The way you position your agency in the market plays a vital role in how effectively you retain content marketing clients.
Your brand perception both online and off will determine a number of key elements that contribute to client retention. For example, your perception will affect the type of leads and clients you attract, the prices you charge, and the respect these people have for you and your team.
Here are some tips for positioning your brand to maximize long-term client retention:
Tip #1 – Pick a niche
The concept of picking and sticking to a specific niche is often a hard one for agencies to wrangle with.
Most agency owners appreciate the magnetic effect that this approach to brand positioning can have, but they get caught swimming with the tide. Whether your agency is fairly new or you are growing headcount by the day, it’s hard to turn down opportunities and cash in the door.
The power of picking a niche for your agency is four-fold:
- It makes your marketing copy considerably more compelling to prospects.
- It guides your overall approach to marketing your services – the content you produce, partners you collaborate with, and campaigns you run.
- It enables you and your team to specialize and become known experts within your chosen niche.
- It helps you truly understand the problems you solve for clients – meaning you can articulate your solution to those problems in your customers’ own language during the sales conversation.
Of course, picking a niche comes with its challenges. Which industry do you choose? What happens if you get inquiries and requests from businesses outside this narrowly defined scope?
At the end of the day you can still take on work from businesses outside of your chosen niche, but over time, your need to do so will diminish. Especially if you have chosen a good niche. You can also extend your services into other industries as you grow and feel like you have exhausted the opportunities in one niche.
In terms of choosing a niche, here are some things to consider:
- Do you have a record of results with other businesses in this space?
- Are there other agencies targeting this niche? If so, how many? (Hint: If there are lots then this may not necessarily be a bad thing)
- Do businesses in this niche typically pay for outsourced marketing services?
- Do they understand and appreciate the value of content marketing? Are there case studies and examples of businesses already getting results from content?
You may decide to run some interim testing on a few different industries to see which one ticks enough boxes for your agency.
When it comes to client retention, the benefit of picking a niche is pretty obvious. The more embedded you are in an industry, the more trust and credibility you will have with prospective clients within that industry. Before long, you become an irreplaceable asset for these businesses because of your accrued industry knowledge and proven results. Not to mention that you will simply get better and better at delivering results to a similar group of clients. Results will naturally contribute to retention.
Tip #2 – Be a thought leader
The term “thought leader” is one that has been thrown around quite a bit over the years. So what does it really mean and how will it contribute to client retention for your agency?
Becoming a thought leader relates to the perception of you and your agency leadership team with your ideal clients. Within your chosen niche, you want to be known as the go-to source of information for prospects and other industry leaders.
Let’s say you are solely focused on providing marketing services for the financial services sector. When someone from within that sector, a financial advisor, for example, asks the question, “I need some help growing my business, who would you recommend?”. Your name should be on the tip of the tongue of the person they are asking.
Given the hyper-competitiveness of the digital marketing services sector, can you now see how important targeting a narrow niche is to help you stand out?
Of course, becoming a thought leader and respected authority of information is not an overnight adventure. It’s a journey that never ends, and one you will need to commit to wholeheartedly. But here are some tips for accelerating that process and making your life easier in the process:
- Automate where possible and be selective with your social networks. Use evergreen sharing tools such as MeetEdgar and Dlrv.it to automate a large bulk of your social media sharing. Publish unique content, curate content from industry leaders, and stick to the social networks where your prospects are most active.
- Leverage the power of face-to-camera video content. Video is trending at the moment, whether it be Facebook Live, Snapchat, or the adjustments in LinkedIn’s algorithm to favor video content. But perhaps the best part about a face-to-camera video, much like public speaking, is that it humanizes your brand and positions you as an authority.
- Get on stage at industry events or meetups. Once you know your niche it should be easy to pinpoint a number of events or meetups that are specific to that market. Contact the organizers and offer to speak to their community about digital marketing. The more you are in front of people from your target industry, the more your credibility will grow.
- Write for industry publications. If you can get your name out there in industry-specific publications and on respected digital marketing sites by being an expert contributor, again you will start to develop a name for yourself in that industry.
