Seize the day, you specialized engineers, you building typology experts, you niche market design gurus. Now is your time to shine with content writing.
Before I share my five reasons why specialty consultants are especially well positioned to benefit from content marketing, I need to debunk a popular misconception among professional service providers about their clients. Contrary to the proselytizing of marketers preoccupied with the 8-second rule for engagement, clients’ attention spans will sustain lengthy, nuanced discussions about their areas of interest. Content marketing is about sharing high value information to attract your ideal client. Whether we’re talking about case studies or conference white papers, blog posts or research reports, engagement letters or technical treatises, content is appealing to a client in direct proportion to its relevance to their current challenges and goals.
Once you demonstrate how the information is applicable to your client’s situation, which, admittedly, does require some initial hustle, an enticing and instantly comprehensible hook, you are then obligated to drill down and provide evidence of your deep knowledge of specific problems and their solutions. The objective of content writing, as with all marketing initiatives, is to elicit further interaction between the prospect and your company, but, in this case, a serious investment in describing prescriptive and practical applications to industry challenges is a requirement. According to a leading business growth expert, the dedication to write 2,000 to 2,500 words that are “worth reading” for your client can directly benefit your bottom line. Write specifically for the reader who knows what they want and is, therefore, already primed for a partner, and you’re more than halfway there to the conversion.
Specialty consultants are particularly well equipped for content writing because a close alignment exists between the work and the mission. Recently, a friend asked me to describe my approach to writing. Before responding, I considered my personal journey over the last few years to identify what I do well as a writer and where I specifically want to focus my efforts, my mission.
My friend works for one of the most original planning and design practices that I’ve encountered in years. Uppermost in the minds of the architects and engineers that work at this firm is the idea of enabling and supporting what they call “active community.” From traffic analysis and GIS modeling to the planning and implementation of bike trails and parks, an array of services and expertise has been amassed in service of a defined mission. In some ways, my friend embodies her firm’s singularity in calling. She is an experienced marketer for the A/E/C industry, as well as a personal trainer and a Wilderness First Responder. (Yes, that’s a thing, and, yes, she’s a bad ass.) She has found ways to combine working with doing.
In summary, a short distance exists between my friend’s “work” and what she does, between her expertise and her life’s mission…which is precisely the advantage specialty consultants have over large competitors serving multiple client types and market sectors.
And, now, five reasons why content marketing and its focus on a clearly defined audience can really, really work for you specialists.
1. In 10 Seconds Flat, You Can Describe Your Ideal Customer Profile
Never underestimate the power of a person who knows exactly what they want. A chief communication challenge faced by large, full-service practices is that these firms serve multiple masters. Specialists are on staff, individuals who can intelligently and succinctly identify the concerns and requirements of the clients that they serve. However, to do the two-minute elevator pitch for the firm becomes a different and inherently more difficult kind of challenge.
Typically, the first casualty is specificity. Big shops often speak in generalities in their marketing writing because the objective becomes about capturing, in as few words as possible, all that they can do and be for not just this client but also that client, as well as those clients. Specialty consultants initially have to spend less time (and less words) making their target clientele feel special, because fewer demands are placed on the language. Because you, as the specialist, have a select audience, you get to skip ahead to the fun stuff: why and how you are equipped to solve specific problems. Your writing gets to the point that much faster, including describing in immediate and consequential terms how to alleviate some of those issues that cause your clients to wake in the middle of the night in cold sweats.
Which brings me to the next obvious casualty of business writing that attempts to be the be all and end all for too many clients: empathy.
2. You’ve Been There, Done That, and Lived to Write About It
It’s much easier to talk about yourself when you’re not sure exactly with whom you are conversing. Let me tell you about myself, especially, everything that makes me wonderful, because I have no idea what makes you tick or what’s important to you. I’ve been on that date. Haven’t you? What a drag.
The inability to be consistently relevant—to a particular audience, at any given moment—is why large multi-disciplinary practices serving multiple markets may be at a disadvantage with content writing. The specialist knows his or her audience. He or she is ideally only writing to this audience, and the sympathetic tone that is struck feels genuine because the referenced market research and resulting data are authentic, often originally sourced, and typically based on qualitative best practice case studies.
In my opinion, relevance is the number one rule of effective content writing; you are sharing information only because it has value to your ideal client.
