Well actually it's not the New Year yet if you go strictly by the calendar. But Labor Day marks the traditional end of summer and a kick off to new beginnings. Back to school for some and a resumption of regular work schedules for others. It's a time for getting back up to speed, refocusing your energy, and taking on new projects.
The used printing press we purchased had just been delivered and sat forlornly in the middle of our shop floor. Fred Hudson, our plant engineer, just stared at it, one hand on his hip, the other rubbing his bald head. The riggers who shipped the press deployed a unique method when disassembling the machine. Instead of properly disconnecting the wiring, they simply hacked all the wires off at the power source. So as Fred examined the carnage of tangled wiring, he was trying to figure out how to make all the proper connections. And of course no wiring diagrams or user manuals came with the old, used machine.
Luckily for us, Fred was a genius. He walked around the press for a few days and then pounced. Within a day, he connected all the wires and power was surging through our now running printing press.
Electronics wasn't the only thing in which Fred was expert. He knew everything about mechanical equipment, building construction, auto mechanics, HVAC, and safety. He was our resident subject matter expert (SME).
Regardless of your type of business - technology, software, analytics, marketing, healthcare, manufacturing - chances are you have a Fred or two on staff. They are often quiet, unassuming women and men who harbor a vast source of knowledge of your industry and company. That makes them an invaluable resource when it comes to creating content to help market your business. Whether you need a white paper, eBook, case study, blog post, or sell sheet, your SME's can provide the knowledge and insight to make your content pieces relevant and compelling.
Here are four ways to get the most out of your SME's when it comes to content creation.
Tap into their passion
Regardless of how quiet and reserved your SME's may be, they will open up if you can get them talking about something in the business they are passionate about. They carry around a ton of knowledge they rarely get a chance to share. Showing genuine interest and tapping into that passion often results in a treasure trove of valuable and compelling information that will interest your customers and prospects.
Be thorough in your interview
To get really good information from your SME's, be fully prepared for your discussion. Ask open ended questions and listen closely. Follow up and probe to get them to dig deeper. If the subject is particularly complicated, try to strip away the jargon and get them to explain in plan English. Oftentimes, SME's are so well versed in a topic, they forget that we mere mortals may not have any idea what they are talking about. Fred used to start most discussions with "As you know..." before going on to talk about something about which I was totally clueless. Don't be embarrassed to say "I don't understand. Can you please explain?" Have your SME use analogies to further clarify the subject to make it easier to convert your conversation into meaningful content.
Record the discussion
Before you begin, ask for permission to record the conversation. Even if you are master at shorthand - something very few people are these days - you'll never capture all the content gold your SME will share. They may be intimidated at first, but once you get them talking they will usually forget they are being recorded. Having a digital record of the conversation will be invaluable later when you parse the discussion into various pieces of content.
Keep them in the loop
As you convert their words of wisdom into blog posts, ebooks, or white papers, make sure you keep them involved. Let them review anything you write before publishing. This will not only reinforce that you appreciate what they had to say, it will also ensure that you haven't misinterpreted something or simply made some errors of fact. Keeping them involved will demonstrate that you truly care about what they had to say and will also make it easier if you decide to go back to them for more interesting content later.
As you put your content schedule together and scramble to do research, don't look past your internal resources. Engage your SME's and enjoy a bountiful content reward.
How do you use the knowledge of your SME's? What forms of content have you been able to put together with their help?
Pulitzer Prize winning sportswriter Red Smith once said, "Writing is easy. You just sit at the typewriter until the drops of blood ooze from your forehead." That's what it feels like for many people as they stare at a blank computer screen coming up totally empty as to what to write. The pressure builds as a nagging voice shouts in their head: More content! Publish or perish! Come up with an idea!
Writers are all too familiar with "writer's block" when typing that first sentence becomes overwhelmingly difficult.
