Top of Mind by John Hall [Book Summary & PDF]

Top of Mind is a book for business leaders, public speakers, social media influencers, thought leaders, personal brands, and any company that wants to build meaningful relationships with its audience and industry influencers through a powerful content strategy.

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INTRODUCTION

Who is this book for?

Top of Mind is a book for business leaders, public speakers, social media influencers, thought leaders, personal brands, and any company that wants to build meaningful relationships with its audience and industry influencers through a powerful content strategy.

About the author

John Hall is the CEO and co-founder of Influence & Co., a tech-enabled content marketing agency that helps brands and individuals extract and leverage their expertise to create, publish, and distribute content to gain influence, visibility, and credibility with their key audiences. He is consistently mentioned in major publications as a top influencer, leader, and speaker.

In this summary

I loved how practical and in-depth this book was. In this summary, we will explore how the consumer landscape has changed through inbound marketing and branding, how to build an authentic, transparent, and consistent personal brand, and how to be valuable – and top-of-mind – to your audience through content. Ready? Let’s go…

BOOK SUMMARY

1. HOW TO STAY ON TOP OF MIND

The Consumer Landscape Today

Credibility is the new currency. Consumers want real human connection, the kind they can get only from other people – not from some soulless corporate brand.

People don’t care about your products and services; they care about their needs. That’s why it’s important to ask the following questions:

  • Am I delivering real value to my customers, every day, outside the main products and services that I offer?
  • Do I understand the real needs and pain points of my customers and prospects?
  • If my customers are having a significant problem, would they think of and contact me first?
  • Do my customers like and trust me?

If potential customers/clients are thinking about you at the moment they begin looking for a solution for their needs, you are at a distinct competitive advantage. That’s the definition of being a ‘top of mind’ brand.

How can you stay on top of mind?

  1. Listen to your target audience and create an open-ended conversation that is as dynamic as your customer base. What do they value? What’s important to them?
  2. Craft the way you engage and communicate with this audience around content triggers.
  3. Repeat.

This way, valuable content pulls people toward your company and product, the moment they’re looking for a solution to their problem (Inbound Marketing).

4 Steps Of Inbound Marketing

  1. ATTRACT. First, you attract your target audience, usually to your website, through compelling, helpful, and engaging content. The could be insightful think pieces, enlightening how-to videos, live updates from a real-time event, an article on an external industry publication, and so on.
  2. CONVERT. Once they’re on your website, it’s time to build trust by giving them more valuable resources (white papers, e-books, etc. – not a hard sell) in exchange for their contact information. The goal is to position yourself as the best resource for them when they’re ready to buy.
  3. CLOSE. To turn your leads into customers, nurture the relationship through personalized communication, based on how they’re interacting with your content and company. Keep detailed records in your customer relationship management (CRM) system and track your performance.
  4. DELIGHT. Sometimes, sales teams lose interest after getting a customer – that’s a bad move. Nothing hurts your new client more than feeling used like you were only ever interested in the sale. Instead, transform your customers into promoters of your brand with continuous valuable and relevant content.

Conclusion

People have problems. They first search online to learn more about what people have to say, and arm themselves with as much information as possible, before ever looking for buying solutions. Valuable content and inbound marketing helps you be the person/company they’ll first talk to.

2. CREATING A TRUSTWORTHY BRAND

Why Trust Is Important

Trust is a living, breathing, emotional bond that connects people to one another. It’s intimate, personal, and powerful. In a world where it seems like everyone is out to pitch, scam, or screw you, it is also a rare and precious commodity.

There are no shortcuts to gaining someone’s trust. If you don’t make a long-term commitment to keeping the fire going, it will quickly burn out.

There are at least 7 touch points for creating trust:

  1. Authenticity
  2. Helpfulness
  3. Likeability
  4. Familiarity
  5. Brand & thought leadership
  6. Content triggers
  7. Education

Let’s analyse below the most important touch points…

Helpfulness

When you help people out, rather than treating them as extensions of your business plan, your interactions become friendly, genuine, and infused with humanity.