This empathetic mindset (it’s never about me, it's always about the client) requires some discipline, but, again, the specialist has the advantage over the full-service practice because he or she can draw on a surplus of similar experiences. The best content writing strategies have a limited focus and, consequently, can “go deeper” and be more relevant, because the client has already prescribed the parameters for the discussion. By following the client’s lead when deciding what to emphasize (or not), the specialist can frame the diagnosis of a problem so that the story really resonates. Also, by focusing on functionality when dissecting a solution, the specialist can describe in depth potential roadblocks and provide root cause analysis, which are concerns of utmost importance to a client attempting to evaluate project ROI.
3. You Can Deliver Verified, Quality Content
At some point during their professional careers, many professional service providers have worked on the other side of the table in the client’s seat or as the client’s representative. Some have also acted or provided recommendations in the past based on the viewpoints of real estate or financing advisors or governing agencies. There are many seats at the table, all of which can provide insight into how to approach a project. These differing perspectives are invaluable when channeled into specific problem-solving scenarios. A service provider’s statement of qualification takes on renewed legitimacy when he or she can provide evidence of real-life experiences with named entities, solving discernible problems.
Content marketing embraces the messy outcomes, both successes and failures, in pursuit of innovation through shared knowledge.
Real-life, practical applications (read: field experience) are the basic fodder for conversation on the way toward weightier, more productive dialogue between you and your client. Here, too, the specialist has an advantage, because he or she can be precise about which project elements affected what outcomes, as well as how and when.
A number of client responses will alert you to the fact that your content is considered by a prospect to be valuable and to be trusted. First and foremost, they will share this information within their own organization or professional network. In essence, you have been invited into the inner circle and your writing has initiated the beginning of a dialogue. More tangible engagement comes next, including being asked to pitch your services in person, but don’t underestimate how effective it is to have verified, high quality content working for you in advance of a meeting, providing you with a strong foundation of credibility.
4. Your Experts are in Demand
Content marketing relies on having examples of proven experience working in a team setting with other professionals. In recent years, the architecture and design industry has favored the words “ideation” and “to ideate” almost to the point of making the language nonsensical. However, if we think of the sharing of ideas in creative terms and remember that the conception, development, and implementation of a concept (the full thought cycle) is a multi-stage process, suddenly, positioning oneself as an expert in a field becomes less about isolated writing deliverables and more about sustaining an ongoing conversation about a particular subject.
For the specialist, entering the conversation can be a no-brainer. You are not expected to have all the answers, just some specific observations, solutions, and insight into one or two aspects of an industry trend. You are expected to contribute. And, because you are an integral part of a compilation of perspectives assembled to tackle an idea or theme or problem, you are in demand.
I’m a strong proponent of the one-two punch of content marketing, combining publishing with public speaking. So-called “thought leadership” writing has a number of quantifiable benefits, from establishing industry credibility by defining and expanding upon a specific position to creating the necessary quantity of content for substantial “time on page” and for sharable points of knowledge for social media. When you combine a speaking opportunity with a position paper, the credibility factor skyrockets. Participation in conferences, programs, and panels is an unspoken third-party endorsement that (a.) what you have to say has value and (b.) an outside organization or person is willing to be accountable for your claims of legitimacy. This courtesy is extended to whatever you write in association with the event.
5. The Internet Loves a Specialist
Finally, because you have expertise to share that is relevant to a specific audience in a specific field addressing a specific issue, the internet loves you. Or, rather, search engines love you.
In an article I wrote last September about optimizing text using SEO best practices, I advocated for a balanced mix of targeted keywords, long tail keywords, and Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) keywords, which are closely related terms. But, I argued, even more impactful is achieving a natural flow with content that is both timely and goes into detail about a specific subject. Google’s crawlers often like my writing because keywords make sense in my body text and headers; the language flows naturally.
Michael Costigan, the business growth expert that I referenced earlier in this article, does a much better job of describing why you should not write an article or post for a search term. He reasons that you are better off scoring for many terms that are searched by people who actually know what they want than you would be by focusing on increasing the rankings of select non-competitive terms. In other words, write to the audience who is already knowledgeable about your topic of expertise, using the full spectrum of terminology and rich language appropriate for this particular subject—and then bring something new to the discussion. Your writing will get read and receive comments, as well as be shared, tweeted, and liked.