Content Marketing 101 for Small Businesses
A Comprehensive Guide
By: Ashton Graydon, Art Director
January 8, 2024
What is content marketing?
Are you a small business owner looking to take your marketing to the next level? Let us introduce you to content marketing. A content marketing strategy focuses on creating valuable, relevant, and consistent content for your audience. This is not the “churn and burn” ad-filled social media marketing of 10 years ago. Instead of giving customers the hard sell, the goal is to provide them with high-quality content to lead them down the path of brand awareness, and eventually a purchase. People are constantly inundated with information, but a strong content marketing plan will help you break through the noise to attract and retain customers and drive profitability for your small business.
Why is content marketing important?
Content marketing is one of the best ways to market your small business, because it fuels inbound marketing. The goal of inbound marketing is for the customer to initiate engagement with your brand. It’s a holistic, non-interruptive strategy to attract people by providing engaging, valuable content throughout their customer journey.
Content marketing adds value to your brand by:
- Generating brand awareness
- Educating customers and prospects about your products and services
- Boosting lead conversion
- Creating brand loyalty and increasing customer engagement
- Establishing authority in your field
With over 70% of companies already leveraging content marketing, isn’t it time you harnessed its effectiveness for your small business marketing?
Types of Content Marketing
Let’s take a look at some different content marketing examples. The forms content marketing can take are audio, video, text, and images. Here’s a breakdown of the types of content you may want to create for your brand:
- Case Studies
- Press Releases
- Online Courses / How-to Guides
- Testimonials / Reviews
- User-generated content
- Influencer & Brand Partnerships
How Content Marketing Works
People have different needs and problems to solve at different stages in the buying process. To make sure that your content meets a need throughout the customer journey, you’ll want to think about the three stages in your conversion funnel: awareness, consideration, and decision. Let’s break it down and look at each section of the funnel:
Awareness is the beginning of every customer journey and falls at the top of your sales funnel. In this stage, customers become aware of a problem they want to fix. Content at this stage should focus on high-level topics related to your brand. You want to identify customer pain points and needs without any advertising involved. A content creation strategy for this stage may include blog posts, podcast episodes, how-to videos, infographics, memes, or quizzes. Be sure to keep your content high-level at this stage.
Consideration is the mid-point in a customer’s journey, which also puts them in the middle of your sales funnel. In this stage, customers are ready to begin finding a solution for the problem they became aware of in the first stage. Now is the time to begin strategically adding promotions to the pieces within your content plan. How-to blogs, eBooks, white papers, case studies, product demos, and webinars all perform well at this stage.
Decision is the final stage in the customer journey where they decide whether to make a purchase from your company. They have reached the bottom of the sales funnel, so It’s time to make or break it and bring out your strongest sales-pitch. Content like product guides and comparisons, customer testimonials and reviews, and user-generated content will help you close the deal at this stage. Try to instill a sense of urgency in your marketing and include any promotions or discounts that may help nudge the customer towards a purchase.
Bottom funnel content that builds your brands authenticity and credibility will also help you increase the lifetime value of current customers by encouraging additional purchases and nurture long-lead buyers who have a slower customer journey.
6 Steps to Build a Strong Content Marketing Strategy
Now that you understand what constitutes content marketing and how it works, it’s time to begin developing a content strategy. Follow the steps below to get started.
- Identify your target audience – Hone in on the types of people who would be interested in your products or services. Do a deep dive and think about your target customers’ demographic profile, where they spend their free time, what they watch on TV, what social media platforms they hang out on, etc. Creating buyer personas will help with this exercise. Once you get a handle on who your customer is, really try to understand their needs, pain points, and potential barriers to entry or questions about your small business and its offerings.
- Determine clear objectives and goal – What do you want content marketing to accomplish for your business? If you have a new business, maybe your strategy is focused on top-of-funnel content to generate brand awareness. Or maybe your business is established and looking to grow sales or increase customer lifetime value? If so, your content would focus more on increasing brand loyalty and community. Think behind-the-scenes videos about your company’s processes and mission.
The SMART system for goal setting is one that I’ve found to be valuable when building a content strategy. SMART is an acronym that stands for:
Your goals should meet all of the SMART requirements in addition to complementing your overall inbound marketing strategy and business goals. Marketing strategies for small businesses should always be looked at holistically.
- Set a budget
Content marketing is some of the best advertising for small businesses if you’re willing and able to allocate the resources for it. It can easily be a full-time job, so we recommend that small business owners delegate the day-to-day management of their content marketing strategy to someone else if possible. Think about the budget you can allocate to creating and managing a content strategy and producing content.
