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Compelling Content Drives Digital Sales—and How

By Joe Walsh and Burkey Belser
May 13, 2015
Compelling Content Drives Digital Sales—and How

Understanding and improving the role of branded content in your marketing, digital selling and other business development efforts.

In the first article in this series, we introduced the promise of a digital sales force. Managed and executed well, a digital sales force allows marketers to go direct to prospects and create interest and leads without as much hands on effort from your busy or otherwise BD challenged professionals. The holy grail, right? Yes, if you have compelling content.

Without compelling content, your website is a static brochure, your emails sit unopened, deleted or otherwise ignored and your social media and other channels are the equivalent of white noise. If a digital sales force is a new business engine, compelling content marketing is the jet fuel.

Smart marketers understand this and have plans to increase investment in content—creating a bit of an arm’s race for content that sells. This means the internal and external challenges of content creation will only escalate. What follows are ideas to help you win the race. We’ve split the ideas into tips to improve chatter content and the notion of focusing on anchor content.

Four tips for more compelling chatter content

No news here. Content marketing is the new black. Everyone’s talking about it, many are investing in it, all are wearing it, but few professional services firms are wearing it well. As background, content marketing is not new to professional services. McKinsey Consulting introduced McKinsey Quarterly in the ‘60s to counter the commoditization of strategy consulting at the time.

Ever since, with some standout exceptions, other professional services firms have invested in a relatively dry mix of newsletters, alerts and seminars. More recently, this “everyone’s-doing-it content marketing” looks for an audience in blogs, videos, social media posts, webinars and podcasts. Broadly, the same uninspiring fare is served through new digital distribution channels.

We call this chatter content. Nothing wrong with it, per se, but it could and should be more impactful and effective.

Tip one. Think of content as a salad bar—a balanced diet of content is good for your audience. There are very few readers of content these days, only scanners. Consider charts, tables, graphs, bullet lists, maps and other ways to deliver substantive information graphically. If you are dealing with all text content, use subheads and sidebars throughout your piece and try to keep it brief. 

Tip two. Use pictures and other tools purposefully. Eye-tracking studies of web and email marketing prove what people remember best in digital communications, and in this order: (1) Color; (2) Shape; (3) Numbers; (4) Pictures and (5) Words. The best uses of these design tools are not as decoration, but as alternate ways to deliver information. See tip one.

Tip three. Write benefit headlines instead of labels in all your content. Here’s an example, a litigation defense firm with a strong products liability practice typically makes “products liability practice” the headline. Juxtapose that with a plaintiff’s firm, the better communicator, who writes “holding manufacturers accountable for the quality of their products.” Lead with benefits.

Tip four. Deliver content like a business journalist, not a technician. Information based content marketing should be simple, clear, direct and logical. Also recommended are smart headlines (see above); strong, engaging overviews; intelligent analysis; and appropriate, straightforward vocabulary. Like a good journalist, tell good stories with your content. Marketing is really all about telling good stories and those that tell the best get remembered.

Anchor Content helps you do less better, trumping chatter content.

Anchor content? The analogy is a mall. All the little shops are your countless practice, service, products or industry areas in your firm. They promote themselves and look for traffic with everyday marketing things like legal and accounting rule changes or trend e-alerts, e-newsletters, speeches, seminars, podcasts, etc.

Standing alone, these small “shops” or bits of content could never earn the kind of traction the way anchor stores drive traffic at the mall. Anchor content works on the same principle. The idea is to choose three or four large content-based initiatives with the aim of fueling your digital sales force and giving more airtime to the every day alerts and such. The success of the little shops is directly correlated to the allure of the anchor content.

Branded anchor content in practice.

I grew up in marketing in the Andersen—Arthur Andersen and Andersen Consulting. We did scads of chatter content marketing like alerts on new regulations—we were very good at it. We also invested in higher-level anchor content programs. We owned these programs and did not share them with other firms and co-sponsors. This exclusivity and quality made them branded content.

Four examples: 

1. The CFO Excellence Awards. This national program is akin to and meant to replicate the success of EY’s entrepreneur of the year, but for CFOs. The CFO Excellence Awards were a series of events and programs that led to a CFO of the year in cities, regions and ultimately, nationally. Together, the program put targeted fannies in seats, resulted in earned media coverage, celebrated client success, resulted in white papers on areas of excellence, and allowed us to meet new CFOs as part of the application process.

2. The Power Breakfast Seminar Series. Again, this was a mixture of live events, press coverage, web content and more. The Power Breakfast Series was held in six to eight major U.S. cities, it would routinely draw 200+ C-level executives. It was for CEOs with speakers drawn from their ranks. The topics were strategic, not technical. We were the organizers and sole sponsor, not the speakers at the podium.

3. Dress for Success, a civic charitable initiative that we co-owned with a not for profit. Dress for Success is a charitable entity donating used suits or business attire along with interview and networking advice to disadvantage women looking to enter or renter the workforce. While we had other countless other charitable initiatives, this was our marquee community outreach program and our name was at the top of the marquee with Dress for Success in all the promotions. It was also a combination of live events and other outreach. You clean out your closet and take them to an event with other executives who have done the same.

4. Financial Executive Briefing. Financial Executive Briefing was a more technical bi-monthly magazine/event/and weekly update series that targeted lower level, but important accounting titles, like the controllers and accounting managers, in addition to the CFO. 

While these programs targeted a broad audience, the bulls-eye was the firm's
A-level clients and targets. A-level CFO targets were nominated for the awards. A-level CEOs were the speakers at the Power Breakfast and the invited guests. A-level targets were the major co-sponsors of Dress for Success. A-level controllers collaborated on the Financial Executive Briefing content. 

All of these anchor efforts sat a level above industry programs, service or practice area initiatives. The service areas and practices still did their own marketing, of course, they just were not required to do as much. The anchor content programs provided the industries and services air cover and prospect exposure they could not afford on their own.

Your take-away?

The idea of a digital sales force has great promise as a tool to demonstrate how marketing can generate and help to close leads. Compelling content, well presented, is essential to all things digital and non-digital, too. You can make your content more compelling with writing, design and other communication improvements. But you can make it shine by doing less of it better—applying the principles of anchor content creation.