Cultivating your content garden

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Tree-Growing-from-book-216x300By Leo Valiquette

Given the time of year, it only seems appropriate to compare content marketing to a vegetable garden. Once you’ve planted the seed, you must keep tending it with suitable amounts of care and attention until it yields a fair crop. Neglect it for too long and all you’ll end up with is compost.

I often work with clients who are trying to figure out which seeds to plant and how to be certain they’ll have enough to yield results that will make their efforts worthwhile. Be it a blog, a bi-weekly newsletter or a regular gig as contributor to an industry publication, the challenge is the same: how do we create, and where do we find, original, compelling content, and on a consistent basis?

So here is my basic inbound marketing gardening guide:

Step 1: Commit to a regular schedule.

It’s doesn’t matter if it is daily, weekly, or monthly. Decide on a publication schedule that you can live with and stick to it. As I always tell clients, you are trying to build an audience. This audience will come to have certain expectations about the value your content provides to them and when they can expect to see more of it.

Step 2: Don’t launch until you have an inventory.

If it’s a blog, have the topics for your first few months of posts planned out and the first half dozen or so posts already written. There is no hard and fast rule here. If your intention is to blog twice a month, you have a far greater cushion to rest on than we do on this blog where we aim to publish fresh material every day.

The same applies to a newsletter or a contributor gig – the frequency of publication will determine the level of urgency that should be applied to your advance planning.

Step 3: Ideas can be found lurking everywhere.

Clients who are new to all of this often fail to appreciate just how many stories they have to tell, it just takes a little work to see them past the weeds and cultivate them.

For example, your sales and business development people work with clients and prospects every day, which should provide them with firsthand knowledge of the issues and problems faced by your marketplace. Which are the ones that your product or service is built to solve? The trick is to talk about how these issues and problems can be addressed in way that positions your team and your organization as thought leaders and subject matter experts and provides value and substance to readers, without making an overt sales pitch for your specific offerings. It is not that difficult to do.

And what about existing clients? Happy and repeat customers are the stuff of strong case studies that serve, again, to position your organization as the problem solver of choice. But depending on your business and market space, client stories that emphasize the client’s journey to your offering, rather than their experience with your offering, can pay even greater dividends. The goal here is to profile a client who will resonate with sizeable chunk of your target audience because they wrestled with, and ultimately overcame, the same challenge that is facing many of your prospects.

These are just a few examples. But timely, topical and relevant ideas can also be found in recent media headlines, industry events and corporate milestones related to longevity, growth and new hires at the management level. And don’t overlook other sources of pre-canned content that you can localize and personalize for your business. If you are part of an industry association, or a franchisee, you may already have access to a repository of content that you can adapt to your needs.

Step 4: Leave the writing to a writer.

Of course, the most substantial barrier isn’t lack of obvious stories, but lack of time and resources capable of producing quality content. Many clients I work with who are looking at this for the first time have this deer in the headlights look about them. Some people are crafty wordsmiths, but most are not. And if the obvious wordsmith is a senior executive with product development or profit/loss responsibilities, how much of their precious time should really be spent at a keyboard hammering out content?

This is where you need dedicated marketing communications staff with the writing chops to make the words work and serve as ghost writers for those busy executives who are your organization’s thought leaders. They also need to have the hustle and daring to aggressively pursue and corner those thought leaders for the 15, 20 or 30 minutes it takes on a regular basis to pick their brains for the raw material they need to produce strong and compelling content.

If your needs don’t justify staffing such a position in-house, consider an external resource, but carry out your due diligence to ensure you are getting value for money.

Step 5: And always have an editor.

It hurts me deep in the soul, it really does, when I see content tossed into this harsh and unforgiving world without a proper edit. That content is perhaps a prospect’s first introduction to your brand. It’s a devastating blow to your credibility to assault their eyes with typos and poor grammar. No matter who writes your content, it must be subject to a rigorous review by at least one, preferably two, other pairs of eyes with a superior grasp of the English language. Even if you can’t budget for a dedicated writer, at the very least apply what meagre resources you have to retaining an effective editor. It’s an investment that will pay for itself many times over. If it doesn’t, it probably points to a deeper issue with your entire marketing effort.

Image: Ali Davies

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