Brand awareness is essential for the success of small businesses and startups. But with so many other brands competing for your target audience’s attention, what can you do to stand out in your market?
Sure, outbound marketing tactics like advertising can help push out your marketing messaging to a mass audience, and might be able to deliver quick results and ROI. But the challenge is that today’s consumers don’t like to be sold to, and they don’t want commercials that interrupt their viewing experience to the content they want or need.
How can content marketing help? Rather than pushing your marketing messages on your target audience, content marketing focuses on attracting and pulling customers in by providing valuable and relevant content they’re looking for.
While content marketing may take longer to develop and execute, with the right strategy you can expect long-term results, where lead gen and sales do not dry up just because you’ve turn off your campaign budget tap, as with outbound marketing tactics.
Done right, successful content marketing will not only generate more revenue for your small business or startup, but it will also help your brand build credibility, authority and thought leadership in your industry, which benefits your entire company all around, everything from sales to hiring top talent.
So how do you get started? Here are 5 steps to help you develop an effective content marketing strategy that will keep your small business or startup top of mind:
1. Understand Your Customers
An effective content marketing strategy starts with knowing your customers inside and out. So before you create any content, take the time to really listen and understand who your target audience is and what content they want and need.
What are the biggest challenges that are keeping them up night? The easiest way to do this is to talk to your current and potential customers. Learn about the challenges they’re facing, what phrases and keywords they use to search for information, the language they use, and the types of content they prefer to consume. The insights you gain here will help inform the content topics and formats as well as the type of language you’ll develop.
Also, you’ll want to find out which channels and platforms your target audience is spending time on to research, consume content and make purchases. For example, Snapchat is huge right now, but that doesn’t necessarily mean your small business or startup should be spending your time and resources on this platform. If your target audience doesn’t even use Snapchat, you’re never going to reach your consumers there, no matter how great your content is.
So focus on the channels and platforms where your target audience lives, as they will give you the best reach, conversion rates and returns on your investment.
2. Define Your Brand
Your brand is the promise you make to your customers. It’s what ultimately differentiates your small business or startup from your competitors.
What’s your company’s mission and vision? What benefits does your product or service offer your target customers? How do your existing and prospective customers perceive your company? What qualities do you want your target customers to associate with your brand? Do you want your startup or small business to be known as the highly innovative or experienced brand in your industry? Funny? Professional? Creative? Reliable?
These questions, along with the customer insights you’ve gained in Step #1, will help define your brand and the key messaging you want to communicate to represent your brand. Ultimately, your brand should not only represent who you are as your company, but also who your target customers want and need you to be, in order to resonate and connect with them.
Once you’ve defined your brand, you need to create the voice that you’ll use to communicate your brand messaging and visuals across all channels and platforms. Is your brand more formal or conversational? Friendly or corporate?
There’s no right or wrong answer here. The most important thing is to be true to your brand and what your customers want and need you to be, and consistently delivering on that brand promise. And this applies to everything that represents your brand, from the content and visuals you create to the experience you deliver to every single customer, both online and offline.
3. Develop Your Content Marketing Strategy
According to the latest research by Content Marketing Institute (CMI) and MarketingProfs, only 37% and 40% of B2B and B2C marketers, respectively, reported that their organization has a documented content marketing strategy. And yet, the same study found that those who have a documented content marketing strategy are significantly more likely to meet their content marketing goals and achieve success.
It’s very clear that developing and documenting your strategy is essential to content marketing success. So what does an effective content marketing strategy look like? Here are some elements that you should absolutely include:
- Clear, specific and measurable marketing objectives you set to accomplish with your content marketing efforts
- Your target audience based on your market research
- Content topics and formats that appeal to your customers
- Editorial calendar and publishing schedule, including the content pieces you’ll produce and when they’ll be published
- Promotion and distribution plan, including the channels and platforms you’ll publish to and use to amplify your content
- KPIs you’ll measure and use to evaluate your content marketing performance
If you’d like to learn more about these components to a successful content marketing strategy, here’s an article I wrote which goes into each element in more detail.
4. Create And Amplify Your Content
Once you’ve developed your content marketing strategy, it’s time to create your content! Whether you’ve decided to create blogs, infographics, videos, podcasts, whitepapers, ebooks or interactive web content, or a combination of these content types, you need to make sure your content actually adds value to your customers.
To be effective, your content needs to be relevant and appropriate to the channel or platform where it will be published on and consumed by your target audience. It needs to provide the information and actionable insights your customers want and can take away to help solve the problems they’re facing and/or to inform their purchasing decisions, using the language they use.
When it comes to amplifying your content, you’ll want leverage a mix of owned, earned and paid media to help get your content in front of your target audience. You may also want to work with key influencers in your industry to help amplify your content. Here are some tips on how to build winning relationships with influencers.
5. Measure And Readjust Your Content Marketing Strategy
You can’t manage what you don’t measure. If you don’t know whether your content marketing efforts are working or not, how will you know if your marketing objectives are being met?
That’s why you need to track your KPIs and target metrics on an ongoing and regular basis, so you can determine whether your strategy is on the right track or not. You’ll also be able to identify the content pieces and channels that are delivering the best results (and least value), so you can focus your resources on the activities that have the highest ROI.
Measuring and readjusting your content marketing strategy is key to optimizing your efforts so you can stand out from your competitors to generate more business for your company.