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Small Business Tips

The complete guide to content marketing for small business

MileIQ Team
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If you’re a small business owner, you’re likely always looking for the most effective ways to keep your products and services top of mind. Content marketing is one of the most powerful ways to reach people. This marketing strategy is true whether you’re a local brick-and-mortar business or own an e-commerce site.

Content marketing is creating online materials that help drive positive business actions. Think of ways assisting customers in solving problems, tell stories to entertain, and shares tips and experiences that inspire potential and existing consumers. All of which can come in the form of articles, blogs, videos and social media posts.  

Importantly, content marketing doesn’t always explicitly promote the company’s products and services. Instead, it’s intended to drum up interest, gather contact information, and nurture people to make a purchase eventually.  

For small businesses, content marketing is one of the fastest and most effective marketing tactics to increase website traffic, build brand awareness, and get your products and services noticed on various channels. And it comes without the hefty price tag of conventional television and print advertising.  

While content marketing may sound daunting, you don’t need to hire more people to do it effectively. According to Forbes, “many content marketing ‘teams’ are just one person, and 68% of them are three people or less.” Also, content marketing can be even simpler than that—great content can even come from your customers!  

How to start with content marketing

When creating content, you’ll want to take a strategic approach. Don’t just create content for the sake of creating content or try to copy something that your competition is doing. Instead, create a content marketing strategy that:  

  • Delivers value to content consumers  
  • Share real stories that help you connect with customers in meaningful ways  
  • Contributes to your business goals

You should always tie your content marketing efforts to a specific goal or a key performance indicator (KPI), like:  

  • How much time people spend on your website  
  • How many in-store purchases were for a particular product
  • Or how many people opened your emails

Make your content marketing efforts will be measurable.  You need to be able to see if your content is engaging customers and working for your business.  

Let’s take a deeper dive into how small businesses can create content marketing that works for them.  

Use audience-first approach with content marketing

Don’t know what content to create? Look toward your customers. Learn about their needs, wants, pain points and empathize with them. Use that information to develop materials that show how your products or services can help.  

Getting to know your customers with audience research is mission-critical. But, it doesn’t have to be time consuming or expensive. To do this, try:  

  • Talking with your customers
  • Creating a quick online survey
  • Using a social media poll  
  • Mingle during a customer event

And remember to read the comments on your social media channels, as well as those on your competitors’ channels. These can provide enormous value and insights.  

If you have a larger budget and less time, you can try using a social listening tool. These will monitor mentions of your brand, competitors, industry on social media. You’ll then get this information in a report that you can act on as you see fit.

You may have many audiences with different needs, wants, ideas or ways of consuming content. That’s especially true if you have many types of products or services. Just make a note of them, segment your audiences, and create and distribute unique types of content and messages to each type of audience.  

Nothing is more frustrating, less personal, and more alienating than receiving content that doesn’t apply to you. It’s essential to take the time to communicate with your customers in the ways they want.

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Align your message to a complete and consistent story

Content marketing is sometimes called storytelling marketing because the content tells a story that’s your audience can relate to. According to Paul J. Zak, Ph.D., director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University, “stories that are personal and emotionally compelling engage more of the brain, and thus are better remembered, than simply stating a set of facts.”  

For this reason, storytelling in content marketing is vitally important.  

Crafting your company’s story can be simple. But before you begin, take a moment to:

  • Identify which of your segmented audiences you want to reach.
  • Decide what message you want to convey. Go ahead and write a sentence with your business’ differentiators as reference.
  • Build a narrative, or a story arc, via multiple content touch points using the messaging framework as a foundation to reference.  
  • Maintain consistency and fluidity in every piece you publish. Regardless of what you’re writing, every piece will play a part in conveying your full story to the world. Remember, consistency is what helps the message connect with your audience.  

If you’re worried about what story to share, start by talking to your best customers. They’ll likely share their perspective, offer quotes, or even participate in an interview that can help you create a compelling case for your products or services.  

Meet people where they hang out

Any time you’re trying to connect with customers, you should meet them where they are. In content marketing, that means finding the right channels, or avenues to distribute your content, including:

  • Owned channels, e.g. your website
  • Paid channels such as paid social and search engine marketing
  • Earned channels in the form of public relations and search engine optimization

The research will help you understand where your clients are spending time and consuming content. A channel strategy – which is a roadmap to how you will distribute content – can help you reach them.  