How To Be Helpful

  • Share Knowledge. It’s what humans have been doing forever: learn something new and share it with others.
  • Connect People with What They Value. You can help a person only if you know what kind of help they would find valuable – come right out and ask!
  • Share Resources. Mobilize your idle assets in creative ways to help your contacts – what resources do you or your company have that you can share?
  • Make People Aware of Opportunities. A well-timed opportunity can change someone’s life.
  • Offer Transparent Feedback. When you offer it to someone, you’re saying, “I take you seriously, and I want to help you succeed.”
  • Become a Brand Advocate. Stand up for someone else’s brand (brand advocacy) to create a direct path to the top of their mind.
  • Provide Referrals. Like brand advocacy, referrals invite people to establish direct connections with your company, which generates trust.
  • Volunteer Your Personal Time. Devoting your personal time to help others is meaningful and memorable because time is both precious and scarce.
  • Recognise People. Good work should be recognised – when you have a good experience with someone from another company, email their boss about it.
  • Give Gifts. Give gifts that are deeply meaningful to that person and come with no strings attached.
  • Personalise Experiences. The more personalised you can make your audience’s experiences, the more special and valued you will help them feel.
  • “How can I be helpful to you?” Simply close each conversation by asking this – people will feel appreciation: a ladder to the top-of-mind position.

Helpfulness Exercise

To truly make helpfulness your second nature, you need to integrate it into every aspect of your life and engage people through multiple touch points regularly.

Think of three people you are close to – friends, family, coworkers you see every day.

  • What do you know about them and their current problems/challenges?
  • What can you do to make their lives easier?
  • Is there anything you can do to connect them to a valuable opportunity?

Identify three ways you could be valuable to each of them, using the aforementioned practices.

Do this once a month. Consistency is critical to becoming top of mind, and it’s necessary to help train your brain to identify these opportunities for helpfulness more naturally.

Transparency & Likeability

Research shows the 3 most important factors of a company’s trustworthiness:

  1. Whether the company has transparent, honest business practices in place.
  2. The quality of the products and services it provides.
  3. How it communicates with the outside world – failing to engage your customer base in an ongoing conversation is the equivalent of withholding information.

How To Be Likeable

Authentic likeability is a practice that can help keep your clients from shopping around for a different company. Likeable people always:

  1. Shift the spotlight to others.
  2. Listen a lot more than they talk.
  3. Don’t practice selective hearing.
  4. Are thoughtful simply because they want to be.
  5. Put their stuff away (meaning they don’t check their phones, laptops, or watches during conversations).
  6. Give before they receive—and sometimes they never receive.
  7. Don’t act self-important…
  8. Because they realise other people are more important.
  9. Choose their words.
  10. Don’t discuss the failings of others…
  11. But readily admit their failings

All of these principles of likeability are just as relevant to the world of branding and online content as they are to your personal interactions. Any piece of your content could potentially form someone’s first impression of you.

Consistency & Familiarity

If you are not consistent, you are not a thought leader. When you are exposed consistently to something over a long period, it becomes familiar and easy to recall – in other words, top of mind.

Consistent, quality digital content is an effective and scalable way to:

  • Build familiarity and authority
  • Carve more paths for your audience to connect with you
  • Create opportunities to draw linkbacks and appear in relevant search results

3. BEST CONTENT STRATEGY PRACTICES

Your audience comes to your content with an agenda – they want to be educated, or perhaps just entertained. Write to their needs and you’ll earn a top-of-mind spot.

  1. Set Goals & Document Your Strategy

The planning process is an opportunity to think about your target audience, potential topics, distribution tactics, and scaling strategies.

  • Which customer segments do you want to cater?
  • When and how often will you or your team create this content?
  • Who will edit and liaise with external distribution channels?
  1. Knowledge Extraction & Management

The next step is to create a process or system to extract the knowledge, insights, and experiences that, together, make for engaging content.

Be alert for Content Triggers. They are conversations that inspire aha moments about your industry or your clients’ needs. Once you’ve been triggered for content, keep track of your content topics, ideas, and commentary.

Create a Knowledge Bank. It is a centralised location for storing and cataloging your team’s ideas, insights, content triggers, and experiences. Keeping everything in one place makes it easier and faster to create authentic, engaging content in the future.

Enrich your Knowledge Bank. Make it fun. How?

