Great content can build brand stature and increase market awareness, but in my experience, neither of those achievements necessarily delivers the type of market engagement that results in new accounts or revenue growth.
Most marketing content is distributed through pull tactics, in which blog posts, social media posts, press releases, etc., expose information indirectly to a large audience. Pull-based content marketing is a shotgun approach. You’re firing at a flock of ducks, hoping you might hit a few.
Many marketing professionals argue that marketing automation technologies enable them to drive engagement by monitoring how specific individuals within their target audiences react to their content. For example, if a few ducks are hit by their initial shotgun blast — perhaps by clicking on a blog post link — the marketer can then identify and attempt to take down those particular ducks with another more targeted round or two.
Marketers also use push content to communicate directly with large groups of individuals. This shotgun tactic pushes out generic content through blast emails, direct (snail) mail and cold calling. That content often lands in spam folders, office trash cans and voicemail.
Trade Your Shotgun For A Rifle
How can you use content in a more strategic manner to turn more ducks into customers?
First, stop using ideas and solutions that might apply to all of the ducks in the flock, and instead leverage ideas and solutions that are likely to apply to specific, high-value ducks. Second, take down those targeted ducks with a rifle, not a shotgun.
Both requirements are addressed by unsolicited pitch letters, which is the only genre of content marketing that delivers tailored content through a personalized solicitation process.
How Unsolicited Pitch Letters Work
Because they require in-depth research, must be well-crafted and cannot be mass produced, very few firms leverage unsolicited pitch letters. They’re the Cinderella of content marketing. But over the past 25 years, unsolicited pitch letters have served as my firm’s only method of generating new business, other than referrals. The tactic has worked very well for several reasons. Notably it:
• Allows us to be selective about the types of companies we would like to have as clients.
• Differentiates my firm from competitors in terms of marketing sophistication.
• Incentivizes prospects to respond to our solicitation because the content applies only to them.
• Often eliminates or avoids any type of competitive shootout or request-for-proposal process altogether.
Unsolicited pitch letters are unlike any other form of content marketing for two reasons: One-size-fits-all content isn’t applied, and ideally, they’re sent directly to the highest-ranking decision maker within the target organization. Most often, that’s the CEO, managing partner or owner of the business.
Here are a few of the logistics involved in using unsolicited pitch letters:
• The process begins with research. The essential ingredient in an effective pitch letter is the time you invest in researching a prospective client. Go far beyond their website, and review all the public-facing information available, as well as the company’s competitive landscape.
• Identify a pain point, opportunity or both. The research goal is to identify a problem or opportunity that’s likely to be of great interest to senior management. It may involve a product or service shortcoming that puts them at a competitive disadvantage or a new idea that can reduce operating costs. Make sure that it’s always related to your own firm’s core capabilities.
• Don’t be afraid to criticize the prospect. As long as your ideas are relevant and presented in a professional manner, most prospects will not object to learning about problems or opportunities. In fact, many will welcome an objective outside opinion, even if you are delivering bad news.
• Grab their attention. If you’re sending a pitch letter by email, use a subject line that will increase the likelihood it will be opened. Use the name of the company, and consider referencing the idea you’re pitching. For example: “Our Review of Smith & Company’s Customer Service Capability.”
• Tease. Don’t pontificate. The end goal of the pitch letter is to engage the prospect in a face-to-face or phone conversation. You want to provide a point of view that suggests to the prospect that you’ve invested time in learning about their company and that you have some specific ideas that may be of interest to them. Make them want to learn more.
• Keep the pitch short. The most effective pitch letters are no longer than five or six sentences, with no large blocks of copy. Do not elaborate on your firm’s credentials. Your pitch is based on the quality of your ideas, not on the work you’ve done for others.
• Don’t bother to follow up. My firm’s experience is that the prospect will either respond to a pitch letter quickly or not at all. Don’t send multiple pitch letters or follow up on the phone. That’s not only a waste of time; it can also sour the prospect on doing business with you in the future.
• Check conditions six or 12 months later. Since you’ve invested the time to research the prospect and draft an effective pitch letter, it’s worthwhile to conduct follow-up research on a target company to see whether any changes related to your letter are evident. If not, it’s acceptable to forward your original pitch to the same targets, asking them to reconsider your offer.
• Hang in there. Similar to any sales tactic, you’re playing a numbers game. But if you conduct proper research and pitch relevant ideas on a consistent basis, your solicitations will likely yield meaningful results.
There are many reasons traditional content marketing approaches make sense: notably to maintain your firm’s reputation as a thought leader. But when it comes to the use of content to drive revenue growth, a sophisticated and disciplined pitch letter program has the potential to far exceed the yield of any other push or pull marketing tactic, particularly for small- and medium-sized companies.