A lot of professional service firms today are trying to figure out the best way to use digital marketing effectively. Many organizations are struggling because of the range of options that digital marketing presents. This can feel entirely overwhelming, especially since most small marketing teams at service firms simply cannot do everything.

But the biggest challenge I see is confusion between content channels and content strategy. What’s the difference? Content channels are ways to provision your content, like blog-sites, webinars, e-books, social media and even search marketing.

But content strategy is about defining who your audience is, what matters to them and how to deliver an experience that they find irresistible. The right content strategy produces new clients, new revenue and greater profitability.

Service firms that build a great content strategy and then pick content channels that are appropriate for their team size and budget – well these are the companies who are winning the digital marketing game. I’d like to share some ideas to help you become an outstanding digital marketer.

Key Take-Away:

To be successful in digital marketing, you need a great content strategy.

A quick story

When I was a kid, a bunch of cool people turned an old warehouse into an AM radio station down the street from where I lived. I was completely fascinated by the big antenna they put up and the boxes of records and turntables they rolled into this dusty old warehouse. This was long before the age of the internet or CDs or streaming music. These people were the epitome of cool.

Back then, if you wanted to listen to music, which I always did, you had three choices. You could make music yourself. You could buy vinyl records or 8 tracks. Or you could listen to the radio. I was a little too young to play rock and roll, which my dad hated, and I didn’t have money to buy records, so I listened to the radio – a lot.

I hung around the radio station and got to know the DJs. They were great young people who loved music. We shared a common passion, which was terrific for me. I could call the radio station and they recognized my voice on the phone. I could request a song and a lot of times, within an hour or so, my song choice would be on the air. I felt so powerful.

I’ll never forget this one particular summer evening when I called the radio station and requested that they play Queen’s We Will Rock You. They did play it, and better yet, they let it roll right into We Are The Champions. You know what I’m talking about? I was on top of the world knowing, that as a 12-year old kid, I had picked the song that millions of people were listening to just like me… Or so I thought.

But what I didn’t know is that the radio station had a problem. Their signal was kind of weak and local. This meant they were catering to a local audience only. But the local audience, much like our household, liked different kinds of music. This meant the radio station was trying to serve way too many masters.

Sometimes they’d play rock and roll for a few songs. Then they’d play some country tunes (which I hated). Then they’d play some classics, like Elvis. You can imagine what happened.

Because they never picked a particular genre and built an audience, they never had a story to tell advertisers, which is how they made money. They couldn’t promise advertisers that they could deliver a thousand teenagers or even a thousand adults or even ten kids. Pretty soon, the radio station folded. It was a sad day for me.


Lessons learned from a failed radio station

I’ve often looked back on this event and asked myself why the radio station didn’t make it. At that same time, in the same area, there were about a dozen AM radio stations that did make it. Some of them even became very profitable and eventually were acquired by larger radio networks. So why did they do well while my friends down the street went broke?

I think there are a lot of similarities between this situation and modern marketers. Here is what I mean.

The radio station that failed had great technology, just like marketers today. They had tons of great content, more records than I had ever seen in my life. So do marketers today. But they didn’t have a content strategy that aligned with their business strategy. In other words, they didn’t have a plan to:

  • Aggregate a specific type of audience.
  • Deliver an experience that caused the audience to stick to them like glue. 
  • Maximize the revenue opportunities that came from a loyal audience.

These tenets form the core of a solid content strategy.


Digital versus analog marketing

Just so we’re on the same page, I want to clarify the differences between digital and analog marketing. For decades, service firms went to market with just a handful of strategies and tactics.

  • They asked their clients for referrals.
  • They attended tradeshows and conferences.
  • They advertised in highly targeted trade publications.
  • They joined industry associations and networked.
  • They spoke in public.
  • They formed partnerships and strategic alliances.
  • They bought lists and direct mailed people.
  • When all else failed, they cold-called prospects.

Then along came digital and suddenly marketing people found themselves overwhelmed with trying to keep up with all of the analog strategies while adding these onto the already burgeoning list:

  • Social media
  • Websites
  • Email marketing
  • Blogging
  • Webinars
  • Videos
  • E-books
  • White papers
  • Action guides

The list I’ve just described are content channels, not a content strategy. In a moment I’ll give you my sense of which of these content channels you might consider. But in this post I want to help you think through your content strategy.

