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“We got so deep into content marketing, that we forgot to mention what we actually do.”

“We got so deep into content marketing, that we forgot to mention what we actually do.”

Sounds crazy, right? Well, not really. Just the other day, I was speaking with an agency principal about her firm’s website. We had been talking about what she has observed over the past five years or so of doing what she called “more aggressive digital marketing,” when she made that startling admission. In that time, she and her firm had created a ton of content: blog posts, white papers, case studies, you name it. After stabilizing their content production, they even smartened up a bit and organized it based upon the stages of the buying cycle, making sure to differentiate between content written for prospects who were in early stages of solution research and later stages of evaluation. After that, they revised their calls to action to better speak to prospects in each stage, and made sure to use them in the right places.

And you know what? It worked. They got more leads. But as we talked more, she described the strain that put on the person handling their sales (you guessed it: her). Despite creating so much content that described her firm’s expertise, she found that her sales conversations still began at square-one and required just as much time to inform and orient prospects to engagement possibilities as they had before they’d done all that fancy content marketing. The problem was, her phone was ringing much more now.

I smiled and said, “Don’t worry, you’re halfway there.”

She asked, “What do you mean, halfway?”

I explained that a few years ago, we spent most of our time helping agencies simply get up to speed with content marketing. We helped them break the habit of over-showing on the web by refocusing their websites on telling — namely, what they do and how they do it using actual words — instead of assuming that a glitzy portfolio in an even glitzier container would win them business. But for those whom we converted to the content marketing way, there was more work to do.

“That’s where you are,” I said, “you’re nearing the end of the road, but you haven’t yet seen the exit signs that will take you to the next road — the bigger one — on your journey.”

I realize it’s kind of a cheesy metaphor, but the process she is going through is a lot like that. She has a vague sense of her destination and an equally vague sense of direction toward it, but without guidance, she’s going to miss the steps of the best route forward.

She’d gotten her firm as far as getting more leads, but the next step toward actually improving the business was to systematize a process of nurturing those leads and focusing sales efforts on only those that had reached maturity. As we continued to talk, I discovered that she was familiar with many of the components of that system — persona development, content strategy, calls to action, CRM, progressive profiling, lead scoring, marketing automation, and the like — but what caught her attention most was a specific connection she hadn’t made back to her website.

If you imagine her website as the tip of an iceberg, most of the agency marketing platform works beneath the surface, out of sight of the prospect. But there are ways in which a prospect’s user experience should change when that platform is working properly. The one I mentioned had to do with the connection between content and services.

Let me give you a brief idea of what I have in mind.

The Problem

In theory, content marketing attracts prospects by answering the questions they have as they’re researching solutions to problems. The deeper a prospect’s content experience, the better they understand their problem and its possible solutions, and the more they associate both with you. So far so good. But to get them there, we typically just offer more content and, if we’re really smart, give them a way to get in touch.

That might look like this:

  1. a prospect lands on an article you wrote about a solution to their problem
  2. they read it to the end, and are presented with a short list of related articles to read
  3. they choose one and read it
  4. eventually, they notice a short form to subscribe to your newsletter, so they fill that out

Perhaps, at Step 3, the related content list also includes a link to a case study, which your prospect chooses instead. After reading the case study, they’re given an opportunity to get in touch with you about working together. You ask for their name, the name of their company, their title, their contact information, timing and budget information, and even a short description of their project.

Content marketing attracts prospects by answering the questions they have as they’re researching solutions to problems.

In both cases, the prospect has followed the classic “attract, inform, engage” pattern. But at the “engage” step, you are asking them to get very specific with you, when you haven’t gotten very specific with them. In the first case, where you are asking them to sign up for more content; that’s not a problem. They’ve experienced what you have to say and you are simply asking them if they want “more.” You don’t need to get any more specific than that. But in the second case, where they’ve began with an abstract representation of your expertise — your blog post — then moved to a practical explanation of how your expertise was applied — your case study — and finally been offered a general invitation to discuss working together, you can do better than simply “Let’s Talk.” Your prospect might just wonder, “About what?”

