The digitalization of services and trade has changed the face of the advertising and marketing forever. Just a couple of decades ago, it would take huge budgets to fund things like TV commercials or radio jingles. Indeed, marketing has for long been like throwing out a giant net and hoping for a good catch. Now, it is much more targeted and companies can make their dollars go much further.
These days, consumers simply connecting with friends or family using their phones are exposed to more information and brand messaging than they know what to do with. The tactics and subtlety that worked a few years back could now be a nuisance to today’s audiences.
In such a scenario, one of the most effective and efficient ways startups and SMBs can compete with the big guys is with content marketing – it helps level the playing field for startups and local businesses. In fact, content marketing costs 62% less than traditional marketing and generates three times as many leads.
Sounds amazing right?
No surprise then, that upwards of 70% of both B2B and B2C marketers are planning to ramp up their content efforts throughout 2017. However, while content marketing is great (and easy to talk about), it is no undemanding task. Success is based on a brand’s ability to stand out in the crowd and define what makes them special. Here are several foundational ways in which smaller companies can accomplish that feat.
Research and Set Your Course
Everyone knows that any good strategy starts with proper planning. However, knowing how to gear your content strategy towards pre-set business objectives can be a big challenge. Perhaps the biggest mistake companies make with content is looking at it with their own mindset and not that of the potential customer. You’ll need to start by creating clear objectives for determining the ROI of your efforts. These might be:
- Increase leads
- Drive more traffic to your website
- Grow social media visibility
Once your goals are clear and KPIs are defined, focus on identifying exactly what makes your target audience tick, give them that content, and start developing a relationship with them.
For example, HubSpot has a great CRO checklist that most marketers would love to get hold of. Since HubSpot realizes the value of its content, it asks users for something in return for the unique content they’re about to receive.
The detailed questionnaire on the right not only collects email IDs, but also important profile information that HubSpot later uses to target the downloader and sell their marketing software. That’s authority building, lead generation, and customer profiling all accomplished with a single piece of content. Talk about marketing efficiencies!
Ultimately, your research should enable you to create the right forms of content that will further your business objective, which can be either to effectively deliver your brand messaging and increase awareness or recall, or egg them on towards a purchase.
Unsurprisingly, the top brands are sampling different forms of content that can help them do this. For instance, Boeing launched a website an interactive library that tells the story behind everything from World War 1 to the first stewardess, Ellen Church. Renault launched an interactive movie, the first big brand story in which viewers can decide the beginning, the middle, and the end.
While you might not have that sort of budget, interactive content isn’t all that hard (or expensive) to produce on a smaller scale. It might just give your otherwise ordinary content the crucial nudge it needs to go viral.
One of the big goals in content marketing is to create a community based on mutual interests and values. To do this, you must align consumer goals and desires with your strategy. What is the most important thing to your audience? What do they stand for? What are their biggest concerns or questions?
There are a lot of great tools out there to help gain answer these potent questions and chart your course accordingly. Buzzsumo, for instance, is a platform that lets you search for the type and formats of content performs the best within your field. It also helps you identify which influencers will fit best with your strategy for a given platform.
Another tool to consider using is Brandwatch, which lets you to tap into what people are saying about your brand or business on social media. From here, you can gain data-driven insights about you, your competitors, or your industry as a whole.
Guide Users through the Buying Cycle
The bottom line for any piece of content you produce is the value it provides to the consumer. This means shifting the focus away from self-promotion or sales – customers will see through this and you can end up coming off as insincere.
Consistently provide takeaway knowledge for your audience that answers common questions and sheds light with useful tips.
A great place to start is with a blog on your website that talks about all the ins-and-outs of your industry. Your content strategy needs to make sure that each of your posts is geared towards a customer segment at a particular stage of your sales cycle. For example, property search and records platform Arivify regularly creates blog postings relevant to their industry while touching on the specific intent of their followers or subscribers.
Every small business or organization can start with this fundamental approach to content marketing.
Keep in mind, every piece of relevant content you create should work to guide viewers to a reaction and eventual conversion. Even the most basic cycle consisting of just awareness, evaluation, and purchase can pose as extremely difficult when crafting content.
In the awareness stage, your content should address specific issues that the audience is likely dealing with. In the evaluation stage, the content should provide as much information as possible to help reduce the risk factor the user is about to take when buying. Post purchase, you should reassure them why they made the right decision and where they go from there.
There should always be a clear answer for how your content addresses every interaction along the consumer’s path to purchase. SiriusDecisions found that 65% of B2B content goes unused because content isn’t strategically mapped to buyer interests and topics they care about. Which is why it’s essential that you define the buyer’s journey, sales stages, and map the content associated with each of these stages so that it matches the customer’s intent at all touchpoints:
Creation and promotion of such in-depth, targeted content involves concerted efforts across your marketing, sales and customer service people, who need to have complete understanding of your content goals and KPIs. Only then can you hope for the buyer’s journey to be perfectly aligned with a closed-loop marketing-sales-support funnel:
Feel free to customize this template according to your content strategy and incorporate your own sales stages and goals.
