Online advertising has largely replaced print advertising, but now even online advertising is in decline. Many people are cynical about advertising, and have even trained themselves to become blind to online adverts when they’re browsing websites.
Some people use blocking software to hide online advertisements altogether, and it’s easy to see why. With more people browsing on mobile devices, greedy online ads that consume large amounts of data are costly for readers. They are intrusive, giving away far too much information to advertising networks about which pages are being visited.
Even worse, many online advertising networks have unwittingly served up malicious code from advertising bidders, infecting hundreds of thousands of website visitors.
Content marketing represents a better way to communicate with your key audience. Instead of annoying them with advertisements, it uses engaging, valuable content to inform and educate potential customers. In the process, it will also tempt readers to explore your company’s services further, moving them down the sales funnel until they eventually become paying customers – or even help existing break/fix customers make the transition to managed services.
Your content can take various forms, each of which can complement the other to deliver value to your audience. Here are some of the most popular techniques.
Blogging is the most common means of content marketing. A well organized blog not only updates all of your potential clients on what’s going on with your business, it also provides valuable information that any visitor may be able to use to their advantage. Blogging transforms your relationship with your existing and potential customers in several ways:
1. Consistency and Reliability = Expertise
A blog consistently updated with useful content anchors your readers to your site. They will see you as reliable—meaning that you have a better chance at winning them over as customers.
If your audience feels like they can trust you, they’re more inclined to share your posts and pay for your services. They can build your brand for you, and all you have to do is update your blog with useful information.
2. You’re easier to find
Search engines crawl websites looking for content to serve to their users. Whenever someone searches for advice on something that you posted about, your post has the potential to come up in their search results. A regularly updated blog with a solid search engine optimization (SEO) strategy will position your website high on the list of online search results for people looking for IT support services, exposing you to thousands of potential clients.
3. A blog is a powerful marketing tool
Your blog can be a powerful content marketing platform in several ways:
It demonstrates your expertise. Readers will be more likely to buy your IT support service when you consistently give them something of value.
It’s a social sharing platform. Good content gets shared. Think of your blog posts as a way to stoke your social media campaign, landing your content in other people’s timelines.
It builds marketing relationships. A good blog will get noticed by other expert bloggers and publications in your sector—this can be a powerful marketing resource for you if you target a specific sector such as heathcare or financial services. If you demonstrate that you can write, you stand a good chance of securing guest slots on other blogs. This will broaden your reach, supercharging your marketing efforts.
It starts conversations. When you post content that raises new issues and challenges people’s perceptions, it can lead to online comment threads, giving you a chance to converse directly with your customers and even answer their questions. You can’t buy that kind of marketing.
Beyond the written word
It’s important to note that content doesn’t always mean written content. Audio and video can sometimes be more relevant and effective. There are several proven ways to extend your messages into different communication channels, and some of them can be highly interactive.
Some people prefer to listen rather than read, taking in the latest IT industry ideas on their morning commute or on the treadmill at the gym. A creative content marketing campaign will consider audio podcasts as a way to reach a whole new audience. A regular podcast can serve as a compelling platform to subtly promote your business while also proving your specialist expertise and knowledge.
Video has become a key part of content marketing, and something consistently gaining in popularity. Useful video content can take many forms, including:
- Video reviews of new products
- ‘How to’ explanations designed to solve nagging problems
- News bulletins intended to inform your audience
All of these can, in turn, incorporate your company logo and link to other areas of your online presence.
For some years now, pundits have predicted increasing popularity for video-based marketing. A study from marketing firm Demand Metric has revealed that they were right, with around 90% of the 235 companies who contributed stating that video is becoming more important. Three quarters of respondents said that video views converted to sales more effectively than other content.
Subjectively speaking, people are becoming more familiar with video-based marketing. Many brands now produce their own video content, and customers are becoming increasingly used to seeing it on their Facebook timelines and Twitter feeds.
Nobody wants to put out amateurish content, but at the same time your customers will not be expecting Spielberg movies when it comes to your corporate videos. Video content that instructs or informs doesn’t need to measure up to Hollywood standards! A Mac running Quicktime and iMovie is more than adequate for putting together an effective ‘how-to’ screencast on solving some of the basic and most frequently requested IT problems you get confronted with, for example.
If you want to start to market your company using video-based marketing, consider the following:
Think about your message
Review the pitches you typically deliver to prospective customers, and consider whether they would lend themselves well to video presentation. PC-based product demos work particularly well, especially as you can screencast the kind of procedures you would typically show during a real-life demo.
In-house or external?
You might be surprised at just how easy it is to create a demonstration video, especially in the form of a product-related screencast using screen-capture video and voiceover. However, you may find that you simply aren’t cut out for it. If you keep forgetting your lines or the result isn’t aesthetically pleasing, you may need to get someone else to help, but there’s still every chance you can produce something acceptable in-house without turning to a company that specializes in video production.
The obvious choice for distribution is likely to be YouTube, but there are downsides. YouTube’s design means that customers may be distracted by the other videos after the embedded video finishes playing, and there’s a chance these may even be videos belonging to your competitors. Vimeo is a paid alternative enabling you to host videos and embed them in your own site without the extra added content at the end.
