content marketing
Marketing Marketing Technology

How to Choose a Content Marketing Provider (Hint: You Can’t Just Order Off a Menu)

5 Minute Read

Your engineering team has made profound advances: the software that controls a communications chipset they’ve been working on for over a year will soon be ready for its debut. You’re the product marketing manager that can talk geek with the best of them, but you can’t say a thing to your content marketing team—because you don’t have one. You’ve got enough engineers to code a new parting of the Red Sea, but anyone to put winning sales words in place and use the latest marketing technology to wing them out there? Not a soul.

Worse yet, and this one really stings: you hear that your biggest rival, Kinda Good Software, has just signed a bust-the-bank deal to sell their chipset software—software that pales next to yours—to a major phone manufacturer, and all the big business media are making major noise about it. So, when your phone lights up, you know it’s the boss on the line. And when she says the company needs to hire one of those newfangled content marketing providers, the ones who can supply your company with the words, the means and the metrics to get your tech in front of the right buying eyes, you’re Googling before you hang up the phone.

Ahh, Google. Sometimes an embarrassment of riches is overwhelming, not clarifying. Your search for a provider gets you spilling cupboards of enterprise marketing services and solutions, marketing technology companies, boutique agencies, and freelancers. Yikes! Maybe you should begin at the beginning, and clearly outline what your company needs in a provider before you fall into the arms of one who you won’t love—and who won’t love you in return.

Lab researcher with test tubes and equipment

Research, RFPs, and the Sweet Smell of Success

A recent Forbes report on choosing a content-based marketing solution declared that one of your initial interests has to be how much the company will familiarize themselves with your brand. After all, it’s not just a one-and-done piece of software you’re peddling here—these days, it’s also your company’s mission, perspective, and the whole of the customer conversation. As suggested, your new provider should have the chops to do some targeted market and competitive research too.

We’re not suggesting you should be the neighborhood gossip, but it’s a solid thought to research any providers on your radar by contacting other clients of theirs to get the skinny on how they fattened their other clients’ coffers. As the Content Marketing Institute recommended, check out prospective companies’ case studies to see what strategic capabilities the provider has, and if they mesh with yours.

Once you winnow through your initial list, and have some top-level sense of what the company could offer, it’s time to write up an RFP to send to your prospects to see if they have the right stuff. That RFP should include the usual suspects: your company’s business model, customer targets/audience, content topics and goals (like leads or revenue or both), existing company content uses and placements, social media channels you socialize on, active marketing channels and the like.

While you’re waiting for every one of those providers to say they can deliver 200 percent on all of your needs, there are some other salient considerations to determine which one might suit you best—the first of which, according to Forbes, is deciding what counts as success. That earlier Forbes piece went into detail on needing to know your goals in engaging with a provider. How will you calculate ROI, how will the data be supplied, and what will you do if the results aren’t as promised? (Though we understand how good it feels, pouting isn’t a solution.)

Bride putting ring on man's finger

Put a Ring on It

Numbers are nifty, as suggested above, but don’t forget the human side of the equation. There’s no success if you grit your teeth every time you call your company’s rep, or read one of their emails. No need that they become your BFFs, but behind many business successes are many cordial relationships. People who like to work with you go the extra mile and vice versa.

Speaking of teamwork, take confidence in knowing that your chosen provider has a content team. You don’t want a single strategist who doubles as the editor and also manages the marketing technology on his lunch break. The costs of engaging a provider can be considerable, and you want to be assured that your dough is going toward the work of a united squad of highly competent professionals with the moxie to transform ideas into stories that drive results.

Speaking of that human side, some analysts have suggested that engaging a provider is like—gasp!—getting married. Report Garden noted that this association can be a long-term partnership where understanding and cooperation is key to getting the best results. Your partner has to know your needs and expectation, and you theirs. So, a winning smile is only worth so much, if their marketing technology is based on Windows XP. (Oh, the “starter” marriage concept isn’t advised here—don’t test the waters with a mediocre candidate.)

When it comes to choosing a content solution, there’s plenty of advice insisting that you think before you ink. If you were going to prioritize one suggestion, make it this: make sure your investment is going to deliver ROI, and trust in the process your provider develops with you. With patience, hard work, and a thoughtful plan, you’ll be able to stock the company kitchen with enough Monster drinks to keep an army of engineers happily coding into eternity.

Wondering where to get started in your hunt for a content marketing provider who can partner with your brand to help you tell great stories? Learn more about Skyword.

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Featured image attribution: Dogancan Ozturan

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Tom Bentley is a content marketing copywriter and editor, a magazine feature writer,  a travel writer and a published fiction writer and editor. He's published articles in Forbes, The American Scholar, the Los Angeles Times, Wine Enthusiast, the San Francisco Chronicle, Wired, the San Jose Mercury News, Draft magazine and many more. He has won several nonfiction and fiction writing awards.

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