Traditional forms of advertising have grown less effective over time. Television, radio, and newspaper ads don’t carry the distribution levels or emotional impact they once did. Plus, consumers have grown savvier, less responsive to hard sells, and more likely to use the internet to do research before making a buying decision. Today’s buyers want to feel a sense of autonomy in their choices.
These cultural changes have led to a realignment in marketing. Businesses are moving away from advertising and toward content marketing.
Advertising vs. Content Marketing
What is advertising? Advertising is a sponsored media production that is intended to convince the public to buy a service or product. Advertisers want to get their message in front of as many viewers as possible to maximize their reach. An advertising campaign usually includes billboards, commercials, banners, and brochures, all intended to tell people about a product or service. The decision point is instant. People usually buy right after seeing the ad, or they don’t buy at all. In advertising, the message comes directly from the business to the buyer.
Content marketing, by contrast, informs the reader about something useful. In content marketing, the company sets itself up as a knowledgeable asset for potential buyers in order to earn their trust and friendship. Content marketing focuses on getting a message in front of the right people rather than just in front of a high volume of people.
Content marketing takes a long-term approach, informing and inspiring potential buyers long before they make a choice about what products to buy. Content marketing usually includes blogs, emails, YouTube videos, social media, podcasts, and online articles. It also makes use of peer-to-peer conversation through social media, online reviews, and sharing options.
A Brief History of Content Marketing
Sellers have advertised products since the ancient Egyptians papered their walls with ad-covered papyrus. Content marketing is a little newer, however. The first content marketer may have been Benjamin Franklin who started publishing Poor Richard’s Almanack in 1732 as a way to promote his printing press. The idea worked beautifully. In 1895, John Deere launched a farming magazine. Five years later, Michelin started publishing its famous red guide. And in 1904, Jello came out with a free cookbook.
These were large companies, however. Small business owners couldn’t afford to publish, print, and give away full-length books like that. Consequently, advertising remained the primary mode of marketing with newspaper ads, pamphlets, flyers, and songs promoting everything from politicians to paraffin.
Then Americans tuned into TV. Major companies could afford to produce slick, professional television ads, and even small businesses got in on the act with locally produced commercials that were so cringe-worthy YouTube megastars Rhett & Link built their initial platform by making parody videos of them. Over time, therefore, big companies succeeded in capturing the public’s imagination and eroding the power of small businesses.
Then came the internet.
And with it emerged a whole new way that business owners could talk to buyers. In 2001, Penton Custom Media in Ohio first used the term content marketing to describe business’ efforts to inform and entertain buyers online. Twenty years later, content marketing is king, and advertising is slipping away to the sidelines. Why? Simple ROI. Content marketing costs 62% less than traditional marketing and generates three times the results.
How to Create an Effective Content Marketing Strategy
Start by setting goals. What do you want your content marketing strategy to do for your small business? Increase brand awareness? Boost revenue? Improve conversions? Lead to new partnerships? If you don’t know what you want your marketing strategy to accomplish, you can’t be sure it’s doing its job. So set some goals and hold your marketing strategy accountable for achieving those goals in a timely way.
Decide on your content. What kind of content will your clients and customers want to consume? Consider this question in several ways. First, what do they want to learn? Second, how do they want to learn it (video, audio, print)? Third, who do they want to learn it from? Knowing the answers to these questions can guide you as you determine what content to create, where to publish it, and who your spokespeople should be.
Choose your channels. Will you try to place your articles in high-profile business publications such as INC, Fast Company, or Forbes? Or will you publish them on your own blog? Or in a trade journal? Will you stick to Facebook? Or is your audience hanging out on Pinterest? Is video worth the investment for you? What about starting a podcast? Know the channels your audience dials into so you can be there waiting for them.
Create your content. Use a content calendar and a backoff schedule to determine what you’ll publish, where you’ll publish it, and when it will go live. You also need to decide if you will create content yourself, hire an in-house team, work with an agency, or bring in a freelancer. All these options offer benefits and drawbacks, so you just need to determine which one is right for your business.
Distribute your content. All the content in the world will do you no good if it isn’t live on the internet and working for you. An astonishing number of people get cold feet and fail to press the final button because they worry that people won’t like their articles or posts. You don’t want to be that person.
Analyze your strategy. Keep an eye on what’s working and what’s not. While you don’t want to overanalyze every Tweet’s performance, it’s good to know which channels and types of content are working for you and which aren’t so you can tweak your strategy when necessary.
Convert Your Content Viewers Into Buyers
Providing a library of free information may establish your authority and create emotional loyalty to your brand, but it’s only effective when you convert your readers into buyers. Make sure your strategy is conversion driven by including a persuasive call to action, a sense of urgency, and compelling visuals. If you want readers to opt in to your email list, for instance, be sure to ask them to do that and then give them a large, colorful, clickable button that makes it easy for them to sign up.
