We see loads of excellent content campaigns executed by clients using Passle. From all those learnings and working with the top firms in the world, we have learned what it takes to run a best in class content campaign, all the way from planning through execution and reporting.
Planning: targets, goals & team
A campaign is only as successful as the goals that it achieves, and the results it generates.
Segmentation & targeting
For a campaign to work, it has to align with your strategy for growth. Conducting a segment and target analysis provides a focus for your marketing, it aligns the efforts that you are about to undertake with the goals of your firm.
A quick way to do this is by:
- Take your revenue by client
- Segment by factors such as location, size, industry, client need
- Analyse for profitability, market size, and fit with your firm
- Target the best segment to expand that will achieve your firm's goals
That last point is really key. There is no point in trying to gain x% market share if your overall firm's goal is profitability. Equally, being focused on profitability if the firm's goal is market share will hold you back. By necessity, segmentation and targeting will require conversations with senior management that they may not be ready for.
The best way to prepare for these conversations is to have clear, inarguable data. The best way to get that data comes first from your own firms billing. The best way to supplement that data is with accurate research. For those without a large research budget, LinkedIn's advertising tool is brilliant. In mere moments you can segment data by all sorts of factors, and have your ideal segment mapped out in moments.
Bigger isn't better here. You are not trying to reach very many people with your campaign. For the overwhelming majority of professional services firms, reaching a very small number of the right people is far more important than reaching the masses.
Realistically, the number of people that can understand and actually decide to buy your firm's services is very, very small. Keep your target group small to reflect this.
*Usually, segmentation, targeting, and positioning are undertaken once a year (possibly then reviewed several times a year). We've added this step here because a successful campaign needs a target, but you don't need to redo this step every time a new campaign is coming up.
So much marketing happens without proper goal setting. Sometimes that's because marketers are "idea led" and let a cool concept run away with them before thinking about what they are trying to achieve. Sometimes its because we set ourselves bad goals.
Set a long term and a short term goal. The short term goal offers a leading indicator and a good measure of the effectiveness of the efforts. The long term goal shows a more complete picture of how you have affected the bottom line.
Long term you want to be winning work. In the short term, that looks like making people aware that you have offerings they need and ensuring that your target view those offerings positively.
A classic campaign might look like this:
Long term: generate specific work "y", from firms in the target group with a value over "x".
Short term: demonstrate awareness & positive perception of our firms' offerings in the area of specific work "y".
The amounts and areas here should be determined by the segmentation. Long term goals can afford to focus on revenue and need not demonstrate direct attribution. It is enough to have contributed.
Short term goals need to be pointy, sharp, and clear. When someone asks what impact that campaign had, you want to be able to say: "We reached these specifically named people at these named target firms, and they viewed us positively in this area that we have expertise in"
Business leaders aren't fools. They don't need to see a name on a lead sheet to recognise value. Equally, in 2020 we know that people aren't going to purchase your services off the back of that ebook download. Your goals should reflect that.
Short term - awareness & perception. Long term - revenue.
Assembling the right team
To be successful, a marketing project needs to have the support of the right people within your organisation.
Even the best idea can be snuffed out by a word from the wrong person. Any marketing project, no matter how well planned and conceived, can be killed in moments by a senior person with an off the cuff comment.
The way to prevent this is to be deliberate about who you have supporting your project. Build this community in the right way, make sure they share in your success and your project is much more likely to succeed.
Authors are somewhat self-explanatory. These are the people that will be directly making your initiative work. For us, they are the experts within firms. Having a clear understanding of who these people are, as well as a select few you have a closer relationship with, will help to start your project and keep the momentum going.
If you don't have the doers on your team, it's very difficult to pull out examples of when things go well, making it harder to demonstrate the behavior you want and the results when things work.
Supporters are the least obvious of the three types of people needed for a marketing program to be successful. A diverse group, this encompasses all the people within the organisation who will benefit from your initiative. This is often the business development and sales teams, the junior professionals, and account management teams.
These people provide a wider reach for your efforts. In the case of thought leadership, they are sharing it with their clients and contacts. For other initiatives, these people are the ones sharing the word about what you are doing and why it matters.
Sponsors are perhaps the most difficult to get right, but highly important, sponsors are the ones lending their authority to the project. These people are usually senior leaders in the firm, directors, heads of sectors, etc.
Without sponsors, your project is at risk all the time. Bring these people on board early in your ideation process. Frame your project in a way that makes it as relevant as possible for them. Finally, make sure that you have multiple sponsors and involve these people in sharing the good news around your project.
Listening: discover your channels, topics & message
By starting a campaign execution with listening, you discover the three key variables you need to be effective.
- What are the challenges facing the people? - topics
- What do they need from providers? - messages
- Where are they active? - channels
Listen at scale for granular insights
A big mistake centralised marketing teams make is that they funnel all the insights through marketing. Marketing, being a relatively small function in most professional services firms needs to deliver a concise message. The end result is a single, under-consumed, generic marketing approach that isn't relevant enough to the target.
A content campaign is not a single piece of content. It is a concerted effort to reach a target segment with content. Several, simple, digestible content pieces with information from the experts at your firm may be a better way of reaching the people that count.
In larger firms with multiple client industries and service lines, marketers will either need to train and talk to their client-facing staff for insights or empower those fee earning staff who understand client issues to create short, authentic content themselves.