You can answer that question easily, before it’s even asked. Just tell them what you do. Not in the abstract, mind you, but specifically. Tell them about the specific service you offer that meets their need. After a couple of articles, you should have their rapt attention; don’t squander it by forcing them to choose between the infinite array of more content behind “Door Number 1” or the vague inquiry form behind “Door Number 2.” Give them a third passage through which you both learn more about each other.

Think about it: If, after you gave a talk, someone from the audience struck up a conversation about problems they were having at their organization related to the information you had just spoken about, would you respond by saying, “Oh, well you may be interested in another talk I gave…” and send them off on their way to listen to that talk, or would you say, “It’s funny you should mention that, because we actually do that very thing. Let’s set up a time to talk about how we can help.” Hopefully, you’d seize the opportunity right then and there. You can do the same thing on your website if you more intelligently connect your content with your services.

The Solution

Here are two ways you can do that. Both assume you have content on your website that specifically describes services you offer.

Let’s call the first way the “Beginner Level.” At the beginner level, you plan your website’s information architecture to include a page for each discrete service you offer, and a system of metadata that allows you to specifically relate all of your website’s supporting content — blog posts, white papers, webinars, etc. — to those services. With that system, every page on your website should theoretically offer a contextual click back to a page describing one of your core services, meaning that at every point on your website where you describe your expertise in the abstract, there is a direct connection back to how your expertise is packaged and sold. Visually, that might mean that in addition to the friendly list of articles under the “You Might Also Like” heading, you could have a callout to a service you offer, perhaps under the heading of “You Might Need.”

The “Advanced Level” starts with the same information architecture: service specific pages and metadata to connect them with all supporting content. But in addition to this, the website makes use of cookies to gather user session data and analyze it. Specifically, the cookie not only keeps track of each page viewed and action taken by the user over time but also looks for patterns as to how the pages in their session relate to your services. So like basic lead scoring, where a user’s session is ranked by values you assign to certain content and actions, this session is being categorized based upon how much of the content the user has experienced corresponds with a particular service you offer. With a tracking cookie like this at work, you may be able to observe a clear orientation toward one of your services after just a few pages viewed. But once you can identify that user — say, after they’ve subscribed to your newsletter — the advanced level gets much more interesting. At that point, you can put them in a service-specific automated program based upon the service-specific lead score they’ve accumulated simply by browsing your site. Their form submission would trigger the start of this program, which you could organize in any way that makes sense to your business and automate using a marketing automation tool. Here’s one possible, simplified flow:

  1. After receiving a prospect’s subscription form, the system matches the prospect’s information with their website session history. The system analyzes that history and, based upon the content they’ve experienced, moves the prospect into a program focused on “Service A.”
  2. Next, the system would email prospects in the “Service A” program promoting a white paper you’ve written about that particular service.
  3. After a predetermined amount of time — say, two weeks — the system would check to see which prospects had downloaded your white paper, and email those that had to promote an online assessment you’ve created to help educate prospects about the nature of “Service A” and whether it’s a good fit for them.
  4. Those prospects who complete the assessment would receive an automated email inviting them to set up a meeting with you to review their results.

This basic logic can be duplicated with other types of content that are related directly to the same service in order to re-engage a prospect in this program who may not act on the initial content offer. For example, if you had articles, white papers, webinars, and assessments specifically related to “Service A,” an automated program crafted around that service could potentially run for months, continually connecting with prospects and, ideally, finding the best content fit for them.

Automated programs like this are designed to offer prospects a deeper dive into your expertise without disconnecting them from the availability of your expertise by way of what you sell. Through programs like these, you remain top of mind with your prospects, and you gather more and more information about their interest and needs. At any step along the way, their choice to contact you about working together would be much more informed and directed toward something that you actually offer — world’s beyond the classic “Let’s Talk” CTA!

Oh, and if the concept of an automated program is entirely new to you, or if you’re convinced and are now eager to get started with automation for your own service, have a look at how we do marketing automation.

See what I did there?

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