Used well, content marketing can be the most powerful tool in your marketing armoury. Rick Davis, Director at Folkestone-based D2 Creative, explains why it is so important and how you can use the approach to develop loyal and engaged customers for your business.
We all know that the world of business changes constantly. Not just through the technology or products that evolve year on year but in the way that we sell and connect with customers – both existing and prospective.
In the past, it was good enough to have an original product or unique service and a competitive price. Then just get out there and sell it – easy, right? All it required was a reasonably navigable website and a bit of shoe leather.
What’s changed? Customers.
They’ve not just ‘got wise’, they’ve got ahead of us. Members of the 21st-century internet generation are the savviest consumers. Ever. They know more about our products, our sources, our suppliers, our manufacturing techniques than ever before (sometimes more than we do).
Put simply, the relationship between vendor and buyer has changed. And we all need to work with that change – or we’ll increasingly find ourselves talking to ourselves.
So what is content marketing?
Over the last ten years, the phenomenon of ‘content marketing’ has become a buzzword within the digital industries and their multinational clients. American Express’ Open Forum is now the go-to resource for small business owners looking for advice. DHL’s ‘Discover’ content-hub is helping entrepreneurs hook into overseas business opportunities at an exponential rate.
But a lot of the ‘content’ on AmEx isn’t about financial services. And DHL isn’t solely devoted to Incoterms and waybills.
The power of stories
What they largely contain are stories. Not just case studies of successful clients. But the stories behind those clients: Why they started their businesses, what was the opportunity in the market they spotted, and how did they discover their solutions. They’re using the stories of small businesses to drive their sales leads. In fact, AmEx has reported that its online hub now delivers more new customers than their traditional advertising.
Why? Because that’s what the new generation of customer is looking for. They want a reason to buy from a business. They want to know who runs it and what they believe in. They want to find people they can identify with. Today’s customer isn’t the recipient in the trading relationship. They see themselves as an equal partner because they want to buy into YOU as much as they buy what you sell.
It’s more than your ‘About Us’ page
So is content marketing as simple as increasing the detail in the ‘About Us’ page on your website? Hmmmm. Imagine, you go on a date (for some of us of the pre-Tinder generation, that a bit of a dredge through the memory banks!) Imagine your date says, ‘So, tell me a bit about yourself’. And you tell them about where you were born and where you went to Uni and what you do for a living and what food you like and the last album you bought/streamed. Is that what gives your date a true reflection of your real personality? Not really, that’s your curated version of yourself.
How they really get to know you is from the experiences you tell them about; the embarrassing ones, the funny ones, the unusual ones, the sad ones. So, when you recount the night you got locked out of your halls of residence in your underwear (Anyone? Just me then) or how you managed to fail your driving test by choosing 3rd gear instead of 1st and ‘kangaroo-ing’ through the traffic lights, that’s when your date falls in love. Because it’s not carefully managed and curated. It’s genuine and honest and insightful.
And that’s why ‘content marketing’ is something that every small business owner has in their armoury to attract new customers. Tell prospective customers about why you do what you do, what you hope to achieve, where you want to get to. Sure, you might turn off a few customers but you’ll also connect with a heck of a lot more! And in the words of Herbert Bayard Swope:
I cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you the formula for failure: It is ‘Try to please everybody.’
Owning your territory
But content marketing is about much more than anecdotes and business tales. That would get pretty dull pretty quick. It’s also about finding that area of your business that drives your passion – that ‘thing’ that you have that no one else has – and owning that territory.
Here’s an example:
‘Zig Zag Fine Teas’ is owned by Lucy Dolan and she has a deep love of her product. She travels the world to find independent growers so she can create whole leaf teas from single sustainable sources. She blends them, nurtures her suppliers and refuses to use plastic in her tea bags (preferring to seal them using ultrasonic waves). Now that’s a pretty good story so far, but her real originality – her territory – comes when she combines that knowledge of the product with her interest in the spiritual benefits of tea drinking. How the act of brewing, serving and savouring tea can have a positive impact on wellbeing. Whether you share her beliefs or not, as a customer you are attracted to her passion for what she does.
Lucy’s is just one story amongst the millions that small business owners have to tell. Yours will be different. Your unique area of expertise will be your own. But using it to connect with your future customers, your ‘tribe’ in the vernacular of the influencers, is your competitive advantage.
So, how does content marketing work?
First – it’s about identifying that area where you can claim some degree of individuality and authority.
Second – it’s about building a marketing strategy based on that authority. Who are the potential types of customer, what beliefs do they share, what common ground will they have?
Third – it’s about connecting that common ground with your product or service, sometimes in very broad terms. (Remember we want to attract the broadest cross-section of clientele as possible).
Fourth – it’s about creating the types of content that this audience is looking for. What are their ‘pain points?’ Where is there a lack of information? Will your audience be inclined to read a long article? Will they prefer an infographic, or a short film, or a podcast, a MEME or a ‘how to’ list.
Finally, it’s about marketing that content in as many valuable ways as possible. Through the free channels of social media and onsite blogs. Maybe combined with low cost promoted posts or through the predominantly paid channels like Google’s Display Network (GDN).
The future is SME shaped
The great advantage for small and medium enterprise owners is that one single piece of content can be reframed and re-published in a myriad of different formats to drive potential clients to your website or order page, which helps to keep costs down. And gain valuable ranking positions for your website.
This is just a single route, a pencil sketch of the potential of content marketing for small businesses as we all hurtle forward together into the digital marketplace. It’s a form of advertising that is still evolving and will continue to evolve.
Previously, it has been the preserve of the blue-chip brands and major players. But increasingly it is an opportunity for small business owners to find their own breed of loyal customers.