Listen to your clients
The challenges and needs of one client are often repeated within your target market. The better you understand the clients that fit your ideal target segment for new business, the better you'll be able to execute.
Where possible, meet and talk to your clients. If there are social events, be present and active, if there are opportunities to sit in on meetings then do so. Read the notes that come out of client meetings.
Listen to events
Industry events bring together people and ideas in one easy to access place. It's a goldmine for marketers looking for insights into the market.
If potential clients within your target segment are speaking you have ready-made insights into their challenges and approach to overcoming them. It's possible to engage your target with a simple summary of the presentation. People read what's written about them and you are putting your firm on their radar.
Within your industry, event schedules have been scrutinised and planned sometimes a year in advance. They bring together knowledge about your market from dozens of firms and hundreds of people.
All that insight is just sitting there ready to be used as a starter for your content.
The headlines here give you your talking points for the campaign. The drill-down for each session gives you the message and the channels that the event organiser is using most successfully give you the channels you should promote this content on.
Rather than spending thousands on a booth, maybe do a podcast or video interview on each topic with an expert at your firm and use the spend to target the firms you are targeting.
Listen to your competitors
There is an argument some marketers make that you shouldn't look to your competitors and you should avoid the channels where they are active. This seems quite frankly like insanity to me. If your clients or targets are there and engaging then you need to understand why.
An easy way to listen to competitors is to go to their LinkedIn page. By law, LinkedIn has to show the advertisements of firms on their platform. You can see the backlog of advertisements that the firm has sponsored and the messaging they are pushing.
Twitter, Instagram & Facebook have similar tools that help to keep you on top of what messaging your competitors are using.
Creating: how to get useful insights for your audience
Generate content that resonates
For a successful content campaign, you need useful, relevant content that positions your firm as the go-to provider.
To get content right you need to understand your audience, their challenges and the solutions to those challenges. In professional services, this is a difficult task for marketers. Audiences are diverse, with nuanced challenges, often leading to generic content that isn’t useful enough.
To overcome this problem, go straight to the source. Within your firm are consultants, lawyers, accountants or experts of some other kind that have both the understanding of client problems and the expertise of solutions for clients.
You have two routes to take getting content from experts. Marketing extracted content and expert-led content.
Marketing extracted content
This tactic relies on marketing teams to get the insights they need from the experts through questions, interviews or surveys. The most time-efficient way is the interview.
Interview your experts as if you were their clients, ask questions that your audience would have and record the answers. Specific questions are difficult for marketers that aren't subect matter experts but general questions asked the right way will get the content you want.
Those questions should be open and suggest a specific, useful answer rather than a generalisation. Some examples are:
- What should firms in this market know moving into the next month/quarter/year?
- What is the biggest problem your clients in this space are dealing with now and what is your advice to similar firms?
- What are the savvy firms in your space doing now that others should learn from?
- What is the biggest opportunity in your space right now for firms to gain an advantage or avoid risk?
Heres how to do it step by step:
- Book 30mins into the calendar of the top expert in your firm for the market you are targeting for expansion
- Ask them a few core questions about their industry - send these in advance and ask them to prepare short answers to each
- Record the answers over video and audio - that is your long-form content piece
- Break that long-form piece down into individual audio and video pieces for each question
- Transcribe these into blogs with video accompaniment. These are your mid-sized pieces
- Finally, take 5-10 concise clips of 1-2 mins each, these are your smallest insights
With an hour of planning, 30mins of expert time and another hour or so of editing you have over a dozen, highly relevant and useful content pieces that can be easily tailored to the delivery platform of your choice.
Empowering experts to produce insights
While marketing can extract content from experts, there are just too many markets, too many issues and too many fragmented audiences for marketing to take advantage of all the content opportunities at any one time.
By empowering the experts to produce insights you give them the ability to build their own brand as well as that of the firm and to grow their own client base. By decentralising content, you put the real expertise of your firm front and centre with a larger, more authentic and more powerful voice in the market.
Experts will not start writing content if you just ask them to. To drive authentic insights you need to accomplish three things:
- Gain a senior advocate in the firm, ideally a sector head or managing partner
- Remove all unnecessary barriers and uncertainty in the authoring process
- Deliver regular, relevant feedback to the firm on the successes of the insights
A senior advocate lends the authority you need to make your project work. Writing insights is in the best interest of your experts but a senior advocate makes it evident what is expected for the best interest of the firm. Linking thought leadership to a wider goal the firm has such as growth in a particular market is another way to build the authority of your program.
Most firms have an awful process for publishing content. Approval committees, complex back and forths and unclear instructions for authors all put barriers between the expertise of your firm and your audience. Have a simple process that you regularly communicate with your experts and that is available for them to access themselves. Have a well-understood approval process with ideally a single person responsible for editing and approval of all content.
Marketers do not usually have the mandate to demand content from experts so insights must be encouraged with regular and timely feedback. Send a regular roundup of the results your content is generating, make it relevant and include the firms and the job titles of key people engaging with the content. This email works best if it comes from a senior advocate.
Both these techniques together are needed
Neither one of these techniques is right or wrong - the most successful firms combine these methods to great effect. Marketing extracted content fulfils the strategic need to expand key sectors whilst the expert generated insights provides that game-changing uplift across the board.
By following this guidance and advice you are able to effectively plan and deploy an effective content campaign for your firm.