Our hot takes for 2019 - Marketing and branding for professionals

Make no mistake, what is working with content and digital marketing continues to change at pace. Having lived and breathed marketing, branding and content for the last few years we’ve grown accustomed to being sensitive to change. 

Unlike a lot of agencies, we are practitioners. We grew a podcast, a blog, a newsletter list, a social following and a business off the back of it. When we talk about building a marketing list and how it works, we haven’t learned it through an online seminar. When we chat about video and engagement it’s not because we spent a half-day at a workshop. (Yes, I can’t stand people who teach what they don’t practise!!). Just check out all the vids we’ve been pumping out for the last few months!

Being practitioners ourselves means that we are always tinkering with what we do and always cognizant of changes so we can do it better. So I wanted to write this piece for anyone interested in what we have noticed in the last 6 months, what’s changed, and why that has us focusing our clients on some different content and strategies now.

If you aren’t changing you aren’t getting the best out of your marketing spend. So here are some observations on the market and what has changed so you can make better decisions moving forward.

  1. Social media is just like TV in 2005, but 10 times less expensive.

  2. “Hero” content is critical and everything else is the supporting cast.

  3. Instagram is great for brand but only a lead generator if you are willing to engage.

  4. Facebook is pay to play but still the best for brand awareness.

  5. LinkedIn is best for organic right now.

  6. Email newsletters still work great.

  7. Search advertising is still an awesome way for most firms to grow their bottom line.


ONE - Social Media is just like TV in 2005, but 10 times less expensive

I tell a story about how I used to spend $10,000 a month on print ads just to build my company’s brand. We weren’t even in the TV spending league but were spending a considerable amount of money because it was the only way to get in front of an audience.

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Fast forward to today, and that has completely changed. Social media, your content and your ability to be seen by an audience costs a fraction of what it did when you had no choice but to pay for print or TV.

Now some people still do it... every time I see a law firm with its name on a bus I check their socials and almost every time they are spending less on reaching the entire market than they are on the cost of one bus driving one route. It’s nuts, but people have always paid for buses so they keep doing it. This is not to say bus’s don’t work, it’s just important to know what else does.

Using an integrated campaign with your hero content leading people to your website from a Facebook or Instagram ad is hands down the best way to reach any size audience you want. Yes, you have to pay, but it is a tiny amount compared to running ads on TV or painting your name on the side of a bus... or heaven forbid doing radio ads... We literally had a client spend $20K on a local radio ad campaign before they spoke to us that resulted in zero leads, zero assets, and next to no web visits. That’s pretty nuts.

Think about it this way. You’ve time travelled back to 2005. You have just launched a business and want to reach a national market. You either pay ten’s of thousands of dollars a month for TV or print ads that give your potential clients next to no value, or you don’t have a national business. Fast forward to today, and for a fraction of the cost you can reach the exact audience you want, build trust with them and grow your business.

TWO - “Hero” content is critical and everything else is the supporting cast

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For a long time, I have been talking about consistency and volume. And I won’t stop because 99.9% of firms aren’t even getting close to the volume they need to make. However, I think the message needs to be clearer that if you are only going to invest a small amount in your content, you really should be focused on the “hero” pieces. These are the podcasts, video, and blogs that are central to helping you stand out as a trusted expert. If you are spending your time somewhere, make it there (or engagement which I get to later!).

Make bigger, meatier, substantial pieces of quality content that your audience will value. That might mean video series, downloadables, infographics, podcasts, blog articles and meaty social posts (the longer form kind)... whatever the content is that you think your clients want to consume that will get the most attention and bring them the most value... and make more of it.

Repurposing your hero content is a great way to create more for less work. To do so, pick the important pieces from your hero content, like quotes or themes, and use them as inspiration for your smaller social pieces.  

For most businesses, it is a tightrope. You want consistency, you want something solid, but you also want to invest as little as possible. While I can rant on all day about why a growth mindset is better, the truth is that most service business owners equate spending money with not taking it themselves, rather than investment. Just be mindful to put the hero first and then build out the supporting cast.

THREE - Instagram is great for brand but only a lead generator if you are willing to engage.

This one is going to be controversial... but here it goes!

If you aren’t going to bother investing time engaging on Instagram (commenting, DM-ing, liking) and if you don’t want to spend time on stories, or run ads.... then what you are doing is making a nice business card. Now, it is important to have a nice card in this context, because people will look for you and wonder whether you are legit if you aren’t on the platform, but don’t expect website visits or direct leads to come from Instagram without engaging.

