I’m a big fan of startups and growth-stage businesses. To me, it’s one of the most exciting times in a company’s life.
So it troubles me when I hear people say that content marketing is only for the big boys.
It’s even more painful now than it was a few years ago because content marketing has become the primary way for businesses—of all sizes—to attract prospects and win new business.
If content marketing is “only for the big boys”, how can the “little guys” ever get bigger?
Let’s set the record straight: Content marketing can, and does, work for companies at any size or stage in their development.
It’s fair to say that content marketing is easier when you have a big budget and a large team to manage the process.
It’s also true that many smaller businesses don’t know where to start with content marketing and are afraid to sink their limited resources into something that may fail.
But content marketing can and does work for smaller B2B businesses that make it a priority and approach the challenge strategically.
Here are my tips on giving content marketing your best shot at a smaller business, structured around the A-through-F format of the MessageUp content marketing framework.
For any content marketing to work, it must be authentic.
Authenticity engenders trust, and people choose to do business with companies that they trust.
Just because your company is smaller than its competitors doesn’t mean you have to fake it or pretend to be something that you’re not.
Marketing one size bigger that you are—the business equivalent of fighting above your weight class—is acceptable, but making shit up isn’t.
So step one in your quest to deliver an effective content marketing strategy is to always, always be authentic. Read this post for suggestions on making your content more authentic.
Stay true to who you are, what you’re doing, and why.
Speaking of your what and why, be clear about your company’s purpose, mission, and vision.
They are important anchors to which you can tie your most impactful content and they give prospects vital clues about why they should buy from you.
Smaller businesses can disrupt established markets—and the larger players controlling them—by pursuing a purpose that resonates more strongly with buyers than the incumbents.
Articulating a vision that grabs prospects’ attention and gets them excited is a powerful way to establish an emotional connection.
B2B buying decisions are based much more on emotions than logic, so start by forging an emotional connection and follow up with the features and benefits.
While market-wide brand awareness can take years to build, an eye-catching brand will help your content stand out from the crowd.
So will a distinctive brand personality, expressed consistently in the content you produce.
Visuals and voice are things that you should invest time and effort to get right.
Brands that are consistent and coherent from the get-go stand a much better chance of attracting and holding prospects’ attention than thrown-together brands that are waiting to be replaced when the company has enough time and money.
Time spent operating under a half-baked, inconsistent brand is time wasted.
Start building brand awareness as early in the company’s life as possible.
If nothing else, a smaller business should be intimately familiar with its customers. As the company’s customer base grows, greater anonymity will inevitably creep in.
Take advantage of this familiarity to build a content library that’s precisely tuned to your prospects’ and customers’ needs.
Be sure to create content for every stage of their buyer’s journey—awareness, evaluation, selection, implementation, and loyalty—and publish it on the channels that your audience frequents.
Avoid falling into the trap of writing excessively about your company, your team, your product, your origin story, you, you, you.
Imposter syndrome frequently leads smaller companies to spill too much ink trying to justify their existence and build up their credibility.
Your credibility will soar when prospects associate your company name with relevant, helpful, accessible, easy-to-digest content.
Okay, here’s the rub. You must produce a lot of content to cover everything a prospect or customer might want to know.
There’s no escaping this one. You can’t shrink the size of the challenge to fit within a smaller company’s bandwidth.
Content marketing is much easier when you have a big budget and a multi-person team.
So, what to do?
First, don’t panic! Climbing the content mountain can be intimidating and overwhelming. This is where many small business leaders give up and go home. Persistence will pay massive dividends.
Second, take stock. Use buyer’s journey mapping to produce a wish list of topics that your content should cover to effectively guide a prospect from awareness to purchase and on to loyalty.
Perform a content audit to generate a comprehensive list of the content you’ve already produced—from webpages to blog posts to videos. Then, compare the two lists.
This post explains how to use a gap analysis to focus your B2B content marketing efforts.
Third, take a deep breath. Your gap analysis will result in dozens of un-tackled topics but that doesn’t mean they all have to be written about at once.
Content marketing is a long-term process. Much like climbing a physical mountain, it’s about putting one foot in front of the other and continuing to do so until you reach the summit.
Fourth, figure out what’s possible. Which of your team members can produce decent content? Does anyone have the writing skills and experience to edit that draft copy into something polished and publication-ready? How much bandwidth do those people have for contributing on a consistent basis?
Publishing consistently is a prerequisite for effective content marketing because both humans and algorithms favor sources that predictably turn out new, high-quality material.
Fifth, engage external resources to fill the gaps. Be realistic about the additional resources you need to supplement your team’s availability. Trying to sustain a cadence that’s beyond your team’s capabilities is a recipe for failure.
Whether it’s ghostwriting, editing, design, or all three, there are plenty of affordable, competent resources available to help.
Are you skeptical about freelancers? If so, you’re not alone. Until recently, they had a bad reputation for inconsistent quality and being unable to adequately write on behalf of your brand.
These days, the reverse is true. Exceptional specialists are preferring to work independently, making high-quality, consistent skills available to even the smallest companies.
Read this blog for more insights on why a ghostwriter can outperform an in-house writer.
Finally, appoint someone to manage the process.
Use a content calendar to keep track of what is going to be published when and who is responsible for executing each step in the production process.
Make content marketing a priority for your business and give the person in charge the authority to hold contributors to deadlines.
As your content marketing strategy unfolds, doubt will inevitably creep in.
Is it worth the time and money you’re investing? Are you focused on the right things?
It can take months for content marketing to bear meaningful fruit. That’s because you must first publish enough content for it to start getting noticed, and then prospects must encounter enough of it to start paying attention to your brand. Only then will you see the hoped-for uptick in clicks, downloads, meeting requests, and sales-ready opportunities.
However, there are things you can measure along the way to get a leading indicator of future success.
These include production metrics (tracking your team’s performance at producing and publishing content), performance metrics (tracking how much engagement your content generates), and conversion metrics (tracking how many prospects become marketing-qualified leads, and how many MQLs go on to become sales-qualified, opportunities, and sales).
Don’t wait for months wondering whether anything is paying off. Put measures in place from day one to develop a baseline. This will make it much easier to see when things change for the better.
And once those statistics start rolling in, make sure you do something with them.
Too many companies measure dozens of parameters and connect them to beautiful dashboards but then take no action based on the information they show.
If a particular tactic isn’t delivering measurable results after an appropriate period (which will depend on the activity in question), or is underperforming compared to sensible expectations, it’s time to hit pause and consider redirecting your efforts.
If a tactic is outperforming your expectations, it’s equally important to hit pause, figure out why it’s doing so well, and consider doubling-down on what’s working.
Markets constantly change. Your customers needs, likes, and behaviors change. Your competitors do things in response to the market, to what you’re doing, and to each other. All these factors combine to ensure that what worked this month might not work next month—and almost certainly won’t work next year.
Content marketing is not a once-and-done project. It’s a never-ending process of experimentation, evaluation, and evolution.
Your advantage at a smaller company is that you can be nimbler than the big boys.
You can run experiments and adjust your tactics more quickly. You can shift gears without having to slog through layers of bureaucracy.
I’m going to lump a world of sins under this heading.
Smaller businesses are prone to chasing squirrels. By that I mean they are tempted to pivot from one objective to another in quick succession—because they can.
Such changes are nigh-on impossible at a larger company, where inertia often prevents the business from making necessary pivots until it’s too late.
Smaller businesses are prone to random acts of marketing. They throw all manner of marketing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks, but they don’t stick with anything long enough to see it truly pay dividends.
Content marketing is frequently a victim of this mentality, getting chopped down before it has chance to bear fruit.
Smaller businesses are prone to crises and headless chicken syndrome. With team members frequently wearing multiple hats, they are vulnerable to getting pulled into short-term firefighting at the expense of their commitment to long-term programs like content marketing.
If you’d like to read more about the ailments small companies suffer, here’s another post I wrote on content marketing blockers at smaller companies and how to overcome them.
The bottom line is this: To be successful at content marketing, you must publish consistently over the long haul.
It’s okay (but not great) if you occasionally miss a post or publish something off-schedule but publishing in erratic bursts isn’t going to cut it.
Establish a cadence that your team can sustain—with external help—and make it part of your day-to-day routine.
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Image credits: Adobe Stock