Utility Content: In a League of Its Own

By Stacey Piper

My husband is a huge Philadelphia Phillies fan, and when we started dating, the researcher in me sought to understand the game better. (It was either that or fall asleep in the third quarter, oops, I mean third inning.) One of the things I found most interesting was that the Most Valuable Player (MVP) is voted on and awarded not game by game, but at the end of season, by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA), for overall contributions to the entire season. I liked the idea that an unsuccess at-bat, or inning, single game, or even series did not have to define the value or contribution of a player.

As I learned more about baseball, the relevance to content marketing was not lost on me. A strategic marketing program can last a year or more and evolve over time. Similar to the complexity of baseball, from a nine-inning game (that can stretch to 26 or more) to a series to a full season―large dollar amounts and multiple decision-makers make for a long sales cycle in the public sector with a variety of influences. Just as each new inning and series is likely to require a shift in strategy and execution to stay on course, so too does your messaging, content, and channels, in order to reach your audience.

Baseball is a game with a lot of waiting in it; it is a game with increasingly heightened anticipation of increasingly limited action.

John Irving

My first blog post for The Pathological Marketer in August 2013 focused on good content, highlighting a new buzzword: “content marketing.” Eight years later, I find myself using the term “Utility Content” to describe content that is specifically created to be useful to the target audience. Developing utility content requires the marketer to understand the customer more deeply than ever before (role/responsibility, pain points, goals, preferences, biases), as well as the customer’s stage in the sales cycle. In addition, knowing which content and messaging resonate with decision-makers and influencers and how to disseminate your marketing assets, especially as organizations have pivoted to long-term remote work as a result of the pandemic, are critical to making it to the next base.

I was again reminded of the importance of utility content when the annual Content Marketing Review was released earlier this year. The research, led by Market Connections, polls 600 Fed and SLED decision-makers and influencers to learn which content and channels they value most. The result—a concise list highlighting the most valuable players of utility content when marketing to the public sector.

The Foundation of Utility Content

Remember the 3 R’s in developing high-impact content:

  1. Relatable
  2. Repurposable
  3. Repeated
1. Build Brand Recognition with Relatable Content

Utility content is useful to the prospective buyer, not to the company. With up to 75 percent of the sales process taking place BEFORE you’ve ever connected with your prospect, it’s important to control your first impression and ensure your audience comes looking for you when they need help. They are forming opinions about your organization independent of any direct interaction with you, well before the final evaluation and selection take place. If you’re even on their radar screen—and you may not be—prospective clients are in evaluation mode as they research solutions and specifications and review vendors and providers. While federal buyers may seem antiquated, they are now doing their own due diligence upfront, rather than relying on you to inform and educate, so it’s important to have your content out there working for you.

2. Repurpose Insightful Utility Content

This is your opportunity to introduce your audience to your brand and why it matters. Lay your foundation with instructional content without a sales message that your audience will want to learn from and share. This content must be credible, composed of insights from trusted government sources, thought leaders, and the trade press, and supported by past performance data and case studies.

Well written, concise, and search engine optimized content will have the most longevity. Focus on reports, white papers, published articles, your corporate website content, participation in online communities, and email marketing, then make it easy for your prospects to share with colleagues via social and email and promote it in your webinar and blog channels. Take large written pieces, such as white papers, and repurpose them as a series of blogs, for example. Blogs are particularly helpful for generating organic search engine rankings so don’t underestimate their power to reach your audience.

3. Keep Repeating Your Message

Influence, or dominate, your audience’s due diligence. Rely on personas to understand the players in the decision, then effectively target your content to the decision-maker and his or her place in the decision-making chain-of-command and in getting to know your products or services. For example, webinars are typically utilized by federal decision-makers mid-funnel when your prospect is gathering knowledge about potential solutions and vendors; their influence drops to under 30 percent at the final selection stage.

You’re looking for that sweet spot, being in the right place at the right time, so it’s okay to keep repeating the same messaging themes and capability topics in multiple formats. Since more than 80 percent of the public sector audience may not be able to access social media on work devices, you need to rely on mediums that they can access. Make sure your content appears in search results, their email (still the preferred delivery method), and industry press with messages that are cognizant of both role and timing. Make sure you have a variety of credible content that doesn’t focus on WHAT you do, but rather, HOW you do it.

Commit to the Long Game

In baseball, the players who are voted MVPs are usually those who fulfill their singular role (batting, catching, pitching, etc.) while also demonstrating leadership across the team to pull the entire effort together. A successful content marketing campaign requires the same kind of collaboration and integration with your content as players, positioned against your competition and working in concert at every touchpoint toward your goal to win the client or bid.

The next time someone whines that baseball doesn’t have enough action, you can do two things: first, explain the planning, strategizing, calculating, and deception that take place before every pitch. Then quote Hall-of-Fame announcer Red Barber: ‘Baseball is dull only to dull minds.’

Zack Hample

Hitting the ball out of the park is only one incremental success in winning the game. Define what constitutes a home run for your campaign by establishing KPIs and tracking performance. Be prepared to replace content that doesn’t perform well or pivot to channels that are outperforming. Study your competitors’ offerings. Load the bases with content and utilize every touchpoint to its utmost.

Contact Piper Strategies

Ready to start drafting high-value utility content? Contact me for a consultation with your leadership team.

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