Want to build trust quickly? Teach someone something they didn’t already know.
Answer the questions they have, not just about your product, but about anything and everything happening in your industry. Bring your insights to the most relevant conversations your customers are having, even if it doesn’t directly relate to the specific problem your company solves.
By meeting your customers where they are, you position yourself and your company as the ultimate industry resource. You demonstrate that you not only know your product well, but you know them well — you can make their lives easier and bring them closer to achieving their business goals.
It can sound simple in theory, but most companies struggle to successfully implement this approach. They’re stuck thinking like marketers instead of thinking about what matters most — their customers.
While “customer-centric” is another buzzword that will certainly be used and abused in the coming years, the term’s logic is obvious. Buyers have never had more options, and they’re more empowered than ever before. They don’t want to be sold, they want to learn. By truly putting your customer first, you can break through the noise and stand out.
Many of today’s brands don’t understand this concept yet, but the ones who do are positioning themselves as their industry’s go-to educators. They are establishing themselves as the ultimate resource for their target customers, employees, partners, investors, and the media.
This is the mindset that successful brands must adopt — it’s not a question of if, but a question of when. The sooner a company appreciates the importance of these shifts, the more likely they are to be in business five years from now.
You can’t become the go-to resource for your industry overnight. It requires a focused, consistent, and well-planned strategy to be executed across different channels and incorporating a diverse content offering — bylines, blog posts, e-books, videos, infographics, and beyond.
If you’re looking for a get-rich-quick growth hack that generates thousands of leads overnight, you’ve come to the wrong place. But if you believe that becoming the most trusted, respected industry resource in your market will generate long-lasting audience loyalty, then keep reading. This guide provides you with actionable, battle-tested steps for building your brand into the ultimate resource.
“So, what are you doing for content now?”
This is the question we ask prospective clients on every discovery call, and we get one of two answers about 90 percent of the time:
#1 “Well, Jeff from our team writes some posts, but his time is spread pretty thin.”
#2 “We have a freelancer we hired to create content for us.”
Something is usually better than nothing, but if you’re only creating content when Jeff has enough time, you’re not going to differentiate yourself from competitors that have a well-oiled content machine and years of credibility in the bank.
Even though content marketing’s benefits are clear, many brands struggle to effectively harness it in support of their business objectives. Many companies have a reactive content strategy. Someone on the team gets an idea for a post or there’s a new product launch happening soon that needs some supportive content. There’s no long-term plan or strategy for why the content is being created in the first place, and how it will be used after that.
Here’s what’s wrong with that approach:
We believe this is a fundamentally broken approach. There’s is a big difference between executing a content strategy and simply posting on your company blog.
Marketing has traditionally been about reach: how many impressions, views, or clicks can you attract? These metrics have driven marketing efforts for years. While they’re certainly important, they only tell part of the story.
Our approach centers around the idea that marketers need to transform their mindset and stop thinking like marketers. They should be thinking like (and creating content like) a media company instead.
The best media companies don’t focus solely on reach alone — they also focus on depth. They emphasize engagement, community building, and long-term audience development. While customer-centricity is a relatively new brand idea, it’s what media companies have been doing forever. It’s also why hiring journalists to create your content has tremendous benefits. With a cohesive editorial plan, the best media companies build trust with a targeted audience before eventually “renting” access to third-party advertisers in search of exposure.
This is how you should think about your own content marketing efforts. Your goal should be to tell stories and convey information that speaks to your target audience, establishing yourself as a trusted source of information they want to know. It’s a long process, but after gaining credibility and authority with your audience, you can promote your product and services instead of merely sell access to advertisers. The entire sales process and funnel gets flipped — you’ve already established trust with your audience.
Just because it sounds simple doesn’t mean it is. You not only have to shift your mindset, but your effort must also be highly targeted. Over the years, we’ve developed a process that streamlines this execution. Let’s dive into it now.
We are an outcome-based company, and we believe it’s critical to clear target objective for everything you do. When it comes to content, the objective isn’t just to create some blog posts or an eBook. It’s to create a Conversation Monopoly.