Corporate marketing teams can sometimes face the same dilemma. You understand the importance of creating compelling content for your prospects and customers and you know it's a proven way to build relationships and drive revenue. Publishing blog posts, white papers, eBooks, or case studies is the best way to get in front of your target audience to convince them of your expertise in your field and reassure them you understand their issues and can help solve their problems.
But that doesn't make it any easier to create compelling content. Instead of a blank screen, though, you're faced with an empty content calendar. You just don't know what to write about. You're suffering from a problem I call "content block."
I've been on a number of calls with clients who want to produce a white paper, eBook, or blog post series, but are struggling with what the topics should be. To break the block, I'll walk them through a number of possible ideas and eventually we come up with relevant areas of interest we can convert into solid content.
Here are six ideas for topics that will get your creative juices flowing and help you overcome your "content block."
Discuss an industry trend. Pick a hot industry topic and provide your take on it. This will show thought leadership and demonstrate to customers and prospects that you're in tune with current trends. The many newsletters you receive contain a wide variety of issues that would interest your audience. You can also check out brochures on industry conferences and review the list of breakout sessions for a number of topic ideas.
Interview an SME. Most organizations have valuable sources of content right under their noses in their product or service subject matter experts. These individuals not only possess valuable company knowledge but they are also well aware of what's going on with your industry as a whole. Unfortunately, we often fail to take advantage of their vast wealth of knowledge. Sit down with them and ask "So what's new?" Chances are within a short time you'll have an extensive list of topic ideas and the actual content to flesh them out.
Present an opinion on an industry article. We are all inundated with both physical and electronic magazines and articles on a regular basis. It's a good bet you've come across more than one viewpoint with which you disagree. That's great. Make it your next blog post. Linking back to the original article and then providing your unique opinion on it provides your customers and prospects with two sides on a topic of interest. That's the best way to get a dialogue going while honing your thought-leadership chops.
Analyze an industry survey or report. Chances are you often find a report or survey lurking in your email inbox containing information of interest to your target audience. Digest the report, cull out the pertinent points, and put together an analysis explaining what the data means for your prospects and customers. Even if they received the same report, your spin on it could make it more specific and relevant to them.
Offer an objective discussion of a technology you offer. This one can get tricky since if your goal is to be a thought leader, you don't want to jump up on the podium and give a sales pitch. A well written brochure is helpful at certain points in the sales process, but for thought leadership purposes, you want to present a broader look at the topic. For example, one of my clients is a leader in the waterjet cutting field. We did a series of white papers and ebooks discussing the benefits of waterjet technology without specifically mentioning the company's products. We wanted to help educate our target audience and by doing so, we helped cement the company as a thought leader in a growing manufacturing space.
Give a first person problem solving example. These occur on a daily basis but often go unnoticed and unreported. That's unfortunate since they can be among the most powerful pieces of influencing content. Check with your customer service team or sales group for examples of where your product or service solved a customer problem.It can be difficult to get permission from a customer to use their name, but you can make it generic and get the same impact. The result will be similar to a case study with the familiar formula of background, problem, solution, results. This is a great way to provide your prospects with an illustration of what you might be able to do for them.
You may feel the well has run dry when it comes to content will interest your target audience, but that's really never the case. Spend some time thinking about your company, your clients, and your industry and chances are you'll be tapping away at your keyboard in no time.
What have you done to break your "content block?" Where do you find your best content ideas?
Anyone involved with SEO knows that chasing the latest search engine algorithms to improve results can be frustrating. Google changes its algorithm 500-600 times a year - sometimes making minor tweaks and other times doing major overhauls. While using keywords to optimize your content is still solid strategy, many experts feel the best way to rank high in search results is to produce engaging, compelling content written for people, not search engines. Ok, that sounds good. But the term gets thrown around a lot. What exactly IS "engaging, compelling content" and how do you create it?
Here are three suggestions.
