In the professional services industry, you’re selling yourself and your team as a service and often not explicitly pitching products. Because of that nuance, building trust and rapport with prospects and clients are paramount. Effective content marketing is one of the best ways for you to build that trust and establish your team and firm as thought leaders and go-to resources.
Digital content marketing has been around for long enough that most companies have made some effort to generate content. Maybe they follow a blog calendar or have a quarterly webinar series or send a weekly e-newsletter. Regardless of the medium, many organizations are trying, or have tried, to leverage content. The question is...are they leveraging it effectively? Unfortunately, in most cases, the answer is no.
So how do you overcome the effectiveness barrier? Walk before you run.
Before you can execute or even map out a winning content marketing strategy, you have to do a deep dive into what makes the most sense for your audience and your goals. This prep work is universally necessary, but with the professional services sector, in particular, there are multiple subtleties you might miss if you jump straight into a strategy and execution.
Let’s look at each question individually.
- Who and what will your content be competing against?
Performing an audit of your competitions’ content is the best place to start. Although, understanding who you’re competing against goes beyond examining your direct competitors. It comes down to understanding the broader content marketing landscape.
You’re not just competing against professional services firms; you’re competing against your prospect’s attention span and every other business targeting that prospect. So, not only do you have to target your content, you have to stand out in an inbox crowded with webinars and eBooks and case studies.
How do you stand out? B2B brand storytelling helps. B2B brand storytelling connects people with your brand using literary elements that help you tell a unified story across multiple channels. When executed digitally, you create a trail of breadcrumbs that traces back to your firm and engages your audience in a specific channel at a particular moment.
In order to effectively tell a story, though, you need to deeply understand your audience...which brings us to our next question.
- Who is your target audience?
The audience split for B2B content marketing is a bit different for professional services than it is for other industries.
Within the professional services marketing universe, you have not one but two areas to focus on: direct prospects and referral partners. More than in other fields, consulting and professional services rely heavily on partner and referral networks.
In these relationships, the most common dynamic is a generalist + specialist. Examples include business consultant + software salesperson and attorney + financial planner.
You have to consider this audience duality in your content development. You need a mix that speaks to your referral partners and reminds them of your expertise and value just as much as you need a mix that highlights your subject-matter authority to potential clients.
And on the referral side of things, you want to provide content that they find useful and would consider repurposing for themselves. It’s even better if you can arrange joint activities, such as co-branded white papers or panel webinars. Especially if your partners have a larger audience or more established name than your company, you can leverage their network for increased exposure.
Identifying, interviewing, and honing your buyer personas is a critical process when developing a B2B content strategy so that you can genuinely know your audience and know what content they need and want.
- What are the right mediums to use?
When performing buyer persona interviews with existing clients, ask them how they consume media and educational materials.
We live in the “age of the customer.” Customers are in the driver’s seat of the buying process, often self-selecting into services and products instead of responding to, say, cold outreach from a sales rep. With this increased proactivity and access, clients also have increased affinities and opinions about content mediums.
Buyer research can help, but nothing is going to beat asking your clients directly about their own problem-solving research process. Questions include:
- Where do you find most of your educational materials?
- What types of content do you like best?
- Are there any blogs or industry experts you follow?
The good news for people in professional services is that your engagements are often very interactive and client-facing. You’re not selling software and walking away. You build relationships with your clients every day. Pay attention to those interactions and use what you learn about your clients.
Once you have that info, you can narrow your strategy to the most meaningful mediums for your audience. Professional services marketers, like most in B2B, are going to be selecting from a shortlist of popular mediums:
- Social media
After locking-in an audience and a mix of content types, it’s time to put your expertise to work and start building a creative strategy informed by your firm’s unique needs.
One note of caution. Professional service firms often fear sharing too much information for free, for example, publishing a guide on a topic they’d usually use in a working session with a client. But fear not!
You have to share meaningful, valuable, and authentic information in your content. It is the only way to get attention and interest in the crowded content marketing space. And it’s the best way to engender respect for your expertise and your company with prospective clients. Let them see your real, authentic value, and start building that ever-important trust from the first marketing touchpoint.
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