Own the Topic, Own the Conversation

By David Burda  |  June 10, 2015

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The less it’s about you, the more it’s about you.

It’s a difficult concept to grasp. It’s even more difficult to sell up the corporate ladder, where executives at the highest levels expect to see corporate logos used as lead graphic elements and their products and services breathlessly mentioned in every sentence of content created by their marketing departments.

You and I know that doesn’t work. We don’t like to be sold.

But we do like to be educated, especially on topics in which we have a particular interest.

That, I would argue, is the sweet spot for content marketing. Businesses that want to reach their target audience should generate content on a topic of particular interest to that audience. Obviously, the topic should be related to what the businesses do, but the content must focus on the topic rather than what the businesses are selling.

In an earlier blog post, I encouraged businesses to own a credible statistic, number or data point of interest to their customers to generate ongoing earned media opportunities for their brand. In this post, I’m advocating that businesses own an entire topic of interest to their customers.

Let me explain how to operationalize this approach by using home-grown tomatoes as the fictional business example. Who doesn’t like home-grown tomatoes? If you don’t, you can substitute another fruit or vegetable (or unrelated product). Then, I’ll offer a few real-life examples from the healthcare industry, where I do most of my work as MSPC’s editorial director for healthcare strategies. We’ll wrap up with some dos and don’ts and a few ideas on how to get started.

STEP 1: Select the topic your target audience is most interested in.

Ideally, the topic matches your business. Let’s say you sell tomatoes—everything from seeds to plants to growing supplies—for home gardeners but your company’s name is AAA Home Growers (chosen so you’d be listed first in the Yellow Pages back in the day). Pick tomatoes as your topic.

STEP 2: Create a standalone website (or microsite within your main website with its own unique URL) on that topic.

Sticking with our example, it would be www.tomatoes.com. The site would serve as the hub for all your content on tomatoes with the goal of making it the destination where the nationwide conversation about growing tomatoes at home is taking place.

STEP 3: Determine the subtopics that your site will focus on in terms of content.

Any company worth its salt will have market research that identifies those subtopics and, ideally, ranks them in order of interest or concern to that target audience. The subtopics on www.tomatoes.com could be: Types of Tomatoes, Seeds or Seedlings, Care and Feeding, Stakes and Cages, When to Pick, and Canning and Recipes.

STEP 4: Create credible, unbranded content on your topic.

Minimal branding on the new website should be the goal. A logo and link at the bottom of the home page and some information about AAA Home Growers on the “About Us” page will suffice.

The target audience trusts the content. The target audience trusts the content creator. That builds brand loyalty. Brand loyalty builds sales. The less it’s about you, the more it’s about you.

A handful of forward-thinking healthcare organizations have grasped the concept, claiming a topic as their own and convening a daily conversation around that topic.

A leading example on the B2C side of content marketing is the Baby Center. It’s all things baby, ranging from having one to raising one. You’d have to comb through the site to learn that it’s operated by a company called BabyCenter, which is owned by Johnson & Johnson, the pharmaceutical products giant based in New Brunswick, N.J.

Another healthcare B2C example is KidsHealth. It’s a website devoted to children’s health issues and operated by The Nemours Center for Children’s Health Media, which is part of The Nemours Foundation. The foundation oversees the Nemours Children’s Health System. The site boasts of almost 1 million visits daily from parents, kids, teens and educators (its four target audiences nationally) with minimal Nemours branding.

This content marketing approach is less prevalent in the healthcare B2B space, but it’s starting to catch on as even hard-to-sell c-suite executives recognize its effectiveness.

For example, in January, Omnicell, a Mountain View, Calif.-based firm that sells medication management solutions to healthcare facilities, launched a website called the Medication Adherence Resource Center. The site features unbranded content for patients and caregivers about the importance of taking prescribed medications and taking them the right way. It doesn’t feature Omnicell other than its logo at the bottom right of the home page.

The challenge for healthcare companies that want to own a topic of interest to their business audience is staking a claim to a specific topic. Being the first gives you your choice of the best website names and corresponding URLs that enable you to convene and control the industry-wide conversation around that topic. If you’re second to the topic and second to the best website names and corresponding URLs, you might as well be last and not do it at all.

And while B2B healthcare topics are plentiful, they are limited. So sorry, but www.patientsafety.com and www.healthIT.com are taken. If you’re going to do it, do it now.

Another challenge is cost. A full-blown, freestanding healthcare B2B thought-leadership website will require an investment of several hundred thousand dollars each year. But, if done right and all content roads on a particular topic lead back to you, the return on investment can be huge. I’d also argue that it’s cheaper yet more effective than traditional advertising.

So own the topic. Own the conversation. And enjoy the fruits—or vegetables—of your content labor.

To learn more about how MSPC can help you own the conversation in your industry, contact us.

Read next: Content Marketing vs. Advertising: What’s the Difference, Again?

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