Can we learn any best content marketing practices by looking at examples of thought leadership that actually drive business development opportunities?
I recently hosted an Office Hours client training session with my colleague Adrian Lurssen, who joined us to talk through our findings after we asked and answered that question for ourselves here at JD Supra.
Specifically, because JD Supra's account dashboards are role-based – offering intelligence and action items for people with different responsibilities within their organizations – we looked at reader engagement with content that was flagged for its BD value, and therefore included in the BD-focused dashboards for clients.
(A concrete example: when a reader reaches out and says, "I'm a reporter researching this topic. Can I speak with the author of the piece?" that engagement appears in a client's PR& Comms dashboard. When someone else sends the message, "We'd like to talk to you. This is exactly the issue our board is facing today and we need help..." – that would, of course, appear in their BD dashboard.)
So, what does content driving BD engagement have in common, and what could we possibly learn from it? Adrian had some answers.
Big Picture: A Different Story, with Reader as Protagonist
For a start, we've found that content that facilitates BD opportunities is often written by authors who approach, big picture, their thought leadership differently.
Using as an example the marketing mantra It's all about storytelling, Adrian pointed out that most authors remain focused on telling a story about themselves.
This is the old, tried-and-true role of content marketing as a credentialing activity. The value? At the top of the marketing and BD funnel: branding. Authors are smart, insightful, experienced and it shows in the work – but the ultimate takeaway, using Adrian's example from the Office Hours session, is writing that says: "I am a gifted tax attorney."
Authors who produce BD-rich content typically shift the story, make it explicitly about their target readers...
In an age of ubiquitous information in which people with complex issues and limited time are researching for answers to their questions, it isn't always enough. Authors who produce BD-rich content typically shift the story, make it explicitly about their target readers: "This is who you are. This is what you are facing right now. Here's how you should proceed."
Adrian gave as example the ongoing, active interest in so much immigration-focused content – pointing out that, so often, much of that readership is by individuals who are interested, say, in what it takes to obtain a visa for themselves, or a family member. And yet, the firms and authors who have spent time producing the content are actually interested in reaching corporations (tech companies, higher education institutions, etc.) who need a very different sort of assistance with visa/immigration challenges, for their employees, students, and so forth.
A focused readership comes from focused content that, from first word, explicitly calls out target readers, and addresses their challenges head on. Adrian suggested that authors who take this approach to their writing seem to have asked and answered for themselves three key questions:
- who can I help?
- what can I help my clients with?
- what is my advice?
All of their thought leadership flows, explicitly, from the answers to these questions, which are supported by other questions. (Is there a change that matters to my clients right now? What am I currently helping clients with, that they need most help with? etc.)
In contrast to this, Adrian talked about the 100-page tomes frequently produced to address a significant change in the regulatory landscape (or, at critical moments, like during the COVID-19 shutdown). As he pointed out, while such a massive publication might contain useful information for a small business owner in California – as well as, say, an insurance multinational with offices in Singapore and Paris – the insights for both readers are buried deep within the document. Most readers don't wade through page upon page in search of guidance helpful to their particular need. That sort of focused delivery of help and insight is required from the outset. Specifically...
In the Details: A Focus on Your Client & Their Needs
Along with a different overall approach to their writing role, authors who produce content driving BD opportunities also structure their thought leadership differently.
Acknowledging that not all complex legal issues can be distilled down to three easy paragraphs, Adrian pointed out that most of this type of content often follows a three-point structure, nonetheless:
- here is what has happened/is happening
- here is how it impacts you
- here are next steps you should consider
We hear so often the editorial refrain, don't bury lede – and this is what most people mean by that. In fact, in bullet form for you, here is a checklist of some of the best practices Adrian recommended, when considering the type of content that compels readers to reach out and begin the type of conversations with you that might lead to new business:
- Call out your readers directly in your title. "This is for you."
- Your title should also capture Why click to read this (not merely Here's what this is about)
- Include the most important takeaways up front (as Adrian points out frequently, because much writing is a process of thinking-through, writers stop when they get to the point. And the point is relegated to the bottom of the post, when it should actually be the lede.)
- Since most people first scan a wall of text to see if it deserves their attention, use pull quotes and subheds to highlight important takeaways. This helps your key takeaways to stand out and qualifies readers to dive into the entire piece.
- Don't write about the law. (Or, equally: don't break the news.) Offer your specific, unique, extremely qualified take on how the news, the law, a new legislative development, impacts the people you serve, and how they might address this.
Why It Matters
Finally, Adrian included a caveat to all of this. He pointed out that there is a small danger to this kind of exercise: that is, a focus exclusively on content that immediately leads to new business. In other words, it would be a mistake to build a content program and only measure its success by how many home runs you were able to hit. It is always wonderful to create content that produces a home run, and instantly translates into a new matter for your firm. And we see this happen, with regularity.
However, between the first typed word and a new business opportunity, there are a number of important plays that should also be at the heart of your Content Strategy. On a daily basis, firms use the data generated by the readership to make strategic decisions – everything from identifying new opportunities in key industries to surfacing new content ideas to understanding the immediate needs of their most important clients.
All of this matters. And so, considering and incorporating the practices of thought leaders who produce BD-rich content isn't simply about hitting home runs.
It is, essentially, about adopting good writing habits that increase your chances of visibility and engagement with all target readers – whether they happen to be members of the media, referral sources, existing clients, or someone who happens to have exactly the need you can help with ... and is online looking for that help.
Make it easy for all of them to find you.
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Paul Ryplewski is JD Supra's VP of Client Services. Connect with him on LinkedIn. Follow his latest writings on JD Supra.