The important thing to remember here is, every strategic decision you make should be backed up with data. This means using the proper tools to track each piece of content thoroughly to determine what components your audience is most receptive to. Content marketing is a process that should constantly be improving. Without data-driven results, you will not have insights to build on.
Become Part of the Big Picture
One of the biggest things startups and SMBs can learn from large companies is the power of storytelling and becoming part of something bigger than themselves. This is one of the integral parts of effective content marketing.
There are multiple ways in which businesses can create emotional connections with customers, one of the best of which is to become part of a social cause. This approach is extremely effective with younger consumers. In fact, nine in ten millennials would switch brands to one associated with a cause that appeals to them.
A brand that deeply understands and rides this phenomenon is Patagonia, who are known for being environmentally-conscious in all their operations. They also promote their users’ stories (who brag about the amazing things they do while sporting their Patagonia purchases).
Patagonia used storytelling beautifully in their “Worn Wear” campaign, which aimed to encourage people to recycle or repair their clothing, eventually lowering the need for companies to make new items or spend resources.
Let Influencers Steer Your Marketing
Another great way to broaden your scope is influencer marketing, which involves finding a public figure to mention your brand to their large following pertaining to your industry. Three of the biggest reasons why influencers are effective in driving word of mouth are:
- Bigger reach – According to Attentive.ly, the top 5% of influencers reach 85% of the extended social network. Finding the right influencers for your campaign is the key to escalating your current reach.
- Personal stake – In most cases, influencers support causes because in addition to spreading a positive message, it helps bolster their own reputation and credibility. This provides motivation for them to do a stellar job in promoting projects by getting the word out to the best of their abilities.
- Unbeatable ROI – Influencer marketing is by no means a new phenomenon. But with the rise of the internet and social media, it has become an extremely profitable strategy. In fact, a study by Ogilvy, Google and TNS found that 74% of people look to social networks for guidance on purchasing decisions.
For instance, back in 2015, the Bubble Foundation was in for a treat when they began the “Wear Yellow for Seth” campaign. Seth, a young boy with a deadly disease, happened to love the color yellow. So his parents kindly asked the world to wear yellow and post a picture with the hashtag. The campaign went crazy and attracted huge names like Ashton Kutcher.
This just goes to show that the size of an organization does not matter. With the right material and messaging, multiple influencers can hop onboard your “brandwagon” and skyrocket awareness. Assuming you play your cards right, your influencer marketing efforts could blossom into a full-blown campaign and a close partnership. In turn, your brand exposure and website visibility will go through the roof.
Measure Audience Retention
Retention metrics shed light on how well you are able to hold onto an audience with your content. It is absolutely imperative to find out what percentages and segments of viewers return to your website and individual pieces of content, if you harbor hopes of calculating the ROI on your content marketing with any degree of certainty.
It’s also important to keep tabs on the frequency of returns – this shows how relationships are developing between you and your audience, in terms of how they see you as a trusted resource. A study reported on Chartbeat found that people who visited a site at least five times per month were more likely to develop a pattern of returning, and eventually purchasing.
There are several key metrics that can help you analyze how your audience perceives the content on your website.
- New vs. Returning Visitors – This ratio gives you an idea of how effective your content is in attracting new audiences and growing your community. Also, by drilling down into and comparing the number of sessions, pages viewed, and time spent each by both these segments, you can get a very good idea of the kind of content that either segment prefers.
- Bounce Rate – This refers to the number of people who land on your website and leave without engaging. While a bounce can have a number of causes, it generally indicates how interested people are in your content, how useful the information is, or how relevant the landing page is to them. There are a several ways to improve your bounce rate, depending on your audience and industry.
- Exit Pages – These are the last URLs visitors see before leaving your site. By analyzing reading patterns, scrolls and clicks on the elements on these pages, you can identify obstacles in your content funnel that are putting visitors off, and optimize for micro-conversions accordingly.
At the end of the day, retention metrics reveal whether how well your content is working to build a loyal following for your brand or not.
Startups and SMBs will always have a tough road ahead of them. As marketing continues to evolve in the years to come, content will consolidate its grip on marketing budgets and user imagination alike.
Luckily, content marketing has the ability to make their path to brand superstardom much more feasible. You don’t need a huge budget or big-name celebrities to become part of the big picture. No matter how big or small your company is, you never know where your messaging might reach.
Your strategy should always be evolving with creative breakthroughs that boost awareness, and ultimately conversions. The bottom line is: know what your audience wants and deliver it to them in an innovative way. Leave preset notions about your business behind and set out to create content that’s not just useful, but fascinating to users. Using influencers while supporting a cause should work to broaden your audience and appeal to consumer values in a profound, creative way. That is the beauty of content.
By following the fundamental rules outlined here, it’s hard for you to go wrong. If you turn your brand into a publishing heavyweight in the process, more power to you!