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Most people think of content marketing as a promotional activity that’s relatively new, but other than the name, “content marketing,” there’s nothing new about it. In fact, savvy marketers were promoting themselves by distributing content on the early commercial online services years before the Internet as we know it today existed. Content marketing has long been used in print, too. Attorneys and other professionals who didn’t advertise promoted themselves by writing articles that appeared in professional journals. The articles included brief blurbs describing the authors’ credentials and company name. And then, too, there have always been those recipes that food companies give away at supermarkets or embed in popular ladies magazines to help sell gelatin, cocoa, and other food products.
In fact the only “new” thing about content marketing– other than someone giving it a name- is that it has become a $40 billion dollar industry. The reason? The Internet has made it easy to research the pros and cons of every purchase and every vendor before talking to a salesperson or consultant or stepping foot in a store.
Why Content Marketing Is Important for Small Business
Content marketing is important because it's how customers today learn about and choose products and services to buy. The right content can get your product or service noticed and keeps it on the prospect's radar as they move through the buying cycle from product discovery to final choice. Even if your business gets most of its customers from personal contacts, referrals and recommendations, the people who may want to do business with you are going to go online to learn more about you and what you sell before they make a commitment to buy from you.
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Today, customers go online to figure out what kind of product or service will solve a problem or fill a need. Then they search for information to help them determine which features they want. They look for answers to questions like “How much memory do I need in a computer that will be used to play Minecraft and other games?” “Is granite or quartz better for kitchen counters?” "How much does it cost to build a small business website?" "Where to buy bulletproof glass?" "How to choose a landscaper in San Francisco?"
If you have content on your website that provides factual answers to common questions asked by your target market, you'll help establish yourself as an expert and therefore a potential vendor. (All those personal contacts you make at networking events and tradeshows are likely to look around your website for information before they consider calling you or coming into your shop.) Your content may also get found by search engines and show up high in search results, bringing you potential customers you would never have gotten on your own.
Once a consumer or business buyer knows what features they want in a product, they compare the benefits of one brand to another and one vendor to another. They check out social media comments, reviews, pricing, and anything that will help them make the best choice. They do all their research and pretty much make up their mind about which product they want and which company they want to buy from before they speak with any salesperson – even when they are making major purchases.
What Kind of Content to Use
To reap the most benefits from content marketing, plan on developing content related to each phase of the buying cycle. Start by putting yourself in the customer's shoes. What do they want to know and what might they search for when they first realize they have a problem or need, but aren't yet aware of products or services that will address their needs? What kinds of questions do they ask? What are their main concerns? Once they've figured out what type of product or service they need, what else do they ask? What to they compare? What are their chief considerations?
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You can write articles or blog posts that address each of their questions. For example, if you sell driveway resurfacing services, you might have an article on is it better to repair or replace your driveway and others about the benefits and pitfalls of tar, concrete, pebbles, bricks and pavers for the driveway surface. To show your expertise and help feed the information cravings of people who are ready to buy, you might have article or blog posts talking about and showing the steps involved in surfacing a driveway. Before and after photos (photos are content, too!) and testimonials from happy customers would be additional content that can help nail the sale, without "selling."
Getting Your Content Consumed
Content marketing uses information to sell instead of high-pressure sales pitches. But all the content (information) in the world won't do you much good if it doesn't get found! To get the content found, you have to promote it. Here are a several ways to do that:
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- Have an email signup page or other call to action requiring people to give you contact information on every page of your website.
- Make sure your business card has a link to your website and also includes a link to sign up for a newsletter or mailing list. (If you can't fit the link for the newsletter signup on the front of your business card- put it on the back.)
- Send out a newsletter or other mailing at least monthly pointing people to information on your website, special offers, photos of what you sell, or other information that will be of interest to your readers. (Photos, videos, coupons, infographics, and even audio clips are all "content", too, provided they contain something your readers want to know or have.)
- Include a forward to a friend button in all your newsletters and mailings.
- Post a short summary or teaser of your content on your social media pages and link to your website for readers to read the full document. Or offer a download with the content, and require individuals to submit their email address, then email the piece to those who request it. Add their names to your mailing list or an autoresponder to follow up and send them additional information and calls to action.
- Buy ads on search engines and social media sites to point to your content. But test your ads watch the costs vs ROI. Online ads work well if you are selling high-ticket items or if you are selling products or services that customers buy on a continuing basis. If you have one $29.95 item to sell and customers typically buy one of them, and don't need to repurchase, then online advertising may be too costly.
- Create a printed flyer (something you can print on your own printer, will work) to hand out at local networking events promoting and pointing to your content on your website.
- Offer to be a speaker at local and industry groups - and have a giveaway containing your content (an ebook or white paper, or special offer for attendees only) that people can request by giving your their contact information.
- Create a press release that summarizes some of your content and includes a link to download the complete report. Distribute that to the media and also to bloggers and websites that talk about your industry. Post the press release on your own website, too, and then post links to the release in social media.
Content marketing isn't a substitute for other marketing. But if you create good content and focus on getting it found, it can be an invaluable aid in winning new customers and building sales.
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