The Digital Advantage: Ten Website Marketing Tips for Building Client Thought Leadership
By Dr. Sally Mount,President, Auctus Consulting Group
We live in an era of unprecedented marketing reach. Literally anyone can advertise on the Web. This morning, I was in a business meeting where a colleague mentioned a young Haitian she knew who’d been excited about starting his own business when the 2010 earthquake hit. Wandering around in the aftermath, he found no less than 20 homeless children that he “adopted” by finding a haven for them in a friend’s basement. His solution for getting them food? Facebook. He posted his plea and, in an hour and a half, had grocery money for the entire group for the next two weeks. Thanks to exploding digital pervasiveness, his important marketing message was only a few clicks away from the rest of the world.
So are the messages of your clients. Yet few organizations harness this remarkable power effectively. True, a huge marketing department and unlimited corporate resources can usually produce a high-impact digital presence, complete with flawless graphics, real-time customer interface, and cutting-edge virtual platforms. But what if the organizations you represent don’t have the technology budget of an IBM or an Apple, yet still want and need a powerhouse digital presence?
The solution is an often-overlooked marketing strategy called thought leadership. And the Web is the perfect place to showcase its power in Broadway neon.
So many of the PR firms I’ve come across employ this strategy on their own websites, providing free or low-cost resources that effectively display their reach and expertise. But they often fail to pass the same wisdom on to their clients. Sell your clients on thought leadership, and show them a number of low-cost, high-impact ways to display it on their websites. The resulting benefits can increase with astonishing rapidity as customers are attracted to the value they see and hear. More and more professional services firms I’m seeing are using this concept to their advantage. So can your clients.
Noted management consultant Alan Weiss calls this concept “Marketing Gravity” and details numerous ways to achieve it in his book Million Dollar Consulting, including those suggested below. Marketing Gravity attracts customers through clearly offered value. Weiss underscores the notion that this approach is far more effective than reaching out to customers cold—which is exactly what your clients are doing if their expertise isn’t discernible at a glance on a value-filled website.
Below are ten ways your clients can take their websites from static brochures to spectacular selling devices:
1) Free value-added articles. I’m not talking about a couple of lines here, but thoughtful pieces that really offer something to the customer-reader. Some professional services firms I’ve seen have close to a hundred, and that’s not too many. Advise your accounting firm clients to post articles for individuals, (“Five Tips to Insure Your Never Run Afoul of the IRS”), small businesses (“Seven Little-Known Tax Strategies for Small Business Owners”), and large companies (“Nine Best Practices for Accounts Payable”). Tell your banking clients to post everything from simple how-to articles (“How to Earn Money in CDs”) to tip sheets (“Ten Tips for Deciding If You Can Afford a Mortgage”) to investment advice (“Is the Stock Market for You? Ten Reasons Why Mutual Funds Beat Individual Stocks”). Yes, customers can access much of the same information in a Google search. But there is an important distinction when it appears on your client’s websites—-the perceived value is accruing to them, not a ubiquitous technology behemoth. Who wouldn’t be impressed by a firm of attorneys offering free advice in an article called “Saving Your Hard-Earned Dollars: Ten Legal Activities You Don’t Need an Attorney For”?
2) Value-added email newsletters. All of your clients should be collecting customer e-mail lists and using them to market. Perceived value can easily be enhanced in the customer’s eyes with a monthly newsletter that has a one-click opt-in, opt-out feature. What goes into the newsletter? Anything and everything that adds value to the life of your customer by way of your client’s product or service. (Food retailers can employ this tactic with great success by offering recipes, food preparation tips, strategies for freezing foods, lunchbox ideas and entertainment suggestions.) The key to a newsletter strategy is to 1) make it consistent every month and 2) archive all old newsletters on the website for customers to easily access.
3) Quotes in the media. More and more PR firms are realizing the value of using the aggregate reporter-expert sites like HARO and PRLeads to funnel their client’s expertise into the mainstream and trade medias. A web page filled with timely, relevant quotes in major periodicals can give your client’s internet presence an undeniable cache and confer an aura of solid credibility.
4) Position papers.. The view that people today only read small clips before becoming information-overloaded is nonsense. When customers are going to the internet to purchase goods and services, they read; any value-added can be a high-impact discriminator. Which would you rather contract with—a waste management service with a so-so brochure website, or a similarly priced service that has a website filled with position papers on the importance of reducing our collective carbon footprint and keeping the environment toxicity-free? “Three good position papers may be competitive,” note Alan Weiss and Chad Barr in Million Dollar Web Presence, “but two dozen will take you to breakthrough in that category.”
5) Press releases. This is another category where perception lends an impression of success—even if your clients are following a low-budget strategy of writing their own press releases and sending them out through one of the free newswire services that proliferate on the Web. Emphasize to your clients that ANY good news is something to be shared—an award received, a scholarship funded, an industry benchmark realized, a new product line rolled out. A page of press release announcements with links to the full release can only add to your client’s credibility.
6) Podcasts. ITunes provides a remarkable platform for showcasing expertise through short, lively, informational audio programs. These programs can be effectively produced on an astonishingly low budget (a Mac, an inexpensive microphone, and a canned music clip from Garage Band before and after). Your client’s websites should have a series of these programs posted on their site and on iTunes. Because people like to access information in a variety of ways, these broaden their marketing reach and get their message out to a wide audience.
7) YouTube videos. Does anyone doubt the value of viral video marketing after watching nine-year-old Caine Monroy demonstrate the cardboard-box arcade he built in the back of his father’s LA auto parts store? His video on YouTube has had over 2.7 million hits. His scholarship fund recently topped $80,000. Savvy professionals are just beginning to harness the awesome power of video marketing. Insure that your clients get their own videos made and then upload them to YouTube and their website.
8) A blog. Ohio pharmacist Dana Miller thought she was attracting a small audience as she detailed the triumphs and trials of renovating her new home on her blog “House Tweaking by Dana’—until she got a call from Oprah Winfrey’s set designer. Advise your clients to blog consistently on WordPress or Blogger several times a week with customer-centric information and to link the blog to the client website. It can become a central marketing focus if done consistently.
9) Twitter. Twitter is criticized for being trivial and rightly so. Much of the content on the 170-character platform is inane. But Twitter can be a powerful marketing tool when used correctly. Web guru Chad Barr advises anyone seriously interested in social media marketing to use the platform to post brief, pithy tips showcasing expertise—and then collating those tips into a “Best Of” booklet that is offered on the website.
10) Checklists and self-questionnaires. Mental health sites often employ self-questionnaires effectively, offering simple on-site tests such as “Are You Suffering From Depression?” Many more businesses could use these vehicles to offer value to potential and existing customers. Consider a vehicle repair service offering a “Checklist for a Sixty Thousand Mile Checkup” alongside an e-coupon for 20% off. Your client’s organization has just offered value to customers in two ways: with needed information and with a proffered discount. It’s hard to beat that kind of marketing reach.
To sum it all up, thought leadership can offer tremendous marketing benefits for your clients if you take the time and energy to convey its value. And if they’re interested in the concept but claim they simply don’t have the time to develop the intellectual property, guess who is in the best position to offer them thought leadership development, editorial advice, and technical assistance at tremendous return on investment for a reasonable fee? You are.