  1. Send a quick message to everyone on your team who’s in regular and direct contact with your most valued audiences
  2. Request any information they can share that helps you better understand your audience
  3. Make it a contest to see who can add the most information to your Knowledge Bank
  4. Award the quarter’s winner with a prize or bonus or something that the person finds valuable

Committing to a Process of Content Creation

You don’t need to create all the content yourself. Surround yourself with a team of strategists, writers, and editors. Together, figure out a collaborative creative process for translating the Knowledge Bank ideas into engaging written content.

The content reviewer should ask: “Does this make sense?” and “Could anything in here hurt my brand?”

Publication & Distribution

Even the best piece won’t get you close to becoming top of mind if no one in your audience ever reads it.

Start with guest-contributed content on external publications – the vehicles to build authority and tap into an existing audience.

Target publications that your audience reads:

  • Where are they hanging out online?
  • What are they reading?
  • How can you get in front of them?

Contributing content is based on relationships and a commitment to

engaging, unique content designed for that publication’s audience – not your own agenda:

  1. Follow that publication’s contributor guidelines
  2. Send your unique article, a respectful pitch, and a thoughtful personal email to the editor
  3. Correspond for potential revisions and edits
  4. They accept the piece and it goes live

Once it’s up, here’s what’s next:

Your social media team transforms the article into engaging social media content and use it (in conjunction with strategic hashtags and direct mentions) to activate amplifiers for your content and increase followers. A few examples of ways to share your post include:

  • The headline and the link
  • A quote from the article
  • A question
  • Stats mentioned in the article
  • Your PR team includes the content in pitches to entice influencers and publication contributors to source that content.
  • Your SEO team uses the right tools and software to track its performance in search and optimise your efforts to ensure that the content is showing up for the terms that draw more of the right eyes to your work.
  • You use paid promotion, distribution, and amplification efforts to increase your chances of getting your content in front of the specific audiences you’re targeting.
  • Your email marketing team incorporates the piece into your next campaign to ensure that your distribution networks stay connected to your thought leadership efforts.
  • Your entire staff shares the article through their personal and professional networks and increase the article’s reach.
  • Republish the article on your LinkedIn page, tweaking it so that there’s a direct call to action for readers to engage further with your content.
  • Send the article to a handful of industry influencers, business leads, or other valuable connections and encourage members of your team to do the same. “I’m going to write about this topic again”, you tell each of them individually. “What are your thoughts? I’d love to incorporate a quote from you.”
  • Finally, distill the essence of your article into different formats. These might include SlideShare decks, infographics, and white papers – the more shareable, the better. The goal is to open up new routes for your audience to discover and make use of your content.

Metrics That Measure Impact

To measure the real impact of your content, you need to track the right metrics. They include analytics such as:

  • The traffic and social shares
  • The amount of time visitors spend reading your content
  • The number of leads converting from it
  • The impact of your content on search engine optimisation (SEO) efforts and search engine results page (SERP) rankings

Metrics guide you in making constant incremental improvements to your content so that it’s always relevant, helpful, and engaging.

These metrics will also give you insights into your audience:

  • What kinds of headlines do they click on?
  • What topics are they most interested in, so you can follow up?
  • Which piece of content made them convert into leads?

4. CONTENT FUNNELS AND CUSTOMERS

Journeys

To best serve your audience, you have to completely understand each stage of their journey and create a funnel so that their path leads to you.

  1. Problem Identification & Awareness

The journey begins when the buyer becomes aware of a specific problem, opportunity, or need that they’re facing. They wonder:

  • What are the options?
  • How can I fulfil this need or address this problem?
  • What are the experiences of others in this situation?
  • What challenges can I expect to face as I move forward?

Your content should largely be educational and help the individuals connect the dots from the problem to how they may be able to solve it.

Example: Educational e-books

Find out where your target buyers “live” online and publish content through (and specifically for) those channels. Add CTAs (Call To Action) that direct visitors to your gated content, where you can offer them even more value in exchange for their contact information and permission to follow up. With gated content, your readers get premium access to relevant insights, and you enter valuable information into your database, taking you a step closer to becoming top of mind.

  1. Research & Consideration

The research stage is often the lengthiest of their entire journey, which is why most of your content will be targeted here. You need to be patient, strategic, and, perhaps most important, consistent.

