Content marketing asks companies to open up and share valuable information. To some, this can feel like giving away a secret recipe. But after seeing success in other companies, some marketers are loosening up and changing their tune.
This corporate training firm overcame reluctance and started content marketing in 2013. Now, content generates 20% higher clickthrough rates in email and 83% of the email channel’s leads. This case study outlines the four steps the team took and the principles guiding this strategy.
Companies that make a living through content can be reluctant to share it. Some have a sense that sharing material freely is like a farmer giving away his harvest. It sounds more like a road to disaster than a marketing plan.
This attitude is common in the training industry, said Tiffany Franz, Director of Marketing, InsideOut Development. Her company is a global provider of leadership, management and other corporate training.
Like others in the industry, InsideOut was reluctant to try content marketing, she said. The company earned solid results with a sales-oriented, outbound approach. Why rock the boat?
But by 2012, InsideOut could no longer ignore the results it saw in other industries. The marketing team began to believe that content marketing might work. But, it could not take a half-hearted approach.
“Most of our potential customers and existing customers receive a significant amount of emails each and every day,” Franz said. “We really looked at, how do we provide our information in a way that will get the attention of viewers, and not just be something that they’re going to take a quick look at and discard?”
Until early 2013, InsideOut’s marketing focused on outbound, sales-based communications, especially in its email program. The marketing team set out to create compelling content and integrate it into its marketing to capture more attention and leads.
Here are steps InsideOut took to accomplish its goal.
Step #1. Set the principles of great content
InsideOut’s marketing team realized its potential customers were overloaded with information. To rise above the noise, it wanted to provide helpful content and make it more enticing than competing information.
Here are the four principles the team outlined to guide its material.
Principle #1. Be bite-sized
Almost no one has time for heavy reading at work. To make its content easy to digest, InsideOut broke its material into bite-sized chunks. A primary way of doing this was with lists, Franz said.
For example, here’s the title of one of the company’s white papers:
“Three Quick Steps to Making Coaching Count”
Principle #2. Be simple
Complicated material asks too much of people. They are more likely to ignore it than to engage.
Franz’s team strives to keep its content simple, focused and clearly written.
“We’re not trying to tell everybody the entire story in one communication,” Franz said. “We’re really pulling to the surface the most critical or most important points that we feel are valuable to share.”
Principle #3. Be visually compelling
Black text on a white screen does not spark interest. Franz said her team tries to make the content more “exciting” and “visually interesting,” so people will enjoy the experience. This includes integrating color, images and other design touches in the content, and publishing material, such as slide decks and videos, that are not entirely text-based.
Principle #4. Be unique
Opinions on the Web abound, and most of them blend into the crowd. InsideOut wanted to stand out, so it strives to give its content a unique perspective or point of view.
One way of doing this is to feature content from the company’s thought leaders, including its founder and president Alan Fine, who wrote The New York Times bestseller, You Already Know How to Be Great.
Step #2. Focus on three types of content
InsideOut strives to incorporate the four principles outlined above in all of its content.
“We have used many different platforms. These are the three that we found to be the most engaging for our audience,” Franz said.
- Slide decks — PowerPoint slides, usually hosted online with SlideShare, give the team a great format to deliver bite-sized pieces of information.
- Articles — Some of InsideOut’s leads and customers value deeper information and research. The marketing team satisfies them with articles researched and written in-house.
- Video — Video provides benefits similar to those of team’s slide decks. It is a good platform for delivering bite-sized pieces of information that is easy to consume.
“There are benefits to having the ability to just push ‘play’ and create an experience for a viewer that doesn’t require as much time or energy as actually reading through an article,” Franz said.
When we spoke with Franz in July 2013, the marketing team had published about three of pieces of each type of content listed above.
Step #3. Become the “content sponge”
Content creation demands time and energy. To manage the process, Franz’s team prioritizes, plans and schedules work, but it rarely outsources it.
“It’s not easy to contract or outsource this type of content creation, because there’s quite a bit of a learning curve to get up to speed and be able to successfully deliver content that’s relevant and meaningful to our existing or potential customers,” Franz said.