A Conversation Monopoly (CM) is all about having complete ownership over the conversation that best aligns with your company’s mission. It’s about achieving top-of-mind awareness for the media, prospective employees, potential customers, and investors. As your CM grows over time, you become the most trusted, credible, go-to resource for anything related to the conversation you set out to own.
At the center of a CM is the core conversation. The conversation isn’t just a keyword or phrase — it’s a theme, idea, or industry niche.
To build your CM, you must execute a multifaceted strategy that combines different distribution channels: paid, social, earned, and owned media.
Each channel supports the other. You should constantly be adding fuel to them and never taking your foot off the gas. You never truly have a CM — there will always be others working to join the conversation — so it’s critical to push out new content consistently and remain top of mind.
Once you’ve identified the conversation you want to own, your next step is to develop assets that support your push toward monopolization.
Our strategy combines all distribution channels and content types into one clear, focused, consistent strategy.
Pillar page: this is the center of the strategy, and should be viewed as the primary hub that links to all content that supports the core conversation. Think of this like a table of contents that readers can easily navigate to find the most relevant content. <should we call out that that’s what this page is?
Support pages: these offer deep dives into the subtopics presented on the pillar page. These will normally be blog posts, but can also include infographics, videos, or other types of un-gated content (you don’t need an email address to access them).
Gated content: this content appears on the pillar page and support pages. It encourages readers to exchange their contact info for something valuable, like a 101 guide or industry report.
Byline content: this is content published under a founder’s or executive’s name on a targeted media outlet. This content can also be called a guest post, contributed content, or as we like to call them: Founder Insights.
Every piece of content needs to be easy to navigate, leading users directly from one page to another in the series. Each subsequent post links back to the former page, creating an anchored, interrelated web of content that supports your core conversation.
A high-level benefit of creating a Conversation Monopoly is that you become an in-demand industry resource. You can expect to see some tangible benefits see after successfully executing this strategy:
Next we’ll dive into the execution phase. We’ll walk you through the step-by-step process for planning and executing this strategy.
If you’re creating content that doesn’t align with your company’s objectives, you’re wasting time, capital, and resources.
In this post, we’ll explain the actionable steps you can take to develop your strategy and position your company as the ultimate industry resource.
It’s critical to get this part right because it’s central to your entire strategy. The conversation you identify should represent what your company has to offer, what your target audience values most, and contribute to a relevant conversation in your industry.
That conversation should be broad enough that you can create lots of content around it, but specific enough that you can go deep on several relevant subtopics.
Don’t forget: if you’re doing research and find relevant content that already exists, you must make your content ten times better than whatever you find. If that’s not your objective from the start, you’re doomed to fail.
How to take action:
Create a list of all possible conversations in your industry that you could possibly own. Identify the most relevant keywords and current top-ranking pages to understand what you’re up against. While it’s perfectly okay to target multiple conversations, they should all be related in some way.
If you are struggling to come up with ideas, use these questions as a guide:
After you decide on the conversation to own, it’s time to start researching. Deep-dive research will entail looking at all industry outlets and competitors to find information related to the conversation you’re targeting own. Collect data from reports, whitepapers, and other guides — use anything that will help you create the best content possible.
Once your research is complete, you’ll create a pillar page framework. This will serve as the primary hub for all your other content that covers the same conversation. It will introduce the conversation and highlight all the questions your content will answer. You should endeavor to cover everything relevant to that topic. Put yourself in the mind of your target customers and think about the information that they would find most helpful.
How to find subtopics for your chapters:
Step 1: Start by googling terms related to the conversation to identify what people are already talking about — make a list of all the top-ranking pages to see what you’re up against. Take notes on what they cover, what’s interesting to them, and why a reader might come back again and again to this outlet.
Step 2: Create a brain dump of all the questions that someone might have on this topic. Your goal is to identify every detail of the conversation and topic you want to own.
Get your whole team involved. Ask your top executives, sales team, marketing team, customer service team — anyone who has unique insights on what customers may be asking or talking about.
Step 3: Search each keyword in Buzzsumo to identify which articles are getting the most social engagement. Even if you don’t have a paid account, you can still use the free version to get a sense of what people are liking and sharing.
Step 4: Collect this information and go through each keyword, identifying what they’re doing well, what opportunities they’re missing, and how you can make yours even better.
