From Content Marketing to Product Led Growth
tl;dr - Your customers don't have time to read your content. And your content strategy doesn't differentiate you. To cut through with new and existing customers, you should invest in your own product.
Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink.
In 2013 I decided a great growth opportunity was to become a content marketing expert.
I started a newsletter: Content Marketing Weekly.
The idea was simple - find 5 pieces of content online, summarise the content and link to it, every Friday. The content was not my own. I curated it, and thus would become valuable to my audience as a source of information. In time this value would translate into content marketing consulting.
But it was actually far more difficult to find 5 shareable pieces of content than you might think. Content marketing professionals produced a huge amount of mediocre, repetitive content.
Sifting through the noise to find the signal was very time consuming.
The pain was real, and Content Marketing Weekly lasted less than 20 weeks. I still feel it was a good idea, but my execution fell short. In the meantime Content Marketing as a discipline has flourished.
Drinking from a fire hose
Fast forward to today. I decided to build expertise around product analytics.
There is a genuine data and analytics skill gap in most companies. Software selection, dashboards, optimisation planning; there is a healthy business to be built in this area.
So I went quite deep across a range of vendors, communities and marketplaces. My mission - to consolidate a lot of the content into a simple 'how-to guide' for unaware product owners. But as I went on I became aware of the sheer volume of content out there. So much to learn, so much to interpret, so much to sift through.
So. Much. Content.
And the content is written by companies trying to sell me (you, anyone) their software. A lot of the content is good. But again, so much of it.
There is more content than can possibly be consumed. And I believe this is a real challenge, particularly to traditional service businesses. The same pain I had 8 years ago is still here - sifting through noise to find signal. 'Read our blog'. Meh.
Everyone thinks about the content they want to share, the message they want to broadcast. But few seem to think about how the content will be consumed by their audience in today's time-poor world.
How did we get here?
Growth used to be led by sales teams. Sales era prospecting involved outreach through calls and eventually emails.
The internet arrived, and brands across all industries realised customers were doing their own research. So the brands decided to feed their customers' research needs with amazing content.
Today, the only brands who truly differentiate through content are spending a fortune. They are publishers themselves. Hubspot is a classic example for SMEs - hardly a surprise as they build... content marketing software...
Or you could look to Andreessen Horowitz, the VC firm blending into content studio.
For most brands, your investment in content marketing is not going to deliver the ROI you want.
So what is the next era for engagement and growth?
Product is a strong contender to take over from sales reps and content marketing in driving new business, retaining clients and differentiating your brand.
Product-led Growth is a popular term amongst SaaS companies. The playbook is:
Focus on a beautiful customer experience
Give away a free version
Convert x% of customer to a paid version
Companies like Slack are held up as high growth businesses who have won through this route. But I'm thinking about product led growth from a service business perspective.
How could a service business adopt a product led approach?
Why don't service businesses create products, when money is pouring into tech startups?
I believe the future of service businesses is a hybrid model.
A blend of paid time for knowledge and expertise, supplemented by one or more digital tools. There are a plethora of benefits, some fast growing real world examples, and a range of options.
But more on that to come.