Q

The Small Business Guide to Content Marketing

Insightful multiracial office workers analysing statistics and using laptop during meeting
Photo credit: BullRun - stock.adobe.com

You’ve likely heard the saying, “content is king.” Sure, it’s a bit of a cliché, but it’s definitely a reality for any business that has any sort of online presence.

In fact, content marketing has become a juggernaut in the digital world. Even the smallest and scrappiest start-ups have been able to achieve record growth because they take a distinct and compelling approach to content marketing.

With this step-by-step guide, we’ll outline the key aspects that go into creating a content strategy that will not only resonate with your target audiences but also will help you achieve your business objectives.

What is Content Marketing, Anyway?

Before we jump into the “how-to” phase of the piece, it’s important that you first understand what content marketing is and why you need a strategy.

According to the Content Marketing Institute

“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.” 

In even simpler terms, content marketing is all about connecting (and resonating) with your target audience by understanding their needs, goals and pain points, and sharing information and experiences that will draw them in and support them. Content marketing is a central player in the narrative of those you seek to serve.

But doing content marketing well requires far more than just telling relevant, timely and impactful stories. As with any aspect of business, a plan is essential to guide your actions and ensure the most efficient use of your time, money and resources. (After all, all of these things are finite, especially for small businesses.) It also helps hold everyone on your team accountable and helps them rally around a centralized mission and vision.

If you develop a thoughtful plan that ties to measurable goals and outcomes, you can create a roadmap for success.

Step 1. Establish Your Goals

The first step in developing any strategy is establishing what you hope to achieve. Without clear goals, you’ll find it is very hard to track and gauge success. Your content marketing goals might include:

  • Increasing brand awareness: This is especially important for startups and unknown brands
  • Boosting web traffic: Get more eyes on your website and open the door to prospect conversations
  • Generating leads: Gather contact information and start to build relevant relationships
  • Nurturing leads: Moving leads along the sales funnel with relevant, valuable content
  • Closing sales: Providing content that helps close the deal
  • Retaining customers: Satisfy and keep current customers engaged and loyal
  • Upselling and cross-selling: Encourage current customers to buy more or additional services
  • Educating: Provide industry knowledge and establish your brand as an authority
  • Building community: Foster a community around your brand, its products and values

These goals are not mutually exclusive. In fact, it’s extremely likely that you’ll have several at once. However, it’s important to prioritize them so that your strategy takes a focused approach to each. Start with broad objectives and then narrow them down to SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) goals that guide the rest of your content marketing efforts.

Step 2. Understand and Research Your Audience

Content marketing is all about the audience. To create content that resonates, you need a deep understanding of who they are and what they want. Use a combination of market research, social listening tools, and customer surveys to build high-level audience profiles that represent segments of your audience.

If you’re first getting started, consider:

  • Demographics: Age, gender, education level, occupation, location, and income
  • Psychographics: Interests, values, attitudes, and behaviors
  • Challenges and pain points: What problems can your business solve for them?
  • Preferred content types and platforms: Do they prefer blogs, video content, social media, or email?

The more comprehensive your understanding, the more targeted your content can be, and the more successful you’ll be in reaching and engaging your audience. Over time, you’ll be able to develop more detailed personas that dig deeper into behavioral and psychographic insights. You can even use tools like SparkToro and BuzzSumo to understand the podcasts, websites and thought leaders they turn to for education and inspiration!

Step 3. Firm Up Your Messaging

Your content should reflect your brand’s core values and its overall value proposition. Your messaging helps you articulate why your brand exists beyond just making money; this is often referred to as your brand “why.”

Once defined, your core messaging should inform all content creation across platforms and channels. A unified voice across all content builds brand recognition and trust with your audience.

Step 4. Develop Creative Concepts

With your audience and goals in mind, start thinking about themes and topics that will resonate. Developing creative concepts means coming up with a plan for what you want to say, how you want to say it, and the creative platforms or vehicles that align best to your messaging.

