The attention span of your prospects and customers is getting shorter and shorter, but they’re consuming more content than ever. Everywhere they look, click or go, marketers are trying to engage them. Given the enormous demand for their attention, how do you cut through the noise?
This is where content marketing comes in. When done right, content marketing can create, optimize and distribute branded content that is relevant, valuable, and easily consumed by a business’s target audience.
Why Content Marketing Matters for SMBs
So why should you care about inbound and content marketing? Because your peers, partners, and competitors do. According to HubSpot‘s State Of Inbound Report, inbound marketing is the preferred marketing strategy across all business types. In fact, 3 out of 4 marketers throughout the world prioritize an inbound approach to marketing. And when you know that content marketing generates 3x as many leads but costs 62% less than traditional outbound marketing, the advantages of implementing an inbound strategy are hard to ignore. It’s this substance-heavy strategy that makes up the core of inbound marketing.
Unlike traditional outbound marketing techniques (which aim to push products, services, or brands), modern inbound marketing seeks to educate, engage, and entertain. Content marketing with an "inbound” focus allows businesses to build relationships with their prospects throughout the sales cycle.
Sales are still the priority here. Marketing has to make money, after all – but content marketing accommodates sales cycles of any length. It doesn’t push. Even if someone doesn’t buy right away, your business remains top of mind, which comes in handy when the buyer reaches their purchase point.
3 Must-Haves in Content Marketing
Before you begin churning out content for your business, know that content is only going to be effective when created with the follow three principles in mind.
• Speaks to your target audience and their needs
• Solves a current challenge or problem with practical, doable advice
• Provides useful information that will make some aspect of their life better
• Offers data to make an informed decision about something relevant
• Produced in short, easy-to-consume bits
• Available in a variety of media (video, tweets, status updates, etc.)
• Is memorable, thanks to accompanying creative or pithy, engaging copy
So who has the time to create all this content? Who reads it all? How can you do this and still keep up with all the other things you’re doing? Can you make money with all this stuff? SMB owners and marketers appreciate the need to be smart with their time, practical with their approaches, and productive with their marketing. That’s why your content marketing program needs to be realistic, cost-effective, and successful. Here are five steps to creating a content marketing program that delivers in sales.
1. Identify Your Goals So You Can Optimize Content Appropriately
So what do you want to accomplish with your content marketing? Think about it as you would any other marketing program – if lead generation is the goal, for example, decide how many qualified leads you want to bring to your door through each initiative. If your goal is getting more business from existing customers or retaining clients over time, you’ll want to think about the things they have already demonstrated an interest in. When your objective is to build your brand or position your firm’s subject matter experts as thought leaders, it’s essential to think about presenting topics in a unique, innovative way.
We suggest coming up with the topics and keywords that will drive your content marketing efforts for all of your different goals. What topics do you want to become known for, and, more importantly, what versions of words or phrases do people use when searching online for these topics?
Example: Your business provides commercial cleaning services for local offices and schools. You want to be found when people in these spaces want to contract for weekly cleanings. The first step is to decide what you want to be known for, e.g., “commercial cleaning services” or “commercial cleaner.” Next, use a tool like SEMrush or Ahrefs to find variations of the term you want to be known for. You will also need to uncover how many monthly searches occur for each one and how competitive those terms are.
You may discover, for instance, that “commercial cleaning services” is such a common search phrase that it would be challenging for your content to rank highly for it. But maybe a term, called a long-tail keyword phrase, like “what to look for in a commercial cleaner” has fewer searches but – with the right content – has a more significant opportunity for your business.
2. Decide on Distribution Channels, Formats, and Schedules
Now it’s time to think about how you will present and deliver your content. You’ll want to do this before you dig into creating content because the distribution channel and format will drive content creation. For example, creating web videos requires different content (and style and tone) then a white paper series or weekly blog.
Start where you should always start when creating content – with your audience. What do they read, watch and listen to? Are they heavy mobile app users, or do they still subscribe to their industry’s print publications? Would they utilize a custom calculator tailored to metrics in your industry? Are they likely to share your content if it’s valuable and relevant? What kinds of topics, information, education, and entertainment will they respond to? How often do they want to hear from you, and how?
Getting to know your target audience, which should include prospects, current clients, and, in some cases, the press, will help you choose the most appropriate formats. You can also check out the popularity of the content your competitors are producing for hints on what resonates with your audience.
Format Ideas to Get You Rolling:
• Blogs and Pillar Content
• Social Media
• White Papers, Guides and eBooks
• Explainer Videos
3. Define a Content Creation Plan
Now it’s time to dive into content creation. Content is where many small businesses can get overwhelmed. Who will write, film, design, and take photos? How will the schedule be coordinated and executed, so it stays on track? What content do we have now that we can leverage?
It’s critical at this point to assign a point person to head up your content marketing program. Many larger firms are hiring chief content officers, but that’s just not realistic for most SMBs. So think about an internal person, an outsourced option, or a combination of resources that can cost-effectively lead this effort.
Start by doing a content audit of all the materials you currently have. Maybe you’ve started blogging, or you’ve been publishing a company newsletter. Perhaps your website has a robust resource section you can leverage. Do the same for all of the photos and videos you may have completed by this point. Being able to repurpose content is vital!
Next, you’ll want to create your plan for each piece of content marketing. For example, maybe you’re going to start with a monthly webinar series designed to drive leads and strengthen client relationships. Decide on your topics, speakers, webinar tool, and schedule. Once that is done, you will be surprised at how much other content you can create from this single initiative.
Example: One of the webinars your sales consulting firm creates is called “5 Things Your Prospects Are Telling You Without Saying a Word.” You now have five blog posts, five newsletter articles, a podcast, and a presentation to pitch to conferences.
Other Best Practices for Content Creation:
• Build your content around your target buyer personas.
• Follow the 80/20 Rule (80% value-added content, 20% promotions).
• Include clear Calls-to-Action in every piece.
4. Commit to Listening and Engaging
Imperative to your success will be a commitment to respond to all comments, reactions, and ideas you get from your audience. Because all great content allows for interaction, make it as easy as possible for your users to engage with you. Include Q&A sections in your webinars, invite comments on your Facebook company page, ask questions in your blog posts and newsletters, and encourage sharing your content on all social media sites.
Not everyone will agree with or even like your content, and if they tell you that – great! Never hide negative reviews or comments, but respond openly and honestly to them. And always thank people for speaking up and sharing.
5. Measure and Refine
The beauty of marketing today is that nearly everything can be tracked and measured. You have the power to know how many people view a video, open your newsletter, download your white paper, or retweet a tweet. Take full advantage of these metrics to see how well your content is working to achieve the goals you set for it. Is it increasing traffic on your website? In time, you’ll start seeing significant positive changes. And with more qualified traffic comes more leads! Google heavily values inbound links, social sharing, and regularly updated website content when it comes to populating the search rankings. So keep that valuable content coming!
Again, don’t leave your content to sit around and collect dust. Make refinements regularly to ensure you are creating the most valuable, engaging content for your audiences, the kind that ultimately leads to sales. Take a look at what content drives the most engagement and do more of that, while refining the pieces that lack shares, comments, or views.
Remember: quality, not quantity, will be more beneficial for you in terms of content in the long run.