With your research complete, it’s time to refine what you will cover and create an overall outline for the content.
You should think of your content in terms of chapters. You are ultimately creating a “book,” and the pillar page is your introduction and table of contents.
How to create your chapters:
Step 1: Look through every topic idea and question you found during your research and separate them into different categories (or chapters).
Step 2: For each chapter, map out either what the content will cover or what question it will answer.
#4: Create Your Content Map.
With the high-level pillar page mapped out, it’s time to come up with titles for each piece of content. For each Conversation Monopoly, we recommend mapping out the following objectives for every 90 days:
Below is an example of how we outline our pillar pages from the start:
Your first piece of gated content will be a longform piece titled “The Ultimate Guide to XYZ.” It will be a downloadable PDF that serves as the master resource. It will also contain all the content from your series (the pillar page plus all the associated chapters).
You can offer this gated content to a visitor in exchange for their email address. People generally have stuffed inboxes these days, so you need to make this offer as compelling as possible. Put yourself in their shoes — if you were on your site as a customer, would you download that gated content?
Your byline content (or Founder Insights as we call them) will often echo your subtopic blog content. Because these will be published on media outlets, they have to be written in a less promotional way and shouldn’t reference your product or service at all. This content should include your industry insights, personal anecdotes, and leadership advice. That’s it!
Before you consider the planning phase complete, ask yourself these three questions:
With your initial content plan mapped out, you’re ready to begin creating your content.
Founders and executives just don’t have time to write 10,000-20,000 words of content. They barely have enough time to answer an email.
We believe the most effective, scalable process for content creation is to use a team of dedicated content creators, whether internal or outsourced. They should be the ones doing the heavy lifting here. These creators should be responsible for all the research, content mapping, and interviewing.
We believe journalists are absolutely the best people to create a brand’s content. They’re skilled in storytelling, writing for an audience, and asking thoughtful questions that extract unique insights.
Here’s the process to follow if an outsourced or internal writer will be creating content based on your executive’s insights.
Step 1: Question mapping
Map out 10-15 questions based on the topics your content series will cover. These questions shouldn’t have easily Googleable answers. People are busy, so don’t waste their time with easily searchable questions. Think of new conversation-starters that will extract someone’s unique insights and opinions. All of the answers will be woven into the content created after that.
We recommend providing the list of questions you create three to five days ahead of the call to give the founders and executives time to think about their answers.
Step 2: Insight extraction
There are two different methods we’ve found to be effective for extraction: phone calls and emails.
For some executives, it’s easier to conversationally extract their ideas in person or over the phone. For others, we’ve found it’s more effective if they block off an hour to write down their answers.
The latter approach lets you capture their voice and writing style, and also gives them time to think deeply, rather than just answer off the cuff in between 17 other meetings on their calendar that day.
Either way, you need to end this step with answers to the questions.
Step 3: Content frameworks for all blog posts and byline content
With your expert insights gathered and the content series mapped out, it’s now time to create detailed outlines. These outlines should provide a thorough summary of the core talking points in each piece of content, and should provide a detailed overview of what you’ll cover.
Key stakeholders should review and approve these frameworks before moving forward with any content creation. This way you can identify any gaps or big changes before actual content creation begins.
Step 4: Create the initial blog content
At this point, you’re ready to create the content. It’s critical to keep your target audience in mind at every step of this phase. This content shouldn’t speak to everyone — it should speak directly to your target audience.
Here are a few things to keep in mind as you create your content:
Step 4: Content feedback and approvals
Once your content is complete, the editing and approval process begins. When you work with busy executives, you’re not going to get anywhere if you ask them to edit when they have time. They won’t ever have time, and those pieces deserve .
We suggest blocking out time to ask them to read through the pieces and provide their feedback. We’ve found that it’s best to have their feedback in the actual Google Doc (as comments and suggested edits) rather than run through it over the phone. This helps you gain a clearer understanding of their feedback.
The first time you use this process to create content, you should expect heavy feedback and edits during the first few rounds. This is 100 percent normal — it takes time to get accustomed to someone else’s voice, tone, and writing style. The scale benefits that come from this process are typically realized after the content series is complete. From there, the approval/feedback process should be much faster.