Have you ever thought about hosting a webinar to stimulate interest in your MSP business? It’s a proven way to bring in new clients and can be used to sell additional products and services to existing customers.
Hosting webinars is a soft and easy sales technique. Business owners are always pleased to receive free information, and many will welcome the opportunity to ask questions of an expert at no extra cost.
Here is a six step guide:
1. Choose your topics
There are plenty of IT topics you can select as a subject for a webinar; think about the current issues that interest or concern your clients. These will change with industry trends and new product launches, giving you the chance to refresh your webinar campaign with new content over time.
Just remember that you’re inviting customers to your webinar to provide them with valuable information, and not just to sell them something. That part comes later.
2. Research the technology
There are many software products that allow you to host webinars, some of which are free or inexpensive. Make sure you fully research the software options and that they provide all the capabilities you require, such as screen sharing, voice and IM chat, and flexible presentation features.
3. Promote it
There’s no point in hosting a webinar to a tiny or non-existent audience. If your webinar is designed for existing customers, persuading people to attend should be relatively easy; you can send an email invitation and follow up, if necessary, with a personal phone call.
If you are inviting new sales leads, you may need to employ other techniques such as social media to entice people to sign up. However, as you are inviting people to an informative event and not a sales presentation, prospects should require little coercion.
Remember to explain the value that they’ll be getting from this webinar. What new skills and insights will they walk away with and what problems will these help them to solve?
4. Produce and practice
Once you have developed your slides and speakers notes, you must practice the webinar using your intended technology.
It’s essential to ensure that everything works as intended, as you don’t want communication issues and dropped connections. Make sure you host the webinar from a location with no background noise and a rock-solid Internet connection.
5. Establish sales hooks and calls to action
Obviously, at some point in the webinar, you will gently promote your products and services. Decide exactly how you plan to go about this and prepare comprehensive answers to any likely questions.
6. Host the webinar
Hopefully, when the day arrives, the webinar will go swimmingly, with plenty of online attendees. Make sure that you follow up on everything you promise during the session, in terms of sending additional information or answering questions. Don’t squander a rare opportunity for further contact with sales prospects.
Hopefully your first webinar will produce enough revenue to encourage you to make it just one in a series of several. Many large firms use webinars as a key part of their marketing strategy, and perhaps it’s time for you to do the same.
Producing and promoting quality content
The key to effective content marketing is to maintain a consistent flow of new, relevant content, and to put as much effort into promoting it as creating it. After all, there’s little point in working to produce content that nobody will engage with.
Luckily, social media makes content promotion straightforward and inexpensive. If the quality of your content speaks for itself, you will find it being shared across the Internet, independent of your own promotional efforts. Quality and relevance is therefore paramount—it’s better to create one amazing piece of content that attracts an audience of thousands than thousands of mundane articles or videos that interest nobody!
Understanding the sales funnel
The sales funnel typically has four different levels, referred to as Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action (AIDA). Content marketing is about pulling people through that sales funnel, taking them from vaguely interested potential prospects to qualified leads. To do this effectively, your content must address them differently at each level.
Attention: At this stage, you’re simply capturing the prospect’s attention by recognizing the problem they’re facing and explaining that there are solutions. An example here could be looking at general IT issues and how much they cost businesses, or looking a big industry trends, such as the Internet of Things (IoT).
Interest: Content at this stage explains the possible solutions to their problem in more depth, and discusses ways in which they may apply them. Again a relevant example here could be explaining how to solve some of the more basic IT related questions you find your customers asking you.
Desire: This content moves the prospect from interest to desire. Hammer home the business benefits that they stand to gain from your solution. Here think what you’re trying to sell, if you’re focused on managed services then you could create and article that explains how being on a managed services contract takes away the pain outlined in the previous articles.
Action: By now, the prospect wants what you have to offer. They’re looking for a reason to buy from you. Give them case studies, how-to guides, and examples of how your product or service could work for them. This stage is all about proving you’ve got what it takes to deliver.
Throughout all these levels, your content must resonate with your audience, which means talking to your readers or viewers in a language that they understand. Here are some guidelines to help you produce pitch-perfect content that will engage your audience.
1. Address their pain
Your content must focus on real-world needs that your readers feel on a daily basis.
Car companies don’t focus on the awards that their manufacturing plants have won. They focus on things that customers care about: the comfort, reliability, and safety of the product. Instead of focusing on what’s of interest to those in the car industry, they focus on the value that a car brings to the customer.
The same applies when crafting content for IT customers. You don’t sell a client a new email server by talking about MS Exchange connectors, spam filtering, and message logging. You sell them a way to make their unreliable email better by describing how they can avoid wasting time waiting for emails to arrive. Update your MSP sales pitch to give them a solution that will make them money by never missing an email with a new business opportunity.
Bad content marketing tries to sell product. Good content marketing describes problems and solutions.
2. When to talk about how good you are
Does this mean that you should never talk about how good you are? Of course you should.
