Many executives do not view the content they distribute as intertwined with their organization’s unique product or service. However, the two are interchangeable. Your product or service has differentiators that cause your clients to select you instead of the competition. Those same factors apply in content marketing.
If your goal is to engage prospects and ultimately lead them to conversion, you must create content that keeps them engaged. Success comes from creating consumable pieces of content that together form a singular thought leadership message and distributing those pieces across multiple channels. You never know through what channel someone will engage with your brand (or branded content), so the message needs to be consistent.
There are a few simple rules to doing this. Your content and what you’re selling should meet four criteria. It must be:
Useful means the content, as well as your product or service, has a defined use for a target audience. It addresses:
- How do I use this?
- How does this help me?
- What problem does this solve for me?
Here’s an example: According to a recent IDC Research report, 49 percent of the entire U.S. population currently uses a smartphone. By 2017, that number is expected to reach 68 percent. That means that within four years, more than two out of every three Americans — regardless of age — will be connected via smartphone. Therefore, a useful product a company might offer could be a solar-operated phone charger. And useful content to distribute to a target audience may include “How to make your daily life easier with these top five iPhone apps.”
To be Relevant, the product, service or content must be new and interesting, and mean something to the market or industry. Your audience will ask:
- What does this mean to me?
- Do I need this?
Let’s say your organization provides a website portal that connects insurance companies. New and interesting content that means something might be, “How your health care plan will be affected by reform . . . and what you can do to prepare for it.”
In a world filled with noise, you must demonstrate how what you do is Differentiated from competitors and explain:
- How does your content, product and service compare to the competition?
- Is it unique?
Let’s go back to the smartphone example. If you sell or service iPhones and Android-platform models, think about creating engaging content that examines the needs of today’s smartphone user, and then go beyond the basic functionality.
It’s also imperative to understand your target audience and the target audience for each product. Android-based smartphones are primarily aimed at businesspeople. iPhones, for all their bells and whistles, are not. This differentiation has led to a lot of confusion in the marketplace when consumers compare one against the other. Understanding this allows smart marketers to create engaging content such as “The top 10 needs of businesspeople: A comparison of Android phones vs. iPhones.”
Finally, your product, service and content must be Available and easily obtained in any channel.
If you run a benefits company that works with employers, for example, health care reform provides a timely opportunity to help clients make sense of the landscape. This might entail delivering a variety of consumable content that’s available to them 24 hours a day, seven days a week, through any channel.
This could include a video that explains the difference in options available to employers. It could be a social media campaign that outlines the top five differences between the health care insurance exchanges and employer-sponsored health care. Or, it may be a series of print mailers or webinars, or even a dedicated microsite that’s filled with content that details what employers need to know.
When your goal is creating engaging content, your ability to consider — and address — each of these factors may be what’s required to transform engagement into measurable conversion.
As an organization grows, changes are inevitable.
New employees are added, promotions are made and job responsibilities shift.
But any time you have change, you have the potential for conflict. Few people are comfortable with change, and each person will react differently in making the adjustments necessary to move forward with the company.
The most important thing a CEO can do is to be active in confronting potential conflict. Conflict goes hand-in-hand with change. Employees begin to question management, co-workers and even themselves as they are forced outside of their comfort zones. Those questions can lead to misunderstandings that can lead to conflict, and that will ultimately slow your growth.
Don’t passively avoid potential conflict. Instead, actively engage members of your organization by providing the necessary forums both for you to communicate your strategy and vision and for them to communicate their concerns back to you. An active conversation will help drive your vision for the company through the organization and will also help foster your next generation of leaders as they take a more active role.
Only when employees are challenged to think — and to challenge you — will you maximize your organization’s potential. Do you want employees who don’t speak up when they recognize what may be a fatal flaw in your grand strategy? Or would you rather have employees who are actively thinking about the big-picture goals of the company and doing their part to contribute?
Regardless of what size company you run, it comes down to a simple choice.
It’s a choice between having employees acting like robots or acting like people. If you choose robots, you will have to have all the answers. If you choose people, you only have to have some of the answers because the employees will help you find the rest.
Engaging employees in conversations, meetings and decision-making helps them take ownership and helps you create a happier work force. If they are not allowed to speak, gossip and rumors will drag down your productivity.
Actively provide two-way communication. Let employees do the talking and hear what they have to say. The results may surprise you. Those closest to the customer often know best what needs to be done to improve sales, service or efficiency.
Too many CEOs lament the lack of good people to help take them to the next level. Maybe the problem is more CEOs need to create good people rather than driving them off with a work environment that’s better suited to a good robot.
Legend has it that in 1505, shortly after Michelangelo’s David was placed at the main entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio, Pope Julius II marveled at its brilliance and questioned the artist about how the masterpiece was created.
As the story goes, Michelangelo responded, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”
Whether this conversation actually happened is anybody’s guess, but the exchange provides a glimpse into the mind of a genius who could see what others could not.
Today, similar visionaries populate the landscape. In the business world, they often manifest themselves in the form of entrepreneurs.
