Seven secrets to nailing content marketing as a small business owner

Tony Featherstone

Many business people fancy themselves as writers. Until they realise most people have six columns in them and by number seven are running out of ideas, recycling old stories and wishing they had never committed to a content-marketing campaign.

Don’t despair. Content marketing is worth the effort and within the reach of those who understand its complexities and the true spirit of this powerful marketing tool.

Sustained content marketing attracts people to a brand and keeps them engaged through interesting multi-channel storytelling. Done well, it makes your brand a bigger part of the industry and customer conversation, and improves cut-through and take-out of key messages.

The trick is finding the right balance between journalism and marketing and being prepared to provide something genuinely informative and/or entertaining for readers, without bludgeoning them with overt sales messages.

Here are seven tips to help.

Sounds like a plan

Content marketing should be part of the firm’s marketing strategy, just as the marketing strategy should be informed by the business strategy. Understand key marketing goals, messages and customers, and let that shape the content. Have clear content goals and measure outcomes.

Build a content buffet

Audit your firm’s content, its capabilities to write fresh content, and its ability to source content from stakeholders. Some firms have much more content than they realise and their network might write occasional stories or endorse your content. Build a content buffet so you can choose what to put on the plate of readers rather than cook it from scratch every time.

Too much journalism and the firm spends a lot of time and money for little in return. Too much marketing, dressed up as journalism, and readers gag.

Become a content Jesus

Time-poor small businesses need to perform content miracles if they want a steady stream of thoughtful stories without huge cost. Consider how one piece of content can be re-versioned, re-purposed or recycled. A chapter in a white paper, for example, becomes a feature story. The feature story has a list that becomes a blog. The blog has snippets of information that fuel Tweets. And the Tweets get more people reading the white paper and building your data base. Well-planned story architecture means it can be chopped up for many uses and have a longer shelf life.

Go to content school

Life was simpler when journalism was 100 per cent independent and marketing 100 per cent commercial. Blending them takes skill. Too much journalism and the firm spends a lot of time and money for little in return. Too much marketing, dressed up as journalism, and readers gag.

Communication consultancies that specialise in content marketing are well worth the training investment if you are making a big commitment to this form of marketing.

Drop the hard sell

Some small business owners cannot help themselves with content marketing. They want to sell more products and get a return on time spent writing stories. So they fill the content with nauseating product references, hyperlinks and next steps.

Don’t judge the return on investment on how many sales you get from a piece of content – perhaps none in the short term. Good content marketing is a long-term investment in brand building, corporate reputation and consumer behaviour.

Good content marketing is a long-term investment in brand building, corporate reputation and consumer behaviour.

Put your news hat on

Topical or list-based stories can make great content marketing. But there are two problems: you inevitably run out of topics; and topics not time-sensitive or tied to current news or industry events usually mean the need to read the story is less compelling. 

Aim to create a mix of topic-based and news/industry-based content. On the latter, you might blog about a new industry report or a relevant newspaper story. You record a podcast on an industry development or a write a case study after a key job. Your content is fresh, you have more sources for ideas, and customers see the brand as contemporary and relevant.

Swim in the right channel

Different marketing objectives require different channels and content forms. Blogs, videos and podcasts can be effective when raising awareness to a larger audience. Webinars, e-books and infographics are useful when presenting a solution to a problem. Case studies, product guides and fact sheets are important when customers are researching and comparing presented solutions, and tutorials or e-learning videos can help close that sale.

Tony Featherstone

Tony Featherstone is a former managing editor of BRW and Shares magazines.

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