Marketing has always been about communication, but the expectations and responsibilities of those communications are changing as rapidly as the new marketplace. A well-planned inbound marketing strategy answers the dilemma of how to authentically communicate with new buyers who are self-educating and independent. Done well, a content-driven inbound program will communicate with decision makers by establishing your brand as a thought-leader in your industry or niche, and by actively engaging users and influencers.
One of the strengths of a robust content strategy is in establishing your organization as a thought-leader in your industry. There are two techniques that use content to reinforce the brand’s reputation online: high-quality original content, and thoughtful curation of third-party resources.
Anyone can Google a handful of keywords, pull together popular opinion, and outline an original piece that doesn’t say anything original at all. This kind of strategy can establish a company as a valuable resource if it’s done well, but it will not establish that company as a thought-leader. A true thought-leader in the new inbound marketplace provides new data, fresh insights, and disruptive opinions. Matt Heinz has more than 15 years of marketing, sales, and business development experience in a variety of organizations, industries, and company sizes:
Get out of the weeds! There’s plenty of room for tactical advice, but true thought leadership makes people think. It gives them new ideas to challenge their conventional thinking, and often delivers cross-functional value well beyond the division or department of your key decision-maker. – Matt Heinz (@HeinzMarketing)
That doesn’t mean, however, that your small business needs to find a way to bankroll a nationwide study. There are easier ways to provide fresh ideas and insight:
Once you’ve planned, researched, assembled, and released your content, stick with it. Leaders are always challenged, especially if their ideas are disruptive. If you believe in your content, though, don’t let the marketplace talk you out of it. Jon Dick, who leads marketing for Klout, has learned this lesson first-hand:
Like most marketers, my first reaction to being confronted with controversy was to back down, but over time I’ve come to realize that being apologetic does very little to advance a brand or to help people understand what you do. It’s better to own the controversy, engage in the conversion (while always being respectful!), and reinforce why your brand stands for what it does. – Jon Dick (@Klout), Klout
However large or small your research, however controversial your opinion or prediction, in the end, create and release something genuine – something you really believe in. Shock and Awe is not an appropriate content marketing strategy. Social Media expert and speaker Eric Tung loves teaching others how to effectively tell their unique stories.
In many cases, disruptive opinions are merely created to rock the boat, and get clicks through to their content. If you really believe in a disruptive opinion it might be an okay strategy, but in many cases it seems that disruptive opinions are there just to get pageviews. When it comes to thought leadership, I think writers should really just create what they want and feel comfortable in supporting with reasoning or research.– Eric Tung (@EricTung)
Creating provoking or new original content isn’t just for corporations with large R&D budgets, or organizations with nationwide audiences. If your team believes it is offering something unique, tell decision makers why.
In addition to your insightful, thought-provoking original content, a well-rounded strategy will consist mostly of curated pieces from outside resources. Brands that only share their own content lose trust in the new marketplace, but brands that consistently filter and interpret content for their audiences build their reputations as leaders and resources in their industries.
Social channels should be between 50 and 80-percent curated content to help provide neutral content beneficial for the community. Effective content curation is when your community or industry recognizes your company or thought leaders as the go-to resources. Generally speaking, take a look at what types of content users are sharing and favoriting, and provide them with more of that type of content. – Eric Tung (@EricTung)
Matt Heinz uses a slightly different strategy, but ends up with similar numbers.
