Chances are, you’ve heard the phrase, “Content is King”. That’s no surprise, as great content is at the core of nearly all marketing efforts in the digital age. An effective content marketing strategy can help businesses in numerous ways fromincreasing brand awareness to fueling lead generation to improving position in search engine results. At its heart, quality content is all about creating advocates and evangelists- developing high levels of trust, attention and authority for both man and machines. In a word, it’s about creating influence.
Don Broekelmann knows all about influence. He’s the Executive VP of Brand Management at Influence & Co, a Missouri-based content marketing firm ranked #72 by Forbes on its list of, “America’s Most Promising Companies”. Don and his team help businesses position key individuals as thought leaders by creating and distributing targeted, high-quality content. I was excited to speak with Don to learn more about his company, and his thoughts on one of the most dominant areas of focus for online marketers, today.
Hi Don. Tell me about Influence & Co. How long have you been in business?
Influence & Co. has been in business for just over three years — the company started in 2011.
Describe more precisely what your firm does:
Influence & Co. helps experts and brands create high-quality and engaging content designed to help them showcase their expertise and foster engagement with prospects or customers. We do everything from establishing relationships with publications to creating content engagement systems for brands.
How did you start the company?
The company started out of a need for us to showcase our expertise and credibility. As we started talking with other founders and companies, our co-founders, John Hall and Kelsey Meyer, realized that this was a common problem among young, up-and-coming companies. We realized that what we were doing for ourselves would be valuable to others. As we began gaining more and more traction among our core clients — young companies and entrepreneurs — we were approached by large brands that needed help with their thought leadership. I focus on helping these large brands build strategic content marketing plans to develop authentic relationships with their customers and prospects.
Is your staff centralized or remote?
We have a hybrid staff. The majority of our staff is located in our offices in Columbia, Mo., and St. Louis, Mo., but several members of our team work remotely. We have a fairly relaxed and flexible work environment.
Why is content marketing so important for businesses?
It’s becoming more and more difficult to reach customers through existing marketing efforts. They’re increasingly blind to ads and see them as more of an interruption. The consumer has unprecedented access to information. He can pick up his phone and instantly get access to price comparisons and customer reviews.
In this type of environment, it’s more important than ever to build an authentic relationship with those customers. Providing them value in the form of high-quality content that helps them be more successful is a great way to build this type of relationship on a large scale. If you’re not building these relationships today, then it’s likely that your competitor is doing so.
Can content really earn trust? What real value do words hold? Isn’t it all about the quality of the product- what people experience and share?
The product or service is at the core of how we all make money, and it needs to be the ultimate goal — but often, what matters is the end result of that product or service. Content can be used to enhance this experience and really impact the consumer in a positive manner. If you provide the consumer with content that is highly relevant and helps enhance your core product or service, then you’re helping that customer be more successful and adding value to your own offering. All of this will enhance the overall experience for your customers.
How long does it take to develop trust, credibility and loyalty through a content marketing campaign?
Content marketing and thought leadership are not going to be short-term fixes that you can turn on and off, like pay-per-click advertising. There’s a certain ramp-up period that will be needed before prospects start paying attention to your content. This is the credibility period, and the timeframe really depends on your market, but this is really the first step: getting them to pay attention.
This can only be done by creating high-quality content focused on helping your target customers. Once you have them paying attention, it’s important to keep producing high-quality content. This ensures that as they move through the funnel — which is getting longer and requiring more touchpoints than ever — you stay top of mind and are the one they call on when they need a product or service like yours.
These days, everybody seems to want / need content, yet many are unwilling or unable to pay for it? How do you deal with that?
Content marketing and thought leadership are not for everyone, and we’ve proven that if you’re not willing to commit to it and understand it, then you will likely waste the resources you spend on it. If someone isn’t willing to pay for the resources to create content properly, then he is likely not a good candidate for our services. There’s a certain level of commitment that it takes to make this successful, and if it doesn’t look like the dedication is there, we will avoid engaging with him. We want to make sure that when we work with customers, they’re spending their resources properly. If we aren’t set up for success from the start, it’s better to wait until the time is right.
How does your business model work? Are there separate fees for content strategy, creation and publication?
We have a couple of different models, depending on the scope of the project, but we keep our pricing simple and straightforward. In most cases, we roll the components — strategy, topic ideation, copyediting, and publication services — into one set price based on the amount of content desired. This keeps it pretty simple for our customers, and they know what they’re getting before they commit to spending resources.
How much content do businesses typically need to generate to move the needle?
The amount of content needed is really different, depending on who you’re trying to reach and how you plan to leverage it in the sales process. If you’re in a relatively small niche in a B2B market, it’s going to take a great deal less content than if you’re running a general B2C company. How you plan on using the content across other channels also impacts the effectiveness and amount of content needed as well.
Are there certain niches that you focus on, or are strongest in? Are your clients more small businesses or large corporations?
We tend to focus on entrepreneurs, fast-growing companies, and large brands that are trying to reach and engage small business owners and entrepreneurs. We have a passion for helping the entrepreneurial and small business communities succeed. We have an extremely strong network of publishing partners in this space as well, which really enables us to reach the desired consumers.
These days, we’re seeing increasing emphasis and value placed upon visual content — images, memes, videos, etc. Do you offer any of these services? Do you get into creating short-form content for social network pages like Twitter and Facebook and/or managing pages?
We are not experts in social media or short-form media, so we tend to focus on article development and long-form content, such as whitepapers. The majority of our staff are journalists at heart, and we feel the best way to showcase expertise is through long-form content. We do work with our partners to make sure that all of the content we are assisting with creating is leveraged across those other channels so it’s fully maximized.
Trends or predictions for 2014?
I think that we will continue to see the evolution of content marketing and thought leadership. We have seen large brands, such as Coca-Cola, General Electric, and American Express, put huge resources into this area, and they will serve as an example of things to come. Brands are continuing to become publishers. There are many companies trying to figure how they can make the move toward this model, given the specialized skills needed for this type of marketing — many of which are not normally present in the traditional marketing model. You will see more brands try to create lightweight publishing departments they can “bolt” on to their existing marketing departments.
Great, thank you, Don and continued success!