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How to Succeed at Content Marketing in a Boring Industry

Content marketing is never easy, but it’s especially hard when your business’ subject matter is boring.  That was the problem we encountered when trying to make the lawn care industry sexy at LawnStarter.  This post is about how to create content that your audience will discover & enjoy, while building your brand.

Trumping the competition

It’s easy to grab attention if you’re The Donald.

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There’s been no hotter topic on social media in 2015 than the Apprentice boss turned political lightning rod. Love him, hate him or just want to see what happens next, people can’t get enough of Donald Trump’s blitzkrieg towards the presidency.

Trump’s meteoric rise to GOP frontrunner isn’t solely due to his pugilistic nature and majestic lion’s mane. His campaign has embraced modern digital marketing methods to great success, receiving the highest grade of all 2016 candidates in an EPI Server study of social engagement.

When the campaign wants to post a defiant response to this week’s media controversy, they can press a button and send it to a captive audience of millions that can’t get enough Trumpmania.

It’s a content marketer’s dream. It’s also the exception to the rule – few topics are as “sexy” as Trump, and few businesses have that sort of influence.

What if your industry is well, as boring as watching grass grow?

Take lawn care, for example.  Personally, I’ve become a big fan of it since founding LawnStarter.  It’s an important service for homeowners but in terms of reading material, it can sometimes be as interesting as, well, watching grass grow.

watching-grass-grow

Image source: https://c1.staticflickr.com/9/8296/7770278106_1f82e29dab_b.jpg

So how you do stand out with less-than-sexy subject matter when topics like Donald Trump call first dibs on consumer eyeballs?

In the AdBlock era when content marketing is growing in importance, with over 60% of companies planning to have an executive overseeing content marketing strategy by 2016, the answer for LawnStarter was that we had to write about more than just lawn care.  We had to produce quality content that our target audience would find interesting, and also figure out how to promote it, and how to make sure that it connects with our brand.

This four step guide details methods anyone can use to create an effective content strategy, no matter how boring your interest.

Step 1 – Learn about your audience 

Who is your customer and what do they care about?

Keying in on target audiences is crucial for successful content marketing.  This seems obvious, but it’s much easier said than done in some cases.  At first glance, our customer base looks like average suburb dwellers in Austin, Orlando, and DC.

Fortunately, there are ways to narrow down who your customer is on a demographic basis.

Tower Data (paid)

Tower data allows you to match up email addresses to demographic information.  Most companies don’t have address information of their customers, but they do have email, making it ideal.  It’s fairly inexpensive, at only $0.01 per data point.
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Through Tower Data, you can get name, age, income, occupation, presence of children, address, home value, phone number, social profiles, purchase behavior, gender, marital status, education, homeowner status, length of residence and interests.  You won’t get a 100% match rate, but I’ve found the data to be pretty good.

Facebook Insights

If you have a large enough sample size on your Facebook page (and believe that your following is proportional to your target audience), you can also get some high-level insights on your audience.

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With Facebook insights, you get information about your audience’s gender, age, location, and language.

If your following is too small, it might be a good time to grow your follower base.

Display Network Tracking Pixels

Display Networks are the exchanges that serve up display, social, video and mobile ads.  In case you didn’t know, these ads are highly targeted.

At some point, a cable company (or similar company) sells the exchanges data to match up your identity to a tracking pixel on your browser.  From there, ad networks can connect pixels to all sorts of behavioral, purchasing, and demographic data

Display networks allow you to different tracking pixels on your website.  You can put them on your landing pages, in your conversion funnel, or even in a web app.  When a user visits that page and the tracking pixel fires, their demographic information is captured and you can get reports on the demographics that visited certain pages.

This is great if you don’t have email addresses, and you can put pixels in higher value areas of your site.  For example, putting pixels in our web app gives us insights into our active customers, which may differ than those who just visit our site.

Popular Display networks include Turn, Doubleclick and Google Display Network.

Now that we’ve taken a look at our customer from a broad level, it’s time to be social and talk to our customers.  This is best done in two ways: online surveys and interviews.

Online Surveys

Sending out surveys to your customers is quick, easy, and free.  Simply use a tool such as Survey Monkey, Google Forms, or Wufoo to create a 3-4 question survey.

Send out an email asking for feedback, and offer either a discount or a chance to win a gift card.

