Content marketing is everywhere. Blog posts. E-books. Experts. Dos and don’ts and apps and subscriptions. For some, content marketing is a trendy buzzword. When a term is thrown around so frequently it can be hard to zero in on the deeper meaning—and even harder to determine how to apply it to your own small business. But content marketing is a reality and a necessity for today’s small business owner. In this post we’ll tackle six common questions from small business owners, and get you set to begin your own foray into content marketing.
1. What the heck is content marketing, anyway?
Created or curated content + a mechanism for distribution to a targeted audience = content marketing
Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.
What ISN’T content marketing?
Content marketing is not traditional advertising, which interrupts your audience to ask them to purchase. Content marketing is driven by the creation of content that will resonate with and help your target audience using blogs, social media and other tools as a vehicle to distribute your message.
Content marketing is permission-based. It’s 'marketing' that we freely invite into our lives, and sometimes even share with our friends.
Think of content marketing as traditional marketing’s very friendly co-worker. In a strong marketing strategy, new merges with old and they work hand-in-hand, creating a growing and engaged audience for your sales funnel.
The type of content you share is closely related to what you sell; in other words, you’re educating people so that they know, like, and trust you enough to do business with you.
2. But I really don’t want to be a content marketer (do I have to?)
Content marketing is perhaps alone in its ability to be a successful endeavor at every phase of the customer lifecycle. -
-Jay Baer, Convince and Convert
You could choose not to invest your time or energy into a content marketing strategy. Afterall, you’re a small business owner, and you’ve got more than enough filling your calendar. However, ignoring the potential of content marketing for your small business will not only place you in the minority, you’ll also miss out on a powerful opportunity to create a loyal following, build brand awareness and drive successful sales campaigns.
Good news: As a small business owner with an internet and social media presence, you are already a content marketer. If you are creating content and engaging in conversations to help build your brand, you’re halfway there. If you’ve dabbled in podcasts, video, e-books or infographics, you are more well-versed than you know. By implementing a solid strategy, measurable goals and an editorial calendar you’ll be on your way to becoming a content marketing guru.
3. How do I figure out what content to create?
You may be wondering what sort of content you should create. For each project you undertake, you’ll need to make three decisions:
To determine the answers to these questions you’ll need to do a little detective work.
Step 1: Listen
This is where you channel Nancy Drew (or the Hardy Boys) and become a social media super sleuth. Take time to listen to and track your target audience and competition online. Pay attention to topic, format, platform and even the most active time of day.
Questions to ask:
1. What questions are asked about my company or category?
2. What topics are my customers most interested or engaged in discussion?
3. What type of content/format are my target customers sharing and where?
4. What is working for my competition?
5. What has worked for me in the past? What are my highest converting pieces of content?
6. What questions do customers ask me directly?
Tip: Review your replies to customer emails, messages and web form submissions – often your answers can be easily aggregated and repurposed into shareable content.
Handy tools for listening in:
Step 2: Ask
From Nancy Drew to Lois Lane. Now it’s time to put on your investigative journalist hat and go directly to the most valuable source: your customers. Your customers and current audience, no matter how small, are the best base for your new content marketing strategy. Ask them directly what they would like to learn more about and what format and delivery platform they prefer. Consider creating a survey or questionnaire to help you learn more about your customers, their needs, questions and favorite forms of content.
Tip: Peter Shankman says that customers who are asked what they want become 3 to 4 times more invested in your company than customers who are not asked.
Tools for asking the right questions
Step 3: Plan
You should now have a robust list of questions, topics and potential content ideas, as well as a solid understanding of your target audience’s online consumption and sharing habits.
1. Take each of overarching themes that you’ve identified in your research and write it at the top of a blank page.
2. Brainstorm potential ways to respond to this question or topic in a variety of formats. Include ideas for engaging headlines or titles, ideal formats or platforms for each. Write each individual idea on the front of a small post-it note and include any additional notes on the back.
3. Print a calendar for the upcoming months and schedule your most viable content ideas for publication and distribution. Be realistic about your production timelines and outside assistance you’ll require during the creation phase for each.
Tip: If you work better on screen than on paper—try a project management tool like Trello and an online content marketing editorial calendar such as Coschedule for Wordpress
4. How can I create great content even though my business isn’t that exciting?
You’re not alone in your concern. In fact, 47 percent cite producing engaging content as a top challenge faced by B2B marketers. How do you move past this fear and create scintillating content with the potential for viral sharing when your business isn’t based around the most exciting topic? Answer: get creative.
You’re likely accustomed to thinking about your business from the same perspective, but content marketing will require you to get outside of that box and look at it from every possible angle. As an example, let’s focus on a truly boring topic: paint drying.
Imagine you are in business to market the latest and greatest paint drying technique or tool. (Don’t you feel better already? Whatever you’re selling is likely far more interesting than this). It would be easy to imagine that there is no way to create compelling and engaging content around such a topic, and as a business owner, it would be tempting to throw your hands in the air and admit content marketing defeat.
Tip: Don’t do that.
Have fun with it
Do an old fashioned brainstorming session with your team or use one of the countless tools for brainstorming and topic generation that can be found online. For instance, type ‘paint drying’ into Portent’s Title Generator and you’ll get the following options (amongst others).
13 ways paint drying can find you the love of your life
Why paint drying should be one of the 7 deadly sins
Darth Vader’s guide to paint drying
17 things about paint drying your teachers didn’t tell you
None of the options may be exactly what you need, but they may get you thinking about new and unexpected ways to package your ideas. One of the suggestions may spur an idea you previously hadn’t considered, and voila! The next piece of viral content is born.