1. Talk about your readers, not about you
Loquacious former Red Sox first baseman Kevin Millar who never met a microphone he didn't like once famously said, "Enough about me. Let's talk about me." Unfortunately, that's the attitude of many marketers and content creators who think website visitors are surfing through your site trying to find out about the great things your business is doing. Hint: they aren't necessarily impressed by your latest award, hire, or fancy new building. They really want to know how you're going to help them.
For example, take this blog post from Hayes Management Consulting. Instead of telling you what an effective job they do when consulting with health care organizations or how many engagements they've had, they provide a concise, "nuts and bolts" roadmap on four specific things to focus on when preparing for a new IT system implementation.
When you sit down to bang out some copy, picture your reader asking "what's in it for me?"
2. Answer a question your readers may have
Most people scramble through over-scheduled lives and aren't spending much time simply browsing around aimlessly. When they plug a term into a search engine, they're looking for information on specific questions. You can stand out by providing the answer. Most of my blog posts come from questions clients have asked me. For example, in multiple discussions, people wanted to know the difference between an eBook and a white paper. It's a great question and I answered it with this blog post.
I'm sure you remember back in school when the teacher would say,"The only stupid question is the one that isn't asked" or "You probably aren't the only one who wants to ask this question." It's the same thing with prospects and customers. If one of them asks you a question, chances are ten others are looking for the same answer. That's a perfect opportunity to create a blog post, eBook, or white paper.
3. Help your readers do their jobs
Everyone is reaching out for help in some area of their working life. Providing that assistance gives you a leg up on landing more business and keeping the customers you have. For instance, you might want to help people looking to produce content that gets read and drives more traffic to their site by showing them how to create compelling content. See what I did there? Or you may want to offer some tips on a process that can increase their productivity or enhance the quality of their work.
For example, I deal with many people responsible for producing content for their organizations. While creating content is the only thing I do, their plates are usually overflowing with many other responsibilities. That's why they call me when they need help with their writing needs. But as everyone knows, delegating tasks can sometimes create more work if not done properly. To help solve that problem for my clients, I wrote this blog post on nine specific steps to take to get the content you want out of a copywriter. This provides them with a checklist for an efficient process that will help lighten their workload, not add to it.
So what's the best way to create engaging, compelling content? It comes down to the basics: create content that's interesting and helpful and people will pay attention.
How are you tackling the challenge of creating compelling content?
Quick, what's more important, snow boots or suntan lotion? Doesn't make much sense, does it? The answer is, it depends. When shoveling out your driveway in a howling snowstorm, you need those boots to keep your feet warm and dry. But when you're lying on the beach, you better lather up with some SPF 50 so you don't burn to a crisp.
Marketers are presented with a similar choice when they're asked which is more effective: inbound or outbound marketing.
For a quick refresher, inbound marketing is "attractive," conversation based, and tends to involve general topics surrounding an industry. Think a blog post about a hot topic in technology that someone will want to read because it's of interest to them. It's more about promoting thought leadership than touting a product or service. This blog post is inbound content. Of course I want you to hire me to write your copy, but the specific point of this post is to help you understand how both inbound and outbound content are important.
Outbound marking is "intrusive," one sided, focused on the message the marketer wants to get out, and involves specific information on the company product or service. Think television commercials or radio ads. It is branded copy meant to encourage customers to purchase a specific product or service.
Inbound is getting all the love these days while outbound tends to get treated like last week's fish dinner, but both have a place in a comprehensive marketing plan.
Bring out your dead
You may actually read that outbound marketing is now dead. Whenever I see that, I'm reminded of the scene in the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail where Eric Idle is collecting dead bodies during the plague and one of them keeps protesting: "But I'm not dead!"
Don't get me wrong. The bulk of the work that I do for my clients is inbound marketing content: white papers, eBooks, ghost articles, and blog posts. In fact, I've been Inbound Certified by Hubspot. But I still do a fair amount of traditional outbound marketing as well: brochures, data sheets, case studies, websites, and email campaigns.
