Content is a powerful tool for the growth of your small business, but like any tool, it needs to be used properly to obtain the best result. First, let’s start with the basic question many people ask.
What is content marketing?
Content marketing is providing relevant content to your audience. This doesn’t mean you advertise your services -- in fact, you shouldn’t be mentioning your business at all. Content marketing is often described as “thought leadership,” but that term is often misunderstood. I’ve seen some companies trying to prove they are thought leaders in their industry by talking about how great they are, as if content marketing was nothing more than a shouting match with each competitor trying to yell their advertising message louder and more often than the other person.
Content marketing is easier to understand if you think about it as educational articles informing readers about their problems and how they can be solved. The only advertising in content marketing is making sure the reader knows the content comes from your company. This is typically accomplished through a short bio of the author or a call to action at the end of the article with contact information.
Why would I give information away?
The answer is simple: Trust. If you have the choice of doing business with two companies and you trust one and don’t know much about the other, which one are you going to go with? Most people will go with who they trust.
Think about it this way: Imagine your car needs a big repair and you take it to two different mechanics. The first mechanic says, “Injection issue and probably needs a water pump. It will cost you $1,200.” The second mechanic takes the time to explain why the symptoms you are experiencing are most likely caused by the fuel injectors and how the water pump works, which is creating another issue. He explains they are two separate problems, outlines what happens if you don’t fix either one and makes sure you understand what’s going on. He quotes the same $1,200 price.
Which one gets your business? Probably the person that made you comfortable with what was going on and why, not the guy that just threw a price at you. It’s not that the first guy was dishonest or wasn’t a good mechanic, it’s just that the second guy took the time to build trust with you to gain your business.
Now imagine taking that same approach on your website, where, like the mechanic, you are really talking to potential customers, working to build trust to earn their business.
What do I have to do?
This varies a bit depending on your business type and what your overall goals are, but in general, you create educational content that specifically helps the customer understand his or her problem better and the possible solutions.
The mechanic would want to create content similar to the conversation with the customer, choosing common car problems and explaining how they are fixed and maybe why they happen in the first place. For example, most people have heard that you’re supposed to change your oil every 3,000 miles. Why? I don’t really know. The mechanic could explain that as oil ages, it picks up tiny particles of dirt and eventually loses its lubricating properties, which puts more stress on your engine, creating potential for greater repair bills later on. Now, instead of a “get your oil changed with me” message that sounds just like every other competitor in town, the mechanic has started to build trust with you by sharing some of his insider knowledge.
Take this basic idea and multiply it out across lots of common car problems, and you end up with a website that’s chock full of information that helps you understand what’s happening with your vehicle and what you should do about it.
When it comes time to pick a garage for repair service, this mechanic has already proven that he’s trustworthy and demonstrated a great deal of knowledge about vehicles, which just happen to be two very important traits when it comes to a customer making a decision between repair shops. Once trust is established, you can actually charge a little more for your services, leaving the other shops to compete on price alone.
How do I get started?
Create a plan. Who are your customers and what do they want to know? What do you want them to know? What can you tell them that will make them feel more comfortable?
If you are trying to answer these questions with “we” or “I,” you are looking at it like an ad, which is the wrong way to go. It’s not about promoting your business -- it’s about promoting your knowledge. Pretend the person is a close friend that lives in another state and is asking for advice about what questions to ask and what they need to know about a problem.
Create a content plan that addresses all these common issues and make a schedule that is realistic for the time you have to devote to it. Write blogs or articles on these topics, put them on your website and share them via social media and any other means -- including directly emailing past customers, if it’s a topic you think they are interested in.
Stick to your schedule and keep producing fresh content. This will build your library of helpful articles, giving you broad appeal to customers with a variety of problems, and will also help your website with its search rankings. Search engines love fresh content, so keep feeding it to them by keeping the content flow going.
Content marketing is a great way to promote your small business. But remember, the “marketing” part of content marketing is a soft sell of sharing your expertise, not a hard sell of putting yet another advertising message in front of someone. If you hit on the right topics and keep a steady flow of content, you’ll soon build trust with customers you have yet to meet.
Todd Shryock is the director of content for Emerge Inc. If you have questions about how to assemble a content marketing plan, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.