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Whip Whitaker "rolling it" in 'Flight', 2012.

Why Denzel Washington was right about inverting (spoiler: it works better that way)

Many business advisors, marketing consultants and content agencies start talking with their customers from the top down. They first want to fly high, to help you clarify your brand, positioning, values, audience, unique selling points… and then go down to the sales strategy, marketing strategy, channel strategy, PR and influencer strategy, content strategy, and so on.

By the time they get to talk with you about the actual content that should make those strategies come to life, some of those agencies drop off and move on to where the grass is greener because it’s actually difficult to deliver high-quality, engaging content that aligns with your brand and furthers your business goals.

Let’s be practical

Talking about ‘flying high’: In the 2012 movie ‘Flight’, pilot Whip Whitaker, played by Denzel Washington, saves a flight from crashing by turning it upside-down. “We’re gonna roll it, okay?” he says.

That’s what I intend to do in this article. By inverting the way in which marketing service providers commonly structure their services. I’m hoping you’ll find it refreshing.

Why invert the service structure?

In working with entrepreneurs, revenue officers, marketing directors, and content marketers, I’ve noticed that most of my customers have given quite a bit of thought to all the strategic stuff.

If you are anything like them, you are not necessarily keen on listening to some outsider reinvent what you have already figured out. Maybe you already have an inbound marketing plan, a content calendar, and buyer personas, but you just need to get the content itself produced and pushed out.

Saving the day

Perhaps, on a bad day, you are short-staffed and busy putting out other fires. So you could do with an extra pair of hands.

Or it turns out that a substance expert who was tasked with a blog article actually isn’t all that comfortable with writing. In that case, content coaching, copy-editing or proofreading would come in handy.

Or… maybe you’re just stuck, lacking inspiration. It happens. We’re only human.

Everyone, every organisation runs into these practical, tactical challenges every once in a while. Sometimes they are easy to fix. At other times these bottlenecks require urgent attention and are best resolved with a little bit of extra help.

There was a time when, as a journalist, I wrote about a different company every day. It taught me how, even if I know very little about your firm, I can quickly get a decent grasp of what you and your business are about, who your audience is, and how to connect with that audience; how to write for that audience.

Oh and by the way, should you need any help with content creation as per above, and if that means that you have a resource challenge, I can also help your team with skills development, coaching them on the job, or provide input to a job description in case you want to recruit. I suppose it depends on whether you consider these content creation skills to be core or context to your business. It’s your choice whether to develop, acquire, or outsource these skills.

Getting organised

Now consider the following scenario. You know that you need content, but you don’t know exactly what content you need – you don’t have a content calendar. So maybe you want to get a little bit more organised.

A content calendar gives you guidance in planning, sourcing, creating and managing your content. It can include a mix of distribution channels like websites, social media and email, which all work together towards the same goal.

That goal is usually informed by your marketing & sales strategy or your communication strategy. Such a strategy lays down who your intended audience is; what relationship you want to build with your audience; how you wish to influence their behavior, their knowledge or perception of you, your brand and your business; what your main message and talking points could be; the style and tone in which you express yourself; the channels you want to use to reach them; the volume and frequency of your content; etc.

Everything depends on your goals, of course. Something that has worked really well for several of my customers is a content calendar based on a monthly recurring cycle in which we build a campaign around a specific offer. It involves a conversion funnel supported by downloadables, landing pages with calls-to-action, blogs, email, social media and, in some cases, paid advertising.

So if you have a strategy like that, we can create your content calendar. Drop me a line and I’ll explain to you in person how we can get started.

Quick wins

Many businesses and organisations may not have a content calendar, even though they do have a website and possibly a presence on social media. Whether you have a content plan or not, on our way to getting organised it can be fruitful to check first that your homepage and social media pages are attractive, actionable, and that they reflect your brand story.

(I’m assuming here that you do have an online presence. If not, feel free to skip this little chapter.)

I have a way to quickly assess those online properties with you. Sometimes this can make a real difference, just making sure that your presence is as engaging and converting as it can be. So, if you like, I’m happy to perform that assessment and possibly make a few suggestions for quick wins.

In order to make your web channels engaging and converting, we do need to have an idea what you’re trying to accomplish with your brand. Your brand story would encapsulate everything we need to know. In case you don’t have a brand story, brand formula or brand proposition, we could at this stage create a “light version” of one and later develop it further – if and when that becomes a priority.

Or we could do it properly, in which case I invite you to read on as we’ll get there shortly.

The Pool Guy

Back to the content plan. What if you don’t have a communication or marketing & sales strategy? To be fair, without a strategy it is a bit challenging to create a content calendar.

Then again, a strategy could be rather simple. For example, let’s say you want to create visibility for your brand or build a reputation as an expert in your industry. You could start by monitoring and capturing content that is published by others, add your own perspective and distribute that value-added content via your own channels.

Or, another simple strategy that I find really powerful is that of the Pool Guy. As the story goes, Marcus Sheridan and his mother were selling outdoor swimming pools. As times were tough business-wise, Marcus started writing a blog. Every evening he would consider what questions his customers had asked him that day. He’d pick one of their questions and answer it in a blog post. Soon he became widely known as the ‘Pool Guy’, the go-to expert for any questions about outdoor swimming pools. The company did very well indeed after this and the rest is, as they say, history. Marcus went on to become a much sought-after speaker and sales coach.

My point is that simply starting to blog in a systematic way and with a single coherent idea behind it can be as good a strategy as any. It’s a great way to build content wealth, visibility and findability. If this speaks to you, then let’s talk about what your format could be like.

