An Introduction to Content Marketing for Small Businesses
As a small business owner with so many things to do, you might wonder if it's really worth spending time writing blogs, making podcasts and creating informative content to engage and entertain online. Who has time for that?
Content is the foundation on which social media and email marketing are built. So if you've got a website and you want to drive traffic to it, you need content marketing.
The content you write (or say) raises awareness of your business, helps your target market identify what you can do for them and whets their appetite, leaving them wanting to know more about you. Further on in the buying process, it can help them get to know your product and compare it with other similar offerings.
Here's a quick explanation of what content marketing is and how it can benefit you.
What is meant by 'content'?
In the context of ‘content marketing', content is any piece of information published to the web. It can be a normal web page on a website, a blog post, a podcast, a video (or vlog), graphical content such as an infographic, a downloadable guide or even a game. In fact, content is just about anything you can write or say to your audience.
Over the years Google has got more and more successful at making search results relevant to searches. How do they do it? By reading your content of course. The better, richer, longer, more informative and popular your content, the more likely it is to get you noticed.
That means your content has got to be good. Content for content's sake will do you no favours.
What is content marketing?
Broadly speaking, content marketing is an online marketing strategy that doesn't involve directly advertising your business. It's done by sharing information your audience wants to read, to increase the chances of being rewarded by their business.
According to the Content Marketing Institute:
‘Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.'
So, to get content marketing right, you have to know your audience inside out. Who are they and what kind of information are they looking for on the web? The answers to these questions will tell you what kind of content they will most readily consume.
Google will do some of the job of getting your content out into the world by popping it up in search results. But to really make it worth your while, you have to send your content out to your social media channels and email it to your contacts.
Why is content marketing better than direct advertising on the web?
Advertising has traditionally taken a fairly scattergun approach. Shout loudest from the biggest billboard, or pay for TV advertising slot to reach millions, and at least a few fish will bite. You can target to a certain extent by advertising during certain programmes or in specific locations, but the general point is still to get your message in front of lots and lots of eyes.
But traditional advertising isn't particularly well received on the web.
In its infancy the internet existed for sharing academic research. Largely text based, it was a cognitive rather than emotional medium. When businesses started to go on the web, poor bandwidth and nascent technologies limited their websites to words and a few simple pictures. Traditional, visual advertising simply wasn't possible.
There was also a feeling that the web was a brave, new frontier for honest individuals to interact and share their opinions without fear of subversion by global mega-corporations. Banner ads were largely ignored. Soon came the ability to write to the web, and our sense of ownership over the new medium was sealed.
2016-style bandwidth and processing speed has turned most laptops and phones into just another TV, but the web continues to be a place where individuals talk to individuals, with an expectation of trust and good manners that doesn't befit traditional slick marketing techniques.
Content marketing is nothing new
Demonstrating knowledge and being helpful is an extremely effective selling tool in real life too. Last year I called in an exterminator for a wasp nest. While he was there I asked his advice on moles.
He spent half an hour explaining why moles make hills, where they come from, how expensive it would be for us to see them off, and why they almost always come back. Maybe he was a secret mole sympathiser, but the time and the knowledge he shared were impressive. I'm keeping the moles, but I'd recommend him to anyone for wasps.
The exterminator achieved two important things:
- He impressed me with his knowledge.
- He gained my trust by being reluctant to sell me a solution that might not work for long.
For a web-based business that doesn't always meet its customers face to face, you need to seize every opportunity to build trust and share knowledge you can.
How does content marketing generate sales and leads?
A complete content marketing strategy caters to your market's content needs throughout the buying cycle. First it raises awareness of your existence and what you can do for people. It should then help potential customers research the benefits of what you have to offer, make comparisons with other providers and complete the sale.
For example, if you have a great blog or piece of content, you can ask people for their email address in return for access to it. All of these signups can be considered leads because they have an interest in the subject you blog about. You can then email those people more targeted information to help them make a buying decision, and offer them freebies and further ‘premium' content.
How do you know if it's working?
One of the greatest barriers to embarking on content marketing for small businesses is the difficulty in measuring its effectiveness. If you knew three blog posts equalled a 10% increase in sales, you'd make time to write them. But, like most marketing activities, content marketing tends to be very market and business specific. That's not to say it doesn't work.
Social media platforms offer data as standard, and lots of other tools provide insights into overall strides made through social media marketing and SEO activities. Read this summary of content marketing measurement tools to find out more.
I'll write more about how to generate sales and leads from content, and how to match content to your audience in the future. If you want to know more right now, make a cup of tea and have a read of Quicksprout's Advanced Guide to Content Marketing.
Header image courtesy of Hurca! via Flickr