As industry consolidation accelerates, the merger and acquisition announcements seem to pop up at least monthly. Within the data center, cloud services, and mission-critical space, colocation and wholesale providers struggle to differentiate in, many times, brutally competitive local and regional markets.
One of the best ways for data center providers to stand out is to position their companies and their executives as subject matter experts and thought leaders. It sounds fairly straightforward in theory, but implementation can be way more challenging.
So, what can providers of outsourced data centers do to build an effective content strategy? One that attracts the right people in the right places, at the right time, and most of all, in the right context?
Most data center providers aren't setting goals in a way relevant to the modern buyer's journey in a digital-first world. This is a huge problem for smaller players that don't have a strong CMO, CRO, or CDO on their payroll (which is very rare below $10M in annual revenue or unless there’s strong VC-backing).
To be successful, all colocation and wholesale providers need SMART goals -- specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.
For digital newbies, a top-of-funnel SMART goal is the way to go -- focusing on the growth of leads or marketing qualified leads (MQLs).
While most CEOs and board members love to set really aggressive bottom-of-funnel SMART goals focused on revenue growth, this isn't realistic for beginners unless they already have a strong sense of product/market fit and a budget/investment level similar to the companies on the that they're chasing -- such as Digital Realty, Equinix, or Iron Mountain.
Bottom line: A content strategy without defining goals wastes time and money.
A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of one of your ideal clients based on actual research and some educated speculation. The “actual” part of the research is one of the things that gets people tripped up.
Why? The CEO or head of sales of smaller providers (<100 employees) often believes that he’s been doing what he’s doing for so long that the company doesn't need to ask real people.
They think they can pull it out of thin air or pull the buyer persona out of their brain. And while input from the co-founder, CEO, or sales director is part of your “actual” research, it's essential not to be blind-sided. If your buyer persona is not CEOs or sales directors of companies like yours, that data could be an interesting opinion but irrelevant.
Bottom line: A content strategy without buyer personas wastes time and money.
Perform Content Audits
Once a data center provider has narrowed down who their primary and secondary buyer personas are (tip: if you're new to this, don't set more than a 1st and 2nd priority.), and just as important: who their negative buyer personas are, you will need remarkable content for each buyer persona and each stage of the buyer's journey (Awareness, Consideration, and Decision).
As necessary, your buyer personas should include some essential buyer's journey mapping so you understand the main steps/milestones that each buyer persona progresses through between stranger and client.
So, if you have two core buyer personas and three buyer's journey stages, you have at least six content strategy boxes that need to be filled.
In most cases, this will mean you need at least six lead generation offers that convert visitors to leads, accelerate leads into sales opportunities, and help close opportunities into new clients.
With many buyers, 70% or more of their mind is already made up before you get a chance to know that somebody is your potential client. 70% of their decision-making is already done.
How do you ensure you influence how they look at the world? How do you make sure that you've considered? How do you make sure that you influence their evaluation criteria?
It all comes down to understanding your potential clients, building buyer personas around them, and ensuring that you invest in the right kind of content creation with the right investment relative to the digital world where all of this is going on.
Tip: Most data center providers of all sizes are woefully underinvested in content creation and promotion. A content audit is almost always the right place to start once a CEO, sales director, or CMO gets what this all means: Being #1 in their market requires a real commitment to differentiation, thought leadership, competitive positioning, sales cycle acceleration, and revenue growth.
Choose a CMS/Digital Experience Platform
At the risk of oversimplifying things, you can't do content marketing without a content management system (CMS). Period.
Any IT person or webmaster who tries to convince you that you can hasn't been around the block.
In a digital-first world with unprecedented levels of competition, a CMS must be able to fully support traffic generation, lead generation, sales cycle acceleration, customer marketing, segmentation, and personalization.
While WordPress is by far and away the most popular CMS among operators of colocation and wholesale data centers, WordPress is not built to deliver full-funnel marketing results by buyer persona and buyer's journey stage.
Having a CMS that supports landing page creation and optimization is much more critical than most realize.
Tip: Most small businesses either overlook the need to have a CMS or select a CMS that's not capable of implementing a full-funnel content strategy focused on attaining SMART goals.
Brainstorm Content Ideas
The best content ideas will come from the actual buyer persona interviews themselves. When buyer persona research is done thoroughly, you should end up with a healthy surplus of content ideas that make it tough to decide what to tackle this quarter vs. next quarter vs. next year, etc. (the parking lot)
Besides prospect and customer interviews, your own sales team and support team are also frequently overlooked sources of content ideas and subject matter expert interviews.
All too often, marketing runs the whole content ideation process in a vacuum -- and ends up outsourcing work to freelancers based on perceived industry expertise and willingness to bid low prices.
Seriously, many internal marketing managers believe that one of their core responsibilities is sourcing cheap content to help their boss continue to reside in inbound investment la-la land delusionally. "Sure, 1% of revenue is a great investment for 300% annual revenue growth! Not!"
The best content ideas and the content itself will almost always come from the subject matter expert interviews with sales team members, support team members, executives, customers, and partners.
Tip: Every content idea should be tagged for a particular buyer persona and buyer's journey stage. Without this, it's easy to lose track of what it takes to achieve your SMART goals.
Brainstorm Content Formats
Regarding content formats, let your buyer persona's preferences (initially) and actual data dictate priorities (ongoing).
You'll usually find better results from integrating your video strategy with your blogging strategy.
But different buyer personas prefer different formats: blogs (reading), podcasts (listening), videos (watching), or webinars/events (experiencing). Your preferences don't matter. It's all about THEM -- your core buyer personas.
Even different names: eBook vs. special report vs. white paper vs. downloadable guide -- it all depends on your buyer personas.
Tip: Publish faster. And watch the data to iterate on content format preferences. Whenever possible, make re-purposing part of your editorial content planning. For example, excerpts from webinars to eBooks, from eBooks to blog posts, and blog posts to social media posts.
Promote and Manage Content
Half the battle is content creation. The other half of the battle is content promotion.
No matter how remarkable your content is, it does your content no good if you can't get it in front of the right eyeballs.
There is severe content saturation for many niches that data centers target, especially with organic search and social findability.
So be realistic: almost everything with content promotion going forward will be pay-to-play. Great for Google's and Facebook's share prices. Not so great for CEOs and boards who aren't very good at a content strategy that impacts bottom-line SMART goals.
Tip: Competition and paid search/social prices force you to have excellent lead generation and sales acceleration strategy. If you're driving all of your paid traffic to a Contact Us page or Book a Tour page, your content strategy will never get you the revenue growth results that you need.
Refresh Old Content
Evergreen content is a great way to get more mileage from your content strategy investments.
But at some point -- usually one to three years down the road -- you'll still want to review and refresh many of your high-performing traffic generation and lead generation content assets.
Tip: Landing pages have been converting well (20-50% conversion rates) for five years. However, there's a big difference between generating the initial lead and closing that lead to a client. Ensure your company isn't embarrassing itself on the content behind the landing page. One to three hours yearly can make a massive difference when you block out this time on your content calendar.
Along the same lines, it's astonishing how many data center providers sabotage their content strategy success by missing the basics on their websites: stale copyright years in their website footers, failing the mobile-friendly test (not responsive), and blogs/social not updated in literally years.
The Bottom Line
In a digital-first world where prospects are shortlisting and disqualifying data center providers based on what they discover on search engines and social media, your company’s content strategy is almost certainly more critical than you, your management team, and your board realize. Use the tips introduced in this blog post as a starting point to build an effective content strategy for attracting the right prospects to your data center.
What have you found most important when building your company’s content strategy? Share your thoughts in the Comments box below.