Five tips for using employee knowledge in content marketing

marmite-historyMarketing people talk about ‘Marmite brands’ – meaning brands people either love or hate. But there is another aspect to the story of this much loved/hated spread from which content marketers in particular can learn.

Personally I can’t stand the stuff. My visceral dislike of this noisome gunk only grew when I learned where it came from: Marmite is the stuff left over after they’ve finished brewing beer (they were literally scraping the bottom of the barrel when they invented Marmite). The Marmite factory founded in Burton in 1902 drew its raw material from the nearby Bass Brewery. However, while it will be a cold day in hell before the stuff gets anywhere near my morning toast, I have to acknowledge the sheer business brilliance behind the transformation of an industrial by-product into one of the most illustrious and enduring brands in FMCG.

Something nasty that brewers originally spent time and money getting rid of became a beloved/hated foodstuff that allegedly won the Brits two world wars, created profits for the company and opened a whole new product category for the food market. Genius.

So what has this got to do with content marketing?

Mining your untapped content resources

All industrial processes create by-products, many of which initially look like waste products. This holds true for services as well as products, I would argue – and in particular for B2B digital businesses. If your business involves a concentration of knowledge workers, as more and more do nowadays, the by-product of a hard day’s work is, or ought to be, extra knowledge.

Such workers bring a wealth of specialist knowledge to bear on their daily tasks, the fund of which increases day by day through experience; through the lessons learned by working on projects. If they’re any good, they’ll be incrementally smarter by the end of the day than they were in the morning. This residue of knowledge, which the employer has paid for them to acquire, is in most cases a vast untapped resource. The residue in the barrel, if you like, that can usefully be scraped out and repackaged for public consumption – but generally isn’t. The company might hold ‘brown bag’ sessions, or pursue learning and development activities that exploit it internally, but almost no-one thinks to use it externally – i.e. for marketing purposes.

Shame, because with the right sort of ‘processing’ this residue can be a valuable stream of content for blogs, white papers, event presentations, thought leadership and many other marketing purposes.

If you have chosen to go down the content marketing route, you’ll know what a hungry beast it is. Curating other people’s content, or relying on the skills and knowledge of the marketing team and external copywriters, might not be enough to sustain a lively and informative content stream. Why not look internally? If you don’t, you could be missing a trick.

Opening up your value-creating processes

Many are held back from leveraging employee knowledge for content marketing by fears over confidentiality. Often these are legitimate concerns. You wouldn’t want to give away any upcoming product launches for instance, or details of serious, patentable IP. On the other hand, nothing is of greater interest to your B2B customers than first-hand knowledge gained in the field which is their primary focus of activity, and so long as no confidences are breached through exposing it, there is nothing but gain – for you, your customers, and for the wider community.

Opening up your value-creating processes to your customers in a controlled and structured way can take the dialogue between you to a new level of maturity and sophistication. In industries that do a lot of custom build work – software development, for instance – developers often have a greater appreciation of what is possible with a given technology than the client who gets to sit down and write the specification. Help that developer expand his ideas on, say a blog, and you allow clients to start to dream a little bigger, perhaps. Unlock new budget pots. Cross-sell, upsell …

Then there is the perceived difficulty of allowing your internal experts to seize the megaphone. They might not be ‘client-friendly’. The might go off-message or off-brand. This is where marketing needs to build trust in its own reserves of tact, editorial expertise and people skills. Of course, it helps to actually have these attributes in the first place. Content marketing might require a new skillset and culture for some marketing departments, admittedly.

5 tips for leveraging internal knowledge

Here are five tips for turning your internal experts’ knowledge into content marketing Marmite.

1. Be upfront about the editorial policy and limits. A lot of grief can be caused if people are allowed to believe that you are offering them a soapbox to sound off about their pet likes and hates. Be clear about the purpose of the blog/event/talk/etc. and its high-level aims. Give a clear brief and agree aims and key points for the piece upfront.

2. Don’t expect writing skills from SMEs. Even talented writers need editorial support – and not many people in companies are talented writers (if they were, they’d probably be doing it). Experts who are articulate and even garrulous in the bar after work can easily dry up when faced with a blank page. And you’ll still be waiting for their piece months later. Accept that you, as the marketing professional, will have to do the bulk of the writing and editing. What you mainly want from them are facts, informed opinion and illuminating examples from real practice.

3. Respect their time. Asking somebody with deadlines up to their armpits for a 1,400 word article by tomorrow is not going to get you results, and you could well get in trouble by diverting valuable billable time away from its primary purpose – helping the P&L. Make it easy for them by doing the piece as an interview, podcast, or video interview. Alternatively, take a ‘brain dump’ in note form, write it up as a draft and get them to approve or make necessary changes.

4. Align thought leadership with company strategy. Giving the impression that your company is packed full of smart, knowledgeable people certainly does no harm – but you’re missing a trick if you don’t also take the chance to bang home some company messages, reinforce the brand and demonstrate your USPs. You editorial schedule should flow naturally from your marcomms strategy for the year, illustrating your key messages and zeroing in on those points of advantage where your rivals just can’t compete.

5. Show don’t tell. A caveat to point 4.  Important words here are ‘illustrating’, ‘demonstrating’, ‘pointing to’, etc. A blog is not the place for marketing copy. Far more convincing than telling your customers what great web apps you build (for instance) would be telling the first-hand story of how your web app solved a client problem, opened up a new market for them or leveraged a new technology only you of all your competitors have mastered – preferably with some hard numbers and stats to show real business success.

Do all of these and you’ll soon have customers eating out of your hand – the ones that like Marmite, anyway.

 

 

 

 

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