Small business is big business. As of June 2014, it represented 97 per cent of the Australian business landscape. But take heed: marketing to small business owners is a tricky trade. Here, our award-winning editor James Chalmers reveals how you can use content marketing to capture the focus of these elusive busy bods.
There’s a reason they call small business the engine room of the economy. Sure, the big end of town might take up all the space in the Fin Review but small business really is big business.
About one in two workers clock in to a workplace with fewer than 20 employees, and those operations contribute to well over a third of the ingredients to our big economic pie.
Which means that if you’re in business yourself, you know that there is a big business opportunity at the small end of town, in terms of products sold, services rendered and money made. You’ve just got to get their attention, and their trust. This is where content marketing can be vital in getting your brand in front of these business owners and, even more vitally, help develop that trust.
But (there’s always a but) there are two big hurdles in actually reaching the owners of these businesses. Many of them aren’t just the boss – they often are also the accountant, the marketing chief, the complaints department, the stockboy and the janitor.
Wearing these many hats means they are often time-poor in the extreme. And that means when they are seeking out information on running their businesses better (be it through advice, products or services), they have no time to waste.
Of course, there is more to the internet than just more cat gifs than one could ever watch. It also makes it easier than ever for small business owners to find the answers to their questions – all they have to do is ask the great Google oracle, and dive into the great swathes of information out there on almost any topic imaginable.
So, how exactly do you go about building a content marketing program that reaches and engages these time-poor, information-rich small business owners?
Simple: you give them value.
OPEN Forum: how AMEX uses content marketing to attract small businesses
It’s one of those obvious-in-hindsight-but-sometimes-easily-missed tenets: content marketing must serve your customers needs, not just yours. That means the starting point is not how can you convince people to do business with you. It’s not even how can your products or services help the people you want to do business with. It’s simply this: what do those people need?
That’s the approach taken by American Express, with its OPEN Forum. Over the past eight years, Amex has been building the site into one of the premier go-to destinations for US small business owners wanting advice on almost anything to do with their business, from HR to marketing to accounting, with thousands of articles offering expert insight. Not only that, they’ve built a thriving community of small business owners who log onto the forum to ask questions of their peers and trade ideas and insights. They’ve been rewarded with millions of visitors each month.
Apart from a logo at the top of the page, the site does nothing to push Amex products and services. Instead, the site feels like it exists purely to serve its small business owner users. The upshot? Amex builds a loyal following of its exact target audience, and cultivates a huge amount of trust and authority for its brand. When it comes time for those readers to spend money getting their financial systems in order, that existing stockpile of trust becomes colossally valuable.
Starting small: how we provide value to our customers’ customers
Of course, not many of us have Amex-scale marketing budgets to play with, but content marketing efforts don’t have to be that size to have big effects.
Recently, we helped the National Insurance Brokers Association (NIBA) prove its value to its members (many of whom are small business owners themselves, targeting other small businesses). Digital technology means many small business owners who used to buy their insurance through a broker now have the option of buying it online, directly from the insurer.
To succeed in this new space, small brokers need compelling ways of proving their value proposition to potential clients, but often lack the marketing budgets to spread that message wide enough.
Knowing this, we created a series of short, zippy animated videos aimed at explaining basic insurance concepts to small business owners. Topics include things like what cyber insurance covers, or why business interruption insurance is important.
Then, we sent them out to NIBA’s members, telling them they were free to use them in their marketing efforts. The response was extremely strong. Scores of brokers have embedded the videos on their website and emailed them to their own client databases. And we’ve had superb anecdotal feedback about how useful the videos have been for brokers when it comes to netting new leads. And NIBA has earned valuable kudos as a vital partner for these brokers.
Getting a gameplan: 10 essential steps to content marketing success
So, how do you make it all happen? Like everything, laying the right foundation is key to success, so we’ve broken down the 10 essential steps to content marketing success.
Identify your business objectives
You might have the good fortune to launch a content program that attracts tens of millions of loyal followers but unless it serves your business goals, it’s not content marketing and it’s not doing your business any good.
From the outset, you must have a clear idea of what it is you want your content marketing efforts to achieve. It might be to increase attendance at your seminars. Or maybe you want more sign-ups for product demos. Whatever it is, setting clear goals is the best way to achieve them.
Know your market
It’s a highly competitive media landscape out there, so if you want your brand front and centre, your content must resonate with your intended audience. And that means you need to be intimately aware of what’s important to them and what they need. Considering these are already your customers, you may be pretty confident you know this already but if resources permit, market research and prospect interviews could very well turn up some surprising insights.
Create audience personas
You’ve probably come across the concept of creating audience personas – that is, creating imaginary figures to represent each of your key audience segments, complete with names, jobs, personal histories and preferences. It may have even struck you as a bit naff but take it from us – it’s an invaluable tool for sharpening your content for maximum connection. The wants and needs of Jacinta the Marrickville florist, even if you have just summoned her out of thin air, are vastly easier to imagine than the wants and needs of a large faceless mob.
Plan your content
Your content strategy is no place for winging it. Before the first headline is written, you need to pull together the three threads above and work out exactly what sort of content fits the bill. The starting point is brainstorming – jotting down all the questions you get from your customers and other information valuable to them. This is also a good time to delve into what sort of keywords your desired customers are using when researching their needs. There are a bunch of free tools out there to help (like Wordstream or UberSuggest). Regularity and relevance should be your touchstones.
Select your platform
The last thing you want is to be a tree falling in the woods when no-one is around. Your content has to be where your audience is. Steps two and three will give you a good idea about where that might be. It might be through email, or they might be doing Google searches on their mobiles. If you’re in financial services, that means LinkedIn is going to be a better friend than Pinterest. Do you research and then deliver your content in the ways that make it easiest to find and consume.
Create your content
Needless to say, this is no time to start half-arsing it. Your content should be crafted with as much care and attention as anything else your business does. Remember, this is your opportunity to build trust and authority with potential customers, and poorly-written copy or typos are not going to achieve that. In fact, done poorly you could actually end up doing more harm than good.
If that means turning to professionals for help, so be it.
Let it loose
Ts have been crossed and Is dotted – time to get it out there. What’s essential here is keeping it regular – you are serving no-one’s purposes if you publish a ton of content in one week and then nothing for months. Follow your content plan and publish as regularly as possible – both your potential readers and Google’s search robots will love you for it.
Shout about it
Once your content is live, it’s time to turn the dial up to 11 and amplify it. Social media (including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn) are all vital but for big results there are a huge number of third party tools that can supercharge your efforts.
There are free tools like snip.ly and AddThis but if you have some budget, platforms like Outbrain and even LinkedIn’s and Facebook’s paid promotion options will provide you with effective ways to get your content out into the world.
Learn your lessons
Essential to the long-term success of any content marketing effort is accurate measurement. Tracking what pieces of content get the most clicks, the most shares and entice readers to stay on line as long as possible will give you invaluable insights into what sort of content resonates the most, which will help you tweak and tailor your content offering to give people what they want.
Keep an eye on your goals
What’s also vital is measuring what effect your content marketing is having on achieving your business goals. Tracking these will again help you create the most effective content, as well as give you the ammunition you need to make sure whoever controls your company’s purse strings is on board with your content spend.
All together now
The above steps, combined with a bit of creative spark, will stand any content marketing effort in excellent stead. And as you methodically work your way through them, keep in mind always that your foundation has to be helping the business owners you’re trying to connect with. Be the mechanic in the engine room of the economy.