One of the greatest skill sets that entrepreneurs possess is the ability to balance calculated risk-taking with a dogged pursuit of ideas they believe will succeed. This is combined with a passion for the solutions, products and services being offered, and a keen understanding of the marketplace. Entrepreneurs have a very good sense of what people will or will not buy, and are willing to continuously tweak their solutions to adapt to changing needs, wants and desires.
But draw back the curtain a bit more and you’ll find that an entrepreneur’s real mystique lies elsewhere. It is his or her mysterious sixth sense used for noticing gaps in the marketplace that others fail to see. It is the ability to understand the gap and develop effective solutions that fill it.
Thirty years ago, who could have predicted how ubiquitous smartphones would be?
Sure, if you watched episodes of Star Trek in the 1960s you noticed those nifty communicators that Captain Kirk and his crew used. They not-too-surprisingly look like the early flip phones of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
But today’s smartphone — essentially a pocket computer that packs so much power — required a different kind of vision, much like Michelangelo seeing the angel in the marble.
Most of the savviest entrepreneurs I know go through life looking at what will be once you remove everything that doesn’t belong. They see opportunities to create markets where markets do not or have not existed. Their efforts, and vision for what could be, fuel the economy and create jobs.
Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart, however. Even the best ideas often fail. Depending on which source you believe, as many as nine out of every 10 new business start-ups won’t make it to year three.
Two other factors play critical roles in bringing what you see to life — timing and people.
Having the right idea at the wrong time can doom even the most passionate of efforts. And if you don’t surround yourself with smart and capable people who complement both your strengths and weaknesses, you’ll either swiftly run out of bandwidth or be unable to effectively execute on the ideas.
All of which brings us back to the idea of vision.
How important is vision and this mysterious ability to see what’s not there?
It is the true crux of success. Vision is knowing what’s needed for the right market at the right time at the right price point. It is understanding through which channels the solutions need to be delivered. And it is recognizing how to best amplify an idea so you can reach as large an audience of potential consumers as possible and maximize revenue opportunities
Michelangelo summed up his artistic philosophy simply: “Every block of stone has a statue inside it. It is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”
As entrepreneurs, the question is therefore straightforward: How will you discover the next great business idea? And more important, can it have as lasting an impact as David?
Whether in the workplace or in sports, teamwork can produce extraordinary results. While this seems like a relatively simple task, teamwork does not happen automatically. There are a number of factors that are required for a team to develop and work cohesively and seamlessly.
At Clark-Reliance, we attempt to always use the following rules in our interactions:
Help each other be right, not wrong.
This is the underpinning of all successful teamwork. Our employees are encouraged to try to help their colleagues make a correct decision. This helps to avoid duplication of tasks. It also helps to avoid tasks being executed which are not in the best interest of the company.
Look for ways to make ideas work, not for reasons they won’t.
Make sure that you are promoting listening skills. Never dismiss an idea from someone. Listen to what someone else has to contribute and to try to help make that idea work.
If in doubt, check it out!
Don’t make negative assumptions about each other.
Simply stated — don’t engage in water cooler banter. Instead of fostering negative communication, create an environment of positive communication. If you are uncertain about something, go to the person directly and verify the facts.
Help each other win, and take pride in each other’s victories.
Celebrate your co-worker’s accomplishments. Share compliments. You will find that your enthusiasm is contagious.
Speak positively about each other and the organization.
When you have a chance (internally or externally) speak positively about your colleagues or your company. This can be at press opportunities or charitable events. Always promote the company and your colleagues.
Maintain a positive mental attitude no matter what the circumstances.
The adage, “Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it,” can be applied in life and business.
There will inevitably be difficult circumstances where difficult decisions will need to be made in a decisive manner. You have to carry a positive attitude no matter the outcome of those decisions. Do everything with enthusiasm because if you have a good attitude, it will come back to you in return.
Act with initiative and courage.
This is Clark-Reliance’s “empowerment team rule.” We spend a lot of time ensuring that everyone in our organization understands that they have the right to participate and are encouraged to take the initiative to help drive positive outcomes, no matter how small they believe their idea is.
We want our employees to feel comfortable to take the initiative to do what they know is right. We want them to understand what the company is trying to accomplish.
Whatever you want, give it away.
This is troubling for some. For example if you want someone to trust you and have them respect and trust you, then you need to engender those same values in someone else.
If you want to be trusted and respected, you have to be trusted and respectful as well. Those who trust and respect others are generally those most trusted and respected by others.
Don’t lose faith.
There are always going to be times when the rules have been stressed, strained and broken. As long as everyone keeps pushing in the same direction, it will heal itself.
We want everyone to have fun doing what they do. We are direct and serious about running a successful business, but we want employees to have a positive, fulfilled and enriching career, and so should you.
Matthew P. Figgie is chairman of Clark-Reliance, a global, multi-divisional manufacturing company with sales in more than 80 countries, serving the power generation petroleum, refining and chemical processing industries. He is also chairman of Figgie Capital and the Figgie Foundation, a member of the University Hospitals Board of Directors, corporate co-chairman for the 2013 Five Star Sensation and chairman of the National Kidney Walk.
Rick Solon is president and CEO of Clark-Reliance and has more than 35 years of experience in manufacturing and operating companies. He is also the chairman of the National Kidney Foundation Golf Outing.