Google forms feedback customer survey

Some sample questions:

  • What are your top 3 news sources?
  • What blogs to you read?
  • What sorts of things are you likely to click on when you see them on Facebook?
  • What were some articles you’ve shared recently?

This process is very similar the methods Neil Patel details about copywriting surveys and this method of Conversion Rate Optimization by ConversionXL.  The questions are just tweaked a bit.

Once you get the responses, you can then go through and categorize them.  After 50-100, you’ll get a good sense of what your customers care about.

Customer Interviews

Customer interviews are also super important.  Typically you’ll ask the same sort of questions as above, but you’ll want the interview to be much more conversational.

During Techstars I learned an important lesson about talking to customers: just get them talking.  You get much more genuine insights, and leading your customers with questions won’t get you good results.

Hopefully by now you have an idea of what your customer looks like from a demographic standpoint, and a general sense of what content they like to consume.

Step 2 – What influencers do your customers pay attention to?

By now, you probably have some idea from talking to your customers of what they’re interested in.

But where do they discover it?  Fortunately Twitter has some answers.

Find Twitter Followers who are influencers

Finding influencers is a crucial part to promoting anything on the internet these days. Everyone agrees that it’s important to seek promotion from influential sources in your desired target audience. The tricky part is determining just who exactly the right ones are for your target audience.

“Stalking” your customers on social media is an effective way to learn who your customers follow.  The goal is to see which accounts a majority of your customers have in common.

First you need to find your customers’ accounts.  If you think your Twitter following is representative of your customer base, then this part is easy.  However, with all the Twitter bots autofollowing out there, this method might not work.

For LawnStarter, our Twitter account is followed mostly by the startup crowd, who are not our target audience.  So we had a virtual assistant go through and find our customers by first and last name, verifying their identity by their location.

Once you have a list of you customers accounts, you want to figure out who they follow.

This video by Full Contact shows how you can use Bird Song to export all the accounts a given user follows.  Do this for each of your customers’ accounts.

This process can be tedious, but if you hire the right virtual assistant, you can outsource the whole thing relatively cheaply.  You can also have your VA use a tool like Import.io or Kimono Labs to pull out the data.  If you want to get real creative, you can whip up a script to pull the accounts followers, Klout score, tweet count, ect.

(In a B2B niche, it might be more fruitful to do this tactic via LinkedIn.)

From there, all you need to do is throw the data into a pivot table in Excel or Google Sheets, and boom, you’ve got a list of accounts most-followed by your customers.

Go ahead and ignore the ‘household name’ accounts – CNN, Kim Kardashian, Donald Trump ect.  What you’re looking for are accounts popular enough to be influencers, but niche enough to clue you into what your customers’ interests are.

Step 3 – Produce content your audience will love

Now you have a list of Twitter accounts customers follow.  They’ll likely be one of two types of accounts: an individual or a blog/publication (or both!).

For the individuals that your customers tend to follow, look at their bios.  Are there any common themes?  Maybe they’re all in the same profession?  What do they Tweet about?

For the blogs/publications, head over to Buzzsumo or Ahrefs and checkout the top-performing content on that blog.  That should not only give you an idea of what your audience likes, but also what sort of stories you can feed to those publications.

For LawnStarter, we learned the local journalists and business owners had the relevant interest in our topics, the reach to our customer base of homeowners and the resonance within the community to provoke meaningful interactions.

One of those publications was Culture Map Austin.  A quick look at Buzzsumo shows their best performing content is about city rankings.  Bingo.

Austin Culture Map Buzzsumo

When coming up with ideas, you need to make sense to your readers, while also acknowledging your brand. The latter is critical; in a year when over 87% of B2C (Business to Consumer) marketers identified “Brand Awareness” as a top organizational priority, you need to ensure that your quality content is connected to your brand in a coherent way.

What could be tangentially related to your industry, that your target audience also finds interesting?  In other words, what can you get away with?

 

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I don’t doubt that one of our ace content guys could whip up a great piece about killer whale migratory patterns. What I do doubt is that our audience would 1) care at all and 2) understand how whales are at all connected to our brand. On the other hand, if they wrote a piece about the outdoors, or a paean to overinflated civic pride? Now we’re talking.

Before you put pen to paper, spend some time thinking about the categories you could write about.  One of my mentors gave me this advice, and it couldn’t be more on point.  Pick between 3-5, and commit to trying those categories for the next 3-6 months.  It’s important to stick to this.  When you have a piece that flops, you don’t want to give up on that category.  And you don’t want to get excited and go all out just because of an early success.  After 3-6 months, you can evaluate which category performs best (based on views, shares, backlinks, conversions…whatever you’re going for), and double down on that.

