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Confessions of a Former Client—Top Lessons of the Newfangled Digital Marketing Method

I have been where you are going. I have sat in your seat at the conference room table and advocated for a new way forward.

As a former business development leader at a creative firm (and a former Newfangled client), I feel for your firm’s struggle to no longer be seen as a commoditized vendor but to be sought out as an expert practitioner. I know you are grasping to bring more value to your clients, command higher prices, and bring in the work that your team would love to do.

Along the way, I have been met by my fair share of challenges and if I can help you avoid just a few of those speed bumps then perhaps your path will be a bit smoother.

The Importance of Delivering Your Expertise Holistically

Your ever-evolving perspective (your point of view on what you do and for whom you do it) needs to be infused into your client engagements and all areas of your new business program. As your firm grows it will develop into a holistic ecosystem to deliver your expertise to the clients who can benefit from it the most.

One of the most common flaws we observe in the content plans of expertise-based firms is a disconnect between the writing and the services that the firm offers. All parts of your messaging strategy should relate to your unique ability as a business. The clearer you draw the line between your messaging and your core competencies as an organization, the easier it is for a prospective client to envision hiring you. A confused mind says, “No,” so make it clear!

A common misconception about shifting to an expertise fueled content marketing strategy is that suddenly you need to become someone different. “We need to be experts now!” Your marketing strategy may be new but that doesn’t mean you should be inauthentic, stuff your content with keywords and jargon, or spam your prospects with pushy sales tactics. You may be new to measuring your content against strategic metrics but that doesn’t mean you should focus solely on the number of indexable words you are posting. Quite the contrary—your content needs to be true to the thinking of the leaders of your firm and aimed at your ideal prospective clients.

A successful content marketing program exposes the true expertise that already exists inside your firm. You don’t need to reinvent who you are, you need to elevate who you are so that the clients you can best serve will have a chance of finding you in the tangled web we call the internet. That being said, as you develop the discipline of consistently producing thought leadership your thinking should evolve, pushing your firm to be better and better. This thought evolution is a positive side effect of regularly articulating your expertise. Writing makes you smarter and better at delivering your expertise. You will be better at spotting the challenges your clients face and better at selling your expertise to your ideal prospects.

At first, all of these moving pieces can feel like juggling flaming chainsaws but I promise it gets easier. As you are shifting to a new way of marketing, keep in mind that you are building new habits and routines. Keep this training phase in perspective and allow yourself some grace.

Navigating the Cultural Impact of a New Marketing Strategy

As you start out, you will be beaming with optimism and hope for the future. While it’s important to hold on to that feeling, it’s wise to be aware of the weight of the impact that this cultural change can have on your firm. Anytime you take on a new initiative or reignite a stagnant program, there will be ripples felt throughout your organization. Your job as the primary advocate of marketing for your firm is to help your colleagues understand how critical marketing is to the success of your business. The sooner you start having these conversations with your team prior to adopting a new marketing strategy, the more time they’ll have to adjust to the idea of it and the less likely they are to be shell-shocked. Getting your team on board with the mission prevents resentment when your firm begins to transition into a marketing-focused organization.

Even when given time to adjust to the idea, your new marketing strategy may still alarm the troops. “What if this content thing doesn’t work?” “What if our content isn’t insightful enough on day one?” “There are big agencies in big cities that don’t write a blog so why should we?” “Our prospective clients just want to see our work, why would they care about our thinking?” For more on these topics, check out this conversation.

These are all great questions that you should discuss with your team. Many times these questions arise due to a knowledge gap about the details of the strategy. This fear of the unknown can cause anxiety and resentment among your team. They may feel that your firm is rapidly changing and they haven’t been invited along for the ride. Take time to make sure everyone is educated about the new plan and has an opportunity to weigh in with their own ideas about how to make it successful.

As with any major organizational changes, you may have to share the message more than once. You may need to break the message up and share it in a variety of different formats. As a marketing leader, you are going deep on your area of expertise as you approach marketing your firm. You need to remember that to many of your colleagues, this new marketing strategy is one of many other competing priorities—on top of that they have a whole other day job! It can be frustrating to feel like you are repeating yourself but it will click for others in different ways and at different times. Be patient and remain diligent as you advocate for your firm’s thriving future.