Interactive content and live chats are two other contemporary ideas for turning viewers into buyers. Do whatever works for you, but make sure you’re doing something to keep your prospective buyers moving through the process.
Examples of Outstanding Content Marketing
Done well, content marketing stands out and sticks in your mind. Here are three of the best content marketing campaigns in recent history. What about these campaigns could your small business emulate?
Coca-Cola’s “Share a Coke.”This campaign began in Australia in 2011 and soon went viral in countries around the world. Coke printed a popular name on each bottle and encouraged people to buy the Coke for a friend with that name. Soon, people were taking selfies with their personalized Cokes and posting them online.
The key elements of this campaign were personalization and sharing. Everyone’s favorite topic is themselves so seeing your own name on a Coke bottle mattered to people. It was personal. The other key element, sharing, meant that the success of the campaign lay in the buyers’ hands not in Coke’s. The best content marketing gets validated and shared by the buyers themselves.
Charmin’s Sit or Squat App. Let’s face it: anything having to do with the bathroom is pretty funny, and the toilet paper company capitalized on our common love of potty humor with this marketing initiative. Charmin built an app called Sit or Squat and then fashioned a social media campaign around it. People can use the app to find out if nearby public restrooms are clean (so they can sit) or not clean (so they should squat). While it may seem silly, the app provided valuable, actionable information to people under the Charmin brand.
Grow from Acorns. This simple investing app provides a cornucopia of resources on its blog arranged in sections such as Money 101, How-Tos, and Interviews. The app’s blog helps readers learn more about building wealth before they ever start to put their money into a Grow from Acorns account. This blog positions the company as a trusted guide through the minefield of investing, which establishes trust and credibility with the reader.
8 Ways to Use Content Marketing to Turn Your Small Business Into a Trusted Expert
1. Be social on social media.
No matter the platform, social media marketing is not a set-it-and-forget-it strategy. Social media is, first of all, social. So make sure you are talking with your followers, following them back, liking their comments, and generally making your page a fun and positive place to hang out. For the more daring social media manager, you could try using the Live feature or create interactive content such as polls or boomerang videos that gives your followers an opportunity to engage with you.
2. Publish authoritative content.
Your articles need to be fresh, original, and most of all … accurate. Do your research before you write a piece. You’ll want to cite the most current research so check the date on any numbers you use to make sure they are recent. In general, websites that end in .org or .edu are considered more trustworthy than .com or .net sites. Also, try to justify your assertions with at least two sources before you hit publish.
3. Start a podcast.
Gary Vee says, “Even if you have 1500 people listening to your niche podcast, that could be enough to do millions of dollars a year in revenue!” Podcasts are insanely hot right now, especially in the B2B marketing world. Podcasts offer value three ways. First, they inform your listening audience. Second, they grant you enormous credibility and improve your likeability among listeners. And three, interview podcasts let you meet the best and brightest people in your industry when you ask them to be your guests.
4. Try to rank for local, geo-specific keywords.
When you type a search query into your smartphone, does autofill try to add the phrase “near me” to the end? People are searching for what’s nearby, convenient, and easy to access. Even if you are a 100% digital company, you can still rank for geo-specific keywords in your target buyers’ regions. You don’t have to get fancy with the SEO, just add a mention of some key landmarks to a blog post. See what happens.
5. Create emotional headlines.
Feelings matter more than facts so make sure to touch them in an authentic way through your content. Like everyone else, your buyers want to believe they make purchase decisions based on data and logic, but in fact, they make decisions based on emotions and then justify those decisions with data and logic.
6. Build your content strategy on pillars.
According to the Content Marketing Institute, 73% of B2B marketers believe blogging is the most effective top-of-the-funnel strategy available. The most efficient way to produce great blog content is through a pillar page. This is a long page, usually about 4,500 words, that can be broken down into shorter blogs, memes, posts, articles, or other content pieces. You can also create pillar content from a video, webinar, or podcast episode.
7. Get active on LinkedIn and TikTok.
While Facebook remains the undisputed king of social media, other platforms are important as well. Two of the most popular right now are LinkedIn and TikTok. LinkedIn generally appeals to entrepreneurs and working professionals while TikTok lends itself to a younger crowd. Both offer opportunities to share important and entertaining content, so you want to incorporate them into your strategy as soon as possible.
8. Don’t obsess about your buyers’ privacy. Obsess over their convenience.
People tell pollsters that privacy is a top concern. But it isn’t. If privacy were important, we wouldn’t be online sharing our deepest thoughts, feelings, and fears with the world on our social media accounts. People are much more interested in convenience than privacy. Now, you don’t want to violate your customer’s privacy, of course, but don’t overthink the issue either. Spend more time on how to make your product or service increasingly convenient for your customer.
Whatever your unique strategy looks like, a solid approach to content marketing can pay off big for your business’ bottom line.
Check out all of the articles in the ‘Marketing Strategies Every Business Should Be Using‘ series: