For the past several years, “content marketing” has been the buzzword in the business world. We’ve all been told about the importance of blogs, ebooks, white papers, vlogs (video blogs), and more. And we’ve seen how some of the leading firms in our industry – of all sizes, by the way – have embraced digital technologies and utilized content as an effective marketing strategy. At the same time, we’ve seen firms that have struggled to create a useful website or any meaningful presence on social media.
I’m a huge fan of content marketing. But too many people have a narrow definition of “content.” To me, the industry thought leaders have been using content all along, well before the advent of the World Wide Web and Internet of Things (IoT)!
Public speaking was probably the original form of content marketing. Someone had an idea, and they stood in front of a group of people and shared their idea, hoping for buy-in. Somewhere along the way, a particularly innovative Neanderthal probably stood in front of a group of family members and suggested that the wooly mammoth would taste much better if they cooked it over a fire instead of eating it raw. That was content marketing! He had an idea (the concept of using fire to cook meat) and he shared his knowledge, hoping to persuade an audience. And imagine the demand that was created when other families learned about it and came knocking on his cave, asking for his expertise and offering to pay him in berries or pelts! Sounds suspiciously like content marketing to me!
Public speaking may have evolved since that time, but it is still an excellent way to share knowledge, build name recognition, and create demand. Client organizations, professional societies, service clubs, conferences, and trade shows are all looking for subject matter experts to share knowledge. This is as true today as it was before computers, smart phones, blogs, and social media!
Likewise, writing has always been a form of content marketing. Just ask Thomas Jefferson. A little-known piece he wrote entitled The Declaration of Independence is a masterpiece of content marketing, and was used throughout the thirteen original colonies – which were suddenly states of a new nation – as a call to arms to fight for independence. You might say that it went viral. Of course, those pesky editors are ever-present, as was the case here. But when your editors are John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, that’s not necessarily a bad thing! (And everyone needs an editor!)
Content marketing is not new. We just have a lot more channels at our disposal.
Why is this important? It seems to me that many A/E/C firms are resistant to content marketing. They think it is a waste of time. They think that no one wants to hear what they have to say, much less read what they have to write. So they avoid new marketing technologies, or even criticize their marketing professionals who want to help move their firms into the twenty-first century!
I recently had a conversation with a technical professional, who had a negative view of blogs. During the conversation, I shared an example of how a single blog on our website had outdrawn our home page over the past year! His response was that people who were finding us via that blog were not people we wanted, and that if he was researching the topic, he wouldn’t go to an engineering firm’s website. When I queried about the facts he used to arrive at this opinion, he had none.
Reframing Content Marketing
And therein lies much of the problem with resistance to content marketing. Technical professionals in leadership positions too often fail to understand the audience for content, much less the value of meaningful, regularly updated information on your website. With this specific individual, I offered that because the blog was a home run, our firm was being looked at as a thought leader on the topic. And furthermore, that the traffic it was generating was exposing new, potential clients – or referrers – to our company. And finally, that the content was meant for consumption by clients and prospects looking to learn, not technical professionals that already have a far more advanced knowledge of the topic!
Firms need to reframe “content marketing.” It is not just a blog or a video. It is a presentation to a client organization. Or an article in a magazine or newsletter. And often, the idea that begins with a blog or survey or social media post leads to opportunities to write articles and speak at organizations and conferences!
Clients want to work with thought leaders. They want to work with design and construction professionals that they perceive to be a “cut above” the commoditized masses they see when they look at us. Thought leadership via content marketing is an excellent way to do this. It allows small firms to look like big firms. It allows you to create a competitive edge in the marketplace, and establish yourself or your co-workers as leaders in the architecture, engineering, and construction industry.
You don’t have to be the Neanderthal who invented grilling, nor the author of a document that created a new nation. Write or speak about what you know. Figure out how this information could be of value to a client or prospective client. And then look at the myriad content marketing channels available to you, online or offline, and focus on one or two. Your firm and your career will thank you!
A version of this article originally appeared in Professional Services Management Journal, July 2016.