There’s one surefire way for your company to fail as a content publisher: Don't publish often enough. This begs the question, “What’s often enough?” We’ll cover that in this blog post and also help you get a better grasp of what makes a piece of content an effective point of marketing attraction.
These are important considerations for any company that knows that its best prospects are on the Internet looking for solutions, and vetting potential partners based on what they have to say in their content: web content, blog posts and more advanced content offers like guides, ebooks, worksheets, and videos.
A financial services company we know published their first set of downloadable content offers—a tipsheet, a guide and a checklist—in June 2014, nearly 8 months ago. The content offers did well; all three were downloaded and they resulted in some real, valuable conversions. After a few months, though, like any set of content, they became stale; everyone to whom the pieces were promoted had seen them before, and the number of form submissions fell sharply. Today those same content offers are still on the company’s website, still being promoted to the same list of contacts…and guess what? The company’s inbound marketing program is a failure.
It’s a shame, because all of the upfront work and effort— interviewing the company’s customers to identify their needs and topics of interest, determining its best prospects, setting achievable goals, creating detailed prospect personas, developing a positioning, message strategy and editorial calendar—aimed to create an ideal situation for inbound marketing success. But the most critical aspect of inbound—content creation—was done poorly due to a lack of commitment to continued publication. Even the most elementary kind of content, blog writing, dropped off significantly after the initial posts, simply because the company never fully committed to thinking like a publisher.
This example should put a little fear into anyone doing or attempting to do inbound marketing. It takes commitment and a dedicated marketing team. Fortunately, there are also very straightforward ways of preventing these problems. Here’s how:
First, develop an editorial calendar. This assumes that you’ve done all the legwork prior to this point to ensure your editorial is valuable. That legwork includes the things I mentioned above:
Interviewing customers to identify their needs and topics of interest. You may think you’ve got a well-defined idea of what your customers and prospects want, but I can promise you that asking them the right questions (or, better yet, having a third party like your inbound marketing firm ask them) will reveal things that will surprise you…and may even change the way you do things.
Determining your best prospects. Your customer pool today is probably a mix of “ideal” customers and some that don’t fit that bill – maybe they spend less than what you’d like, they don’t order as often as others, or they’re focused on price, not a vendor partner who delivers the right solutions and is willing to pay for that. Identifying the best will help you design content that attracts and provides value to that specific group. One quick way to identify your best prospect is to ask yourself, “If I had just $1 to spend on marketing, what group of prospects would I want to spend it on?”
Setting goals. Of course, you need to set goals for your content and overall inbound activities. To do this, you need to do an analysis of how much a captured lead is worth, based on your revenue goals for the year. You can’t imagine how often we encounter companies that clearly know how much money they want to make, but have only a cursory understanding of how many visitors and leads they need to drive in that many new customers. Setting precise goals that predict ROI is an essential task for inbound marketing success.
Creating detailed prospect personas. You need to paint a rich picture of that best prospect – what their challenges are, what hurdles they’ll need to overcome in order to purchase your product, who they report to and who they’re able to influence, what their level of knowledge about your product is, what their common objections are about your product (Price? Performance? Variety?), their professional motivations…and much more. If you don’t know all this about the person (your best prospect) to whom you’re talking, how could you know how to develop valuable content that speaks to him or her?
Creating a positioning and message strategy. In 1983 Ries and Trout wrote Positioning, The Battle for Your Mind. They were the first to tell marketers that brands must put a distinct stake in the ground that says, “This is what our product/brand is all about and no one else can claim this.” Think of Bounty paper towels; that product’s position is as the quicker paper towel; not the cheapest, most durable, most flexible or the “greenest”…they’re the quicker one. If you don’t already have a positioning articulated, your prospect persona will help you develop one, and develop your message strategy, too. Both help you clearly define what your content should say about your product, your company and your competitive advantage.
Once you all that taken care of, you’ll be able to create an editorial calendar. Here’s a simplified example of one calendar we did for a client:
You’ll notice that it includes:
The content offers you’ll be promoting (ideally you’ll have at least 3 running at the same time, aligned with different stages in your prospect persona’s buyer journey)
The blogs you’ll post related to the topics of your content offers (and on which you’ll include a CTA to that related content offer)
The email promotions you’ll send to your lists promoting blogs and/or content offers
These all need to be determined well in advance (we do most clients’ editorial calendars 6 months in advance) so there’s absolutely no last minute “What are we gonna write about?” happening. Once that kind of slacking starts it’s a very slippery slide and before you know it, frequency is down, quality is deteriorating, emails are going out less often…and pretty soon you’re that company I referred to earlier.
This takes a big stick and someone with thick skin to carry it. No one (I repeat: no one) in your organization will be getting their blog in early, sending you potential blog topics at all hours of the night, offering to pitch in for someone on vacation, or asking if they can take a stab at one of the content pieces. Quite the contrary: without a taskmaster who can keep everyone (and everything) in line, all you’ll get are late assignments and excuses.
For more about the skills needed for that “big stick, thick skin” person in charge of content efforts, read this blog, What Capabilities Does Your Organization Need To Execute Inbound Marketing?
If the company mentioned above developed an editorial calendar based on good inputs and had stuck to that calendar, would their efforts have been successful? Absolutely. I can’t stress enough how critical it is for any company considering inbound marketing to understand that IT WILL NOT WORK if all the pieces aren’t in place and all the work that needs to happen actually gets done, and done well. Inbound is highly effective but that doesn’t mean it’s a plug-and-play, turnkey kind of process. It requires discipline, intelligence, insight and foresight. If your team isn’t ready to take on all the responsibility, talk to an experienced inbound marketing team. I know from experience that they can make you successful.