So much has changed since we launched SPROUT Content as a content marketing agency in early 2010, it’s almost hard to even wrap your head around it all. While companies had implemented the tactic of content marketing, giving people original useful information to help them make purchase decisions, for more than 100 years, the term in the marketing industry was just starting to gain momentum.
For a while (and it still happens) we were met with deer in headlight expressions when we said we were a content marketing agency. Most people just said, “What is that?” And, to be honest, we had one of a hundred ways to explain it. There were also very few other companies out there at the time referring to themselves solely as a content marketing agency. At the time we wondered if we were crazy. But now, we’re very happy that our perseverance paid off, because we’re still on page one of Google search results for content marketing agency, when there are hundreds, if not thousands, of competitors out there.
While there are dozens of answers I’d give if someone asked what we’ve learned after five years in business, here are five that resonate with me the most:
1. You’re talking to the wrong person.
One of the things that surprises me the most when we engage with a new prospect or client is that they aren’t usually 100% sure who their target audience, or buyer personas, truly are. Many companies have focused on a pretty broad audience strategy for a long time, for fear of alienating someone. That fear is actually hurting businesses. We know from experience. For a long time we operated under that universal model, especially when just starting out, when you can’t imagine saying NO to anyone. But sometimes, it pays to say no (find out why). Businesses must have a clear and defined audience strategy with developed buyer personas (from actual research) before diving into their content marketing strategy. Today, I can proudly say we specialize in helping B2B businesses in “unglamorous” industries tell their story, use their website to generate real leads and break away from boring content. Find out if you’re talking to the wrong buyer persona.
2. You’re talking to yourself.
Another hurdle we often face is that companies are still talking to (and about) themselves. Their website content is full of jargon, catchphrases and acronyms that few others outside of their industry would understand. For example, if you’re a company specializing in big data and have a team of scientists on your staff, do you want to explain how it all works to the team creating the programs, or to the people you’re trying to help, who are marketing managers at consumer companies? You must create content that speaks to the actual people who are seeking out your services or trying to find solutions to their challenges. Don’t talk in the voice of your CEO, but your customers. Learn how to start communicating P2P, person-to-person.
3. Content is not on the Dollar Menu.
You can’t just create content for content’s sake because “you’re supposed to.” For a long time companies would contact us and ask, “How much is it for 50 blog posts?” Huh? Of course when we responded with actual questions about whom the content is for, what the goals are, how results are being measured, etc., they just got back to price shopping. The thing is, you cannot buy content, by the word, ad-hoc, like off a Dollar Menu. Content is so “in demand” that is has been relegated as a commodity. We’ll never understand how companies can treat the most important information that they will publish to the world, that will show their expertise and help and attract customers, as something that can be ordered by the title, like on Amazon.
Great content requires thoughtful strategy that is tied to real business goals, with a plan in place to create and launch it, and the right tools by which to measure it. That’s why we became a HubSpot partner in 2012. We were frustrated at not being able to prove results easily to our clients (without piecing together information) and get them real leads from their content. So we started using HubSpot for ourselves, and the rest is history. It transformed our business model. We’re honored to now be a HubSpot Gold Agency partner and have 70% of our clients on the platform, as well. The HubSpot Inbound Marketing software and methodology is the perfect complement to our content marketing practice.
4. Marketing is not just a department.
In most organizations even today, marketing is a “department.” In fact, sometimes we work with one of two of those people, and learn 6 months in, that there are three salespeople who have no idea what “marketing” is doing, or who we are. Say what? Isn’t their main goal really selling your company? Imagine how much those content assets would help them! It’s also not uncommon for us to work directly with an owner or CEO because many B2B companies do not have a dedicated marketing person, let alone team, beyond sales.
Today, “marketing” must be the goal and mindset of the entire company. It’s not just about a particular product or service, but solving a real need or challenge for someone. Your sales team, product developers, technicians, scientists and programmers are the real experts in what you do. They must be a part of the content development process as well. Many companies are surprised when we ask about their internal subject matter experts and want to interview them for content. But, all of the people in your organization have expertise, probably far more than you realize, about how your products work and why what you do is better or different than the competition. Give them a voice, and you’ll not only carry out a unique position for your brands, but you’ll see a shift in your entire organization.
5. Relationships really matter.
This should go without saying, but so many companies are working at the speed of light that they are losing sight of what matters… the people that they do business with and whom they do it for. We are intentionally a tight-knit team, and our goal isn’t to work with the biggest multi-billion dollar global corporate giants. We believe in the power of relationships, and getting to know a company, and their customers, inside and out. We have conversations with our clients beyond emailing content deliverables, and develop genuine relationships with them built on trust.
We developed a new company mantra this year. “Building Valuable Relationships.” We build great relationships with our clients, so they can do the same with their customers.
While content marketing and inbound marketing tools seem like old hat to us now, the industry, and the way that we communicate, is evolving every single day. I can’t wait to see what I’ll think about this post five years from now, or even in a year. But I’m humbled that we made it this far, and thrilled to be along for the journey. Hopefully in five years from now, every company will understand the value of content marketing, and how it builds valuable relationships.