The five steps to successful content marketing
One more thing. It's just one more item for your "to do" list. But it's one you have to pay attention to. As a small business owner, it's a list that's already full of tasks like sales, recruitment, staff management, operations, customer service, administration, you name it. But now there's another essential item if you want to succeed and grow: content marketing.
At least that's the concept that hundreds of keen delegates embraced at this week's Content Marketing World in Sydney (4–6 March, 2013). A conference for … you guessed it … those interested in "content marketing", it's an initiative of the US-based Content Marketing Institute. [Aside: I go to a lot of business conferences and this is definitely one of the better ones on the calendar.]
"... if your key competitors are busy creating content, being useful to their customers and carving a place as a "trusted source/friend/organisation" to potential leads, don't dismiss the value of content marketing."
For those of you who are still wondering "content what?", let me explain. According to Content Marketing Institute (CMI) founder Joe Pulizzi: “Content Marketing is owning, as opposed to renting media. It’s a marketing process to attract and retain customers by consistently creating and curating content in order to change or enhance consumer behaviour.”
In other words, instead of trying to sell all the time, you produce useful, educational content – ranging from blog posts and articles to "how to" YouTube videos and webinars. The CMI website states: "In short, instead of pitching your products or services, you are delivering information that makes your buyer more intelligent. The essence of this content strategy is the belief that if we, as businesses, deliver consistent, ongoing valuable information to buyers, they ultimately reward us with their business and loyalty."
I've had countless conversations with small business owners about the concept of content marketing. Some are actively embracing this strategy and they are busy writing blog posts, producing videos and sharing this content over social media. Others are far more dubious. A common cry I hear is: "Who has the time to produce all this stuff? I have a business to run!"
The delegates at CMI definitely fell into the former camp. But if you're yet to be convinced on the importance of "content", let's take a look at what CMI's keynote speak Jay Baer had to say.
Baer is a US-based social media expert and coauthor of, The Now Revolution: 7 Shifts to Make Your Business Faster, Smarter and More Social. He is also president of social media strategy firm Convince and Convert. Baer's approach to content marketing is based around a term he's coined: "Youtility".
Yes, it's a gimmick word. But it refers to being useful to people so that you are helping them in a way a friend would. That is, you want to provide such useful information to your customers – without expecting any immediate return – that you become a trusted source/friend/organisation. Then when the customer is ready to buy, you're the source/friend/organisation that is top of mind. Baer says there are 5 steps to get there.
1. Discover customers needs
Baer told the packed conference that if the aim is to solve problems and to be useful then you need to know how to be useful. "You can search key words, look at existing web analytics … and mine social media chatter … but the best way to do this is to actually ask your customers," he says.
He makes the distinction that monitoring social media mentions for trends or issues is not enough. "Just because we can tap into customer conversations and eavesdrop doesn't mean that we shouldn't continue to embrace traditional research principles. Listening doesn't invalidate asking. Nothing replaces sitting down with a customer and saying: 'What can we do for you? How can we be useful?'"
In other words, find out what your customers' burning questions are. Too often, we make assumptions on what they need without actually checking if we're right.
2. Map customer needs to Youtility programs
Baer says that you need to determine the best program or channel to use in order to answer your customers' most pressing needs. For example, if they need to understand how to assemble furniture, a "how to" video on YouTube might be a lot more helpful than an ebook.
3. Market your marketing
This is Baer's fancy way of saying: promote your content. If you create useful blog posts, videos, articles and so on, don't just let them sit on your website waiting to be discovered. Promote your new collaterals. Baer says: "You need to drive awareness, interest and action around individual segments of your own content."
Baer is unequivocal in his opinion on the best way to "market your marketing". He says: "If your content is fire, then social media is gasoline. They work together, not separately. You would be better off if you use social media to promote Youtility first, and your company second."
In other words, your "shoutouts" should focus on sharing helpful and informative articles more than broadcasting the achievements of your company or the products you offer.
4. Make Youtility a skill, not a job
I'm sure you've heard of bosses who recognise that they need to embrace content marketing or social media but then relegate this function to an intern, or junior. Baer emphasises that "it's not one person's job, it's everybody's job. Everybody in your organisation can help. Every employee has knowledge or expertise that can be helpful to a customer."
5. Make Youtility a process, not a project
In our constantly evolving world, don't expect to have your strategy figured out and finalised soon. The reality is that both technology and consumers change so it's important to be open to new ideas and trends. "Once you go down this path, you're never finished," says Baer.
While Baer is clearly a fan of content marketing, I know there are many small business owners who feel that this strategy is simply unrealistic. You are already swamped with red tape, operations issues and a never-ending stream of problems to solve. Where in the world will you find time to produce content? Here are my thoughts on this.
You can outsource
If you can't fathom producing all this content yourself, you can always pay someone else to do it. You can either choose to outsource this to copywriters or to organisations with huge teams of writers who churn out content like there is no tomorrow. Of course, all of this costs money and if you're a small business owner, chances are you don't have a big budget to throw at these suppliers.
You don't have to embrace everything
If you have no choice but to produce the content yourself, just remember that you don't have to do everything. That is, you don't have to create accounts on Pinterest, Youtube, blogs, Facebook and so on all in one go. Be selective.
As a general rule, use the platforms where your target customers spend most of their time. Ignore the rest until you're ready to tackle another one. If you spread yourself too thinly, you'll have a broad online presence but you won't do anything well.
Stick with the channels that resonate with you
If you're not sure which platforms/channel your potential customers use (and you're not sure how to find out) then stick with the platforms/channels that you think you'll most enjoy using.
Recently a friend of mine told me how much she hated blogging but she knew she had to "get into the digital space". I told her that if she hates blogging she simply isn't going to do it. Choose a platform that you find personally engaging because the more you enjoy it, the more you'll participate.
Ultimately, I know there are also legions of small business owners who can't fathom the idea of getting into content marketing. I can already hear the battle cry: "I'm too busy running my business!"
This approach is fine if your competitors have the same attitude as you. But if your key competitors are busy creating content, being useful to their customers and carving a place as a "trusted source/friend/organisation" to potential leads, don't dismiss the value of content marketing. Otherwise, the day might come when you no longer have a business to keep you busy!