Back in 1994, I wrote and self-published a 50-page booklet called Promotional Publishing: Turn Wary Prospects into Trusting Clients by Packaging Your Knowledge, Experience, and Expertise. While it is no longer in print, the premise of the publication was fairly straight forward, as the title indicated: if you want to convert prospects into clients, you need to serve them, not just try to impress them.
From a marketing communications standpoint, this was not achieved through traditional sales materials but by leveraging beneficial information and packaging it in the form of books, audio-video products and other tangible items, including newsletters. In essence, it was (then) a rudimentary introduction to what is most commonly referred to today as content marketing.
Content Marketing, according to Wikipedia (which I think sums it up well) includes all marketing formats that involve the creation or sharing of content for the purpose of engaging current and potential consumer bases. By delivering high-quality, relevant and valuable information to prospects, you forge relationships that fuel profitable consumer action.
An effective content marketing strategy enables you to cultivate relationships with prospective customers on their time table, so that when they are ready to pull the trigger, you are typically the first on the list to be called.
There is nothing new about this principle, and certainly what has changed the most about Content Marketing in the years since I first wrote about it (although I certainly was not the first…!) lie in the forms of delivery. You may note that I originally described “packaging” your expertise in forms that were tangible: you had to create information products that you could feel and touch. Today, online delivery has trumped this rule, which has led to what many experts call a fundamental change in the marketing landscape. After content creation (conceptualization, writing, design and final production), the cost for digital distribution is often next to nothing. Indeed, the format in which you are reading these words is just another example of cost-effective content delivery.
For those of you familiar with The Wedge, you’ll know Content Marketing can play a key role getting your foot in the door at companies where you do not otherwise have a connection. Step six of The Wedge, as part of the process of introducing yourself to cold prospects, compels you to create a “value package.” Here is where a little imagination can pay huge dividends. For you to begin your own Content Marketing strategy, ask yourself this question: What resources (including knowledge) do you have at your disposal that can serve your prospect, before they become a customer?
This is what building relationships through value is all about. Do you have information that can be re-packaged into a small book, report, white paper or audio-visual presentation? Can you take stories of previous clients who faced problems similar to those of your prospect’s and retell those stories so there is a lesson learned? Anything can go here—as long as it’s sincere, serves and/or communicates.
Anyone can hand out a business card or a brochure. But if you really want to introduce yourself really impress, forget about making an impression at all. Rather, aim higher to positively engage and influence your prospect. Share insight and knowledge that will serve your prospect by helping them make more informed decisions that will bring them closer to their goals. Hence, Content Marketing strategies are key to creating powerful networking and prospecting tools. Let your book (or whatever it is you create) become your calling card.
Content Marketing continues to dominate in 2016. Prospects today are more wary, and more demanding. They expect value, not sales pitches. Feed the relationship first, and you do so by delivering value. When the relationship is in place, the sale will come in due time—their time.