Case Study: John Howard Swain

John Howard Swain

I’m happy to report that I’ve been busy launching two new content marketing campaigns. One of them is for Intentional Shift, a group of women led by Brenda Michaels who co-wrote a book called The Gift of Cancer with Marsha Mercant about Brenda’s physical and spiritual recovery from a life-threatening encounter with the C-word. The other is for Richard W. Butler, who specializes in retirement income for couples in Biddeford, Maine. Intentional Shift’s campaign is up and running. I encourage you to check out their website, Facebook, Twitter and email to see a new content marketing campaign in action. Richard’s Facebook, Twitter and email accounts are active and his website will launch soon.

Although it’s exciting to see these new foals come to their feet, I wanted to show you a campaign that’s been up and running for about two years. It belongs to my dear friend, John Howard Swain, and it’s proof that even the smallest of businesses can benefit from a content marketing campaign.

John is an acting teacher in New York City. He does what he does out of a love of the craft and a sincere desire to give back to the community that gave so much to him. He’s a veteran of the entertainment industry. I know. I first met him like a gamillion years ago when I was a young actor in Pensacola, FL. Flash forward to just a few years ago and we appeared on Broadway together – the corner of 95th Street and Broadway on Mahattan’s Upper West Side, to be exact – out of the clear blue. We had a lot of catching up to do. During one of several lunches and coffees over the next few months, John shared with me his frustration at keeping his acting classes full. While he had a very strong following among his alumni, he was having trouble attracting new blood. He disclosed that he had hundreds of email addresses from current and former students that he wasn’t leveraging at all. I suggested that he write a blog and tie that in to a Facebook page, a Twitter account and, of course, an email campaign.

He already had his domain name, johnhowardswain.com, registered but it was pointing to an almost blank page on GoDaddy.com. As soon as I looked at it, I said, “What we have here is a billboard in the desert.” What he needed was traffic. I outlined for him the three-legged stool of my simple content strategy: blog, social networks and email. I discussed with him the optional, but powerful, fourth leg of an event, which resonated loudly with John. “That’s perfect,” he said. “I’ve been considering conducting free audition workshops as a way of attracting new students.” I replied, “You’re right. That is perfect.” We got started crafting his campaign.

The Blog: WordPress.com

I steered John towards WordPress.com for three reasons: 1) it’s the most widely used blogging site in the world, 2) it’s hosted, which greatly reduces the maintenance and SEO headache, and 3) it’s subscriber-based, which means that John’s pages and posts will be proactively presented to a wide audience without his having to do practically anything at all. John currently has 171 followers through WordPress alone. While that may not sound like a lot compared to other sites, almost all of these people are actively seeking information about their acting careers and most of these people had never heard of John or his film acting class before. That’s exactly who we are trying to attract.

Additionally, John uses the blog to promote his semi-monthly casting workshops, which are by invitation only to his blog followers as well as current and former students. This gives actors who are local to New York City an added incentive to follow him – and it works. Every single time John posts a new article, he attracts new followers. Given that he’s only trying to fill about twenty seats per class, this is a very efficient campaign.

Social Networks: Facebook and Twitter

John has a Facebook page and a Twitter account which are pressed into service also. His Facebook page has 493 followers at this writing and Twitter 109, all grown organically. In other words, these are all people who actively sought John out through his blog or other sources. He didn’t spend any advertising dollars to garner them. Primarily, he uses these accounts to publicize the blog and the workshops, even posting pictures after the events.

Email Campaign: Constant Contact

We set up a Constant Contact account for John because I haven’t experienced any better platform for small business owners, as much for the features and ease-of-use as for customer service. The small owner/operator who is running a DIY campaign will be pleasantly surprised at the amount of information and support available to them through Constant Contact. As a disclaimer, I’ll tell you that I’m a Constant Contact Business Partner (as in “Reseller”). However, that said, while I’ve used others which have been just as good at crafting and sending emails, at some point I often hit a wall in which I’m able to show the customer that Constant Contact would be better. If for no other reason than it has so much more than email.

In John’s case, we use several of their products besides Email Campaigns. We use their Event Management tool for signing up and managing attendees for the workshops, and we always follow up with them afterwards using Constant Contact’s Survey product. While I do wish there was even more integration between these different modules, it’s nice to have all these tools in one kit. John leverages them to the max.

Event: The Workshop

This is the optional, but oh-so-powerful, fourth leg in my simple content marketing model. Several weeks in advance John publicizes the next workshop to his blog readers, encouraging them to sign up to follow the blog as that’s the pool from which the invitations will be sent. And it works! We always see a spike in followers when that announcement gets posted. John even sets a countdown timer to the next workshop on his home page, helping to create urgency.

At a pre-announced time and date, the invitations go out through Constant Contact that include a button to register for the event, which takes the user to the Constant Contact event page. The workshop usually fills up within an hour or two with the maximum 25-30 registrants. John follows that up with a confirmation email as well as an informational email with a list of do’s and don’t’s for the event (i.e., “Do bring a monologue, Don’t bring a friend,” etc.). At the event, John takes candid pictures of the participants which he posts to his Facebook account and in a recap post on his blog. After the event, he immediately sends out a brief survey that asks them to rate their experience. The questions include one or two subtle calls-to-action for people considering taking his class.

John is using content marketing in the most efficient way possible, by applying a classic marketing pipeline model, which you can read more about here. When he posts a blog article, it goes out to all the people in the WordPress.com universe, many of whom might be interested in taking a film acting class. In other words, the “suspect” list. When someone signs up to follow the blog they become a “lead”. Those who attend the workshops convert from “lead” to “prospect”. Many of those prospects convert to customers. As a result, John’s classes are consistently full these days.

Other business models that this can work well for include professionals such as doctors, lawyers, accountants and anyone in the financial planning field, such as Richard W. Butler. It can work especially well for anyone whose customer base can become a community of like-minded people, such as is the mission at Intentional Shift. If you’d like to know if it can work for you, feel free to contact me.

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