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In a recent research study we conducted on professional services firms, we noticed an interesting pattern. Firms that produced many of their leads online grew much faster, and were more profitable, than firms that relied more on traditional marketing for lead generation. The data showed that there was actually a predictable threshold that, once passed, would catapult firms into a high growth/high profit status.
The magic number was 40%. The research showed: if a firm could generate 40% or more of its leads online, it would grow 4X faster than other firms.
This realization led us to wonder: what were these firms doing to generate all of these online leads? So we conducted another study focusing on high growth firms to figure out what they were doing differently. And the answer turned out to be: content marketing.
The chart below shows a mix of online marketing tools used by high growth firms vs. average growth firms, ranked according to frequency of use. Based on these results, we’ve complied a list of our top five content marketing tools.
One of the most valuable, and least appreciated, content marketing tools is your company’s website. With a little attention, your website can be your most powerful lead-generation resource, with the potential to leverage both of the top tools used by the high growth firms—blogging and search engine optimization (SEO). But you would be surprised how many companies neglect their corporate websites, squandering valuable opportunities to engage and nurture new prospects on this channel.
An optimized, lead generating website should contain three types of content:
This is the informative text about your company that lives on your home page. This content does not change as frequently as the content on your blog, although we recommend freshening it at least biannually. SEO techniques should be employed to make your website content easier for consumers to find.
This content consists of longer, heavier pieces that require more resources to create. Think along the lines of eBooks, research reports, guides, kits, and whitepapers. We will focus more on this content a little later.
This content is short and sweet, crafted using SEO best practices so that it can be found by consumers using search engines or social media. Blog posts are the most common type of flow content. Blogging on a regular basis is time consuming, but well worth the investment. Our research shows that firms that blog get 55% more web traffic and 70% more leads than those that don’t.
Social networks are a natural extension of content marketing. These channels work as content marketing tools in two ways. First, you can post actual content on these networks in the form of status updates, tweets, posts, and dialogue with other users. Secondly, you can use social media as a way to introduce your other content pieces, linking back to blog posts, whitepapers, etc.
Social media is one of the most effective content marketing tools, but it’s also easy to abuse. Remember that social media is a highly reciprocal online society, not a place for direct sales. That means posting other people’s content as well as your own. A good rule of thumb is the 4:1 rule—share about four pieces of someone else’s content to every one piece of your own. And you are expected to engage in conversations with other users—a great way to meet your clients, prospects, and industry peers.
Email marketing ranked high on the list of content marketing tools most frequently used by high growth firms. This technique involves cultivating a targeted list of contacts and emailing them periodically with educational content and offers. Like all content marketing tools, this channel works in conjunction with your other content marketing efforts.
For instance, someone finds your website through an informative blog post. After following your blog for a few weeks, they notice a whitepaper they want to read. In exchange for downloading the valuable whitepaper, they provide you with their email address. Now they are on your email marketing list, and should be happy to receive occasional emails with access to even more goodies—whitepapers, research studies, and special offers.
As is the case with all content marketing techniques, remember that emails are not direct sales. Instead of selling, you are offering your prospective clients information that will help them, which should make them more eager to work with you down the road.
Web analytics tools, such as the popular (and free) Google Analytics, comprise the unseen skeleton of data behind all of your other content marketing efforts. These tools allow you to monitor visitor activity on your website such as visits, downloads, and traffic sources. You should use these tools to measure the success of your content marketing strategy, and to help you make decisions going forward.
For example, if you notice that blog posts about a certain topic are attracting more visitors, you may want to start focusing more on that topic. If you see that most of your traffic is coming from a certain social media website, you may want to start posting there more regularly. Or maybe it means that you need to improve your tactics on other social networks. Web analytics offer you the feedback and data to help you make sense of your content marketing program.
We discussed stock content a little earlier, but it’s so important that it deserves its own section. Remember, stock content refers to the educational content pieces that you can make available for download on your website and, potentially, elsewhere. At Hinge, we often turn our best digital stock content into paperback books, distributing them freely to clients, prospects, and industry peers.
These pieces of content (whitepapers, ebooks, guides, research studies, books, etc.) are longer and more substantial than blog posts, and tend to delve into more detail. While blog posts are great for bringing new consumers to your website, the weightier stock content makes up the core of your content library, enhancing your reputation as a thought leader.
Companies will often require consumers to register their emails in exchange for these stock content pieces, as many people are willing to trade a little personal information for a more valuable piece of content. As we noted earlier, this can be a great strategy for building an email list for marketing and lead generation purposes.
When setting up your content marketing program, it’s important not to rely too heavily on any single tool. The best strategies will leverage multiple content marketing tools, all of which overlap and support one another in myriad ways. By leveraging all five of the content marketing tools discussed above, you can turn your online presence into a lead generation machine, catapulting your firm into the high growth/high profit category.
Elizabeth Harr is a partner at Hinge, a marketing and branding firm for professional services. Elizabeth is an accomplished entrepreneur and experienced executive with a background in strategic planning, management, communications, and alliance development. She is the coauthor of How Buyers Buy: Technology Services Edition and Online Marketing for Professional Services: Technology Services Edition.