A big picture content marketing guide for SMBs

The Globe Content Studio maps out how to plan for success

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By: Sean Stanleigh

“It doesn’t matter if you run a tiny mom–and–pop shop or a mega–billion–dollar corporation, content marketing works.” Neil Patel, Twitter, April 19, 2021

When talk turns to small and medium–sized businesses (SMBs), it’s best to start with the elephants in the room.

These are the top three barriers related to content marketing:

  • It’s hard to do well
  • It’s time consuming
  • It costs money

Why would an SMB bother? Content marketing can boost traffic to a company’s website, it can generate leads, and it can aid in conversion. I’m not here to argue against the effectiveness of Facebook Ads or Google Ads. They can be efficient business drivers.

But as any successful company knows, diversification leads to profitability and prosperity, and that includes diversity in marketing. You need to overcome the three barriers and there are three steps to take to get you over those humps.

smb-1Ideate

Start by familiarizing yourself with the marketing funnel. Content best serves the top of the funnel – helping raise brand awareness – and the middle of the funnel, which aids in consideration for products or services. That’s because content turns customers off when it lays the ‘sell’ on too thick. The bottom of the funnel, or the conversion tactics, are best served by technology, such as ads on social media.
Next, you want to analyze your data inputs. Are you measuring traffic to your website? How many unique visitors arrive on a monthly basis? What pages are they frequenting? The numbers will serve as a benchmark for your content to try to boost, and the analysis will guide you toward a focus for content.

Have you ever compiled and studied your customer testimonials? What do they like and dislike? When potential clients contact the company by phone, email or web form, or they make comments on your social–media channels, what do they ask about most?

You’ll also want to research and document news and trends in your industry, and think about how to add your company’s voice to the conversations. What are your competitors doing, big and small? What sets you apart and how should you best articulate those value propositions?

Then it’s time to get creative. You have data and insights you can turn into stories that should inform your audience and inspire interest in your business.

smb-2Create

Globe Content Studio has a simple philosophy: Story first, format second.

Now that you know what stories you want to tell, it’s time to determine how to present them. Will the written word with photography suffice? Do you have numerical data best presented as infographics? Would the intimacy of a podcast make sense? Did you have visuals in mind that lend themselves to video?

If you have a small team, audio and video are typically labour intensive, time consuming and more expensive. If your aim is to move fast and cheap, you can deploy a mobile device for recording, but you’ll still get what you pay for, which isn’t much. Your best strategy is likely text and photography.

Identify who’s going to do the work, including design and publication to your website. If you have grander ambitions without the bandwidth, there’s always the option of an outside vendor.

I know you’d rather do a contra deal, or get content now and pay later when you have more capital at your disposal, but content creators are like any other business, they want to get paid.

Expertise has value. You can always start with a test-and-try, communicate what success will look like, measure the results, and decide whether it’s worth continuing.

When Globe Content Studio builds creative, we take a journalistic approach by telling stories through expert voices. Who at your company would be the best person to interview? Do you have clients or potential clients you could feature? What about non-competitive industry experts for some outside perspective?

Last but perhaps most important is the display copy, which is what draws audiences to stories. What headline will you write to promote the material? Take lots of time to craft it. Focus on the most interesting fact and come up with a short, punchy line with appeal.

Distribute

An editorial calendar will help guide your strategy, tracking content types, promotional channels, authors and publishing dates. A weekly cadence is ideal. If that’s too much to handle, monthly should be the minimum.

Add key dates in here, such as holidays and events relevant to your industry, while leaving “blank” spots to incorporate unpredictable events or trending topics for speed–to–market content.

Make sure all of your drivers lead audiences directly to the content, not your home page. Make sure you provide calls to action on the page to relevant products and services.

Drivers can include newsletters, search engine marketing (SEM), social media (exercise paid options for audience targeting), YouTube for greater video reach and discoverability, and platforms such as iTunes and Spotify for audio extensions.

Data is key. Your traffic figures can help highlight new behaviours and measure the success of the content. Without data, you’re missing what Globe Content Studio calls “the philosopher’s stone of modern marketing:” the knowledge of what resonates with your buyers, right now. The how, who, why, where and when.

Go forth, with confidence.

Sean Stanleigh heads up the Globe Content Studio, the content-marketing division of The Globe and Mail, elevating brands and driving their business results through premium, journalistic-style storytelling. The team of content strategists, designers, video and podcast producers also have expertise in research, data analysis, social media and influencer campaigns. Contact GCS@globeandmail.com for more info.