Three basic strategies

However, if you want to go further than curating and re-purposing content or answering your customers’ questions on a blog, I recommend that we take a look at three basic types of digital strategy. They are: sales-driven, expansion-driven, and audience-driven.

A sales-driven strategy is optimised for increasing sales of existing products and services by an established brand. We focus quite a bit on marketing and sales process integration, marketing automation and sales enablement tools, creating campaign funnels, and generally being smart about using our website and social media channels to attract leads and convert them into customers.

An expansion-driven strategy looks at new markets, new audience segments, or new price points. It may include test marketing in a number of countries where your brand is currently not present, in order to gain a better understanding of where you might want to establish a market presence next.

An audience-driven strategy puts your intended audience front and center. The idea here is not primarily to push brand visibility or sales conversion, but to engage and grow your audience, to serve them with valuable information and an opportunity to share among each other, so that you can learn what their needs and wants are. Over time, you can help them fulfill those needs and wants, and convert them to becoming your customers.

Part of that discussion has to touch upon how your marketing and sales operations are organised. Much is being said about smarketing these days. At the very least you need to define how your marketing people feed intelligence about online leads and their behavior to your sales people, and how your sales people feed back what they learn from talking with prospects and customers so that marketing can keep improving what they do, in particular the content they create.

For example, if you want to conduct test-marketing as part of an expansion-driven digital strategy, or indeed a sales-driven strategy, your marketing and sales need to be rather tightly integrated. In an audience-driven approach, the internal communication is equally important but sales activities may be a bit more subtle.

Go-to-Market

Many startups are ‘born global’ these days. SaaS companies, retailers and many others are able to scale to a global audience because they can sell what they sell over the internet. As far as content and digital strategy is concerned, I work primarily in English for customers with international aspirations.

However, talking about an expansion-driven strategy aimed at internationalisation, I should mention that I have a network of strategic go-to-market partners for Germany, the Netherlands and surrounding European markets, as well as in Finland and the Nordics. Those are the ‘non-global’ territories where my specific market knowledge and business network can be leveraged.

For example, let’s say you represent a Finnish technology company that is looking to create a market presence in continental western Europe. In a case like that, I could help you identify where your Dutch intended audience hangs out online and how to create visibility among them. Or I could help you with a market scan and a road show to test your product with proto-customers. Or I could help you in your search for sales channel partners.

Web development

But perhaps we’re not that far yet, so let’s take a step back. What kind of a website do you have? In case you don’t have one, we can rather swiftly roll out a basic website to get you started, or a webshop, or a subscription/membership site.

We can build email marketing integration, inbound marketing functionality… In fact, we have a few off-the-shelf website concepts that are tuned to the three strategies described above: sales-driven, expansion-driven, and audience-driven.

To ensure that your current digital strategy furthers your business goals, we could have a chat and see if that’s the case, and we could consider which options to compare. Just so that we’re doing the right thing and doing things right.

Your two brand stories

Your digital strategy (sales-, expansion-, or audience-driven) is informed by your overall business strategy, which in turn has everything to do with which audience you cater to, what your unique selling points are, and how you position yourself.

In case we first did the quick-wins homepage effectiveness assessment that I described above, we will already have touched upon your positioning, your message and all that. But if we didn’t, or if it felt somehow forced, or these things didn’t quite seem to become clear and it felt like we had to stay a bit too vague… or we do have a product but we don’t actually know what the story is, then now might be the right time to look at your brand story.

Actually, the brand story is really two stories. One is the customer journey, the story that your customer can identify with – which is absolutely necessary in order for them to engage in a business relationship with you. The other is the founders’ story, ie. the company story. Both stories complement each other, but they are intended for different audiences.

Your customers’ journey is meant for your customers, leads, and prospects. It tells what your customers are after and how you can help them. It delves into your customer’s deeper motivations and their desire for transformation. In this story, your customers are the protagonists and your role is to guide them in their adventure.

The founders’ story, on the other hand, is about how the idea for your business was born, what hardship the startup team had to endure in order to get where you are now, why you are successful, yet human and hopefully likeable or respectable. That’s a story that, for example, the media, influencers or investors could be interested in. But it can also serve as a ‘cornerstone’ piece of content that can be linked and referred to in other contexts and that can inform your content calendar.

The Startup pitch

Again, most companies that are looking for communications or marketing support will have figured this out a long time ago, but… there is such a thing as a startup. Startups may pivot and reposition and rebrand several times while searching for product-market fit.

If you represent a startup, then what is your pitch? If it’s a new venture or a venture that needs rethinking, you can use me as a sounding board or sparring partner in order to surface your unique brand proposition and properties.

For example, many companies have an invention, an innovation, a specific technological expertise, something they are very good at, but they are not necessarily the only player in their field. You need something that is baked into the brand and that shines through in every way the brand is expressed; something that tells customers, investors, influencers and media immediately how you are uniquely different and what value you bring to the table.

Let’s talk

OK, now I think I’ve said it all. This inverted perspective is kinda unchartered territory for me; while I have been delivering all the services described, I haven’t presented them in this order before.

I thought of inserting a form with every chapter, but that’s not really necessary, is it? If you need anything or would like to talk about anything relating to content, inbound marketing and sales, branding, or go-to-market approaches, just message me at +358 50 59 33 006, connect with me on LinkedIn at https://linkedin.com/in/josschuurmans, shoot me an email at jos.schuurmans@cluetail.com, or jump on the chat in the lower right-hand corner.

(Admittedly, chat messages do not always reach me faster than email. But they are convenient if we are both online at the same time.)

Have a great day!
Jos