- Establish your brand’s voice and visual identity
Before you begin creating content, think about what type of brand identity will resonate most with your audience. Decide whether your brand’s voice is more formal or casual and how you want to speak to your customers. Try thinking of a person to use as inspiration when writing in your brand’s voice.
For your content visuals, this is a time when brand guidelines come in handy to help anyone creating content know which fonts, colors, logos, etc. to use in your brand’s graphic assets. Another helpful exercise is to create a mood board of examples of the type of graphics and imagery you’d like to use in your content vs. examples of the types of imagery you don’t want to be associated with your brand.
Once you’ve locked in your brand’s voice and visual identity, use that information as a reference for every piece of content you create. Consistency in your brand’s voice and visuals will help establish trust and recognition with your audience.
- Select your content channels and types of content
Look back at your customer research from Step 1 and select the top three social media platforms your audience spends time on. These are the platforms you want to focus on for social media marketing for your small business. Think about which types of content perform best on your chosen social platforms and use that to guide your social content strategy.
Outside of social media, think about how your website will serve as a channel for blogging, podcasts, white papers, or other long-form content. Remember, you will want your social media posts to drive customers to your website where this content lives.
- Create a content calendar
Every good content marketing strategy involves publishing content on a consistent basis to drive traffic to your website, both through social media and search engines. Building a publishing schedule (also known as a content calendar) will help you stay consistent and create content strategically.
Social media publishing platforms like Monday, Later, and Buffer all have built-in calendars you can use to schedule posts. Asana also offers a social media calendar template if you’re already comfortable with using it to manage your projects. It can also be as simple as building your calendar in Excel, Word, or Google Docs to start with.
Consistency in publishing is key for a successful content marketing strategy to work, but be realistic when creating your publishing calendar. If you’re new to this, start off with one piece of content a week and build from there. Over time, you’ll be able to ramp-up and gather enough data to determine what posting schedule is most effective for your brand.
When planning your content schedule, don’t forget to refer back to your sales funnel and marketing goals. You want to create a good mix of content to support your customer at every point in their sales journey.
WORK SMARTER: A single piece of content can be adapted and cross-promoted across multiple content channels.
Crafting Engaging Content
Now that you’ve got your content calendar in place, let’s start creating some content! This is the time to pull out that research you did on your target audience and focus on addressing their problems and questions. Your content should be valuable and relevant to your target audience while always staying authentic to your brand and values.
There are two approaches you can take to creating content. Incorporating a mix of the two approaches into your content creation strategy is typically the strongest content plan.
Problem Solving Approach
Content marketing that focuses on problem solving typically means studying your target audience to identify their problems and pain points, determine how they got to this point, and then demonstrate solutions for their problems. This type of content is more analytical and informational, getting into the nuts and bolts of your products or services.
Incorporating storytelling into your content marketing allows you to connect with your target audience on a deeper level. Telling your brand’s story in a way that centers the customer will allow you to captivate your audience, while also helping you reach your small business marketing goals. Patagonia’s content serves as a perfect content marketing example of captivating storytelling.
Another content strategy plan you may want to consider is leveraging partnerships with influencers and other brands to help reach a wider audience. You’ll want to partner with brands or influencers that have similar values and an audience that is like yours in order for the partnership to be mutually beneficial. A content syndication strategy where you have partners who republish your content on their sites may also be helpful.
One final thing to keep in mind is to design your content with both people and search engines in mind. Yes, you want your content to be helpful and relevant to your audience above all else, but it also needs to be easy for them to find through search engines and social media. Think about the types of questions or phrases your audiences may be searching and incorporate those into your content.
Use your SMART goals to set key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure the success of your content marketing strategy. These are quantifiable data points you can use to measure performance against your goals. Here are some common KPIs for content marketing:
- Website traffic – Good KPI for brand awareness goals
- Social media followers – Good KPI for brand awareness goals
- Social media engagement – Good KPI for customer engagement goals
- Conversions – KPI for conversion rate goals
- Daily Sales – Good KPI for revenue goals
- Customer lifetime value – Good KPI for brand loyalty goals
Once you get your content marketing plan in place and start publishing, monitor your KPIs regularly to learn what content is working best with your audience and adapt your strategy moving forward. You’ve got this!
Crafting and executing a successful marketing strategy can be daunting. Don’t be scared to ask for help! If you’re interested in getting some expert support with your small business marketing, send us a note.