Since the turn of the year, our content marketing metrics have, for the most part, skyrocketed. Taking weekly sessions from the last week of May year over year, our 2021 traffic has risen by 40%. You might expect that to lead to corresponding increases in other sales- and marketing-based metrics, but while our weighted average pipeline value and our overall new business closed have kept up, the number of deals in our pipeline and the number of opportunities generated by marketing haven’t.
What does that mean? There’s a disconnect between what we’re creating and the people we want to be talking to—lots of people are reading, but most of them aren’t buying. This is, of course, an issue. Here’s how we’ve started to solve it.
Identifying the problem
The first step to solving a problem is seeing that you have one, and the reason we’ve been able to do that is because we practice what we preach. With our clients, we talk about the importance of “story, strategy, and scorecard” in successful marketing. You compel your audience with a story that resonates with them. You build a strategy that employs your time, energy, and budget where they matter most. And you track real performance data in a scorecard that tells you what is and isn’t working.
Since all the key performance indicators that we track were not rising together, that allowed us to identify the disconnect that I mentioned before. In fact, while in the past we’ve consistently kept around 15 deals in the pipeline and had a marketing-generated opportunity or two a month, now we’re seeing a pipeline that more often than not has 8–12 deals in it at a time, and the number of MGOs has dropped. That’s partly because we’re becoming a bit more picky about the deals we concentrate our attention on—meaning deals that might have stuck around in the past now might not. But that means we also need to be more intentional about what we’re putting out there in terms of content.
We needed to remodel our content process a bit to ensure that the type of work we discuss on our site matches with the business challenges we solve for, and that the content speaks to the people in the organization who have the ability to make buying decisions—as well as continuing to provide resources to marketers looking to solve challenges in their careers. In other words, we needed to make sure we’re actually talking to our audience.
Step 1: Lock down our personas
In order to be able to attract one’s best possible customer, a marketer needs to know who that customer is. We have a good idea what that perfect customer looks like for Element Three based on the rebranding process that we executed last year. But we’re still honing that answer. Part of getting it down pat is knowing completely who we are and where we stand in the marketplace as a whole—and that’s something that Danielle Falconer, our VP of Strategy, has been working on finalizing this spring. Once our positioning is fully locked in, we’ll have a much clearer view of to whom we should be speaking, and how to do it.
Step 2: Bring the business development experts into the strategy process
In addition to knowing as much as we can about who our ideal customer is, we need to know what that ideal customer is looking for, both from the market generally and from us specifically. The best way to start to bridge that gap? Talk to the people who actually interact directly with our prospects on a daily basis. Joe Mills, our Business Development Manager, and CEO Tiffany Sauder are the people who spend the most time thinking specifically about our prospects, and they’re the ones who are hearing the questions that we get asked during the buying process. So we’ve brought them in to help build out the overall topic structure of our content. It’s really similar to the “they ask, you answer” foundations of inbound marketing.
Step 3: Engage our subject matter experts
If you’ve spent any time reading our blog in the past, you know that some of our best content has always come from the experts themselves talking about the things they know best. Our digital experts and creative geniuses and strategic minds produce great content—better than a non-expert can, even after hours of research. But asking our SMEs to spend several hours writing a blog post, and then repeating that a couple times a month? That takes them away from helping our clients, and as we’ve grown that’s become something we’re less able to do.
The solution we’ve come up with is not to just give up on having experts talk about their work. Instead, the blog’s writer creates an outline based on their knowledge and research. That outline, then, is what goes to the SME. They’ll review it, and provide feedback as necessary. If the outline is shipshape, then cool! Time to start writing. If there are gaps in the knowledge or just things that need a bit more depth, then the writer and the SME meet for a short discussion—usually between 15 and 30 minutes—to talk it out. One of the most important things we get from a subject matter expert here is real-life examples and stories of work we’ve done with clients that apply to the topic we’re writing about.
So instead of several hours a month, SMEs are spending less than one hour typically helping out with a blog post. That means less time taken away from client work, which has the added benefit of allowing a wider range of our experts to be able to participate.
Step 4: Opening the lab
As a marketing consultancy, we have about as much experience as one can have with marketing problems and their solutions. We’ve worked with a wide range of clients over the years, and we’ve seen tons of unique problems that demanded action to match. The thing is, there hasn’t always been a strong connection between the things that we’re doing for our clients, the front-line problem solving that happens every day, and the content that we create.
To try to fix that, we’re committing to a new way of thinking about how we work. Marketing is more of a practice than it is a perfect process, and because of that we can view our work as sort of a “marketing lab” where we form hypotheses based on evidence and experience, test those hypotheses scientifically, and report on the results (internally, and to our clients, in the form of the scorecard we discussed earlier). Our content is then a classroom where we can share the findings of our laboratory scientists—our client teams—and learn from their experiences.
That doesn’t mean that every blog post from now on is going to be a case study. But it means that the things we discuss and the way we discuss them will be informed more by our work than they have been in the past. And, in fact, this blog itself is an example.
Step 5: Engaging multimedia
Another way for us to share our institutional knowledge is to branch out a bit in terms of the kinds of content that we create. We’ve definitely used video in the past—a lot, in fact, as you can see on our YouTube channel alone. And since video is a great way to bring SMEs into the conversation without monopolizing their time, we’re going to lean into it once again.
But while in the past, our videos have either stood alone or they’ve been time- and labor-intensive to create (think webinars that require lots of writing, planning, and production), these videos can be a bit more conversational, and they can either inspire new written content or live within existing written pieces as well.
This conversation about choosing the right content management system for your business is a great example. This system allows smart people to provide tons of info and context in, again, a relatively short period of time—meaning we don’t take them away from their work but still get the benefit of their expertise. And so do our visitors.
Your content process must serve your business goals
High traffic stats are great. But on their own, they don’t necessarily mean as much as it might feel like they should. If you draw tons of people to your website but they aren’t buying, or they’re not the right customers, then you need to adjust. It doesn’t have to mean you’re bad at content—building a traffic base is an important step in the content process, and traffic is foundational to a lot of what you want to do as a marketer. But if you’re growing traffic without growing the metrics that directly affect your revenue, you should adjust your strategy to make sure that you’re not just getting lots of sessions—you’re getting the attention of your ideal customers.
Thomas fills a few roles at E3—writer, editor, and resident European soccer expert—but his chief responsibility is content creation. When he's not crafting thoughtful content for the Element Three blog, he's captaining our kickball team, watching the Mets, or talking up Indianapolis to anyone who will listen.
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