For instance, if you own a company with natural cleaning and body care products, use your website to host blog content about natural and healthy lifestyle tips. Then, even with a small budget, you can use paid social media to promote those posts to people or groups that have a passion for it.  

And for those who are just starting or are concerned about having a small marketing budget, don’t worry. A channel strategy that focuses on your website can help customers find you via their favorite search engine.

In addition to meeting people where they are, literally (in-channel), it’s also critical to meet people where they are, figuratively, in the marketing funnel. A marketing funnel is a different kind of road map, and it takes a potential customer from the top, with high-level information about a topic, all the way to the bottom, with detailed information about specific products and how to purchase them.

By creating content for each stage of the marketing funnel, you can capture potential customers’ attention and nurture existing and returning customers.

The content marketing funnel

Think of the marketing funnel and the content you provide at each stage, like this:

  • Top – Awareness. Focus on content that will help people become aware of relevant topics. Use search engine optimization (SEO), by inserting keywords into your online content, headlines, and meta descriptions, to get discovered by search engines. This is the stage of the funnel that your articles, blogs, and perhaps earned media lives.  
  • Middle – Thought Leadership. Get social. Participate in relevant social media sites and groups, use focused, promoted posts as necessary or as your budget allows. Produce snackable content that’s quick and easy to read or try connecting with influencers via email or social media. This way, you can reach people who are already aware of your product or product category and share your story with them. Active participation will help you become a trusted resource.
  • Bottom – Consideration and Nurture. When people are considering a purchase or need a little attention to make their choice, you can’t disappear. So, find ways to communicate and stay top of mind. Even a positive review on an accredited site can act as consideration content. In this phase, you can also try things like email, longer explainer videos, or product one-pagers with more information. This is the best stage of the funnel to get down to the details about your products and services—and how they stack up against your competitors.  

By staying active at every level of the marketing funnel, you have a better chance of meeting more people where they’re at. According to Kapost, “successful lead nurturing generates 47% larger purchases than non-nurtured leads.” Content marketing works.  

Test your content marketing and learn

Nobody gets content marketing right the first time. Don’t be afraid to fail, test and learn. Examining your content gives you more information about your audience. You can test everything from the topic, the title, the photo or the content type. But you don’t need to check everything immediately.  

Start by giving your efforts some time and track your key performance indicators (KPIs) as you go. KPIs are metrics like email open rate, time spent on a page, or how many people fill out lead forms.

When you’re ready to test your content, take a scientific approach with A/B testing. By changing one variable at a time, you can see what’s actually moving the needle.  

For example, you can test a headline (A) versus a different headline (B) on an article. Or perhaps a lead photo (A) versus another lead photo (B). You’ll always compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges.  That lets you tell which variable performs better.  

Example of how testing helps

Let’s say you’ve developed an article with a headline you thought was terrific. But, it didn’t garner as many clicks as you’d like. To test, simply change the headline. Make sure everything else remains the same.

Then deliver the article with the original headline to one group and the piece with the new headline to a different, but similar group. See which headline performs better based on your KPI. From there, you can learn many things:  

  • Does a different headline make a difference to your KPIs?  
  • If so, what was different about that headline that you can take into future headlines?

This type of process can not only work when delivering content via email, but it can also work with social media sites, professional organizations, etc. You first change a single factor and distribute your content to two unique, but similar groups, then track how they perform.

Testing is always useful because you learn ways to improve your business. A single headline change may not move the needle or even perform worse than the previous one. But, over time, these combined learnings should improve your content marketing.

A means of helping your customers

Regardless of the size of your business, a content marketing strategy will help you make meaningful connections to your customers at every stage of the marketing funnel. And in the end, content marketing will only help you grow as an entrepreneur as it will help you see your business through new eyes, understand how and why people use your products and services. It may even give you a reason to develop new features for your products.  

If you’d like to learn more best practices for small business digital marketing, check out The Small Business’ Guide to Email Marketing and Four Hacks for Entrepreneur’s Social Media Marketing.

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