Content marketing is essential for businesses to reach new customers in the Digital Age.
Big companies have teams of people to design, create, and publish content. They have big budgets to buy eyeballs and enterprise software to extract customer insights from large datasets.
But what about the small and mid-sized companies who aren’t there yet?
They suffer from five common ailments that impede their progress to effective content marketing: busy-ness, budget, short-termism, inertia, and overwhelm.
Here’s how to diagnose each condition and some remedies worth trying.
Smaller companies—ones where marketing is still a single person or very small department effort—are inherently busy places.
At times, everyone’s hair is one fire. At best, team members wear multiple hats and must constantly regret lower priority tasks to get the critical stuff done.
However, legitimate overload can easily morph into a convenient excuse for kicking inconvenient or less-understood tasks down the road.
This is busy-ness, not good business.
When content marketing isn’t an establish part of the business, the challenge of starting and sustaining it becomes vulnerable to getting punted. This is especially true when no one on the team has content marketing management experience.
The task seems daunting, expensive, and the potential return on investment is unclear.
While those are legitimate concerns that we’ll get to in a moment, they are more often hidden behind a wall of busy-ness.
“We’re too busy to take that on” is not the same as “that seems like more work than we can handle”. The difference is subtle. One is an excuse for inaction, the other is a recognition that additional resources will be required.
Don’t let busy-ness—or it’s evil twin, busy bragging—get in the way of an authentic discussion about what it will take to implementeffective content marketing.
The next common barrier is money.
Money should be tightly controlled, no matter what the size of your company. There’s no excuse for wasting stakeholders’ capital.
“We can’t afford it” isn’t true. The reality is “we’re choosing to spend our money on other things.”
This stems from a lack of clarity around what content marketing will cost and how it will return a multiple of that value to the company when it works.
Most marketing endeavors suffer from this condition, especially the return on investment (ROI) part.
It can be helpful to turn the financial equation around, start from your target revenue, and work backwards.
How many average deals does your company need to win to generate that number?
How many opportunities does your sales team need to pursue to win those deals at their historical close rate?
How many sales-qualified prospects does the sales team need to engage with to generate that number of opportunities at their historical conversion rate?
You can work this analysis all the way back to basic touchpoints like social media impressions and trade show conversations, although the statistical basis gets fuzzier because historical values aren’t measured (or even measurable) with accuracy.
The funnel effect—only a percentage of prospects proceed to the next stage of the buying journey—means that the company needs to attractand engage a much larger number of early-stage prospects than the number ofdeals it eventually hopes to close.
How and where are you going to attract those prospects?
In the digital age, the dominant answer is by publishing relevant, helpful content on channels they frequent.
And what will happen if you don’t attract enough of them?
The math says you won’t close as many deals as you plan, and you’ll miss your revenue target.
What is that worth?
Or, said another way, how much can you afford to spend to ensure the revenue target is met?
Budget concerns are real. Every budget holder has competing priorities to address, and usually fewer resources to deploy than they would like.
To create a level playing field, invest as much time inputting real dollar numbers against the need for content marketing as you do for any other expense competing for funds.
Marketing takes time. A lot more time than people realize.
Online stats used to say that it took 7 or 8 touchpoints(any type of encounter between a prospect and your company/brand) before a prospect will do business with you. These days, that number is up to 12 or 15, depending on your research of choice.
Importantly, you don’t control when those touchpoints happen or which one(s) impact your prospect’s decision-making process.
All you can do is put relevant, helpful content in the right places for them to find.
This doesn’t sit well with conventional operational thinking, which looks for levers to pull that have immediate, meaningful impact.
Marketing is a long-term investment play, and we’re conditioned to prioritize quick wins.
In the fast-paced, existentially challenged world of early-and growth-stage businesses, it’s hard to give longer-term initiatives the attention they deserve.
But deserve it they do.
Limiting marketing activities to only those that promise results within weeks leads to random acts of marketing and the peddlings of a cottage industry known as growth hacking.
Paradoxically, if there was a reliable way of fast-tracking growth, we wouldn’t need anyone calling themselves “growth hacker”.
Recognize that content marketing is a marathon, not a sprint. It requires an investment in customer understanding, buyer’s journey mapping, content planning and development, content performance management, andcontent optimization.
