4 Tips for Using Content Marketing to Boost Your Business

Stay on trend and in consumers’ minds without wasting time on content that will get lost in the noise.
Content marketing provides a way to connect with customers, engaging them on topics that matter. (Photo: Bakhur Nick)

“Because social platforms can’t be controlled, we want to focus on platforms we can control, like our blog or website and our email database, and then use social distribution when and where it makes sense.” -Joe Pulizzi (Photo: Joe Pulizzi)

More and more businesses are using content marketing to engage with consumers and stand out in a crowded social media world. But research from Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, found that only 30 percent of small businesses think they are effective at it.

Content marketing can help you attract and retain customers. “A content-first approach can enable a small business to grab attention that’s hard to get…and get customers and prospects to know, like and trust them more. Building an engaged audience over time can help a small business build a pre-customer database that can drive the business forward,” Pulizzi said.

But it costs time and often, money, to create articles, videos and the like. And experts say there’s no point in creating content willy-nilly, without a strategy and clear goals.

Start with these tips.

Identify your needs before you begin

Pulizzi, whose business is helping companies large and small grow through superior content, recommended that businesses step back and survey their needs.

The first reason to invest in content marketing, said Pulizzi, is “to solve a business challenge of needing more sales, cost savings or creating happier customers. We need to have a good reason to create content in the first place.”

Wendy Forbes, social media marketing professional, also cautioned owners to think before they create. “People look online, see what’s popular and has a lot of likes, but they aren’t necessarily thinking about how it relates to their specific business.”

Once you figure out your content marketing goals, put them in writing and share them with your staff.

Dream up content that matters

Experts say content should be a value game, not a volume game. That was one of the take-home messages from the most recent Content Marketing World conference. If your content doesn’t stand out, tell a story or provide information consumers are hungry for, what purpose does it serve?

Pulizzi said an essential ingredient in great content is a unique spin or approach, which he calls content tilt. As the Content Marketing Institute explains it, “Without ‘tilting’ your content just enough to tell a truly unique story, you risk blending into the rest of the noise and being forgotten.”

Look for opportunities to be the leading resource on a particular topic, especially if you can offer exclusive wisdom, opinions or research. A café might highlight insights on coffee beans or roasting techniques, for instance.

For inspiration, look back at your mission statement and what led you to start your business in the first place. As Forbes noted, “creating or finding more content shouldn’t be this extra, laborious step — it feeds into your job, your passion.” And that enthusiasm is infectious. “If you think it’s cool and fun, your customers will too.”

Be on the lookout for moments that could translate into great content, like a happy customer or an experience that demonstrates you are active in your field. A seemingly mundane event, outing or moment could turn into an opportunity to explore something you care about through a photo, blog post, podcast or video.

This is also the time for brand storytelling. You might create content around your corporate social responsibility efforts, for example.

Target one audience at a time

Start by targeting just one audience, advised Pulizzi. Figure out the right message for that audience and the best place to reach those consumers. Better to create high quality content for one audience rather than spread yourself too thin and create content that’s not memorable.

Pulizzi also recommended focusing on one content type (for the most part) and one platform. A good place to start, he said, is with your own website or email newsletter.

“Today we can attract and reach an audience easier than ever before, if the message is consistent and differentiated. Because social platforms can’t be controlled, we want to focus on platforms we can control, like our blog or website and our email database, and then use social distribution when and where it makes sense,” he said.

Build a list of opt-in subscribers

How can small business owners translate content marketing into increased customer traffic? “By building an opt-in list of subscribers, preferably email subscribers,” said Pulizzi. “Then we can track the behavior change of those subscribers that engage with our content — do they buy more or stay longer as customers, for example?”

At the end of the day, content marketing should speak to that age-old love of humans: story. As Pulizzi said, “Successful businesses do two things: First, they tell a different story by covering a new area or tell the story in a different way, and second, they deliver consistently.”

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