Monday, March 15, 2010

Marketing Your Intellectual Capital

In a recent survey by The Bloom Group, professional service firms said that having strong intellectual capital was the most important ingredient of effective marketing. Interesting. I don't recall ever hearing A/E firm principals talk about leveraging their intellectual capital as a marketing strategy. Are we missing something?

Intellectual capital is closely related to the concept of "thought leadership," another term rarely heard in our industry. In large part, these are simply fancy ways of describing your knowledge and expertise. But it goes deeper. Intellectual capital, from a marketing perspective, is sharing some of what you know in ways that attract interest in your firm. It positions you as the definitive experts, the "thought leaders" in your specific field.

Obviously, there is a lot of expertise in our industry. So why aren't more firms applying it to the way they market? Most firms I've worked with simply don't seem to understand the value of content marketing. They follow the traditional approach of focusing their marketing primarily on self-promotion. Unfortunately that approach generally doesn't work. Firms seem to have acknowledged that fact based on how many cut marketing staff and expenses in the last year.

Even among the firms that I've been able to persuade to change their approach, most still seem to struggle to make it happen. Admittedly, content marketing can take more time than the usual "image marketing." Some firms probably lack the requisite skill set. But if I can do it as a one-man operation, isn't it reasonable to assume that your firm can do it also? I think so. So here's some advice:

Identify clients' hot topics. What are their most pressing needs, highest priorities, crucial goals? To produce content of value to clients, you must start here. Many A/E firms have a limited understanding of their clients' needs beyond the scope of their firm's technical expertise. You are better able to provide added value to clients when you understand their strategic and personal needs as well as the technical needs you normally focus on (see "Uncovering the Client's Real Needs").

Inventory and evaluate your firm's existing content. This will include articles, white papers, presentations, newsletters, direct mailers--anything that facilitates sharing what you know with the outside world. Many firms have very few such resources to draw from. What about your firm? If you have a fair amount of your intellectual capital in accessible form, how relevant is it to your clients' hot topics? How good is it? Whatever you have that's worth sharing, be sure to convert it to electronic form also so it's easier to distribute.

Search for the very best content you can find on the internet. Even if you haven't created a lot of your own content, you can still build a useful resource library using content from others. Although I've written hundreds of articles, I still use others' articles, white papers, and tools extensively. I share them through my website, my monthly ezine, and simply by forwarding web links via email to my clients. That's the beauty of the internet. Not my intellectual capital, you say? Ah, but it's almost just as effective when I'm the one sharing it. You can do the same.

Develop a plan for building and leveraging your intellectual capital. There are myriad ways to use the resource library you're building to market your firm. To focus your efforts, you should have a plan. Address the following questions: Do we have the content clients are interested in? How good is it? What more do we need (both subject matter and quality)? What forms should it take? How should we share this information and advice with clients? Do we have the people and the time we need to make it work? (For ideas, check out my post "Marketing for Leads")

Give your technical experts the support they need. One reason most firms have little content is that few technical professionals have either the time or the aptitude to produce it. A better approach is to have someone else produce the content based on interviews with your experts. The resulting documents should bear the names of both the writer and the expert(s). Some resort to ghost writing, but that seems less than fully honest and ethical to me. In my experience, sharing the credit doesn't diminish the reputations of your experts.

Consider hiring outside help. Most A/E firms are ill-equipped to produce substantial content. So you may decide you need some help. There are reasonably affordable options available. Look for a writer to work on a part-time basis. There are many in the marketplace, some of whom are not that expensive for the value they can bring to your marketing effort. With the decline of newspapers, reporters are an alternative to consider. Many of them are skilled at writing about all kinds of topics and at doing so on a quick turnaround. I've used college interns, even high school students, to conduct internet research and help produce content. You might be surprised what you can accomplish for a relatively low cost if you're creative.

Why does content marketing work? Because it serves rather than sells. It provides helpful information, insights, and advice. It begins or supplements the process of helping clients address their needs. If you're not leveraging your intellectual capital to serve prospective clients, you may be overlooking your best available marketing option.

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