Patience is a Virtue, Especially When it Comes to Content Marketing

Regularly going on the record about your areas of expertise takes discipline and stamina. Content marketing isn’t something you can try for a few months, put down, and pick back up when you have the time.

There will be days when it seems like the results just aren’t coming fast enough—it can be hard, but you will need to persevere in order to realize the long-term benefits of your effort. Many firms embrace a new marketing strategy amidst financial struggles and it can be tempting to give up when it gets too hot in the kitchen. Stay positive. When these moments of doubt creep in, take time to review your strategy, look back at the progress you have made, and gear up to press on.

In addition to staying positive, it’s important to be realistic. With all of the right elements in place, your marketing strategy can take 6-12 months to begin consistently generating new opportunity. For more insight on setbacks you may face, check out this article.

Of course, you can’t stop focusing on sustaining and growing your revenue while you get your marketing plan off the ground. It’s important to develop a short-term plan for keeping your head above water as your content program ramps up. Perhaps that means reigniting some existing relationships or attending a trade show to generate some new leads. As you begin creating content, you can then look for ways to bridge the gap between legacy clients and ideal future clients. For most firms, the transition to content marketing is incremental, not overnight.

For this approach to work, you must commit for the long haul of changing the way your firm does business by embracing a mindset of constantly spotting patterns, providing insight, and reflecting on outcomes. This will not only make for more insightful content creation but your client work will benefit from this pattern knowledge as well. I know this sounds like a big job, and it is, but each piece of content you create will serve as a sales rep out in the field that never takes a day off. Moreover, when you do eventually have a live sales conversation your prospects will be far more qualified and eager to speak with you.

Feeding the Content Machine is a Team Effort

You will need help. Don’t be a hero. Especially when you are experiencing pushback from colleagues, it can be tempting to muscle through it on your own. If you try to tackle this with a bootstrap mentality, you will burn out fast. Sustainable one-man content marketing bands are the exception, not the rule. Make a plan to team up. Who are the key leaders at your firm that regularly deliver your expertise to your clients? How can you get them involved? Seek allies from different departments to find a way to make the process fun and collaborative.

Not every contributor will need to put pen to paper to benefit from their help and buy-in. Utilize the strengths of your team. For example, if you have an excellent project manager, consider having them manage the production logistics of a particular content type like a podcast or video series. Meet people where they are but encourage everyone to stretch and be involved in some way. The more you can make content creation a part of the rhythm of your firm the easier it will be to maintain momentum long-term. For more thoughts on getting team buy-in, check out this article.

Your marketing team doesn’t end with those creating the content. Everyone at your firm needs to be regularly reading and discussing the content you publish. While the conversation with a prospective client begins through your content, the words coming from the mouths of your team need to be in alignment when it comes to delivering on the promises of your expertise.

Your content is just a taste to get your prospects hooked so you earn the opportunity to bring your thinking to bear on real-life client work. For your clients, the work you deliver should feel like a natural extension of the thinking you have shared all along through your website and the conversations leading up to beginning an engagement.

Keeping Your Firm Connected to the Purpose of its Marketing

Through the ups and downs of leading your marketing program, it can be easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees. Don’t get so absorbed in the “how” that you lose track of the “why” behind your shift to a new marketing approach. The purpose of marketing is to create change for your firm—a tomorrow that looks better than today.

Paint a clear picture of your firm’s desired future—what does success look like for your firm? Talk with your entire team about the types of clients you are aiming to help and the work you aspire to create. Get your team excited for the new opportunities that will result from your focused business development efforts. Discuss the ways your firm can collectively create value for these ideal clients.

Share the wins, early and often. Share success stories at your all-hands meeting, ring a bell each time a white paper converts, or take your team to lunch when you hit your content metric benchmarks for the quarter. Updates on your progress can seem small but they can go a long way to keep everyone motivated to continue. Be sure to take time to reflect on progress and success well earned.

There’s a lot to keep track of and some big changes afoot at your firm but the long term vision is an exciting one. With a mix of patience, persistence, and teamwork you can do it. And hey, if you need a nudge in the right direction you could get in touch!

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