March 27, 2013

First, Be Helpful, Then Sell: Content Marketing to Prospects

If you’ve ever produced a client newsletter, prospecting direct mail piece or website, you’ve likely faced the question asked by millions of business owners and marketing professionals every day: What the heck do I fill this thing with?

Once upon a time, we might have called it news or information. Today the buzzword is content and the tactic is content marketing. The guiding principle of this tactic is providing your target market (including prospective and existing clients) information that will help them solve a problem or further their buying decision without talking about how you specifically can fulfill that need.

Content marketing evolved as consumers became savvier. Even today’s elementary school children can smell a sales pitch a mile away. Take the sales smell off the bait, and you stand a better chance of getting your prospect to come closer, to look around, to sample what you have to offer.

At the core of content marketing is, well, content, and in today’s multimedia world that can take any number of forms: articles, video, audio, graphics and infinite combinations thereof. The point is to provide the prospect information that educates, entertains or otherwise engages your prospect. Your ability to deliver that content builds your credibility with the prospect, connects them to your message and leads them to select you as their advisor.

Before you launch a content marketing effort, create a plan that addresses your goals and your methods.

  1. How often will you publish (we use that term loosely to mean ‘put out to the universe’) content?
  2. How will you publish content (printed newsletter, email newsletter, videos, podcasts, etc.)?
  3. How will you generate content?
  4. What topics do you want to cover?
  5. How will you measure success?

So let’s take the basic example of a prospect newsletter (some would argue you can reach prospects and clients with the same newsletter; others would debate that these two audiences have similar but different needs. Discuss.)

1) To begin, decide if you will publish weekly, monthly, bi-monthly or quarterly. You want to publish often enough to keep your name top of mind but not so often as to annoy your prospects. You’ve got other touch points in your prospecting and client communications processes, so let’s say you decide publishing monthly will work for now.

2) How will you publish your newsletter? You’ll need to weigh the benefits for different methods against the time and cost involved. Print newsletters, for example, have physical presence, lobby coffee table appeal and a certain longevity with some readers. On the other hand, creating a nice-looking printed newsletter takes time and money for printing and postage. Outsourcing to a third party reduces your time but increases your costs. Email newsletters can be less expensive, but they can be easily deleted. If you have difficulty deciding on a method, ask your ideal clients how they prefer to receive information.

3) That brings us to content generation. You can generate content in three general ways: 1) purchase content from a service; 2) hire someone to create custom content for you; or 3) write it yourself.

Purchasing content again involves an expense, as does contracting with a ghost writer or multimedia specialist, but these two options require less of your time. Ghost writers will require some time on your part, as you’ll need to start the writer off with a description of your target market and then help generate topic ideas periodically. Writing yourself saves you money and results in custom content not found anywhere else, but it does involve an investment of your time. Is writing something you enjoy and that comes easily to you? If you struggle with it or lose yourself in it, you should probably outsource and save your time and energy for income-producing activities.

4) What topics do you want to cover? Yes, you’ve got the basics like college planning, retirement planning, income distribution, tax planning and  estate planning—but what do your prospects need to know about those topics? What information can you provide that will be useful to your reader regardless of whether or not he or she becomes your client?

Planning your topics over a year or longer will help you avoid that “what to write this month” dilemma that eventually comes up if you work with a ghost writer or create content yourself. Even if you decide to outsource to a newsletter or content vendor, knowing the topics coming up several months in advance can help you reinforce those messages in your other marketing and communications channels.

5) So how can you measure success? First, base it on what you want to accomplish, and don’t expect your phone to be ringing off the hook, or your email inbox bulging with requests, for an initial meeting. Success with a writing program takes time to yield tangible results. Instead of those direct replies from prospects, think of this activity as part of your overall marketing plan—with each word you write you’re building up credibility with prospects and current clients.

No matter what you write, make sure you provide an easy “call to action” for your readers. For instance, in an email or direct mail piece you can provide a link to a downloadable white paper that you or your broker-dealer created; you’ll then be able to measure how many downloads you’ve gotten. You can also create a specific email address to which readers can respond with requests for more information. Finally, if your writing is being sent to both current clients and prospects, be sure to include references to the regular services you provide clients. For instance, you can include a sentence such as “As our clients know from our monthly “About the Markets” conference call, it’s important to keep a long view on the markets, and stay focused on your financial plan and goals…”

Just Do It

With so many channels and topics to choose from, getting started on a content marketing program can seem overwhelming. So start small with something you can easily accomplish--like planning, writing and posting a blog to your website every month (check with your compliance department for guidelines). Like any good library, your content marketing repository will grow over time and evolve as you learn and receive feedback from the people consuming it. Just be sure to keep your content helpful and user-focused, and you’ll keep your clients and future clients coming back for more.

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