Great question! It’s one I often hear in my content marketing workshops.
In a company with multiple divisions or product lines, here’s my advice: find an opportunity to start your content marketing in a greenfield.
A greenfield is an untouched market, one that hasn’t seen significant marketing investment before. It might be a new product line, a newly acquired company, a new geographic market or an underserved customer segment.
If you can avoid it, don’t build your first content marketing program in a brownfield. When you build in a brownfield, you won’t be able to tell which results came from content marketing and which came from elsewhere.
In a brownfield you can’t cleanly calculate a return on investment (ROI) from content marketing. When content marketing is one of several marketing activities, rather than the only marketing activity, it’s much harder to tell whether it’s working.
When you build in a brownfield, you face John Wanamaker’s dilemma: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”
When you introduce content marketing into a market where there’s been little to no marketing before, you can safely attribute all the marketing results to your content. That makes it easier to measure:
- The inputs going in (staff time and money)
- The results coming out (qualified leads, customers and revenue)
- The return on investment (ROI) of your content marketing.
ROI is a simple calculation: (Revenue – Expense) / Expense = ROI
The hard part is knowing exactly which expenses went into a marketing program and exactly which revenue came out of it. A greenfield provides boundaries that enable you to demonstrate how well content marketing can work on its own.
Taking this approach heads off the predictable but perhaps inevitable arguments about which part of the marketing achieved which results.
When you need a greenfield to build in, look for a product line where:
- Clear boundaries separate the product line from other offerings, so revenue becomes clearly attributable to marketing.
- There’s only a small budget.
- Customers make decisions faster, so revenue results become visible sooner.
You also can look for markets that are underserved by sales and/or marketing. These might be new geographical markets or niche markets.
Call your first attempt at content marketing a “pilot project.” That label reduces others’ expectations and fears, and it gives you more license to operate freely.
At Tellabs, for example, we discovered an underdeveloped market in electric utilities. No marketing had been done to electric utilities. Our sales force had next to no coverage in the market. So content marketing went a long way to address buyers’ information gaps.
We kicked off content marketing to utilities with a controversy – asking,:
- Should customers use Technology A or Technology B for their internal communications networks?
- Which is technologically superior?
- Which is operationally practical?
On this divisive issue, we heard many conflicting opinions. Utilities had already drawn battle lines, with most favoring either one technology or the other.
But the bigger question of which technology was actually better hadn’t been settled authoritatively.
Take Andy Crestodina’s advice – search for and tackle your industry’s hardest question. Ask:
- What is the one question that no one in my industry will answer?
- What is the one accepted idea in my industry that lacks evidence?
Tellabs was in the unique position of selling both technologies A and B. Our competitors mostly sold only one or the other.
Creating content that helped buyers compare the two technologies was clearly in our interest. It both educated the buyers and highlighted the limited choices competitors offered.
Once you’ve identified your greenfield market, capture your customers’ questions. It’s the single most important thing you can do.
Attend a trade show or product demonstration with your sales people. Make notes about every single question your customers ask in the meetings. Make notes on the answers too.
Spend a few days in customer service to capture the questions that users ask often. Look at the questions customers ask by email or chat. Read their comments in reviews.
Buyer questions tell you a lot about your buyers personas.
Make a list of 20 to 50 buyer questions that are most important. Then set out to create the best webpage to answer each customer question. Optimize for search engines: create one page per question.
Do a competitive content audit to see how your competitors address the market and the same customer questions. Make sure your content is superior to competitors in one or more dimensions:
- Provide simpler answers to customers’ questions.
- Create content that’s more visual with photos or videos.
- Provide a more complete library of resources for your customers.
- Make your content mobile-responsive.
- Offer content that’s quicker to consume, like Bart’s Fish Tales, a series of 15-second cooking videos.
- Offer long-form content, such as a white paper or e-book that will take 20 minutes or more to read – especially for carefully considered purchases.
- Find an expert in your company who can become the face of the topic that your customers are most interested in. Once you establish your expert and your message, it’s easy to generate blogs, podcasts, videos and live events.
- Help your customers find happy customers who look like them.
“Make an appointment with buyers,” as Andrew Davis advises.
To build buyers’ expectation for your content, publish your content on a regular schedule, on the same day of the week and at the same time of day. For example, this blog publishes on Wednesday mornings.
Once you’ve captured 52 buyer questions, answer one a week for a year. After a year or two, you will have created a treasure trove of content, a valuable library for your subscribers.
To start, choose one main medium you know customers use – such as a blog or video or podcast – and focus all your budget and effort there. Go deep, not wide, at first. As you add subscribers, you can add other media channels later.
Experiment with content topics and measure the results. Over time, your audiences will tell you which content they want the most. Address those topics more.
When your pilot program starts to take off and needs more fuel, look around your company for marketing activities that either don’t deliver results or haven’t been examined for many years. You’re likely to find a number of marketing activities the company could stop doing without harm, which can free up resources for content marketing.
Be patient. Creating great content marketing is like planting a fruit tree. It may take years of work to get the fruit. But it’s totally worth the wait because the tree you plant will feed you year after year.
Like a fruit tree, content marketing is a long-term play. It’s about building relationships by helping customers. Help first, then sell.
Which customer segment or product is ripe for your next experiment with content marketing?
As a marketing change agent, I consult with clients, lead content marketing workshops for the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), and write the weekly Simplify Marketing blog.
With experience from Fortune 500 companies such as AT&T, RR Donnelley and Tellabs, I've been named:
- Content Marketer of the Year by the Content Marketing Institute.
- Best Marketer by BtoB magazine.
- A B-to-B CMO to watch by Fierce CMO.