Content marketing – don’t start until you know your niche

Maybe you’ve started with your content marketing, but feel that you’re spreading your resources too thinly over too many channels.

Or you’re not sure whether you’re creating the right sort of content to achieve what you want to achieve.

Or perhaps you’re raring to get started, but canContent marketing where to startt quite narrow down the topics to write about, or decide upon which channels to use, or pin down your tone of voice.

If this reflects how you’re feeling, pause for a moment. Take stock and have a read, this article will hopefully help.

But first things first.

I believe strongly that you can’t do any content marketing – or at least any effective content marketing – ’til you’re really clear on two things.

And those things are simple. You’ve got to crystal clear about just what it is you do best, and who you do it best for.

This is your niche, your focus, or your positioning – and if you want to read a little more on those topics before carrying on with this one, you can do that that here.

So. Content marketing definition – what is it?

I’ve included a brief explanation of content marketing for anyone who was wondering. (Because marketeers do so love to throw the jargon about.)

Content marketing is just marketing. Yes, it really is.

The ‘content‘ bit is just the latest new term for what you decide to write about / talk about / film / photograph / comment on – and how you do it. That content is then what you use in your marketing campaigns, collaterals and channels.

Just because the social channels have taken off, marketing has gone and got itself a new name! Progress eh?

Getting content marketing right

You should not start your content marketing – or think about creating any content – until you know pretty much exactly what it is that you are going to be writing / talking about / videoing, who for, and why.

So, to help you work out whether you’re ready to start your content marketing, you should be able to answer all – or at least four out of five – of the questions below.

Five simple questions to see if you’re ready to start content marketing

1. Are you clear on the overall message you want to get across?

  • One quick shortcut here is to imagine your firm’s vision in a sentence like this – [ACME Inc] will become the most talked about (or cutting-edge, valued, expert, helpful etc.) [telecoms consultancy] in the [property] industry in the [Hampshire] region. Or similar.
  • Picking your words carefully helps you first think about and then work out where you are actually wanting to go.

2. Can you explain precisely who you are creating content for? And why?

  • All content should be created with your ideal client in mind, and you need to be clear exactly who they are.
  • Bear in mind you may have more than one type, or segment, of client.
  • Profile each client segment – by gender, age, income, location, industry sector, stage of life…. whatever is relevant to your own business.
  • Then imagine you are developing your content just for them.
  • The why is even easier. In order to give them something of value to them. Because giving things away for free attracts new clients.

3. Can you clearly explain what you want them do or think once they’ve seen or read your content?

  • You might want them to feel reassured about your expertise, and happy to meet up with you.
  • Or you’re encouraging them to share a video you’ve made, or attend an event you are running.
  • Whatever the reason, make sure you know it – because if you don’t, they certainly won’t.

4. Can you think of at least 10 headlines that would all be of some value and interest to your ideal client (although perhaps at different stages of their own buying cycle)?

  • It can help to imagine your lovely ideal client sitting opposite you – having just paid for two hours of your exclusive time to advise them on their (relevant) business problem. They’re in no rush, just there to listen to you and are taking notes. And looking for high quality advice and information in return. Those nuggets of advice are your headlines.
  • You can start by writing down your buyer’s problems. As many as you can possibly think of. Write them out in their own words, as if they’re on the phone to you with their first enquiry, or emailing you at the start of your relationship. What do they say? How do they ask for help? How do they express what they think they need help with?
  • Counterintuitively here, the better your focus, the easier this exercise is.  You’ll find you can come up with more and more headlines as you delve deeper into a single set of connected topics.
  • The headlines should become more detailed, more expert, the deeper you dig.

5. Can you easily articulate what is special about you? What differentiates you from your competitors – those alternative suppliers out there?

  • This is where your content can start to become original – because you should be one of very few people or firms creating this particular content.
  • It could be that you have combined commoditised products and services in a new way.
  • Or you may have a very real understanding of a particular sector because of your experience – so you have insight into those clients’ problems in a way that others do not.
  • Or perhaps you’ve built your own products and created your own IP (intellectual property), so you are first-to-market with something new?
  • In a crowded market, it could just be that your originality is in your tone of voice, because of the type of business you are and the personalities you have chosen to recruit.
  • But whatever it is, it needs to be unique to you.

If you can answer these questions now – or are confident you can get to the answers quickly with a bit of team brainstorming and flip-charting – then you’re probably well-positioned enough to get started.

Need help to get your positioning sorted?

On the other hand, you may find yourself struggling to get clear answers on some of these.

If that’s the case, but you’re keen to get actively marketing, it might be time to think about some external support to first get your positioning straight, and then to help with your marketing planning.

You can hire me to help with this sort of thing.  (Other consultants are available.)