These are just four ideas for establishing yourself as a thought leader in your industry of choice, and they are by no means the only things you can do to make a name for yourself. The key is to be present, often, everywhere, and get noticed. The more credibility, perceived or actual, you have in your niche, the easier it will be to retain clients in the long-term because they are paying for your unique expertise and knowledge. Not just another run-of-the-mill digital agency.
Tip #3 – Develop multiple experts internally
Yes, positioning you and your leadership team as thought leaders in your chosen niche is a great way to win more business, charge higher retainers, and retain clients. But, what about the rest of your team? What about the people with their hands on the tools delivering outcomes for your clients?
Depending on the size of your agency, at some point, you will want to remove yourself from the day-to-day execution of your marketing services. Not necessarily because you can’t or don’t want to do this work, but because your time is better served on the strategic objectives of the agency and the key client relationships.
If you create an environment that is too heavily reliant on any one individual it immediately limits your ability to scale. That’s why it is important to create multiple experts within your agency.
Again, every agency is different and will have different business models and growth objectives, so doing this is not for everyone. For example, you may have an outsourced agency model where you work with freelancers, contractors, and white label partners to deliver client work. Or, you may be happy with a small team of leaders that can charge big retainers and execute the work themselves.
In these scenarios, creating internal experts is less important. However, if you do run an agency with a number of account managers and teams of specific expertise, then improving the perception of those individuals in the market is critical to retaining your client’s trust over time.
Much like you would for yourself, encourage your employees to be present and active on social media, in industry publications, and at industry events. Seek to understand what their true motivations are and where they want to take their career, and help them carve a name for themselves in that space. For example, one of your team might love creating video content and want to become the “Video Expert” in the industry. The same could be said for copywriters, designers, and any other narrowly focused deliverables you provide for clients.
The more expert perception you can create in the market for your employees, the more likely your clients are to trust these individuals to deliver value in the long-term.
Tip #4 – Know where you deliver value
What unique value do you provide to your clients? Seriously, what are they actually paying for?
Most agency owners and content marketing leaders won’t be able to answer this question with too much rigor. Because they have probably never asked their clients the right questions.
You may think that clients are paying you for; blog content, social media management, design services, or video creation.
But what they are actually paying you for is; time back in their week, accountability to get things done, a feeling of success related to business growth, or piece of mind that they can put food on the table at night.
These drivers are just a few examples of the reasons why I have seen people pay for content marketing services. What is it for you and your clients?
If you can start to understand the real reasons that people use your services, you can leverage this information to position your brand in a way that talks to these desires and attracts more of your ideal clients. It also helps you create retention conversations in the future that revolve around these desires, rather than getting stuck talking about scopes and retainers.
Tip #5 – Create a retainer business model
One of the biggest problems with the traditional web development agency model is the lumpy nature of projects and cash flow. SEO services, AdWords management, social media management, and monthly content retainers have flipped this around and made digital agencies considerably more stable from a financial perspective.
Use the outsourced “marketing as a service” tagline to develop a retainer business model and you will considerably reduce churn of clients. For content marketing services this is actually a little easier than some other marketing services.
Most people who are in the market for content appreciate that it doesn’t have an immediate and significant ROI to their bottom line. They are buying into the idea of building authority, positioning their brand as a thought leader, and committing to the long-term benefits of content marketing. Use this to your advantage and create long-term commitments from day one.
Instead of going month-to-month with your clients, lock them into a six or twelve-month contract. Don’t budge when they push back on you. Help them understand that content marketing takes time and requires a committed partnership with both parties. Getting to know their brand and business is a time-intensive project, and not one they want you to take lightly. If they want you and your team to be all in from day one, then they need to be too.
You can use the content strategy development and planning process to map out the engagement for the whole period. Visually show them what is going to happen in three, six or even twelve months time. Create important milestones and set targets for each key juncture in the period.
Instead of waiting until the end of the contracted period to talk about what is happening next, be proactive. Regularly show them the results you are getting and the activity that is going on. Then, have a retention sales conversation two or three months before it needs to happen. Use an event-based opportunity in the future or industry trend to articulate the need for an extended contract. Lock them in for another long stint before they even question it.
Position your brand in a way that makes client retention an easy proposition.