In today’s information age, the sales and marketing landscape has experienced a seismic shift. In the past, salespeople had an enormous information advantage over the buyer, as the buyer didn’t have the same access to information. In that environment, sellers entered a conversation with the upper hand, and buyers had little power to talk back. Hence the adage, “Let the buyer beware.”
But as Dan Pink points out in his book, To Sell is Human, in most markets today we’re approaching information parity between the buyer and seller. Add to that the huge number of choices buyers have, and we’re now in a world of ‘seller beware.’ This requires a fundamentally different approach to selling, one that focuses on empathy with the buyer and how you or your product can help.
Moreover, with a plethora of information available at their fingertips, buyers are now doing their due diligence prior to even engaging the seller. CEB Marketing Leadership Council, in their 2012 report The Digital Evolution in B2B Marketing, found that 57% of the average B2B purchase decision journey is over before the seller hears from the buyer. So before a buyer has picked up the phone to call your sales team, filled out your online contact form, or spoken to a rep at a conference, they’re already over halfway to making their buying decision!
Wouldn’t you want to be able to influence the first half of their buying journey? Enter content marketing.
While the term ‘content marketing’ has caught on in recent years, a name such as ‘Sherpa marketing’ might be more appropriate. Just as Sherpas are native, experienced and trusted guides that help mountaineers scale the tallest mountains in the world, the type of marketing efforts we’re talking about are focused on providing help and support to the buyer or potential buyer— regardless of whether it leads to a sale or not. The whole intent is to establish a relationship by being helpful in a way that is authoritative and trustworthy. It’s about offering valuable and trusted advice that helps your audience tackle the challenges that they’re facing.
"The function of content marketing is to establish a relationship by being helpful in a way perceived as authoritative and trustworthy."
At this point it’s probably important to note that what we’re calling content marketing doesn’t correspond to a particular channel. Just because you have a blog doesn’t mean that you’re engaging in content marketing. Similarly, avenues that might not traditionally be thought of as content marketing channels may actually be effective conduits for this approach. More on this later.
If you want to succeed with content marketing for your edtech product, strive to do the following:
This is really the core component of all content marketing efforts. Find what value you can offer to your audience and deliver it. The value that you bring should be independent of your product and/or services. While the ultimate goal is sales, if all your content is focused on making a sale, your audience will quickly tire and leave. If you’re primarily selling a tool that helps elementary school teachers plan Project Based Learning activities, you could give them tips on getting started with PBL if they're new to the approach. You could write about the studies that prove the effectiveness of PBL, share a case study of how another teacher has had success with PBL, or give examples of ways to incorporate PBL in specific subjects such as science and history. If your product is geared more towards administration and data reporting, then write about tips and tricks for capturing, curating, analyzing and reporting data. Explore ways administrators can most effectively manage and collaborate with their school IT director, what most schools find are important data points, or the differences in reporting from state to state. The topics are endless, really, so figure out what questions your audience is asking and create content that speaks to those concerns.
With the proliferation of information so readily available online, you don’t want to have your article be just another knock off in a long stream of similar content that is easily ignored. Instead, focus on producing high-quality, well-researched and documented pieces. Quality content will get bookmarked and have a longer lifespan than if you push out a series of short, hastily thrown together pieces. More importantly, the content you produce speaks volumes about your brand, both as a company and individually. You want to be building a brand that stands for substance and insight, so don’t publish anything that would negatively impact that perception. Good content will also stand a much greater chance of ranking well in online searches and getting the attention and engagement of your audience. Finally, good content can get placed more easily in larger publications that will put you in front of a wider audience.
If your product is designed to help elementary school students learn how to read, then you’re going to naturally focus on topics that deal with tactics for teaching reading, how students learn to read, reading in small groups vs. alone, the rise of reading on electronic devices, and so forth. It may seem like a no-brainer, but you aren’t going to write about teaching math to high school students. Similarly, if your product is geared more toward solving administrative headaches, you aren’t going to write about topics that would be of more interest to teachers. From time to time you may stray from a strict focus on your particular area of interest, but in order to gain traction and begin to be seen as knowledgeable and authoritative in a specific niche, you need to maintain focus. You’re going to attract an audience that is interested in what you’re writing or speaking about, so make sure you’re keeping it relevant.
Remember that you’re not the only out there producing content. So your goal is to not simply push out content that reiterates what 20 others have already said, but something different and compelling. The ideal is to produce highly unique content that connects deeply with your audience. This isn’t easy! But if you can do this consistently, you’ll quickly establish yourself as a trusted voice in your area of expertise.
Often, the content you’re producing isn’t going to be completely revolutionary. This is perfectly fine. But you want to strive to add your unique perspective or voice to this topic. Imagine, for example, sitting with a group of educators who are discussing the merits of a new Federal mandate. The first introduces what the new regulation is and does, while the next few bemoan the fact that it introduces new reporting headaches for teachers and administrators, and the last person discusses the pros and cons. When it’s your turn, if you simply parrot what’s already been said, no one’s really going to be that interested. So add your unique voice. In this example, you could discuss the problem or challenge that the new mandate is addressing, state why you think it’s a wrong-headed approach, and outline a strategy for a better approach. In this way you’re contributing something new and valuable to the conversation, a tactic you should employ in your content marketing as well.
