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A Practical guide to Content Marketing for small business owners and start-ups

March 21, 2017

guide to content marketing

When you are looking for ways to promote your new start-up or small business you will, without doubt, soon hear the words, “content marketing”.

There’s a lot of buzz about content marketing at the moment, but what does it actually mean and how can small business owners use content to help grow their business?

This guide answers those questions, and also offers useful, practical advice for businesses that are interested in developing a content marketing strategy of their own.

What is content marketing?

According to the Content Marketing Institute, a global content marketing education and training organisation, content marketing can be defined as follows:

“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.”

Process wise, there are three key stages of content marketing to acknowledge within this definition:

1. Strategy

A good content marketing strategy starts with a thorough understanding of the audience with which you’re trying to engage; from the the issues they face, the language they use and the places they go to seek answers. Without first taking the time to truly understand the behaviour of your audience, you’ll essentially be firing in the dark.

2. Create

The two keywords to acknowledge here are ‘valuable’ and ‘relevant’ – these are the two essential qualities of good content, and content that does not tick these boxes is unlikely to resonate with the intended audience at all, no matter how pretty it looks.

3. Distribute

The final piece of the content marketing puzzle is distribution, or amplification. This is where good planning plays its part; by having already identified who the target audience is and where they are online, you should know exactly where to position your content for optimum visibility.

We’ll come back to these three points a little later, but first it is important to understand the role of content in the wider marketing mix.

Inbound marketing vs outbound marketing

Cold calling, email marketing, advertising; all of these activities involve pushing out a message to a large audience, and is often considered intrusive. These techniques are purely sales driven and fall under the outbound marketing umbrella.

Outbound marketing techniques still play an important role in the marketing mix and have their unique benefits, namely:

  • Potential to deliver quick results
  • Clear ROI (return on investment)
  • Easily scalable

Despite the potential returns, outbound marketing is on the decline. The market is saturated, and shifts in user behaviour mean outbound techniques simply don’t resonate in the same way they once did. Put simply: people don’t like being sold to.

Another big problem with outbound marketing is that communication is one-way, meaning there is very little opportunity for businesses to offer anything in the way of added value – turn off the tap and the sales will dry up.

Inbound marketing, on the other hand, focuses on attraction – pulling, not pushing – and relies on the audience finding you.

Inbound marketing campaigns typically take longer to execute, but have the potential to deliver long-term results, while at the same time building brand authority and trust, which benefit all areas of business. Successful inbound marketing is achieved, predominantly, through content.

With this in mind, let’s revisit the three key stages of content marketing as outlined at the beginning of this guide.

Strategy

The first question you should ask yourself before embarking on a content marketing journey is “Why?”: what is it exactly you are setting out to achieve? The answer to this question will most likely include one of the following answers:

  • Increase leads
  • Increase visits to website
  • Increase brand awareness
  • All of the above

Just like any other marketing activities, it’s important to set clear objectives when producing content, and measure these against wider business goals. If the intention is to increase leads, then you need to have the tools in place to be able to accurately measure the effectiveness of your content in relation to this goal.

The second question to ask is, “Who?”: how well do you really know your target audience? Before putting pen to paper, you should ask yourself the following questions about who it is you are trying to target:

  • Where do they typically spend time online? Facebook, LinkedIn, forums?
  • What types of content are they currently engaging with? Is it funny, insightful, advice-led? Is this in written form, or is it visual?
  • Are they the decision makers within their business? If consumers, what are their buying habits?

By finding out the answers to these type of questions, you can start to build up audience personas, which will help no end when it comes to developing ideas for content, and knowing where to place it.

The third question to ask is “What?”: what are you going to deliver? This will be largely dependent on the resources you have available, but should ultimately be reflective of the subsequent two questions.

Create

Content is a term that gets thrown around a lot these days, but what does it really mean in the context of marketing, and what separates good content from, well, just content?

Good content marketing, above all else, is about adding value. It’s about offering the solution to a problem, offering answers to questions, and providing anything else that gives the user a positive experience to remember your business by. Content without value is just words or images on a page.

The second key ingredient of good content, as mentioned at the start of this guide, is relevance. In order to create content that is relevant to your audience, you must first understand your audience; the issues they face, the information they crave, and so on.

When it comes to producing content, there are many different options, for example:

  • Written pieces such as guides, white papers and articles
  • Infographics
  • Tools & widgets
  • Videos
  • Podcasts
  • Interactive web content
  • Social media specific content such as memes, Vines & GIFs

There are no rules regarding the form in which content is delivered, so long as it’s relevant to the audience and the channel on which it will be shared and consumed.

Crucially, the form of content should be dictated by the message you want to deliver, and not the other way around – for example, do not start with the intention of creating an infographic, start with the intention of delivering a message, and then decide how best to deliver it.

Too often business jump on bandwagons – infographics being a good example. They focus too much on the presentation, and lose sight of what matters most: The message.

Amplify

Amplification centres around getting your content in front of the right audience.

Social media plays an important role in content amplification, providing it is approached strategically. Simply publishing links and hoping for the best is unlikely to deliver much in the way of results, but by identifying and reaching out to key influencers – bloggers, journalists, authoritative figures – you can significantly increase the chance of your content being seen by the right people.

It doesn’t matter how you make first contact with said influencers – it could be a personalised email, a phone call, or even a Tweet – so long as your message is personalised, and your reason for contacting them is clear. Start by telling them who you are, why you are contacting them specifically, and why you believe your content will be of benefit to them and their readers/followers.

There are no shortcuts when it comes to amplification. You need to work hard to get your content seen, but this is part and parcel of modern marketing, in which ‘earned’ visibility counts for far more than anything bought or gamed.

Summary

Content marketing is really nothing new, but is more important than ever when you consider how many areas of a business it has potential to affect.

The bad news is that there is no magic formula for successful content marketing. It starts with a good strategy, requires a great deal of creativity, and ultimately relies on a solid understanding of the target audience.

The good news is, that if you get those things right, the rewards can be huge.

About the author

This guide has been written for ByteStart by Matt Batterham, Senior Account Manager at Browser Media. Browser Media was born as an SEO agency but has embraced the ‘inbound marketing’ philosophy. The agency has always practiced a PR-led approach to search engine marketing and modern SEO is now proving itself to be based on building authority rather than keywords and meta tags.

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