Communications / July 30, 2020
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Content marketing can be a powerful force for attracting and engaging prospects, which is why more and more A/E/C firms are creating content to fuel their thought leadership and lead generation efforts. But in spite of all the attention, many programs fail before they truly get off the ground.
So what does it take to build a lasting and sustainable content marketing program? Here are seven tips to consider as you get started.
Content marketing requires a great deal of marketing’s time, resources and budget. For many A/E/C firms, this poses a big challenge as marketers typically have a myriad of other responsibilities on their plate. This is especially true of small and mid-sized firms with small marketing teams tasked with supporting business development with proposals, in addition to managing the marketing function. And most firms will also need the help of technical staff and subject matter experts who are already consumed with ongoing project work and are expected to be billable for a large majority of their time.
Needless to say, a successful and sustainable content marketing program starts (and ends) with buy-in from senior leadership. Without those at the top on board, you’ll likely never receive the resources and support need to be successful over the long haul. So it’s critical for executive leadership to understand the strategic importance of content marketing and have them make it a priority for the firm. You’ll want to make a pitch, show the benefits of content marketing and explain how it can help the firm achieve their primary marketing goals, specifically thought leadership, differentiation and awareness.
Once you’ve got senior leadership on board, the next step is to identify a handful of people in your firm that are subject matter experts and personally approach them about what you’re trying to accomplish with content marketing. Similar to getting executive buy-in, you’ll want to help them understand how content marketing will help the firm and why their help is needed.
Obviously seek out those that are already speaking at conferences, writing in publications and generally have a visible presence in your industry. But also look for mid-level staff that might not have the visibility, but do have the needed expertise (and more time to help). Once these folks are on board, you’ll have a group of champions that are not only creating content, but hopefully encouraging others to do so as well.
Defining your firm’s content marketing mission is not just a formality. It underscores the basis for everything you’ll seek to accomplish with your program. A mission statement identifies your key target audience(s), the topics and subject matter you plan to focus on and the ultimate objective of your content. This is important because while there’s a temptation to want to be “all things to all people,” sustainable success comes from knowing your audience and carving a content niche.
Keep in mind, content marketing alone doesn’t establish thought leadership; it only emphasizes and demonstrates your expertise. So find your content marketing sweet spot by pinpointing the following: where you already have expertise, the areas you want to be known for, and those that will best position your firm for financial success.
I can’t caution you enough about setting realistic expectations. If you’re expecting to “start” content marketing and immediately get results, you’re likely to be disappointed. Content marketing is not a quick fix to boost business development in the short term, and it’s not something that you’re going to realize success and results right away. Instead, it’s a long-term strategy that takes a while to build but over time results will follow. With content marketing, you’re essentially planting seeds, and some seeds will sprout faster than other. But as any good gardener knows, if you plant the right seed in the right soil, after some time you’ll reap the fruits of your labor.
Many firms make the mistake of skipping past strategy and starting with the tactical execution of creating content. But buildings need blueprints, meals need recipes and your content marketing efforts should be tied to a strategy—first. Research from Content Marketing Institute has found that having a documented content marketing strategy is one of the key distinguishing characteristics of an effective (and lasting) content marketing program. A strategy will provide your firm the roadmap that’s needed to give your program direction and keep your efforts on track over the long haul.
While many firms understand the value to content marketing and they know why it’s important, the effort needed to put a sustainable program in place can be overwhelming. As content marketing continues to evolve, there are countless tools, tactics, ideas and formats to consider implementing. But when getting starting with content marketing, it’s important to learn to crawl before you walk, and learn to walk before you run. Don’t feel obligated to implement everything you possibly can out of the gate. Start small and build out from there. Get some early wins, and keep expanding and building the program over time.
Perhaps the best advice I can give to firms considering content marketing or those struggling to get their programs off the ground is to commit to the long haul. As mentioned earlier, content marketing is a long-term strategy and not a short-term campaign. So it’s not just another marketing tactic you can simply add to your marketing mix and expect to realize success. Rather, it’s a philosophical approach to how your firm “does” marketing and it should permeate every aspect of your marketing and business development efforts. It’s truly a commitment and one that will require patience, endurance and dedication for all parties involved.
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In theory, content marketing is a remarkably simple concept. But in practice, it’s far more complex and challenging than many firms realize when they get started. Anyone can get started with content marketing, but building a sustainable program requires the right approach.