3 Ways Content Brought My Company Back From Bankruptcy
This swimming pool CEO describes his content "epiphany": not to set out to become his industry's most trafficked site but to become "thought leaders on all things aquatic."
Building a business is one thing, but pulling it back from the brink after it falls apart is a whole other undertaking. Equifax knows this problem all too well even as it tries to rebound from its well-publicized customer data breach.
And while the company itself is putting a brave face on the issue, public perception is making some hesitant to put their full faith in the company.
I have some insight into Equifax's woes because, before the economic collapse of the late 2000s, my own swimming pool business was booming; we’d started 2008 with our fullest pipeline to date, and I thought we were looking at record growth for the foreseeable future.
But you know what happened: After the Dow crashed, customers started canceling orders, and consultants told us it was time to consider bankruptcy. The stress kept building, culminating one terrible night when I called our bank’s automated line to hear we were overdrawn. In truth, we had been overdrawn for weeks, but I'd kept hoping things would turn around on their own.
That event stands out in my mind because, on the brink of depression and hopelessness, I was forced to start seeing things from a new perspective. Times were changing, and ours wasn’t the only company struggling to adjust, let alone survive. With customers making the internet and Google their trusted advisors, I figured it was time to channel my energies into a new approach that would revitalize my company and give it a stronger foundation for the future.
So "a new approach" was exactly what I undertook.
Until the crash, we tried every traditional advertising method available, from radio ads to commercials to the Yellow Pages. But every year, those ads became less and less effective.
Realizing this trend wouldn’t change, I recognized that our company needed to rethink our marketing philosophy, to survive. After that phone call to the bank, I consumed every internet marketing resource I could get my hands on. And I soon began encountering the same terms: inbound marketing, social media marketing, content marketing -- each of which boiled down to the same tenet: People wanted answers -- honest answers -- to their questions online.
That epiphany changed everything, leading us to reconfigure our online approach around that premise. We didn’t become the most trafficked swimming pool website in the world based just on installing pools; we became thought leaders on all things aquatic.
My lack of a traditional marketing background didn’t make this an easy shift, so I put myself in our customers’ shoes. I saw things from their perspective and considered what content they wanted to read.
Reworking roles within the company to account for these new priorities felt like making a 180-degree turn at 100 miles per hour, but customer response showed us our instincts were on point.
Not only did we bring our company back from the brink of bankruptcy, but we became leaders in a burgeoning industry.
Coming back to the surface
Change is inevitable. While the crash of the late 2000s will hopefully remain a distant memory, business owners will always need to know how to respond to adversity. For me, content helped us rebound from that setback and encounter newer, more sustainable success. The following three strategies keyed our transformation and can help others in similar situations.
1. Focus on the five factors customers care most about. After we switched to our new business model, I dived into our web analytics to see which types of questions people cared about most. I found five topics that garnered more traffic, leads and sales than any others: cost, problems, comparisons, reviews and best ratings.
When consumers and buyers research products and services online, those five things jump out and resonate with them the most. In fact, Demand Metric found that 90 percent of customers it surveyed preferred content that specifically addresses a pain point they have. No business can hide online, and customers who don’t find the answers they want in any of those five categories will likely turn elsewhere; so make it easy for your customers to evaluate your company based on these variables.
Peek into customer trends and analytics to discover the issues that matter most to consumers when they're purchasing a product. Identify those variables; then focus your content on answering those questions and easing those pain points -- with information.
2. Produce content that reflects your internal culture. When customers call, email or simply walk in, they expect their interaction with the company to match the content they’ve seen. If that experience doesn’t live up to the advertising, they’ll feel tricked and take their business elsewhere.
Agencies can take existing content from good to great, but the soul of a piece must come from within the company. In my experience, our long-term customers stay because our marketing image matches the reality of our inner workings.
Research appearing in Impact's 2017 The State of Content Marketing report found that more than 75 percent of B2C companies it surveyed will pour more into their content marketing campaigns this year, so get everyone involved in your content creation. Every department -- marketing, sales and development -- should have a say in creating your company’s story.
Make content a companywide effort that infuses your story with authenticity and your sales team with more confidence when its members communicate with prospects.
3. Make content a top-to-bottom priority. Marketing is not an afterthought. In today’s online-first world, it’s the difference between sustained success and bankruptcy. When our pool company was failing, I went all in on revitalizing it; I stopped watching TV, slept less and started writing incessantly.
I don’t recommend sacrificing everything to create more content, but I do insist that companies take their responsibilities as marketers more seriously. National Geographic Society Chairman Emeritus John Fahey saw a need to change with the times and help his brand in sync with the changing landscape. In this context, Fahey engineered the hiring of the company’s first CMO and oversaw the magazine’s reinvention.
That's how the magazine changed from a print-only entity to a digital platform using content to tell stories through social media, video and television.
In the same way, your company's leadership must understand the importance of content creation and prioritize it over most other initiatives. Finding the time isn’t hard; companies produce a lot of content via emails and other customer communications; but they rarely turn that content into blog posts and videos. So, stop hiding your good content, and start transforming every answer into content accessible to everyone.
I hope I never relive the nightmare of the recession, but if I do, I know that the experience of rebuilding my company will help me succeed. If you see your company going down a similar path, follow these strategies to rethink your approach, to get back to a more fruitful future.