It’s critical to maintain momentum at this stage and keep your content machine moving. We’ve found the most effective way to do that is by using a project management tool. Our go-to tool for this is Trello, and we’ve created a public board that’s free for anyone to copy. (You’re welcome, competitors. May the best ideas win!)
At the end of your editing process, make sure to get a final sign-off that the content is completely good to go.
Step 5: Byline content
If you’re following this process, byline content will typically mirror the blog content but will be formatted for the media outlet where you want to publish it.
You can’t submit promotional content to worthwhile publications. Don’t waste your time trying to sneak in backlinks or flattering mentions of your company. These sites have editors who will see right through your attempt at fluffing up your piece — it will annoy them, they’ll hate you, and they’ll deny your content. They might even ignore all your future pitches.
While these limitations may seem frustrating, byline content is really an opportunity to educate the outlet’s audience and create value for their readers (who might be your target audience to boot).
Most sites will have a detailed description of how they accept contributed content (if they accept it at all). If they have this information posted publicly, be sure to follow it exactly.
Step 6: Create the Ultimate Guide
With all your content complete, it’s now time to make the gated content. This will be a longform piece of content that will condense the blog posts as one PDF, including visuals and graphics.
It’s now time to move to the final chapter: How to Distribute Your Content.
It doesn’t matter how good your content is if it doesn’t get in front of your target audience.
Companies often have a “build it and they will come” mentality. You should adopt the mindset that you’ve created something insanely valuable, so you want to share it with people who need it.
Our content distribution strategy consists of two parts: earned media and owned media channels.
Earned media is where your byline content (founder insights) will be distributed. These are the guest posts or op-eds, depending on the outlet. Here’s how to identify and secure these opportunities.
Step 1: Identify what your audience reads.
Build a list of all the outlets where your target audience consumes information.
For example, if you are working in the real estate industry you can search for terms like “real estate news,” “real estate media,” and “real estate blogs” to find trusted outlets.
Step 2: Understand their process.
A majority of media sites now accept some form of guest content from external experts. Go to one of these sites and identify their process for accepting content — you can usually find this by searching the outlet for terms like “guest submissions,” “contributor content,” or “op-eds.”
Every outlet has a different process for submissions. Some will request a short summary of the article you plan to create, while others will ask you to provide the entire article for their consideration.
If the outlet lists a process, it’s critical that you follow it. There is no better way to piss of an editor than to submit content that doesn’t follow their detailed process. Imagine how annoying it is for an editor to receive an email asking about guest posts when there’s already an entire section of the site that explains their process.
Step 3: Pitch your content.
Follow the outlet’s process and reach out to them. Pay close attention to their instructions. If they say don’t follow up, don’t follow up. Otherwise you should be polite but persistent
Step 4: Maximize the reach.
Once your content goes live, you need to push it out to your audience.
At the end of the day, media outlets rely on site traffic to make money. If the content you create generates traffic for them, your chances of earning another opportunity to contribute drastically increases.
Our top channels for byline distribution are Linkedin Pulse and Medium. To dig deeper into how this works, read our article How to Distribute Byline Content with Linkedin and Medium.
“Owned media” is just another name for your company blog. Here you have complete control, since it’s your own channel.
Step 1: Publish all the content at once.
Instead of posting content one piece at a time, post all of it at once.
Step 2: Interlink content.
Read through the content and link different keywords to other content in the series, or other content on your site. It’s helpful to pick the same keyword or phrase to link back to the pillar page.
Step 3: Set up an email capture for gated content.
On your pillar page and each blog post, there should be several offers to download the relevant gated content. There are a number of free tools to set this up, but our favorite tool is Sumo.com.
Sumo lets you manage popups, slide-ins, and hello bars at the top of the page. It encourages users who visit each page to download your content in exchange for their email address. Think of it like a simple lead form.
Step 4: Integrate into sales and marketing.
You should view this content strategy as a weapon. Now you just need to find ways to deploy it. Here’s a quick checklist we recommend following to maximize the reach of each piece of content:
For more on distribution, check out our webinar, How to Get an ROI From Media and Content.