Try: 15 ways to kill time watching paint dry that won’t land you in jail.
Be genuinely helpful
The essence of “interestingness” stems from one basic content commandment:
Always ask the right questions.
People are asking questions about your topic. Guaranteed. Use Quora or Yahoo answers to do your own market research. Some of the questions and answers you find may trigger a great idea for a piece of content that your customers really want and need. If you create content that speaks directly to your user’s experience and pain points, they are far more likely to connect and engage.
Paint Drying on Quora:
Tips and Hacks for Everyday Life: How do I make my paint dry faster? Life hack questions like this are popular online. They make your customer’s life easier, save them time and help them avoid trouble – a definite win for your content.
Decorative Painting: I’m having my new office painted. How long should I leave the walls to dry before it’s safe to move in? Customers worry about safety and toxicity. How can you use your knowledge to provide them with important knowledge to make safe and healthy choices?
Is there a technique for matching wet paint to an already dried color? You’re the expert! Can you create content that positions you as a thought leader or instructional expert on your topic?
Make it visual
Visual content engages, is social media friendly and enhances your brand. Images and video receive more likes and shares, and creating a visual representation of your content helps it get consumed in our fast paced world of speed reading and skimming.
Try: an infographic of the top quick drying paints in each of the 2014 Pantone colors.
Make it personal, without making it all about you
Be real. Show your personality. Speak the same language your customers speak and invite them to know you and your brand. At the same time, don’t take on the pressure for creating 100 percent of your own content. Invite guest bloggers or create webinars with business owners in complementary industries where you answer real customer questions.
Try: A DIY video interview series with homeowners using your product for real painting projects in their home.
Make it exclusive
Everyone likes to feel special or be in on a big secret. Can you package your content in a way that it feels exclusive or that you are sharing trade or expert secrets? How about a special behind the scenes look at a process or industry?
Try: A video, blog post or e-book called Ten Top Secret Expert Tips to Get your Paint to Dry Faster.
5. I’m not a writer/graphic designer/web guru/superhero. How am I supposed to make all the things?
You aren’t, you don’t and you can’t. As a small business owner, you are likely more than accustomed to wearing a lot of different hats. You may be worried that embracing content marketing will require adding even more to all you are already trying to perfect and juggle. Relax. There are ways to capitalize on what you do well, use tricks and tools to learn new skills and find experts to do the things you really can’t and shouldn’t take on.
You can’t do everything. You’re actually not supposed to do everything. This sounds easy, but in reality, it can be the most difficult thing for the small business owner to truly embrace. Try sites like Odesk or Fiverr to find affordable outsourcing and freelance options.
Connect with other small business owners in complementary industries. Are you a copywriter? Find a graphic designer who may be willing to assist you with creating an infographic in exchange for web copy. Create co-branded content with other industry professionals and take advantage of both a diverse skill set and multiple audiences
A plethora of free tools are popping up to help you create like a pro. Try Canva or Piktochart for graphics and infographics, and Directr for video. If you need to create it, there is quite likely a tool available to help you do just that.
Roundup. Refresh. Reconfigure. Reuse.
For each piece of content, brainstorm all the potential configurations. A presentation can be uploaded to Slideshare, transcribed into blog posts, compiled into an e-book and used to create graphics. Examine old material, refresh it with new stats and repackage it for a new audience. Don’t forget the value of curating and packaging valuable content from other sources. Creating a list of your favorite tools or a roundup of the top industry content can prove an easy way of reaching your audience.
6. I’ve got the content—now what? (aka: If I build it, will they really come?)
Yes. Of course. But only if you invite and entice them. If you’re one of the lucky few with a huge email list, a large, loyal following of readers and an army of devoted fans, you won’t have to worry. If you’re like most small business owners, the struggle of attracting traffic and leads is probably a part of your daily life. It’s like a complicated courting ritual. The content marketing equivalent of roses, dinner and a movie is connection; a genuine desire to help and sincere and ongoing engagement.
If you treat this like another ‘growth hack’ or one-off tactic, it will not work. You must approach content marketing with a long-term perspective.
Email is not passé
77 of consumers prefer to receive permission-based marketing communications through email. Your email list has already invited you to communicate – they are already engaged in what you have to say.
Don’t be afraid of paid advertising
If you have invested in the creation of a new asset, don’t shy away from paid advertising to promote your content. Unpaid organic reach is a tremendous asset, but there is much to gain when content marketing and traditional advertising join forces.
Use a tool like Buffer or Hootsuite to automate your social media sharing, but remember that it is not enough to simply share. The real engine of social media is in connection and engagement in real conversation with your audience. Spend time forming connections and nurturing them so that they are compelled to consume and share your content.
Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance with distribution and amplification. Andreea Ayers of Launch Grow Joy did just that for her popular infographic, 30 ways to promote your blog posts. By reaching out to influential bloggers and online media and asking them to share with their audience, Andreea dramatically increased exposure of her content.
Content without community, without approachability, without humanization and kinship is ineffective. Just as content that is focused on selling, rather than helping, is doomed to fail.
Like any new venture in your small business, content marketing can initially seem intimidating. Don’t be afraid to try. And don’t be afraid to fail. The very best content is iterative. A focus on creation and evaluation will create a dynamic content marketing strategy focused on content excellence and not the creation of noise.
Create a lot. Share. Pay close attention. Learn. Create Better. Share Again. Learn More. Create even better.
Go forth and create. We can’t wait to see what you come up with.