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Beyond Cookie Cutter: How Small Businesses Can Succeed in Content Marketing

Beyond the shadow of a doubt, content marketing has moved from a buzzword to a core digital strategy. Businesses in all industries have embraced the philosophy that free or ‘gated’ content can be a significant help in gaining brand awareness among potential customers.

The success of content marketing is directly related to its relevance in today’s media landscape. Keep reading to find out how to make sure that your efforts help your business stand out from the clutter.

Content Marketing, Defined

In many ways, the concept’s name explains its core function. Still, including a formal definition of this marketing philosophy is helpful in avoiding confusion and ambiguity. The Content Marketing Institute defines Content Marketing as

a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.

In other words, content marketing means communicating with your audience without being promotional or trying to directly sell your product. That means owning, rather than buying media space for your message, and creating your content in a way that will lead your audience to seek it out and engage with it on their own accord.

The Rapid Rise of Content Marketing

The driver behind the concept is relatively simple. Thanks to a plethora of new marketing opportunities, the digital realm is more crowded with advertising-related messages than ever before. In 2014, the average U.S. person was exposed to 5,000 brand-related messages a day.

Naturally, consumers bombarded with promotional messages begin to tune them out. To see this behavior shift in action, look no further than the recent surge in ad blockers: tired of countless banner ads, audiences in all industries have begun to embrace digital tools that automatically filter out any advertising on their internet browsers.

Simply adding another promotional message to this clutter will do little in helping you spread awareness about your business. Instead of being yet another business that praises your services to your audience, why not take a different approach? Why not seek to be helpful instead, providing valuable content about your customers personal and professional interests in their medium of choice?

That is the raison d’être for content marketing. Add in the fact that at its core, businesses of any size and budget can utilize and embrace the concept, and you have the ingredients responsible for its rapid spread among businesses of all sizes in recent years. In 2015, 88% of B2B marketers engaged in content marketing to some degree, and 70% of marketers created more content in 2015 than they did in 2014.

Problems for Small Businesses

Yet, this rapidly growing prominence also brings with it significant problems, particularly for small businesses. As large corporations embrace the concept, their smaller competitors are increasingly being pushed to the fringes.

This development is based on both credibility and resources. If you are looking for advice on the steps you need for a business loan, would you trust a small website you have never heard of, or the large bank you know to be experts in the subject? Similarly, are you more likely to read a blog post, written by someone who clearly has little marketing experience, or watch a high-quality explainer video on the same subect?

The obvious answer to both of these question lays bare the problems small businesses face when trying to engage in content marketing in a saturated market. Yet, not all is lost. Through creativity and a strategic approach, even the smallest of businesses can create content marketing that goes beyond cookie cutter and helps them stand out online.

5 Steps for Creating Content Marketing that Stands Out

1) Know Your Audience’s Pain Points

No content marketing can succeed without truly knowing your audience. That means not just taking demographic averages and applying them to your marketing efforts, but truly researching the type of content your audience needs and is looking for.

Finding your customer’s pain points is a complex process. It involves not only knowing their surface-level motivations, but the true reasons behind their actions.

What are they looking for at the time of coming in contact with your business, and how can you help them achieve their need? Are they acting out of personal or professional reasons, and just how much are they willing to think about your product? Answering all of these questions help you gain a better understanding of your audience, which will help in the second step:

2) Establish a Strategy

Stating that your content marketing needs to be strategic may seem obvious, especially considering the definition of the concept at the beginning of this post. Yet, you would be surprised just how few businesses actually follow that advice: despite the recent proliferation of content marketing, only 32% of businesses actually have a documented content marketing strategy.

For your business, that represents great news: it means that simply by being strategic about your efforts, you can help your business stand out from the pack. Knowing your audience, the media channels on which they can be reached, and the type of content that will reach them is a crucial start, but not complete without planning out your content in a calendar and establishing a distribution system.

3) Own the Niche

As a small business, you will always be on a credibility and resource disadvantage compared to larger competitors. As it turns out, the flip side is just as true; on niche topics that fall specifically in your expertise, you will be the expert.

As a neighborhood electronics retailer and repair shop, you will never be able to compete with the CTO of Best Buy or Apple on new releases and broad electronics topic. Your edge will lie in more specific topics like helping customers fix individual TVs, finding hidden features within smartphones, and more.

The key to success is finding the niche that matches up with your core expertise, and establishing yourself as an authority in that niche.

4) Dig Into the Details

Content marketing can take on many forms, but for most small businesses, it means blog posts. You may supplement your posts with occasional video or graphics, but you will always get the most return on your investment from these posts – which take nothing more than time and expertise.

Of course, other businesses know that too, which is why the web is stuffed to capacity with short blog articles aiming to increase search engine visibility and thought leadership. How do you distinguish yourself?

The answer is writing long, detailed posts on the niche you found in the previous steps. Content marketing powerhouse Buffer found that the ideal length for a blog post is 1,600 words, which which keep your audience attention for an average of 7 minutes.

Writing that much for a single blog post may seem excessive, but the results speak for themselves. One study found that the top Google results on blog-related topics all measured over 2,000 words in length, while another discovered that the length of your post is directly connected to the amount of external links it will receive.

The conclusion: never be afraid to dig into the details, writing long and informative posts rather than short snippets that give your audience little advice and few real takeaways. As an added bonus, you will be able to include more information in your post than larger competitors can stuff into videos or infographic, giving you an unexpected advantage.

5) Try Something New

When all else fails, go where none of your competitors have gone. Most still focus on publishing content on their own website, and while the SEO benefits of that practice are undeniable, publishing elsewhere may bring unexpected benefits.

For example, publishing your content on LinkedIn’s Pulse platform for long-form articles increases your exposure. Members of the network who have listed specific expertise related to your post may see it without having any prior connection to you, thanks to LinkedIn’s daily Pulse digest and automated news feed updates.

Another alternative is to try a medium that may be unexpected but relevant for your audience. If your ideal customer spends their time on Twitter, have you considered hosting a live session with questions and answers about which your audience cares about on Periscope? The production resources needed are minimal, and you will take advantage of a medium that has yet to be crowded with your competitors’ content.

Executed well, content marketing is an ideal fit for small businesses in all industries. Its low cost, coupled with a high degree of relevance for your target audience, attracts potential customers and establishes you as a credible source in your industry.

To reach the concept’s maximum potential, you also have to make sure that your content stands out from the countless videos, blog posts, and other types of content floating around the web. If you need help with any of the above strategies, or simply want to get started in content marketing, contact us.

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