Thursday, January 30, 2014

Why You Should Be Hoarding Content

Content is king in marketing professional services. Yet most A/E firms are content poor. They don't produce enough articles, papers, presentations, webinars, and the like to sustain an effective content marketing effort.

But there is a fallback position to fill in the gaps in your marketing output: Other people's content. Although I produce significant content of my own, I rely heavily on that produced by others to support both my marketing and my consulting practice. The internet makes it easy to find, store, and share this information.

Let me suggest that you also adopt the practice of hoarding content for your firm. In this post, I'll discuss why you should and how to go about it:

The Value of Content

Content in the form or writing or presentations constitutes a portable and readily sharable expression of your expertise. The best content is that most relevant and helpful in addressing client needs. Content extends your consulting practice by providing advice and information that the client can consume at his or her own convenience. It also makes a great way to introduce a prospective client to your firm.

There has been much written about content marketing (including in this space). But I want to point out other advantages to collecting valuable content, including:
  • Build your reputation as a thought leader in your field. This is the classic role of content marketing, yet something still all too uncommon among A/E firms. 
  • Strengthen relationships with existing clients. Regularly sending useful information and advice reminds customers that you're thinking about them and looking for ways to help.
  • Keep in front of prospective clients. There are only so many times you can call upon a prospect without wearing out your welcome. Helpful content is a great way to remain visible without imposing too much.
  • Educate yourself. The best professionals are constantly learning and growing, and the practice of hoarding content can be a natural outgrowth of their ongoing research.
  • Compile a resource library. Finding the best information takes time, so why not store that source or link in a place where you can readily find it again? Content hoarders should be intent on building their own customized electronic library (see below).
The more content you have and the more easily accessible it is, the greater its value will be to your business. In the internet age, there's no lack of information. The challenge is sorting through the glut of content that is of little value and finding those nuggets of insight that are worth sharing and filing away for future use. Most don't take the time or have the discipline to do this. That's what makes it all the more valuable when you do. It can be a competitive advantage.

How to Compile and Use Content

So where do you start? Here are some tips on becoming a content hoarder:

Identify your target audiences. For firms that focus on a few core markets, this will be easier than for those working across multiple markets. If your firm falls in the latter category, the task of collecting helpful content becomes more difficult. Unless you can assemble the manpower to compile content in multiple markets, I recommend narrowing your effort to just a few. The more specific the content is to particular businesses, the more useful it will be perceived by clients.

Don't make the mistake of collecting content relative to your business and services to the neglect of your clients' businesses. Sure, an article on BIM can appeal to facility managers in multiple markets. But if it is specifically written for managers in your client's business, it will likely be more appreciated. On the other hand, you don't want to miss opportunities to share content across markets when it's appropriate. 

Stay abreast of what matters most to your clients. As I wrote previously, there is great value in connecting whatever you do to meeting your clients' strategic needs. This is also true in how you share content. Judge the value of the content you produce, collect, and share from the client's perspective, not your own. Determine what to share based on how useful it will be to your audience, not on how well it promotes your area of specialization. That means you need to ask questions that stray outside your expertise on occasion to understand what matters most to your clients. That in large part defines the value of the content you share.

Create your storage and filing system. The internet is my go-to source for valuable content for obvious reasons. There's an endless supply of information and advice—when you can find it—and providing an internet URL is the simplest way to share content with others. Even materials I develop for non-internet uses eventually get posted on my website if it's something I envision sharing often with customers and followers.

If your content is predominantly web-based, the quickest way to file it is as bookmarks in your browser. As with any filing system, you want to plan for the optimum organization of your collected content in a hierarchy of folders. But you also have the advantage of being able to search your bookmarks by specific search terms (the means of doing this varies by browser).

If your content covers a variety of formats such a text, web links, photos, and audio, using a note-taking app like OneNote or Evernote is highly recommended. Once again, your compilation can readily be searched to find what you're looking for.

Develop a plan for using content in your marketing. Many A/E firms define marketing strategy only vaguely, and sometimes ignore the specifics of content sharing even if they do have a marketing plan. Your plan should include monthly goals for leveraging content—both that created and collected by your firm—in your marketing activities. Use multiple channels for maximum impact. Be sure to center your social media efforts on sharing content.

Track content-sharing touchpoints in your appointment calendar. This refers to those times when you share targeted content with a client or prospect, something that you want to become an ongoing practice. Often this will be prompted by a recent or upcoming conversation, or perhaps a new development in the project or pursuit. But you also want to account for those times when a client touchpoint is not prompted by circumstances, when it's easy to neglect staying in touch with the client because your attention is diverted elsewhere. That's where you need to make and keep appointments, set at intervals you think are appropriate to maintain the relationship.

When you find something interesting, always consider who might appreciate your sharing it. This is a good measure of how focused you are on your clients and others in your network. Not just those with whom you're currently working, but past and prospective clients with whom you're not actively engaged. It takes only a moment longer to consider who else might find that news item, white paper, or video of value. 

You might find it helpful to keep a list of those individuals with whom you particularly want to stay in touch. When you find interesting content, review the list and identify those who might appreciate your sending it. Don't limit this practice to clients, but include others in your network who might be instrumental in helping your firm win or perform that next big project.

A few other examples of how I use my storehouse of content that might inspire you to do something similar:
  • Look for ideas and information for blog posts, articles, or webinars I might prepare
  • Compile the best content I find in a monthly ezine to hundreds of clients and prospects
  • Send to publishers, conference chairs, and association leaders looking for ideas for articles, seminars, conference sessions, or webinars
  • Send as a follow-up to participants in my training workshops or conference sessions, usually compiled in a professional-looking email
  • Research for upcoming consulting assignments, always looking for fresh ideas and best practices
Content is king, and not just for marketing purposes. You probably already discover a lot of it in your business web searches. Maybe it's time to start hoarding it so you can make better use of it. 

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