A brief example of content marketing doing its job

I’ve found in the past that using other companies as examples can illustrate a point far better than me spouting on about it. So….

Picture an environmental consultancy of 18 people. Based in say, Hampshire.

This consultancy advises bigger businesses on the impact of new infrastructure and development on the land, air, water, animals, plants and populations.

The sectors they work in include energy, transport, property and heritage. The services they offer include planning, environmental assessments, land contamination reports, legislation, lobbying and more.

And they want to start their content marketing. (Their marketing.)

All well and good.

But they were a bit stuck.

Which services should they write more deeply about? They offer so many. Which of their sectors should they strive to become the expert in? They work in several.

Narrow your focus for effective content marketing

The challenge starts when you realise that an SME of this size – 18 people including office/admin/finance – cannot claim true expertise in more than one or two areas. It simply can’t do this, and be truly believed.

It can, however, offer many different services, and have clients in many different sectors.

But if or when you want to be known for something, you’ve got to choose – and narrow – your focus

Only then will you be believed.

The perfect way to find focus – spot a trend

In an ideal world, our environmental consultancy spots an upcoming energy trend.

How? Maybe it’s by digging deeper into a recent change in EU legislation, investing in their own customer research to spot client needs before they appear, or it may even be a lucky guess.

Of course, just by being involved in their industry, attending conferences, sitting on trade body committees and keeping up with their own professional development – they should be the ones in the know.

Good news. You don’t have to spot a trend before it happens

To be fair, it’s pretty rare you can spot a trend before it begins. Unless you’re a highly disruptive brand who is mostly in the business of creating trends. Hello Apple.

Much more likely, something you already do pretty well suddenly starts to become either legally required, very fashionable, or financially beneficial to your clients. Or even all three.

Move as quick as you can

Back to our case study.

Whatever the reason, our consultancy friends spot a trend on the up. Say… renewables, 15 years ago.

They want to be a thought-leader. Yikes, jargon alert – explanation available.

They make the strategic decision to become the most in-the-know and expert renewables’ consultancy in the UK, servicing energy clients with interests across Europe. 

Bam! They now know exactly what to do with their content marketing.

And they know where it should go. So here’s what they do…

12 content marketing steps to get to the top

  1. Write about it. All about it. In various European languages.
  2. Write case studies up on every bit of renewables work they’ve ever done. In UK and Europe.
  3. Build their contacts in renewables. A few at first, on LinkedIn. Then more, in person. Across Europe.
  4. Learn renewables inside out. Because they can’t pretend to be an expert.
  5. Share what they learn. Give briefings and workshops about it.
  6. Run roundtables on it. Introduce relevant people to each other. Connect to more.
  7. Write press releases on what they learn. Aim for the wider European energy trade press.
  8. Set up the first (European) industry trade body for it.
  9. Present at conferences about it – across Europe.
  10. Write a book about it. E-book or hardback. Write one in German. (?)
  11. Commission some original research on it. Collaborate with European scientists and academics. Write up research papers.
  12. Write training courses on renewables. First short courses, then B.Sc and M.Sc modules. Get them into European Universities.

24 months later – they’re the experts. After all, they’ve written the books and taught the courses.

How far do you need to go with your content marketing?

You don’t have to go as far as this example – it depends entirely on what your plans are for your business, how ambitious you are for growth, what your work-life balance should look like, what investment you have available etc. etc.

Only you know those answers.

Imagine work being a bit like hiking. If hiking is your hobby, then conquering Snowdon might be your bag. And that’s fine. You won’t need to do all those 12 bits of content marketing to just get to the top of Snowdon. The first six or seven will get you well on your way.

But if you’re a professional mountaineer, then your aspirations might be more K2, Kilimanjaro or Everest.

If you’re determined to grow, preparing for sale, ambitious to develop or your strategy includes getting seriously talked about – then get yourself properly positioned, go find your trend and start taking the first of your 12 content marketing steps.

Good luck!

4 Comments

  1. Astrid said:

    Hi Kim

    this is really helpful and thought-provoking stuff. Having just returned from a national conference to be told my coaching is “ahead of the curve” I am thinking that I need to focus my content marketing on that niche and really build a head of steam where companies can’t do without me!

    You heard it here first – thanks again.

    March 23, 2016
    Reply
    • Kim Mason said:

      Hi Astrid,

      Thank you very much for those lovely comments – and what a great compliment for you to get from a national conference! Focusing can feel very powerful and exciting – if it ticks both those boxes then it’s usually a good sign you’re on the right track for you. Good luck 🙂

      March 24, 2016
      Reply
  2. Brian said:

    Excellent article. Very thoughtful. Thank you.

    March 24, 2016
    Reply
    • Kim Mason said:

      Thank you Brian, I’m very glad you enjoyed it!

      March 25, 2016
      Reply

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