In 2007, the mention of content marketing brought as many blank stares from small business owners as the mention of a website did 10 years before. In fact, in 1997 when we started our small business magazine in Southwest Florida, few owners had websites, let alone an online marketing strategy.
In 2009, most small businesses do have websites and the term, ‘content marketing,’ has gone from obscure to fashionable. When I say fashionable, I mean that the usage of the phrase has skyrocketed in the past two years. For example, the number of visitors to our website who arrived because they had done a search for ‘content marketing,’ has increased by a factor of 10.
I’m delighted that content marketing has come out of the shadows and into the spotlight. Even so, for most small businesses, developing a content marketing mindset and a strategy to follow just does not come naturally. Fortunately, the fundamentals of a successful small business content marketing strategy are much more commonsensical than you might think. In fact, they build on what have long been best marketing practices. Even those content marketing elements that require a new mindset have a simple and compelling logic that even the smallest business can grasp and adopt.
Here are the six steps that can put you on the path to an effective content marketing strategy:
- Precisely define your ideal customer and develop an in-depth understanding of the problems they face and the solutions they seek. You cannot hope to market and sell to an ill-defined and poorly understood group of prospects. This is critical even to the behemoth, Wal-Mart. They can tell you that their ideal customer is the person who lives paycheck to paycheck. Their current tagline, “Save Money. Live Better,” carefully reflects their understanding of the frugality and aspirational character of their customers. I think it’s much more powerful than its 19-year-old predecessor, “Always low prices.” As a small-business owner, you have even less margin for error than Wal-Mart and certainly must be at least as precise in your understanding of your target buyers.
- Determine how your company can solve those problems and provide those solutions. Stop defining the value of your products and services as a big set of features–or even a vaguely defined set of benefits. The beauty of your benefits is strictly in the mind of the beholder. Therefore, you must determine what problems you will solve and how you will solve them. That’s what genuine customer benefits are all about: the positive outcomes that your prospects can envision as a result of working with you and your company.
- Establish as a primary content marketing goal to become a trusted source of information for your target buyers. Trust is the all important element that can transform prospects who were initially skeptical into long-term customers who have faith that you can and will deliver results for them time after time. That trust begins when you provide content that is relevant and meaningful for your target customers in that context of solving their problems.
- Develop an online presence that is increasingly rich with relevant content with each passing week. This means that, although you will need the timeless content typical of a standard website, you must absolutely have the more timely content typical of a blog. Moreover, your content and your company will become more valuable over time as you keep adding critical mass of information online. For a small business, building a blog-powered website is the surest way to fulfill this component of your content marketing strategy.
- Take on the role of traditional media in the minds of your customers by thinking like a publisher. Imagine, for a moment, that you are your target customer’s favorite magazine or newspaper. Thus, when you create and publish content that is vital to your customer, present it just as compellingly and accessibly as savvy publishers do. This is easier to say that it is to do. Therefore, you may need to get help from professional writers or journalists who know how to tell great stories to a well defined target set of readers–or in your case, buyers. In fact, I am beginning to believe that one of the most significant future marketing expenditures will be contracting with talented writers who can translate your knowledge into accessible and compelling content.
- Make it easy for your customers to transition from learning from you to actually buying from you. In other words, you must provide complete and easily accessible online product, company, and contact information. First, you teach your customers what they are desperate to know and then you make it incredibly easy for them to buy. Put yourself in the customer role for a moment and look at your website objectively. Would you find it easy to buy from you? If not, begin by adding whatever product and service content is missing. Then, refine your structure so that the path from interested prospect to committed customer is simple and straightforward.
It doesn’t take a lot of space to define the six vital steps. However, it will require a major rethink on your part about your approach toward marketing. In addition, you will need to allocate both time and talent to implement a successful content marketing strategy that replaces the old-fashioned stuff that just doesn’t work very well anymore.