I love the 4-1-1 format originated by Joe Pulizzi of Content Marketing Institute. For every four articles you curate from others, you may curate one value-added piece of your own, and another piece that offers a call to action. Quite frankly, I often prefer something closer to a 6-1-1 format. The more you drive value independent of your own content, the greater credibility you have to your audience, and the more they’ll be drawn to you to learn more.– Matt Heinz (@HeinzMarketing)
Apps and websites like Hootsuite and Klout will help you find industry-specific content to share with your networks, but sharing third-party resources should not be left completely to automation. Jon Dick believes in three specific strategies for sharing outside content:
Curation is an important part of any successful content strategy. I believe that the keys to an effective curation strategy are to keep it relevant, timely, and personal. Maintain your point-of-view and what your audience knows you for. Look for opportunities to share recent content that your audience may not have seen, and provide your own point of view in addition to the original content. – Jon Dick (@Klout), Klout
When sharing third-party content:
An inbound marketing strategy will help to establish your brand as a thought-leader in your industry with a well-rounded content curation strategy. Sharing third party content only strengthens your brand’s reputation in the new marketplace, and adding fresh insight to the conversations in your field is well within range for any organization.
Inbound is about meeting decision makers where they are, and it produces the kind of prompt communication strategy that buyers in the new marketplace have come to expect. Marketers have all kinds of tricks and strategies that try to convince decision makers and influencers to engage with their brand, their networks, and their content, but the best way to be seen in a crowd is to do what most people aren’t doing.
Buyers and influencers alike are used to being sold, bargained, and sponsored. They know that all of the attention is just a new way to buy their business or their audiences, and as the gimmicks increase, trust decreases. Sometimes it’s refreshing when someone cuts to the chase.
You literally have to ask people to participate. Take each piece of content and figure out three or four people you know will have an opinion or response. Include influencers and other thought leaders who will want their opinions aligned with your content and traffic. Use them to “kick start” the conversation.– Matt Heinz (@HeinzMarketing)
Lay all your cards on the table:
Some will agree to participate, and you’ve made a good contact. Some will refuse, but at least you didn’t waste the cost of promo material on them.
You would never invite a prospect to lunch and talk the whole time about how he can improve his business, without ever listening to what he has to say. But that’s what a lot of brands are doing online. Inbound begins and ends with listening to the marketplace because we have to know what questions to answer, and then we have to know how a content piece or project served buyers in our target industry. If your team isn’t using listening techniques with your audience, or isn’t very good at it, start by scheduling time to do it. Life happens, business gets busy, that one really needy client calls, and the non-tangibles like listening to the marketplace fall through the cracks. So, add it to the agenda.
I believe social marketers should carve out dedicated time every day to listen to what’s being said about their brand. We look specifically for perceptions of the brand and trends in the conversation about us, insights into future content and product strategy, and issues that require resolution.– Jon Dick (@Klout), Klout
Hearing what’s being said, however, isn’t the same as listening to what is being said. Listening well means reacting to what you’ve heard.
Set up regular cadences to capture feedback from your customers directly and indirectly. Read their discussion forums online, make a habit of calling customers on a regular basis, and set up dedicated time at least weekly with your customer-facing internal staff to understand what they’re hearing from your customers as well.– Matt Heinz (@HeinzMarketing)
Take it one step further. nstead of sharing what your audience is saying with the right staff members, train and empower your whole team to be actively listening wherever they are.
It can also help if multiple people in your organization are trained on listening and engagement. It makes more sense that recruiting, sales, and customer service all listen for engagement opportunities and respond appropriately, than the social media team finding all the opportunities and emailing the proper departments for answers. – Eric Tung (@EricTung)
There is no “Listening Department” in your organization. Training your whole team to listen to your marketplace, and authorizing them to respond – at least to a degree – will encourage your staff, improve your customer service, and increase your brand’s level of insight. When listening well becomes part of everyone’s job description, the brand identity starts to change from the inside out toward one more interested and engaged with buyers. Trust goes up. Understanding goes up. Content gets sharper. Decision makers are impressed.
Inbound sets the table for effective communication with decision makers today. Good communication in a buyer-driven marketplace helps to establish the brand as a thought-leader in its industry, and engage with its audience and key influencers. Good communication has always been insightful, unbiased, straight-forward, and two-way. The new marketplace has given communicators new tools and channels, but the philosophy will always be the same: say something worth saying, and then let someone else have a turn.