Feel like you don’t even know where to start when it comes to content marketing? A lot of businesses — especially small businesses and startups — don’t. Start right here — I’ll walk you through it.

What do you want to accomplish?

As usual, mom was right. “Because everybody else is doing it,” isn’t a good answer. You have to know why your business should publish content — both in general and for each specific post. The most common answer is to grow sales and make money. In other words, to get leads and convert them into customers.

But that’s not the only reason. Maybe you want to grow your own customer base by educating people who would otherwise not be in the market for your product because they don’t know what to do with it. Maybe you want to reduce help desk hours by putting answers to the most common questions and complaints online. Maybe you want to build your email subscriber list. Or maybe you want to strengthen your relationship with existing customers so that you’re not constantly having to troll for new ones.

There really aren’t any “wrong” reasons for businesses to jump into in content marketing, but you do have to know what your reasons are. Not only will that knowledge shape your content, it will tell you whether your content marketing efforts are working.

Who is your audience?

Big corporations spend gazillions of dollars coming up with customer personas, experience maps, empathy maps, etc. And if you have that kind of budget, that’s what you should do. But most small businesses (remember, I am one) don’t have the resources to do that. So you have to make the decision not to let the perfect get in the way of the good. Because, if you’re a small business, you already know the answer to this question. You just have to clarify your answer and put it into words. Whether it’s a demographic, a special interest, or even a political affiliation, who buys your stuff?

What problems or needs/wants does your product or service satisfy?

You already know who buys what your business sells; this question gets you to the “why.” Let’s say you sell ready-to-eat, take-home meals. Do customers buy your meals because they’re hungry? Maybe — but there are a lot of ways to solve that problem. Or, are they rushing home from work to serve dinner, do homework, take one kid to soccer while their spouse gets the others bathed, etc.? If so, they don’t buy your product because they’re hungry. They buy it because they need a fast, hassle-free way to provide the family with a nutritious meal. The person buying the meal may not even be hungry; they just need to scratch an important item off of their to-do list.

The answer to this question drives your content: That’s why it’s so important. If you believe customers are buying your meals because they’re hungry, you might think you should talk about taste, ingredients, quality, the delicious aromas, etc. But if you know your customers are just trying to get dinner knocked out in a hurry, you may decide to develop some content about time management, nighttime routines, the challenges of working parents, etc.

I know, I know…you’re thinking, “But if I give them time management tips, they won’t need to buy my meals anymore.” Seriously…no matter how awesome your content is, the likelihood that it’ll change their lives enough that they don’t need your product anymore is slim to none. What you’re doing is building trust. You’re making that connection, that, “Hey, these folks know what it’s like to be me. How did they get inside my head?” vibe. If you’re worried you’ll be giving away what you should be selling, you can read about that topic here.

Most content strategists would tell you to dive a little deeper than what I’ve covered here, and, sure, that would be ideal. But there’s ideal, and then there’s real life. We’re doing the real-life version of content marketing and strategy here. We can worry about the ideal once you’ve got the basics covered.


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