Brainstorm potential topics and angles – these could be informational, entertaining, or both. Ensure that the content you’re planning contributes to engaging your audience and meeting your goals. Creativity is crucial here; think outside the box to stand out in a crowded digital marketplace.

Step 5. Consider Your Call to Action

Every piece of content you create should have a purpose, and that purpose should be clearly articulated to your audience. Your call to action (CTA) is the step you want the reader or viewer to take next. It could be as simple as asking them to follow you on social media, or as direct as encouraging them to make a purchase.

Your CTA should be tied directly to your goals and should drive value for the customer. Make it clear, compelling, and easy to act on.

Step 6. Craft an Execution Plan Tied to Promotional Channels

A great content marketing strategy is nothing without a plan for execution. This is where you decide how you’ll create, publish, and promote your content.

Decide what content to create, where to host it (your blog, social media channels, email newsletter, etc.), and how to structure it to get the best engagement. Each promotional channel has its own best practices, so craft your content with the platform’s mechanics in mind.

SEO is your best friend when it comes to getting your content seen. Research keywords and optimize your content to be search engine friendly, but never sacrifice quality or clarity for the sake of SEO.

Step 7. Test, Learn, and Improve

The digital world is always changing, and your content marketing strategy should evolve with it. Treat your strategy as a living document – something that you’ll adjust and improve continually.

Analytics tools are your greatest asset in this endeavor. Monitor metrics like views, shares, comments, and click-through rates to see what’s working and what’s not. If a certain type of content performs exceptionally well, understand why and think about how you can replicate that success in other areas of your strategy.

Learning from your data is the key to staying relevant and competitive in the digital space.

Final Thoughts

Developing a content marketing strategy isn’t rocket science, but it does require dedication, creativity, and a data-driven approach. Remember, this guide is just the beginning. The most successful content marketers are those who are constantly learning and adapting.

Keep experimenting, keep learning, and keep listening to your audience. Your content marketing strategy will be a reflection of your brand’s story, and it should be one that both you and your audience are proud to share.

The Small Business Guide to Content Marketing

by | Apr 22, 2024

Insightful multiracial office workers analysing statistics and using laptop during meeting

You’ve likely heard the saying, “content is king.” Sure, it’s a bit of a cliché, but it’s definitely a reality for any business that has any sort of online presence.

In fact, content marketing has become a juggernaut in the digital world. Even the smallest and scrappiest start-ups have been able to achieve record growth because they take a distinct and compelling approach to content marketing.

With this step-by-step guide, we’ll outline the key aspects that go into creating a content strategy that will not only resonate with your target audiences but also will help you achieve your business objectives.

What is Content Marketing, Anyway?

Before we jump into the “how-to” phase of the piece, it’s important that you first understand what content marketing is and why you need a strategy.

According to the Content Marketing Institute

“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.” 

In even simpler terms, content marketing is all about connecting (and resonating) with your target audience by understanding their needs, goals and pain points, and sharing information and experiences that will draw them in and support them. Content marketing is a central player in the narrative of those you seek to serve.

But doing content marketing well requires far more than just telling relevant, timely and impactful stories. As with any aspect of business, a plan is essential to guide your actions and ensure the most efficient use of your time, money and resources. (After all, all of these things are finite, especially for small businesses.) It also helps hold everyone on your team accountable and helps them rally around a centralized mission and vision.

If you develop a thoughtful plan that ties to measurable goals and outcomes, you can create a roadmap for success.

Step 1. Establish Your Goals

The first step in developing any strategy is establishing what you hope to achieve. Without clear goals, you’ll find it is very hard to track and gauge success. Your content marketing goals might include:

  • Increasing brand awareness: This is especially important for startups and unknown brands
  • Boosting web traffic: Get more eyes on your website and open the door to prospect conversations
  • Generating leads: Gather contact information and start to build relevant relationships
  • Nurturing leads: Moving leads along the sales funnel with relevant, valuable content
  • Closing sales: Providing content that helps close the deal
  • Retaining customers: Satisfy and keep current customers engaged and loyal
  • Upselling and cross-selling: Encourage current customers to buy more or additional services
  • Educating: Provide industry knowledge and establish your brand as an authority
  • Building community: Foster a community around your brand, its products and values

These goals are not mutually exclusive. In fact, it’s extremely likely that you’ll have several at once. However, it’s important to prioritize them so that your strategy takes a focused approach to each. Start with broad objectives and then narrow them down to SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) goals that guide the rest of your content marketing efforts.