Now it’s time to write.  You’ll stretch the boundaries of what you write about, and you’ll inevitably catch some flack.  Here’s some reddit love from our post The 16 College Football Stadiums With the Best Natural Scenery:

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This is where we put on our hip-hop hat for a second and IGNORE THE HATERS.   If I had a nickel for every time I heard, “Why the hell is your lawn company writing about XX?” my dog would be eating sirloin for dinner every night.

"Did someone say sirloin?"
“Did someone say sirloin?”

Our business is lawn care, sure, but homeowners who are interested in our services also tend to be interested in their city.  And their alma mater.  And the outdoors. And gardening. And local events…

The list goes on and on but you get the idea – with diligent research, you’ll figure out what general topics appeal to your targeted demographics. Learn about your audience, maybe do some keyword analysis and trust your instincts that you know your customers better than anybody else.

Step 4 – Promote, Promote, Promote

So you’ve analyzed your audience and created great content tailored to your their interests. What’s next?

Unlike Trump, you DON’T want to build a wall between you and your potential audience.

Promote, promote, promote is the name of the game. As Rand Fishkin says, if nobody is going to promote your content, well, don’t even bother publishing. You didn’t pay for research and top-notch content just to have it sit unnoticed in some dusty corner of the internet – get that sexy new article out there to be ogled.

Really though, promotion doesn’t only happen after you’ve finished off the piece.  You should always try to bake promotion into your content.  Remember that list of influencers you got?  Give them a call or shoot them an email asking for a quote.  Then let them know once the post is up, and ask them to share it.  In this post we did about the San Antonio – Austin Corridor, we got the Mayors of both cities to share since we quoted them

Content promotion is a whole topic in it of itself so I won’t go into too much detail.  But here are the obvious thing you should always do:
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  • Share on your own social profiles – both company and personal
  • Ask any friends who would find it interesting to share it
  • Let anyone who you quoted know about it, also tag them on social media
  • Send it to anyone whose article you linked to
  • Send it to blogs & media outlets that you discovered in your influencer research
  • Email it to your customers
  • Submit it to relevant reddits (be careful about being spammy)
  • Share it in any Facebook groups that would find it interesting

Obviously, there’s no foolproof method to make even the most exciting subject matter set the web ablaze. But with research into your audience, quality content that ties into their interests and promotion with the right influence channels, you can improve your odds of success.

You don’t need the world’s most enthralling content to effectively reach your audience. Smartly focused content that appeals to your target demographic can generate the engagement you need to build your brand’s identity.

As Mr. Trump would say, that’s a yooge deal.

Are you responsible for marketing a business in a boring industry?  Would love to hear tactics that worked for you.  Sound off in the comments below!

  • http://seodesignco.com/ Sheena Salmon

    This is a great article. I have been trying to figure out ways to promote my clients who own businesses that are about as interesting as drying paint and this was real helpful.

    • http://ryanjfarley.com Ryan Farley

      Thanks Sheena, glad I could be helpful!

  • http://www.aqueous-seo.co.uk/ Aqueous SEO

    Brilliant Ryan – like it! Just queued it to share on our social channels. And I love the bit about ignoring the haters; online anyone can be a troll!

    • http://ryanjfarley.com Ryan Farley

      Thanks for the love and for the sharing, much appreciated!

  • http://scopcity.com Heather Head

    Terrific post, Ryan! I commented in more depth on LinkedIn (I serve “boring” clients–primarily engineering, logistics, and technology–and love making their content come to life). Planning to share this article with my network–do you have a Twitter handle I can grab for my shares?

    • http://ryanjfarley.com Ryan Farley

      Heather – thanks for reading and for your kind words! Yes, my twitter is @rj_farley. Thanks!

  • http://www.birdsonganalytics.com/ Jamie Riddell

    Hi Ryan, Thanks for including BirdSong! This URL http://www.birdsonganalytics.com/export-twitter-followers-2015/ may be a better fit to explain how follower/following exports work, what data you can get and more. You may also want to look at http://www.birdsonganalytics.com/blog/2015/06/23/how-to-get-email-addresses-from-twitter-accounts/ which may also help with part of the outreach process.