You may not know it, but you are probably already using content marketing. In fact, eight out of ten professional services firms already do. Now there is a brand new research report that offers some tantalizing insights into how to improve the effectiveness of your own content marketing efforts.

The report is authored by content marketing expert Clare McDermott and is based on a 2010 study conducted by the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs.

Content Marketing Defined

Content marketing is the practice of offering useful and engaging content to your target audience. No sales pitches or self-serving blather allowed. Think white papers, educational events, research reports. books, blogs and videos, to name a few just a few formats. You may know content marketing by other names, such as thought leadership or brand content.

There are a couple of cool things about this report. First, it focuses on professional services. Second, it provides practical guidelines to help professional services marketers improve their content marketing programs.

In reviewing the report, I was struck by five opportunities in which the rated effectiveness of an approach was lower than it's utilization. In other words, more professional services marketers judged them effective than the percentage of firms that use them:

  1. In-person events
    These face-to-face events top the chart in terms of perceived effectiveness (85% see them as effective) but are used by less than two thirds of professional services firms. That gap presents a real opportunity. Tip: one way to make in-person events easier to pull off is to recruit marketing partners to share the logistical burdens.
  2. Webinairs or webcasts
    Webinars have surged in popularity in recent months, but many firms still don't use them — despite their low cost and relative low level of complexity. My informal observation is that there are big differences across different professional services verticals. For instance, many technology and marketing firms have embraced webinars, but you see far fewer in engineering or government contracting firms diving in.
  3. Videos
    With the rapid rise of online video and its migration into the executive suite, video marketing is an opportunity ripe for growth. It's a great way to tell your firm's story, present a case study or make high quality testimonials accessible and interesting. Almost six out of ten professional services marketers consider video an effective tool, yet only 37% of firms actually use it.
  4. White papers
    Long popular in some circles, white papers are used less often than you would think, especially considering their high perceived level of effectiveness. They provide an opportunity to frame a common problem in a way that is easy to understand — and sets up your audience to be receptive toward your firm's solution. But be cautious. In my experience, white are too often laced with overly technical jargon. Clearly presented thinking is much more valuable to most readers.
  5. Tailoring content to sales stage
    Your prospects or current customers need and want different information at different stages of the buying cycle. Over a quarter of professional services marketers fail to customize their content for audiences with different levels of interest. There is an opportunity there.

The biggest challenge

Content marketing is here to stay. In many ways, it is a perfect fit for professional services firms; it allows them to leverage their expertise and knowledge in a very natural way. Really, the biggest challenge faced by professional services marketers is making that content engaging and relevant.

The coming year offers many opportunities. In fact, over half of marketers (51%) plan to increase spending, while only 2% plan to pull back. I'll be interested to see how many professional services marketers put their dollars into content marketing. I speak from experience when I say it's an approach that will bear fruit.