Content marketing isn’t a new idea; businesses of all sizes have long used the power of education and entertainment to increase brand loyalty and create familiarity among buyers. What’s new is consumers’ constant use of online media and the infiltration of digital apps and devices into all areas of life.
Content marketing, in other words, has never been this easy or had this much potential for small business. In particular, you can use content marketing—creating blog posts, videos, or other digital content, and sharing it with your online audience—to build a bigger following and turn new followers into leads. It’s a fundamental component of small business marketing.
How to Use the Content Loop
Content marketing functions in a repeating loop with four distinct stages: attract, engage, capture, and win.
Stage 1: Attract
Social media is a central way of attracting new customers to your brand or business. Though you can blast out tips, tricks, and other bite-sized content, social media is not usually where you host your content, but where you publicize it. Other methods, such as online ads, newsletters, and local publicity, entice customers as well. Attracting customers via these means isn’t the only goal, either; it’s a way to get customers to move further in the loop, towards conversion.
Stage 2: Engage
What you share and how you interact on social media grabs customers’ attention; the content you lead them to is what gets them to stay and engage. Your content lives on your blog, your website, or on a third-party service like YouTube or SlideShare.
Stage 3: Capture
No, you’re not holding customers captive once they make it to your blog, website, or video site. You are giving them an opt-in offer, such as an email list, which lets you capture their information. If you fail to capture information, then the customer may read, love, and appreciate your content — perhaps even share articles with friends — but when they click away, they’re lost forever.
For example, The Southern Steak and Oyster, a Nashville, TN restaurant, includes an incentive with the email form, which lives on the main webpage:
And Rivers Plumbing of St. Louis, MO has a large offer for a “Home Tips Newsletter” in the sidebar of the website, and a specific description of the expert information it includes (“expert advice and tips from professionals… including catch basin maintenance tips”) to encourage customers to sign up:
Offering a reason to connect, whether it’s a coupon, a chance to win something, or expert information, is a great way to get more customer information captured on your website.
Stage 4: Win
There are many ways to go about winning a customer’s loyalty and, ultimately, leading them to conversion. Once you’ve captured information, follow up with a great email campaign, send special offers, give them exclusive content, and do one-on-one outreach via phone or email. Have a plan for follow-up, designate someone to be in charge of tracking leads, and automate as much as you can so that it gets done.
Alisa Meredith of Scalable Social Media suggests a conversion-boosting trifecta: first, an initial, quick “thank you” email when you first get the customer information, then a set of “nurturing” emails which offer value (information, tips, coupons, recommendations), and then an “assistance” email which provides help of some sort (consultation, free estimate).
Creating the Content that Engages
The pivotal part of the content marketing cycle is the content you create. If you don’t create content, you’ll only have other people’s posts or links to share on social media; you can still interact, but you’ll have no reason for customers to visit and engage with you on your website, where you can capture their information. And if you can’t capture the information, you’ve lost the customer.
It’s important, then, to create content on a regular basis and share it on social media. But you don’t want just any content. You want great content, content that engages customers. To get that, keep these three concepts in mind:
1. Focus on quality over quantity.
There’s enough junk on the Internet; adding to it won’t win customer loyalty. Feature articles and video content get the highest ROI. Long-form content (2000+ words) is surprisingly popular, and gets more social media shares than short-form content. People like to see, and share, content that inspires awe or entertains them. Throwing together a post or video just to say you’ve created content will backfire, disappointing customers and damaging your brand reputation.
2. Focus on consistency over rapidity.
Content marketing is a slow-and-steady proposition. It takes time to create content and more time to gain attention, create a following, capture information, and see conversions.
Don’t rush, and don’t worry. Be consistent, producing great content on a regular schedule so your customers can anticipate and depend on it.
3. Focus on one approach at a time.
We can do videos! We can do a podcast! We can do lots of photos! We can write reviews! We can do it all!
True. But it all takes time. A better method is to pick one approach, such as excellent blog posts or clean, well-edited videos, and master that approach before you take on on another content production method.
To win at content marketing, you need to set up and consistently complete the entire loop, from attracting to winning your customers. There’s no better time to get your business into content marketing than right now. So, what will your first blog post be about?