Step 2. Understand and Research Your Audience

Content marketing is all about the audience. To create content that resonates, you need a deep understanding of who they are and what they want. Use a combination of market research, social listening tools, and customer surveys to build high-level audience profiles that represent segments of your audience.

If you’re first getting started, consider:

  • Demographics: Age, gender, education level, occupation, location, and income
  • Psychographics: Interests, values, attitudes, and behaviors
  • Challenges and pain points: What problems can your business solve for them?
  • Preferred content types and platforms: Do they prefer blogs, video content, social media, or email?

The more comprehensive your understanding, the more targeted your content can be, and the more successful you’ll be in reaching and engaging your audience. Over time, you’ll be able to develop more detailed personas that dig deeper into behavioral and psychographic insights. You can even use tools like SparkToro and BuzzSumo to understand the podcasts, websites and thought leaders they turn to for education and inspiration!

Step 3. Firm Up Your Messaging

Your content should reflect your brand’s core values and its overall value proposition. Your messaging helps you articulate why your brand exists beyond just making money; this is often referred to as your brand “why.”

Once defined, your core messaging should inform all content creation across platforms and channels. A unified voice across all content builds brand recognition and trust with your audience.

Step 4. Develop Creative Concepts

With your audience and goals in mind, start thinking about themes and topics that will resonate. Developing creative concepts means coming up with a plan for what you want to say, how you want to say it, and the creative platforms or vehicles that align best to your messaging.

Brainstorm potential topics and angles – these could be informational, entertaining, or both. Ensure that the content you’re planning contributes to engaging your audience and meeting your goals. Creativity is crucial here; think outside the box to stand out in a crowded digital marketplace.

Step 5. Consider Your Call to Action

Every piece of content you create should have a purpose, and that purpose should be clearly articulated to your audience. Your call to action (CTA) is the step you want the reader or viewer to take next. It could be as simple as asking them to follow you on social media, or as direct as encouraging them to make a purchase.

Your CTA should be tied directly to your goals and should drive value for the customer. Make it clear, compelling, and easy to act on.

Step 6. Craft an Execution Plan Tied to Promotional Channels

A great content marketing strategy is nothing without a plan for execution. This is where you decide how you’ll create, publish, and promote your content.

Decide what content to create, where to host it (your blog, social media channels, email newsletter, etc.), and how to structure it to get the best engagement. Each promotional channel has its own best practices, so craft your content with the platform’s mechanics in mind.

SEO is your best friend when it comes to getting your content seen. Research keywords and optimize your content to be search engine friendly, but never sacrifice quality or clarity for the sake of SEO.

Step 7. Test, Learn, and Improve

The digital world is always changing, and your content marketing strategy should evolve with it. Treat your strategy as a living document – something that you’ll adjust and improve continually.

Analytics tools are your greatest asset in this endeavor. Monitor metrics like views, shares, comments, and click-through rates to see what’s working and what’s not. If a certain type of content performs exceptionally well, understand why and think about how you can replicate that success in other areas of your strategy.

Learning from your data is the key to staying relevant and competitive in the digital space.

Final Thoughts

Developing a content marketing strategy isn’t rocket science, but it does require dedication, creativity, and a data-driven approach. Remember, this guide is just the beginning. The most successful content marketers are those who are constantly learning and adapting.

Keep experimenting, keep learning, and keep listening to your audience. Your content marketing strategy will be a reflection of your brand’s story, and it should be one that both you and your audience are proud to share.