For many companies, their reputation and standing within their industry and amongst their customers is the key to winning and retaining business. Establish a good reputation and the prospects will come to you.
In the past, you could establish a reputation by networking and through word of mouth, but in today’s ultra-competitive, online world it’s much harder. You need to cast a wider net and attract prospects you have never met – so you need those prospects to find you and to listen to you, allowing you to gain their trust and win their business. It makes sense then, that modern content marketing focusses in the initial stages, on brand awareness and establishing authority. The first helps you to be found and considered by prospects, and the second adds credence to your content and makes them take you seriously.
One of the most appropriate marketing channels to use to establish authority is a blog. Yes, you can attend seminars, publish books, become a leading light in a professional body, but blogging for B2B is relatively easy, it can be done from your desk and is ideal for the task.
Establishing authority is by no means easy, it takes a subtle approach that blends a number of elements:
Authority, first and foremost, comes from knowledge and experience. From an intimate knowledge of your industry, your customers, and the issues facing them. It is about wise council – about sage advice, about speaking with clarity and conviction on topics and subjects that are key areas for your audience.
Real industry knowledge is very hard to bluff, so a blog writer who wants to establish authority must know his or her stuff.
But just writing about how much you know and dumping that knowledge onto the screen, will not establish authority – it has to be done appropriately. Take an overview – write about the big picture – this will show that you are a major player who thinks ahead and plans accordingly. Write blog posts at a strategic level – pieces that are about the issues that face the industry as a whole rather than writing about your company and your products.
Be humble, or rather, be helpful. Just showing off how much you know will not establish authority or endear yourself to prospects – in fact just the opposite – nobody likes a smart aleck after all. So always put knowledge in context and make it useful to your readers. At a strategic level, you can offer advice on industry developments that may allow your prospects to make better strategic/planning decisions. Your tips may help them to avoid costly mistakes or to be more efficient, economic or effective. That is the real value, right there.
If you are wondering where the sales message is in all of this, it needs to be subtle. The inbound methodology is one based on providing useful content that has value for the audience. But this doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be a sales message in authority posts. But it’s subtle. And the way to do it is by using mini case studies and examples from your own company or your customers to illustrate your piece.
You can talk about an issue and discuss it at great length, knowledgeably and in some depth, but it doesn’t have the dramatic impact that a single story from real life has, to bring home the point to people. Real life examples are very powerful, achieving two important goals – firstly to relate that theoretical knowledge to a real-life situation that your audience can relate to, and secondly (here’s the subtle part) it demonstrates the knowledge and experience you and your company have. The demonstration of knowledge and its practical application to an issue your audience can relate to gets you most of the way to establishing authority.
Trust is by far the most valuable commodity in the online world. Because so much of a modern business relationship is conducted remotely; trust in a company, brand or person becomes a crucial element. As people never get to meet you, and may not know your company, establishing trust is more difficult, more delicate and more important than ever before.
If you already have a strong brand and reputation, then trust is easier to obtain. Think of Apple, Mercedes Benz or John Lewis – their reputation is such that you trust them, you have a certain expectation from them.
But trust is also easy to lose – on an individual basis, a single action by a single employee can lose a customer’s trust in an instant. On a bigger scale think of Volkswagen and the emissions scandal, or United Airline’s treatment of a passenger. When it comes to authority, people have to trust what you are telling them.
Without trust, there is no authority. It follows then that you need to be as sure as you can be that what you are telling people in your blogs is true. You need to ensure that you don’t lie about your company’s knowledge and experience. And you need to be honest with people about the issues and potential problems with the advice you are giving them. If you are a consultant with some year’s experience, you will know that letting a client know what you don’t know, and being honest about the limits of your knowledge and expertise, wins far more business than just lying and pretending you know everything.
Once you have their trust, people will listen to you and take you seriously.
The last element of establishing authority with a blog is making sure you write with an appropriate tone of voice. It is very easy for an expert with great knowledge and expertise to talk down to their audience, writing in a condescending or patronising manner. This will not win any converts.
Likewise, being too technical or detailed is likely to alienate people too. You need to strike a balance between writing with enough depth to be taken seriously, and getting so involved that you lose people’s attention. Once again, the buyer persona element of the inbound methodology is the key – if you understand your target audience, then you can pitch your level appropriately. Always remember that your audience is interested in the bottom line – what can you do for them? What can they gain from reading your post? And don’t forget they will be considering the trade-off between taking the time out of their busy schedule to read your blog and the potential benefits they might get out of doing so. So always tell them up front what the benefit will be of reading your post. (And in case you are wondering – the benefit is in the title of this post).
As I said earlier, being a know-it-all is also the wrong approach – too cocky, and people will dislike you, but on the other hand, being too vague or radiating a lack of confidence will not establish authority either. Writing in a confident manner which isn’t too opinionated will work best. It’s a hard tightrope to walk as you don’t want to be bland, but you don’t want to alienate people either. You want to have some personality in your writing, but you don’t want that to irritate or annoy. In fact, getting the tone just right to establish authority may be the hardest part of writing a blog post.
In giving people appropriately timed advice that allows them to make better decisions, save money or avoid mistakes, you are not only providing them with significant value; you are establishing yourself (and your company) as someone with authority, someone they can trust, someone they will want to do business with.