Inbound has grown tremendously in the past few years because businesses have learned that it's cheaper and faster to get prospects to come to them rather than going out and hunting them down. The quality of leads tends to be better since the people who are attracted are voluntarily seeking you out and are already somewhat interested in your product or service.
Ah, but there's more to the sales process than just the top of the funnel. As prospects get deeper into the buying journey, they need to be nurtured and converted. Accepted practice is that it takes 7 to 10 touches to convert a lead into a sale. Many of those early touches should be inbound marketing content. As prospects proceed down the funnel, they usually want and need more information to make their decision. That's where a good outbound marketing program comes into play. A well crafted data sheet or brochure along with a compelling case study can be crucial in closing the deal.
Outbound still works
A survey by DiscoverOrg revealed that 60% of IT executives reported an outbound call or email led to a vendor being evaluated. Almost three quarters said they attended an event or took an appointment after receiving a cold call or email. Outbound still works.
The bottom line? You don't have to choose. You need both inbound and outbound content in your marketing program. They just need to be used in the right place and at the right time.
What about you? How are you balancing the two?
This is a question I get asked often. Clients who know they want a content piece longer than a blog post are familiar with both white papers and eBooks, but have trouble understanding the difference between the two. Here's an analogy that might help. Think of an eBook as a friendly conversation with a family member or friend at an informal gathering. Consider a white paper, on the other hand, as a seminar given by a noted expert in the field. That doesn't mean an eBook isn't informative or a white paper has to be stern and stuffy.
Let's say the topic is the stock market. If you're chatting with a cousin who's a financial guru, chances are you're going to get some solid insight. And if you're seminar leader is good, she's likely going to work hard to make her presentation entertaining and enjoyable.
The topic can be the same and you'll likely gain knowledge from both an eBook or a white paper, but there are significant differences between the two.
You probably didn't plan on hearing about the stock market until you started talking to your cousin. But he caught your interest immediately so you quickly became engaged. Something similar happens with an eBook. You may have gotten a link in an email, the subject sounded interesting, so you checked it out. EBooks act as an effective introduction piece and tend to be used early in the customer journey. You're trying to spark a prospect's interest by discussing the general topic area involving your product or service.
The seminar is different. You probably sought it out, signed up for it for a specific day because you wanted to learn more about the topic from an expert. Like a seminar, you usually seek out the white paper and normally "pay" for it with your email address. It's this proactive nature that makes white papers more appropriate for buyers when they are further along in the customer journey - normally in the decision phase.
Like the party discussion, an eBook is more of a one on one conversation. Your cousin will most likely be talking directly about what "you" should be considering when it comes to the stock market, and how recent fluctuations or events in Washington will affect "you" and "your" investments. EBooks are similar in that they are written directly to "you." It's you and the author, face to face discussing the topic.
At a seminar, however, leaders may speak in more third person terms. They'll try to engage everyone in the room, but they're more likely to discuss how the latest drop in the Dow Jones affects "investors." Or they'll point out strategies "people" should be following. White papers take on this formal tone and are normally written in the third person.
Your cousin won't likely be wearing a suit and tie at the party. He'll be comfortably attired in a sweater or golf shirt. EBooks present that informal look as well. They're usually filled with colorful illustrations and graphics meant to attract attention. As I said, you didn't necessarily expect to be reading this piece so something needs to grab and hold your attention.
Seminar leaders will likely be wearing semi-formal attire like a suit. They understand people are coming to them for in-depth knowledge, so they want to begin earning your respect with the way they dress. White papers also take on a formal look. They are primarily text with some charts but very few illustration or graphics. This may not sound exciting, but remember, buyers are already in the decision stage. They don't need whistles and bells - they want hard information and data so they can make a choice that could have a major impact on their company.
EBooks and white papers both have a place in your inbound marketing plan. Just understand the difference so you can employ them appropriately.