Years ago, content marketing professionals thrived on the volume of the content they pushed into the world. Today, the most successful professionals we know rely on consistency to close their deals.
Earlier this year, our 2820 Press team started listing “positioning” as the first of our four pillars of strategic communications. Soon after, many of our clients asked why we spent so much time figuring out where they stood. After all, most content agencies just start producing tons of inbound marketing content after the first meeting.
We believe that growing a business requires honest, thoughtful, and open communication with communities. Therefore, I think it’s important to understand how a community sees you before you can attempt to engage with it. (Otherwise, you risk being the butt of the “how do you do, fellow kids?” meme when you try to blast your hot media announcement all over social media.)
Do this before you ditch your content marketing funnels.
Maybe you’ve been trying to go “funnel-free” with your content marketing. You must still provide enough of the right information across your owned and earned media channels. That way, prospects to compare with what you’re pumping across your paid media channels.
We’ve been watching the evolution of the post-organic web for a while. The old ways of knocking out dozens of blog posts every week just won’t cut it anymore. Reaching your audience means tightening up your positioning across your paid, owned, and earned media channels (just like big brands have done for years). Only then can you build enough trust to move audience members into the funnel, flywheel, freeway, or any marketing metaphor of your choice.
Here’s the process we use to break down a prospective client’s positioning in the market. We do this before we (or they) write a single word or generate a single frame of video. I’ll also list all the steps I think you should take if you’re not yet ready to hire a communications consultant.
1. Understand your position as it exists right now.
You may be able to rattle off your organization’s core values by memory, but do you know how your ideal audience really sees you? A mismatch here means you’re flushing ad budget away. Start your transformation journey with a clear baseline of what people actually see when they look at your website, your marketing collateral, and your social media presence.
- Ask your three favorite customers. You don’t have to send a survey or post a poll. Just ask three of your favorite customers why they sought your help, and what they get most out of working with you. Chances are, the elements of your brand you’ve been spending the most time promoting don’t even rank in their top five.
- Get a second-hand evaluation. Even if you’re not ready to hire a strategic communications agency for a long-term engagement, you can find a neutral set of eyes to review your website, your social media handles, and your other outbound communcation. (We do this occasionally as part of our Red Team Reviews program.)
- Seek feedback in a mastermind group. Entrepreneurs often feel scared to appear vulnerable, especially when it feels like pretenders want to steal your ideas and poach your accounts every day. That’s why you need a group of colleagues (even including a few of your potential competitors) and a set of ground rules that ensure discretion and integrity. Investigate mastermind groups managed by professional organizations or by industry advisors in your field. Make sure the group you join isn’t a thinly-veiled “leads” group, either. Look for signs that members collaborate in a safe, secure environment, whether it’s in-person or online. (For example, I’ve been a longtime fan of the “give first” ethos of Tara McMullin’s CoCommercial group.)
When you’re looking for advice from an extra set of eyes, ask what they’re seeing in your marketing material before you tell them about your goals. That way, you’ll reveal the most important gaps to close.
2. Research how your audience views you, compared with how you want to be viewed
- What keywords do your site’s visitors use when they’re arriving at your site from search engines? Unless you’re a Fortune 500 brand, they’re probably not your company name. If you don’t have an SEO expert on standby, you can use a self-service tool like SERPSTAT to connect the dots for you.
- Who’s following you on social media? Are they prospective clients, competitors, or colleagues? Your follower count isn’t important—the quality of your followers indicates whether you’re breaking through. When your followers don’t reflect your audience, your social media’s showing you a major sign of dissonance.
- How did your most recent clients find you? Analytics tools can tell you what campaigns delivered the most meaningful new relationships. A/B tests can show which versions of your message resonate most strongly with your ideal prospects.
3. Adapt your positioning to better match your goal
Once you know the gaps between your perception and your audience’s, you can start to reposition your brand.
- Sweep your website content and refresh your keywords. It’s SEO 101, but often overlooked by stressed-out content teams. Revisit your highest-traffic pages first and refresh headlines and subheads. Then, update body copy to highlight the terms for which you want to attract an audience.
- Write down how you intend to show up in the world. In marketing-speak, we call this developing a “voice, tone, and style guide” or a “brand book.” It doesn’t have to be super-fancy. In fact, it just needs to capture both the verbal and visual characteristics you think will resonate most with your audience.
- Set up an outbound cadence to keep your communications channels fresh. This is one area where we actually advocate automating your messages. If you’re only surfacing a crusty old tweet from months ago, your prospects might think you’ve closed down or that you’re too busy to take on new work. Tools like MeetEdgar or CoSchedule can help you refresh your content streams so you’re always current (even when you haven’t produced anything new in a while).
You’d be right to note that these lessons feel a little closer to home than some of the other articles I’ve posted here. That’s because our content strategy team spent most of 2018 working through many of these same challenges for our brand. We do this for clients for a living, and even we uncovered some major gaps between what we thought we were trying to say and what our prospects were actually hearing.