Chicken vs. Egg, Plan First or Get Approval First

Note: This is part 2 in a series. Part 1 is Why AEC Firms Must Use Content Marketing

I see a lot of firms dabbling with content marketing “when they have time for it.” With sporadic content sharing, firms see sporadic results, if any, and then abandon this valuable marketing channel. Content marketing can’t be a luxury for when you have free time. Nobody has free time. Content marketing requires a plan and commitment. This post will help you get started.

Buy-In From the Top
In order for a marketing initiative like content marketing to work, you must have support from the C-Suite.You need this buy-in because content creation will only occur when the C-Suite makes content creation part of technical staff job descriptions. There is a chicken-and-egg conundrum of needing a content marketing plan to persuade the C-Suite, while needing support of the C-Suite to spend your time creating a plan. This post is a short-cut to help you create your content marketing plan before, or after, you have C-Suite buy-in.

Creating content (start with writing for your blog) is alien to technical staff and thus outside their comfort zone. Knowledge is the antidote to fear, so I recommend getting C-Suite approval for training technical staff to become better writers and speakers (see Resources at the end of this post).

Those in the C-suite often ask, “what firms are using content marketing successfully?” Peer pressure can be persuasive, so here are a few examples:
Array Architects
HOK
Gensler
Populous
Brown & Caldwell
DPR
American Express


“Content is an important piece in all of our marketing efforts…extending our messaging through content is a great way for us to continue to convert our customers from simply seeing a message to considering our brand.”

““ Walter Frye, Director of Entertainment Marketing & Sponsorships at American Express


Venn Diagram: Intersection of client pain and your expertise = your next blog post

Start With Strategy
Like any marketing channel under consideration, start with strategy. Determine who you are trying to reach, and what is the intersection of their pain points and your expertise. This intersection will answer the question of what to write/speak about. For example, I wrote this post in response to several Marketing Directors expressing interest in content marketing, but needing to develop a plan to get buy-in from their C-Suite.

Commit to at least a year. Part of what makes content marketing work is putting your audience on a regular drip of valuable content. You never know when buyers, in the sales process, cross the threshold from the research stage to the intent to hire stage. So it’s key to keep your firm front of mind with consistent publishing of content.


No single piece of content, no matter how excellent, will be as successful as a steady, long term flow of quality content.

““Chris Butler, author of The Strategic Web Designer


Define Personas
It’s always more effective to write with a single reader in mind rather than an amorphous group. Therefore, I recommend that you clarify your target audience by creating 3 personas for ideal clients. Personas are short fictitious biographies for those you wish to influence. At minimum, include the following in your personas:
• name
• age
• sex
• job title and responsibilities
• dreams and goals at work
Find a photo and post a cut-out of this “person” to keep your target audience front of mind when creating content. Consider creating one persona for each stage of the buying process (research, evaluation, decision) for your 3 personas.

Start Small and Then Scale
I see a lot of firms get excited about all the channels at the content marketing buffet: podcasts, blogs, newsletters, speaking, white papers, etc. Firms fail because they bite off more than they can chew. I recommend starting with a blog, and committing to one post per month for an entire year. Posts about new hires, project wins, and awards do not count. True content marketing must be original content that your audience can use to be better at their jobs. Aim for 500″“1000 words per month. Once you’ve mastered a year of blog posts, and have resources to scale, then take on new content marketing channels, while increasing to 2k”“3k words of new content on your blog per month.

Considering Outsourcing Writing
Since your technical staff are under pressure to maintain billable efficiency, consider hiring professional writers to write compelling content. Technical staff should brief the writer on the article, provide key terminology, and fact check. The Bloom Group conducted research last year with 50 consulting firms and found that those whose website thought leadership content generated the greatest number of client leads on average used ghostwriters for more than 50% of their articles. Consulting firms with the fewest number of leads from their website content on average had 22% of their online articles ghostwritten.

Your Website Is The Hub or Home Base
All your brilliant content needs to have a home. That home should be your website and the content must be indexable by search engines. Within your website, the content must live under a button listed in your main navigation. This button could be titled Blog, News, Thinking, Thought Leadership, Thoughts, etc. Avoid creating a separate blog with a separate URL because you then dilute your SEO.

All your outbound channels (Twitter, Email Marketing, Pinterest, Linked-In, Direct Mail) for promoting your content should pull your audience back to your website to read the entire story. Hence the term “inbound marketing.”

Remember: Your Content Must Be Searchable
Whatever form your content takes, be sure that at least part of it is posted on your website in searchable form. In other words, don’t just post PDFs or videos. If you do, search engines won’t pick them up, and you lose the opportunity the unaware finding you through a google search. Be sure to include a summary of the PDF, video, or podcast in your blog.

Conclusion
Content Marketing is difficult, so few firms do it well. This is why it’s an opportunity for your firm to stand out. By following the steps outlined above, you’ll create a “scalable plan for regularly adding high quality, educational content to your website that will attract prospects, inform them of your expertise, and engage them in a helpful and conversion focused process that transitions visitors to qualified and viable leads.” ““Mark O’Brien, author of A Website That Works

When your firm’s content and expertise becomes archived, and accessible to everyone in your firm, you begin to build a Core Brilliance Culture. This is also known as knowledge management. This adds significant value to your firm as a marketing, recruiting, and ownership transition asset. Maybe this is how you get your C-Suite to approve your content marketing plan?

For Discussion
How did you get your content marketing initiative started?
How do you motivate technical staff to write and speak?

Resources
Writing Training – Copyblogger
Speaking Training – Toastmasters
Firms Doing Conttent Marketing Well: Array Architects, Populous, DPR
More on Personas: The User is Always Right by Steve Mulder
Bloom Group Research – State of Online Publishing in Consulting

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