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None of this is to say stop using Insta... I am on it all the time... but that is why I have had so much work from it. It is just a point that if you use it as a dumping ground for content then your gains are going to be slow and relatively intangible. You are playing a brand game, not a leads game. As a platform, it is not great in driving traffic to your website compared to LinkedIn and Facebook (for professional services businesses). So the analytics are largely irrelevant (unless of course, you engage a lot). For most business owners as well the numbers are so small that they are basically meaningless so seriously don’t waste your time looking at them... what is most important to spend that time on is engagement.

What if you can’t be bothered? Well, we think it is still important to have a presence, but if that is all you can give it I’d be making sure you can repurpose the content across Facebook and some of it on LinkedIn so that you are getting more bang for your buck.

Insta remains hugely valuable if you appeal to a niche or are part of a group that tends to follow each other. Tapping into those niche’s or natural groups is a great strategy to consider as well. It is a great way to show your brand and why you should be trusted. But you need to know why you are using it, and spend time where you get the best return.

FOUR - Facebook is pay to play but still the best for brand awareness.

Think Facebook is dead? That could be an expensive mistake.

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For B2B and services businesses Facebook is all about audience building and reach. I’ve chatted a lot about this in recent videos and on the podcast but you have to get out of the habit of thinking “ad” means “sale” on Facebook. Ad on facebook means attention and audience. It is the cheapest way to reach a targeted audience and leverage the content that you are already making so that more people see it and know who you are. Facebook ads are an amazingly “cheap” way to get the eyeballs that your website will never get purely from organic reach (what you get simply by posting on a social platform). Organic is important, don’t get me wrong, but ads will direct exponentially more people to your brand and if complemented by great content will give you the chance to nurture the reputation you want with the people who matter.

Why is it important to nurture your audience? Because for a lot of buying decisions it takes dozens of interactions to build brand trust. There are no silver bullets. It takes work, interactions and time.

Aside from reach and awareness, we have great success in building email lists off the back of Facebook ads. Valuable lists that clients can then use to nurture and build relationships with their audience over time. Yes, you have to invest in great content and the ads, but wouldn’t you prefer to own the audience for the long term?

FIVE - LinkedIn is best for organic right now

Out of all the social networks, LinkedIn is by far the best for “free” organic reach.

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What we have seen works best on LinkedIn is valuable blog posts, video and podcast content.

With LinkedIn, the algorithm is fairly basic, so it is important that your team or others are encouraged to engage with the content as soon as you publish it. For best results, think about putting it out around peak times like post 6 pm or lunch.

We have found our posts perform poorly in the morning, but much better during these peak times.

It’s also important to get early engagement (likes and comments), which is a factor in whether LinkedIn shares your piece more broadly.

In terms of “hot” content, there is no doubt at all that LinkedIn encourages and preferences video above all else in the feed. That is why you see so much of it now... and why it is always the same people... talk about an opportunity right? Imagine getting a few thousand people in your industry getting something valuable from your brand every few days?

The other thing to mention with LinkedIn is that it has changed a lot in the last 6 months. There are far fewer “LinkedIn police”, telling you what and how you should use the platform. It has become more entertaining and therefore engaging, and that is why more people are actually using it. Big surprise right? The better the content the more people want to check it out?! So you don’t need to be as hung up as in the past on what to make and put on LinkedIn, just start making it.

SIX - Email newsletters still work great and aren’t being utilised well

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This one might surprise you, but email newsletters are still a thing (and still very valuable).

Most of our clients (and also most of our newsletters), achieve an open rate of 25-40%. This is incredibly high compared to the average industry open rates of single digits. 

What does this mean? It means that if you create a list, and something valuable, you can build a relationship of trust with people on the list over time.

Not only do you get the opportunity to build trust, but you own the list! Using social media, there are always changes to algorithms and ultimately you are using someone else’s list. But having one yourself protects you from these changes.

So if you aren’t building a list and then nurturing it, you are failing to use a valuable tool to grow trust with your potential clients.

I bet to get back to publishing ours more!!

SEVEN - Search advertising is still a great way to generate leads.

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Last but definitely not least is the fact that somehow, someway, lots of firms still aren’t utilising search ads to grow their bottom line. It is pretty crazy to me whenever we do some research just how cheap buying leads can be, and why firms aren’t doing it. Maybe it is because it is not as cheap as it was... maybe it is pure ignorance?

The thing with search ads though is that it is hard to nail yourself. That is why we teamed up with Web3 to help our clients create targeted campaigns that work. What is important is conversion, not just the amount of leads, and getting landing pages that convert at a higher % simply means better outcomes and more clients.

So that’s it! I did run out of puff a bit with the last few, but I think you get the message! There is a huge amount of untapped opportunity out there, but you need to stay nimble and actually take advantage of it! 

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