I believe every edtech company should have a solid content marketing plan. Here are three good reasons why:
You’ve poured blood, sweat, and tears into your product to bring it to market. It’s really a fantastic solution, and your users love it. Now you’re faced with the daunting task of selling it to the fragmented K-12 market— 129,189 Schools and 13,515 Districts. That’s a lot of sales calls!
By investing in content marketing, you’ll be more likely to get in front of your target audience sooner. Even for companies that have been around for a while, getting the attention of decision makers is not easy. But if you start investing in content marketing now, you’ll begin attracting a following that will only grow over time. Moreover, you can start content marketing before you even have a product. Better to work on building up your contact base sooner, so that when you are ready to ship, you already have a relationship with your target audience.
If you consistently produce quality content surrounding a particular topic, your followers will grow to trust that you know what you’re talking about. Your content proves that you understand the issues and challenges that matter to your audience, are an active participant in relevant conversations, and are making unique and valuable contributions. Educators will be much more inclined to consider your edtech solution if they believe that you “get it”— because you have top-notch thinking to back up your offering.
As your company and/or personalities within your company persist in a long-term content marketing strategy, you’ll begin to grow a reputation as someone to pay attention to in that space. Your goal should be to become a thought leader, so that you become the person that others refer to in conversations that relate to your area of expertise. To get here, you’ve got read, read, read, interact with your audience, and publish, publish, publish. It’s a long road, but one well worth traveling.
Many people equate content marketing with having a blog on your website. While it’s true that a blog is often one of the best channels for content marketing, there are many more channels that you can take advantage of. Here are a few:
Simply having a blog doesn't mean you’re content marketing. You need to be publishing content here that is engaging your audience. Writing about your recent office move, additions to your team, or your internship program may have some value, but it’s not content marketing. One important note: be sure that you own this channel. While pushing content out on LinkedIn or Medium can be helpful for growing a wider following, put your long-form, juiciest content on a platform you own (i.e. your branded website).
A podcast will require a significant investment in terms of time and planning, but is perhaps one of the best ways to build a tribe, as marketing guru Seth Godin advocates. What’s more, hosting a podcast will give you a perfect entrée to interview and establish relationships with the movers and shakers in your space.
Social media platforms are excellent delivery channels. Use these to make your followers aware of quality content you find elsewhere, building your brand, and most importantly, to guide users back to the content on your website.
These are great ways to both establish yourself as an expert and capture new leads. Simply hosting a webinar or writing a well-researched white paper will require you to really dig into a topic and articulate your thoughts succinctly. These can then be cut up and repurposed in social media posts, blog entries, slideshows, and more.
You might not think of delivering a talk at a conference as content marketing, but it’s really the epitome of what content marketing is all about. By giving a presentation that stimulates thinking, introduces new concepts or explores different ideas, you’re bringing incredible value to your listeners.
Find a local Meetup that your target audience attends. Seek an opportunity to present to the group on a topic of interest.
Write a book! What better way to engage your buyers than to say, “We wrote the book.”
One of the most engaging channels right now is video. If you’re not investing in this channel now than you should be making plans to do so in the future.
Capture email addresses on your website and start sending out content that delights your audience. Be the newsletter that your users love seeing in their inbox and always find helpful.
Pick one of your popular blog articles and turn it into a slideshow or infographic. These shouldn’t be created in lieu of long-form written content, but supplemental to them. Graphics are incredibly helpful at attracting attention and illustrating complex concepts. Note that you should always strive to infuse your written content with quality graphics as much as possible.
As you put your content marketing plan in place, avoid these common mistakes:
As noted previously, avoid talking about your product or services. If the answer to every challenge your audience faces is to buy your product, you’re doing it wrong. Nobody wants to be hit on the head over and over again with a sales pitch. Your content will get marked as spam and you’ll lose credibility.
You’ve probably seen article titles such as, One Unusual Trick to Lose 10 Pounds of Belly Fat in 5 Days. Don’t be that guy. While there’s nothing wrong with coming up with titles that are interesting and entice users to click through to read, focus on titles that are descriptive of the content that you’re publishing. Click bait schemes that don’t deliver will backfire.
While it may be appropriate to tap junior associates to help with the content creation process, don’t simply hand them a publishing calendar and say, “Have at it.” If you leave content creation to uninformed and uneducated employees (or freelancers), you’ll come off sounding the same. Senior leadership, if not authoring the content themselves, needs to be heavily involved in the process.
Hopefully at this point you’re convinced that content marketing is something that you and your company should be investing resources in. If you’re already publishing content regularly, great. Keep it up! If you’re new to content marketing, here are a few tips to get you started:
According to Hubspot’s 2014 State of Inbound Report, content marketing delivers 54% more leads to the marketing funnel. With such a fantastic ROI, why don’t more companies do it? I think it’s because it requires sustained focus, steadfast resolve, and weekly if not daily attention. Content marketing is much like farming— you won’t see an immediate and overwhelming return, but over time, if you stick with it, you’ll reap a harvest. In fact, the seeds you sow today will grow and multiply and you’ll continue to see returns on these investments for years to come.