There is a time and a place to sell your technical prowess and extensive industry knowledge. This should come later in the sale though, only after you’ve explained that you understand the prospect’s problem and that you can help them to solve it. Think about doing this at the ‘desire’ stage—when the customer understands and wants the solution, but needs to know that you’re the right company to provide it.
3. Using emotive words
We’ve described what your content needs to say to help move customers through the sales funnel, but how should you say it? The language that you use is critical in getting the customer’s attention and escalating their interest to the point where they take action.
Here’s the secret: While business managers typically base their purchasing decisions on logic, they’re as susceptible to emotion as the rest of us. Used judiciously, emotive language can be a powerful content marketing tool.
Here are two statements that say the same thing, but say it differently:
“Widget Inc. has a clear need to combat email spam, so that it can sufficiently allow staff to deal with legitimate emails effectively.”
This is a rational statement, highlighting the reasons a business might want to tackle email spam. Now let’s try that same sentence put in emotional terms.
“Widget Inc. is constantly fighting spam. To be successful, it needs a powerful email tool that will intensely monitor spam, allowing staff to be successful in dealing with important emails.”
The words fighting, powerful, and successful are all great examples of emotional words. Used correctly, this can build a positive image in the reader’s mind and stir them to action.
How can you describe the problems that your customers are facing? It helps to articulate how they’re feeling. Customers may feel overwhelmed, uncomfortable, and unsure when they experience business challenges.
Most business owners want to move away from pain and frustration and towards pleasure and success. Content that reflects their emotional experiences in business is more likely to engage them. Just don’t overdo it; use emotive language as a complementary tool, not as a substitute for useful facts.
The giveaway: white papers and eBooks
Most individuals are suckers for a freebie. While this may sound like a highly cynical sentiment, attracting the attention of customers with giveaways and free offers has long been a legitimate and effective marketing technique. At different points in the sales funnel, you should be offering your audience items of value to take away and digest on their own. The idea here is twofold:
- Relationship building
You constantly reinforce the sense that that they’re getting value from your website, which helps to build a relationship with that visitor.
- Data gathering
Each download gives you the chance to prompt an action. They can get what you’re offering if they give you an email address or phone number, or fill out a short survey. All of these things help you to move them down the sales funnel.
Offering free white papers is a great way of grabbing customer attention in an engaging way that’s far removed from the hard sales approach that many people despise. There are plenty of technical subjects on which your MSP business can focus, providing valuable information to customers while also gently pitching your services.
Here are just a few examples of interesting white papers you could produce and offer free to both prospects and customers:
- Are your employees’ iPhones putting your company data at risk?
- Could you save money by moving to the cloud?
- Is it time to move your business from Windows to Mac?
Here’s a five-step guide to getting started:
1. Decide your subject matter, keeping in mind the fact that your end goal is to generate new business. If you are producing a paper on the security risks associated with data on employees’ mobile devices, you should have an enterprise mobile management service ready to offer as a solution.
2. Consider employing a copywriter to produce your white papers. Producing sales copy that converts is quite a specialized skill, and it’s worth investing a small amount in well written content.
3. If you plan to provide access to the white paper via your website, ensure that you collect email addresses as part of the process and that you gain permission to make future contact with the customer. This helps you build a valuable mailing list for future promotional efforts.
4. Ensure that you include a clear call-to-action as part of the white paper, encouraging customers to contact you for assistance in solving the potential problem that it describes.
5. Make sure the white paper is sufficiently detailed and neutral in the information it provides. Even if a client doesn’t act on the first white paper they read, making it valuable to them helps to build your relationship with them.
Customers may not convert to a sale immediately; it may take months or even years. The important thing is to keep them engaged with your messaging during that period, which is why building an email list from your content marketing is so important.
Use this list to keep your customers informed by sending out an email newsletter. You can take advantage of the many tools on the web to create full HTML newsletters packed with pictures and other interactive elements to keep your audience engaged.
There are even free and paid newsletter templates available online to save your content team the trouble of designing their own. Here are some sources:
Microsoft has several free templates available online for both MS Word and Publisher. These are all provided free of charge.
This site offers customizable email newsletter templates along with a tool to create your own. Campaign Monitor also offers a mailing list distribution service to send out your email newsletter for you. Pricing is flexible.
Mailchimp is another email campaign management services that offers free newsletter templates and a design tool. It also includes a handy online guide that will help step you through the process of creating HTML email newsletters.
Geared towards print, these newsletter templates can be downloaded in formats including Microsoft Word and Adobe Illustrator.
Inkd is a subscription-based website that offers templates for newsletters and other marketing communications. Some templates are free with a subscription while others require an additional fee. You can also purchase templates individually without a subscription.
Winning at marketing with solid content
A successful content marketing campaign can engage and win over potential customers in ways that conventional hard sell techniques never could. Plan your content marketing strategy properly from the ground up, invest in high-quality content, and commit to a long-term campaign that produces a dynamic, constantly evolving base of copy. The results may not be immediate, but if you write it, they will come.