Your goal here is to present your audience with the solution and show them the complexities and expertise involved in doing it well, which will overwhelm them and convince them that they want help implementing it.

Examples: Guides and best practices

You now want to encourage your audience to spend more time on your website. Through tactical, actionable, and educational onsite content, you can further establish yourself as a valuable resource on their journey and become a top-of-mind option for their future purchasing decisions.

  1. Decision-Making

In the final stage, your audience has developed a pretty thorough understanding of their problem and the potential solutions that are available. They’re now ready to begin evaluating options and make a decision. Here it is ideal to produce content focused on truly identifying your company as the best solution.

Examples: Case studies, comparison tables, trial offers

Good content in this final stage communicates urgency, differentiates your company and what you offer from the competition, and helps your audience evaluate their options to make the best decision.

  • Help them weigh the pros and cons of their various options
  • Answer their most pressing questions and concerns
  • Back up the information you provide with empirical evidence – what have others done in the past & how did it work out?
  • Make a strong, evidence-based case for your company
  • Explain why you are the best option
  • Create comparison guides that make the advantages you offer over the competition crystal clear

5. START WITH WHY

“People don’t buy what you do; people buy why you do it.”Click To Tweet

Building your message around the why is absolutely vital for effective communication.

  1. Does your content offer substantive insight into issues and topics other than the highlights of your product?
  2. Does it provide the reader with actionable tips and analysis?

If the answer to both is yes, you’re probably not stuck in the what. To create why-driven content, there is a simple starting point.

  1. Why am I creating this content?
  2. Why does my company exist?
  3. And why do I do what I do?

As an example, here is Apple’s why-driven statement.

“Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use, and user-friendly. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?”

Famous Last Words

I leave you with 3 questions:

  1. What would happen if you put as much work into your relationships as you do into your work?
  2. What would the impact be on the people whom you love the most?
  3. How would your life change?

Use the lessons of this book to connect to people on a deeper level – team members, clients, friends, and family.

CONCLUSION

Key takeaways

  • When they have problems, people search online for opinions and information, before ever looking for buying solutions.
  • People don’t care about your products and services; they care about their needs.
  • People think about you at the moment they begin looking for a solution for their needs, you are a ‘top of mind’ brand.
  • To stay on top of mind, listen to your target audience and create valuable content that will guide them from the problem to the solution – YOU.
  • Next time you talk with a new business person, instead of shaking hands and focusing on your pitch, you could naturally say, “Hey, let me send you some of the articles I’ve written that talk about the exact challenges you’ve mentioned.”
  • If you write many referral emails, give yourself a 3-minute time limit for each one, so you can fire off dozens of referrals without getting overwhelmed or derailed. Use a tool called Mixmax to develop basic templates that you can customise, schedule e-mails, and track opens, clicks, and downloads.
  • Next time you’re at a conference or event, make an effort to pay close attention and remember one unique detail about everyone you meet.
  • Write down one of these details on their business card, enter it into your CRM system, and when you follow up after the event, reference the detail.

Further reading

Gary Vaynerchuk’s The Thank You Economy takes a closer look at the changing platform of marketing, diving deeper into the world of social media marketing.

The premise of Growth Hacker Marketing is that exponential growth as seen from the likes of Dropbox, Instagram and Facebook is not down to luck and it hasn't come from traditional forms of marketing. Their rapid growth has been engineered from the beginning and despite being late entrants into their markets, these companies have succeeded using new age marketing techniques. This short book from author Ryan Holiday is easy to read and an absolute must for the modern day marketer.

Guidelines is my eBook that summarises the main lessons from 33 of the best-selling self-help books in one place. It is the ultimate book summary; Available as a 80-page ebook and 115-minute audio book. Guidelines lists 31 rules (or guidelines) that you should follow to improve your productivity, become a better leader, do better in business, improve your health, succeed in life and become a happier person.

Action steps

  1. Take the exercises on Chapter 2 to become more helpful, likeable, and consistent.
  2. Create a Knowledge Bank and content strategy with your audience in mind (Chapter 3).
  3. Populate your customer journey funnel with valuable content that will take your potential customer from problem to solution – YOU.

This summary is not intended as a replacement for the original book and all quotes are credited to the above mentioned author and publisher.