Content from the inside out
The team’s content stays true to its company name: the material is created internally and published online. Franz and other marketers at the company have become curators who excavate content from other colleagues and departments.
“In marketing, we are the sponge, if you will, that collects the information from the content from a lot of different partners, and marketing communication’s role is then to mold it into a deliverable, whether that’s an article, a [slide deck], a video or otherwise, that can then be consumed by our customers,” Franz said.
Find good sources
Two excellent content sources Franz has found:
- Company founder and president — In addition to providing content, Fine also does many speaking engagements that create buzz and public awareness, Franz said.
- Professional services group — As with many companies, the professional services team at InsideOut is loaded with experts. They regularly contribute information and content for Marketing.
Step #4. Promote and support content
InsideOut uses four main channels to distribute content. The strategies in each are interconnected, and the team follows the four principles outlined in step one across them.
Here are the team’s four primary channels for distribution.
InsideOut’s email platform helps segment and target messages, and the channel has become an essential lead generator, Franz said. Before this effort, the marketing team mostly sent Sales-based emails, such as offering a brochure or a way to contact the company.
In 2013, the team began to send emails offering free and helpful information. They send these in addition to the sales-based messages, and they make up about one-third of the program’s volume.
Even though InsideOut sends half as many content-based emails as sales-based, those focused on content generate far more leads, as you will see in the results section below.
Careful not to overwhelm
When the team began emailing content, it continued to send the same number of sales-based emails. This created a significant lift in volume, and the team has set rules to make sure it does not creep higher.
Social media networks
InsideOut’s strategy in social networks is largely content-driven. The team uses Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter as outlets for its content and as a means of connecting with the audience. Also, its videos are published on YouTube, and its slide decks are on SlideShare.
“The biggest and most critical thing that we’re trying to do is making the information we’re sharing on our social sites relevant to what we’re sharing on our other channels as well,” Franz said.
Another important factor Franz mentioned is the frequency of her team’s posts on the social networks. In general, InsideOut posts multiple times each week, sometimes featuring links to content, press releases or inspirational quotes.
Rather than dumping everything onto its website and letting it slowly decay, InsideOut selectively publishes content and strives to keep the information fresh and relevant.
“We also add value by sometimes giving our customers first access to content, prior to posting it out to a mass audience,” Franz said.
Scalable lead gen forms
InsideOut’s site makes it easier on site visitors who fill out a form to request content. The first time they download, it cookies them as having filled out the form. Then visitors are shown a shortened form if they download other material.
InsideOut partners with other companies in the industry to contribute articles to its sites and publications. One example is TrainingIndustry.com, a trade publication that has published InsideOut’s articles and featured its content in emails.
“Outside of that, we do a lot of press releases,” Franz said.
The team’s “newsroom” portion of its website adds two new press releases each month. The releases are about a paragraph long and usually include a link to industry recognition, awards, or recent press of InsideOut. The team has taken to calling these “Web releases” and often links to them from its social media profiles.
InsideOut’s content strategy improved results across channels and the improvement is clearest in email. The channel is one of the top three sources of leads for the company and leads spiked after adding content.
Comparing results of the company’s sales-based and content-based emails in the first half of 2013, the content-based emails shined brightly:
- 20% higher clickthrough rate
- 87% lower opt-out rate
- 388% more leads generated
“Even though we’ve only sent out about half as many emails on the content side, they’ve generated 83% of our leads from email marketing,” Franz said.
To compare for yourself, here are the aggregate results of the emails sent in Q1 and Q2 2013 in both categories:
Total emails sent: 1,082,122
- Clickthrough rate: 1.2%
- Opt-out rate: 0.087%
- Share of leads generated: 83%
- Total emails sent: 2,294,666
- Clickthrough rate: 1%
- Opt-out rate: 0.67%
- Share of leads generated: 17%
“This re-solidified the idea that original and relevant content has never been more powerful … A lot of people are on information overload, and to keep people engaged and willing to talk to you and to digest your content, obviously, is to your advantage,” Franz said.
- Sales-based email
- Content-based email
- Social media posts
- Long and short lead gen forms
- Newsroom and press release