. Sonja is co-author of the upcoming book, Valuable Content Marketing: How to Make Quality Content the Key to Your Business Success (released in US in February 2013). To learn more about Sonja:
A special note of thanks to Sonja for sharing her time with us and contributing her expertise to many of our U.S. based clientele.