Does that sound like a full-time job, or three? See “overwhelm”, below.
Recalibrate your expectations. In the content marketing world, quick wins means seeing a sustainable improvement in the targeted metrics within 6 months, with full ROI only calculable in the 12-18 month timeframe.
Does that mean your small business shouldn’t bother with content marketing?
Quite the opposite. You should have started several months ago.
This is an affliction suffered by businesses of all sizes, but it’s particularly acute at smaller companies.
What has worked in the past is more easily rolled into the go-forward plan than something new. We stick with what we know.
There are two parts to this barrier: established ways of working and outdated marketing.
Since your business has grown successfully to its current size, why wouldn’t you continue in the same vein? Why not double down on the same tactics, rather than investing in something untried and unknown?
Some marketing tactics don’t scale.
Early sales are often predicated on existing personal relationships and a cadre of early adopters who want to be first to try the newest thing. Marketing plays its role in connecting the dots to those customers but it’s the business equivalent of fishing in a well-stocked pond.
To continue growing, the company must win business from unknown prospects—the mass market—which where the oft-cited “valley of death” occurs.
To cross that valley requires introducing different marketing approaches, including paid advertising, in-person events, and content marketing.
Which brings us to outdated marketing.
There’s a truism in marketing that says whatever worked last week probably won’t work this week and is even less likely to work next week (or beyond.)
This makes sense because the goalposts for marketing are constantly shifting. Customers attitudes and preferences shift. Competitors adopt tactics that shift the market. Macro externalities shift market demand, needs, and sentiment.
Perhaps the most significant shift affecting B2B marketing and sales today is the adoption of digital processes.
B2B buyers want to bring the B2C experience—the Amazon shopping experience—into their work. They prefer to research, evaluate, and even purchase solutions online, without having to interact with a human.
Creating and curating those digital customer experiences is what will differentiate successful businesses from the rest.
As much as we might want to believe that certain sectors or products will only ever be evaluated at trade shows or in company showrooms, the data says otherwise.
Can you afford to stick with what’s worked in the past while the world around you takes steps to digitize its approach? What if a new entrant comes into your market that’s a digital native—built on a digital platform with no legacy marketing to worry about?
Content marketing is an imperative. It’s table stakes now. Rather than burying your head in the sand and hoping it will go away, you need to embrace it, learn it, and win at it.
The most profound barrier to content marketing for many leaders is feeling overwhelmed.
It’s a daunting challenge, with many unfamiliar aspects. Your team lacks content marketing experience and is leery of adopting concepts that differ from the ones that got them to their current position.
Larger organizations don’t face this challenge. They hire teams of people with relevant experience, who in turn hire agencies of specialists to perform the work.
Smaller businesses must figure it out for themselves.
Much like climbing a physical mountain, here are three things that can help:
1. Hire an experienced guide to show you the ropes
2. Follow an established framework (a map, to continue the metaphor) rather than trying to blaze your own trail
3. Break the challenge into manageable pieces and take it at a pace your team can sustain
Can a smaller business compete for attention with larger players that can spend orders of magnitude more money on their content marketing programs?
Yes, they can—but it requires a focused effort with realistic expectations.
You wouldn’t try to market a home-made cola against Coke by buying TV ads. They’ve got hundreds of millions of dollars to spend and global brand recognition.
Instead, you might start by promoting it at your local grocery store to people who want an alternative to products made by giant corporations.
That’s a B2C example but the same philosophy holds true forB2B.
Don’t try to copy the big boys. Instead, establish your credibility by publishing content that’s relevant and helpful to your target audience—the people for whom your solution is better than established alternatives.
Smaller businesses can succeed at content marketing if they follow a coherent strategy, understand and target the right customer, focus their efforts, and set their expectations appropriately—both for ROI and the time it will take to get there.
It’s easier for leaders at small- and mid-sized companies to shy away from content marketing. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day or dollars in the bank to take on such a daunting initiative.
However, content marketing is no longer optional. Unless you implement it successfully, your brand will become invisible and more digitally savvy competitors will dominate your market.
By addressing the five barriers we’ve covered in this article, you’ll bein a strong position to give content marketing the attention and focus it demands, and to reap the revenue benefits of getting it right.
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