If you get the strategy right, the entire digital marketing plan will yield the results you want to see. But if you don’t get the strategy right, it won’t really matter what channels you pick because you’ll struggle to get your audience to engage.


How to build a great content strategy

I have come to believe that digital marketing is content marketing. So to be successful with digital, you have to have a great content strategy. Here are the steps I recommend that you consider to build a highly effective content strategy:

  • Define your audience, which should always be your ideal client
  • Understand the digital in-bound journey
  • Design a content strategy that pulls prospects along the in-bound journey
  • Apply content effectively to your channels
  • Pick the right things to measure

Let’s take a look at each of these steps in greater detail.


Step one – define your audience / ideal client

If you want to be successful in digital marketing, unlike my cool friends who were not successful with their radio station, step one is to be crystal clear about who your audience is and what matters to them.

For service firms, I believe your audience is your ideal client. An ideal client is the type of person who is ideal for your company to serve. If you haven’t yet built a profile of your ideal client, this is step one. You should do this before you even think of producing any content or picking any content channels. You can find numerous action guides on our website that help you do this.


Step two – understand the digital in-bound journey

Prospects won’t just show up on your doorstep and say – hey I took a look at your website and now I want to work with you. This very rarely happens in our experience. But prospects will go on a journey where they warm up to you over time. The major goal of digital marketing is to get the right people to take the journey and be ready, by the end of their journey, to talk to your sales or business development staff.

So what does that journey look like? Well here is what we see after analyzing the digital footprint of literally thousands of in-bound prospects from dozens of professional services firms:

  • Anonymous – where they surf your website and sample your content without identifying themselves.
  • Acknowledged – where they register for a content asset and submit their personal information.
  • Engaged – where they spend time thinking about your ideas and how you can help them.
  • Leaning-in – where they request to enter dialogue with your sales team to discuss a specific need or opportunity.

To be successful in digital marketing, you have to create content for each stage of this journey.


Step three - design a content strategy that pulls prospects along the in-bound journey

For your digital users to make the journey from anonymous to leaning-in, you’ll have to warm them up over time to your ideas and your people. Here are three guiding principles that should shape your content plan:

  • Make sure your content speaks to goals, opportunities and challenges of ideal clients.
  • Make sure the strategy is realistic based on your team’s ability to produce.
  • Make sure your content strategy has both shallow-swim and deep-dive assets.

If you’re not sure what I mean by shallow-swim and deep-dive assets, I encourage you to sign up for a free webinar I’ve produced called Make Content Marketing A Client Acquisition Machine.


Step four – apply content effectively to your channels

I started this post by talking about how marketers are confusing content channels with content strategy. But the channels you pick will have a bearing on the outcomes you’ll realize. There are some channels, such as professional video production, that are simply out of bounds for small marketing teams.

So what should you consider, at a minimum, for your content channels? Well here is what we see successful marketing teams focusing on today:

  • Your website – drive all traffic to it.
  • A blog-site – embedded it into your website.
  • Some deeper-dive channels: e-books, action guides, webinars
  • Email marketing – this is still the number one driver of traffic.
  • LinkedIn publishing – to attract ideal prospects.


Step five – pick the right things to measure

Today’s modern marketer has more data and analytics at their fingertips than ever before. So what should you measure? What are the indicators of success?

I believe that time-based metrics are the most important indicators of success. The people that you want to connect with have very little time. They won’t waste it on ideas and content that doesn’t matter to them.

In fact, you could say that the whole exercise of digital marketing is about capturing mind-share and creating buy-in with the right people. Digital marketing is about getting the right people to spend time with you in the digital space. So any metrics that will allow you to measure how much time your audience is giving you, these are the metrics that matter.


How to accomplish this goal

I wish I had more time to give you even more insights. But I’m afraid our time is up. However, there is a way for you to move to your next level.

I’ve developed an E-Book called Ten Things Service Websites Must Do To Drive Revenue. It goes into much greater detail on many of the concepts I’ve outlined in this blog-post. If you want to become an outstanding digital marketer, I know this E-Book will be a huge help to you.