If you’re the CEO, CMO or owner of a professional services firm (custom software development, systems integrator, accounting firm, life coach, cat psychologist), you’ve probably been bombarded with the need to use content marketing in your business. You may have even participated in the mental debate about whether content marketing cannibalizes your business.
And you may have already convinced yourself that the key to content marketing success is to give away your secret sauce.
Ok, great. You’ve decided to do what hundreds, even thousands of other professional services firms have decided to do: blog, publish eBooks, hold webinars, create infographics.
But I’m afraid today, with content shock a very real possibility, you might have to go a little further to really stand out.
And how exactly can you stand out when everybody else is creating content? Let me suggest you consider becoming an online learning company.
I’m not talking about actually changing your business model – I’m talking about changing your marketing model.
If this seems like a lot of work, it is – but not any more than what you may already be doing with your current content marketing efforts.
Creating an Online Learning Center
Copyblogger CEO Brian Clark recently introduced the concept of the online learning center as a content marketing strategy during a webinar on the New Rainmaker website.
Instead of blogging and publishing eBooks as lead generation tools, create a learning center instead. Organize your content into a series of courses, each with several lessons. Invite your prospects to register for your learning center, and educate them on a topic they want to learn about.
And in the process, you’ll teach your prospects to become customers, so when it’s time to ask them for the order, becoming your client will be a foregone conclusion.
The concept is not new actually. We were doing it at Powered.com while I was working there in the early 2000s (ironically, Powered’s initial name was NotHarvard.com, pointing to its education-based model. It later had to change its name after a lawsuit filed by Harvard).
In its earliest incarnation, Powered was an online learning platform used for marketing purposes.
For example, we hosted a digital photography school on behalf of Hewlett-Packard’s digital camera line. In the digital photography learning center we took prospects through a series of modules that taught the basics of photography.
At the end of the course you were presented with “recommended equipment” for the budding Ansel Adams. It was a brilliant marketing strategy that worked like a charm.
But now the technology to build your own learning center is easily accessible. Using a few WordPress plugins (or the Rainmaker Platform), any professional services firm can build their own.
3 Steps to a Successful Online Learning Center Strategy
In the New Rainmaker webinar, Clark explains in detail how to create a successful media-based content marketing strategy using the learning center approach. I’ve simplified it a little bit, boiling it down to three steps – but you should check out the recorded webinar for more details.
1. Invite Prospects to Register For Your Learning Center
The traditional content marketing formula is to blog frequently in order to attract your prospects to your website, then offer them an eBook or white paper to convert them into leads. You nurture your leads by sending a regular newsletter that includes offers for additional higher level engagement content until they’re ready to buy.
With the learning center concept you create a membership site and ask your prospects to sign up in order to gain access to free, in-depth, course-like content.
Clark says this has a unique psychological impact on your prospects, because essentially you’re turning your site into an app.
We’re so accustomed to signing up for the newest social media platform, registering online for our airline’s frequent flyer program, or signing up for online bill pay – why not get your prospects up to sign up for a free online learning center?
2. Organize Your Topics into Courses
Clark also discusses the concept of cornerstone content. After first creating a profile of your audience archetypes and discover the topics they care about (as it relates to your product/service) through keyword research, organize these topics into cornerstone content. This cornerstone content becomes your courses.
Clark used this concept to successfully launch Copyblogger with his “Copywriting 101” blog series.
What is cornerstone content? These are the broad topics that your prospects care about – a lot. Within each broad topic there are many aspects and details they need to know before they can do business with you. Each one of these details can be the lessons within the course.
You can deliver these lessons as podcasts, webinars or articles. String together these lessons together into courses – your cornerstone content.
3. Sell an Intermediary Product
I know you sell consulting services, and that’s all you want to do. You don’t want to be in the product business – you want to be in the services business.
But let me ask you to rethink this.
In his classic book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert Cialdini lays out six persuasion principles marketers have used effectively for years. In his second principle, commitment and consistency, Cialdini says that we have a deep desire to be consistent. Once we’ve committed to something we’re then more inclined to take actions consistent with our initial action.
By convincing your prospects to sign up for your online learning center, they’re making a small but significant commitment to you and your content. Now they’re more likely to take actions that are consistent with that decision, such as buying your low-cost product.
Then if you create a low-priced entry-level product (an encapsulated taste of your vast knowledge), they’re deepening their commitment to you. The mere act of spending a little bit of money with your business makes them more inclined to buy high-ticket services from you in the future.
For example you could offer a book or an advanced course, or even a low-priced app.
Clark cites the example of StudioPress, Copyblogger’s premium line of WordPress templates. The strategic role StudioPress plays is to provide a database of super-committed prospects who are more likely to purchase higher ticket items than non-buyers. The irony, as Clark describes it, is that StudioPress isn’t a loss leader at all – it’s a highly profitable business!
As a professional services provider, you traffic in knowledge – your hard-earned knowledge gained from years of study and experience. The traditional approach to selling professional services, the direct sales outbound approach, came with a major flaw: how do you communicate your value and convince people to hire you for your expertise?
Content marketing solves this problem because, as Robert Rose of the Content Marketing Institute recently said “instead of describing your value, your marketing provides value.”
This is contrary to the old-school sales mantra of “never giving away free knowledge,” but this approach works spectacularly well.
And now that everybody agrees that content marketing is the way to go, you must find a way to differentiate yourself. I recommend taking the learning center approach by leveraging the psychological effect created when you offer a “free app” like your airline, utility company and social network does.
You then gradually escalate your prospect’s commitment with a low-cost product, until they finally reach the natural conclusion and become a full-blown, loyal customer.
Is it hard? Does it take effort? Yes it does, but not any more than regular blogging, writing eBooks, holding webinars, and sharing everything on social media.
Will you take the plunge and become an online learning provider?