June 14, 2011
So I’ve been at this blogging thing for a while now – working at it for 7-8 months, and live online since around the first of the year. It’s been an interesting, predictably challenging, and hugely rewarding experience. I don’t think I’ve got my feet fully under me yet, but I’m getting closer.
The whole process has me thinking a lot more about content marketing as a tactic, a movement, and increasingly, what I believe is an essential component of any integrated marketing strategy. So important that it has now inspired what I expect will be a three part series here at this blog. Not sure exactly what content marketing means? Before we start, go visit the folks at Junta42,the real gurus of the field, who offer a great primer and some additional resources here.)
A year ago, I might have told you that I was mildly skeptical of the value of a lot of web content marketing for many businesses. Sure, done exceptionally well it could be a useful branding tool for the very best executors. But aside from the (often quite important) ability for it to serve as link bait or optimize a company’s SEO efforts by cranking out high volumes of search term-dense posts, could it really be an effective branding and inbound marketing tool for a small business?
Many businesses – small and large – are casting about, thinking about optimizing their social media strategies, wondering what to do with their email lists, Twitter followers, and Facebook fans/friends. They’ve done big pushes to get people to follow them, and then the vast majority of businesses are left asking “what now?” Most businesses do little beyond those initial efforts, save some traditional email marketing. Some are at least diligent about then using those distribution channels to share news of sales, special events, and other promotions, and that’s great. But there’s so much more opportunity out there.
Once you’ve done the work to build a following – and tens of thousands of businesses have gotten this far – you’re leaving immeasurable opportunity on the table if you aren’t using that channel frequently to more deeply engage your customers and followers. My friend Matt Harris wrote a great post several months back in which he foretold a world where “consumers will bias towards buying products from companies whose CEO they ‘know’, and have an online relationship with.” I couldn’t agree more.
The good news is that social media and social publishing platforms have radically lowered the barriers to content creation. No desktop publishing or web design expertise required. Additionally, the casual nature of blogging makes it even more accessible. While a CEO would rightfully spend many editorial cycles finalizing a quarterly customer newsletter, her blog can be something she or someone on her staff cranks out casually over an hour or two whenever an idea strikes her. Blog posts, by their nature, lack the sense of permanence and formality of traditional corporate communications, and the culture of the blogosphere empowers and even rewards us all for being far more casual.
Matt’s post was largely contemplating larger enterprises, folks emulating the success that Tony Hsieh and others had in harnessing Twitter and blogging to build the brand and reputation of companies like Zappos. But I think this applies to businesses of any size. There’s no reason that a local realtor or investment advisor or gourmet food shop can’t reap the same benefits. The best amongst those local business owners are fonts of knowledge in their respective field. And now the web has offered them all a megaphone. It’s time to step up and use it.
Web-based content marketing has, quite simply, dramatically lowered the cost of building a brand for many businesses – especially local businesses. With some scrappy execution and without a big budget for advertising or outsourced resources, effective content marketing can catapult you ahead of your competitors.
At the end of the day, be you a Fortune 100 brand or small local retailer, you are in the business of trying to get current and prospective customers to like you (and I mean “like” in the traditional, not the Zuckerbergian sense – though the latter doesn’t hurt). It may sound overly simplistic, but it’s just another way of talking about branding and brand equity. Being liked is what cements customer loyalty and enables the most ‘liked’ businesses to avoid competing on price.
I can’t think of a single business that couldn’t benefit from using content marketing as part of its strategy to connect with its customers and become more liked. But while it can be relatively inexpensive, it does take real focus and work to do this well. And most small businesses I talk to understand neither how to do it nor how to think about the likely return on the investment. In my next post I’ll spend some time on the case for content marketing for all small businesses and also offer some thoughts on how to make it work. I’ll then come back around in a final post in this series to some thoughts on where the content marketing revolution is creating opportunities for a wave of innovators to support and feed off of the trend. That’s a place I’m spending a lot of time on, and am very excited about.
More later this week.