I recently read a very interesting article by Mark Schaefer titled, "Why Content Marketing Is Not A Sustainable Strategy." While I don't agree entirely that content marketing is not a sustainable strategy, I think Schaefer makes a lot of good points in his article that SMB companies should take to heart.
This paragraph summarizes Schaefer's theory:
"Like any good discussion on economics, this is rooted in the very simple concept of supply and demand. When supply exceeds demand, prices fall. But in the world of content marketing, the prices cannot fall because the “price” of the content is already zero — we give it away for free. So, to get people to consume our content, we actually have to pay them to do it, and as the supply of content explodes, we will have to pay our customers increasing amounts to the point where it is not feasible any more."
The key point for SMB companies to take to heart is that the supply of content is exploding as more and more companies embrace content marketing. In order to effectively use content marketing in 2014 and beyond, SMB companies need to distinguish themselves by creating targeted content that is relevant and useful to their target audiences. I'll get to my economic counterpoint to Schaefer's theory later, but let's talk about some ways that you can beat your competition by creating content that separates you from the crowd.
Target your content marketing to niches
For almost all SMB companies, targeting niche markets is the most effective path to growth. Think of ti from your customer's viewpoint - if presented with a choice between generic content and content targeted to their industry, they will almost always choose the targeted content. Face it, most small businesses can't be all things to all people. But they can choose a niche in which they have specialized experience or product/service offerings and grow within that niche.
So if you want to improve your content marketing, make sure you have identified both your targeted niche (ideal customer profile) and who within those companies are your buyers (buyer personas). For example, if you want to reach owners of small and mid-sized professional services firms, target your content to them.
Use technology to improve your content marketing
5 years ago, most SMB companies relied on written content for their content marketing efforts. And it worked. Because online content marketing was a relatively new approach, those that were early adopters were successful - sometimes in spite of the quality of the content.
Today, it's not enough just to do it. You're competing with literally millions of marketing messages for your target audience's attention. To rise above the din, you need to expand beyond written content to capture your audience's attention.
One startup that's done a great job so far in creating content that rises above the noise is Spectoos. Check out the explainer video on their homepage. Do you know what they do and how it could help your business? For me, the answer is yes. They've created a video that explains what they do and how it can benefit their customers in 1 minute and 52 seconds.
My company is embracing video as a key part of our 2014 marketing strategy. There's one really simple reason for that strategy - video is 6.5 times more effective than written communication with respect to message retention. Stay tuned for our video efforts and I encourage you to consider how you can use video at your company. Here's a quick tip on getting started with video from my friends at Wistia:
Another quick tip to make your content stand out is to use Google authorship. Google authorship links your content and displays your head shot with your content in Google search results. People like images and will often choose the search result with the head shot over one without an image, even if the content without the image ranks higher. It's a quick and easy way to distinguish your content.
Why content marketing is sustainable for most companies
The essence of Schaefer's economic argument is that the cost of producing good content that stands out from the crowd will become prohibitively expensive and thus will be unsustainable for many businesses. I'll go back to my major in Economics to counter his theory. To paraphrase the Malthusian theory, Robert Malthus theorized in 1798 that it would be impossible for the supply of food to keep up with growth in population.
Clearly Malthus was wrong because here we are 216 years later and we're still here. The reason Malthus's theory was wrong was that he didn't take into account that improvements in technology would enable the supply of food to keep up with population growth.
Still awake? Let's take it all back to the sustainability of content marketing. The reason that content marketing is sustainbable when done properly is that technology is lowering the cost of producing great marketing content.
We only need to look at the costs of video production to see an example. Most of us can shoot great video content with our smartphones. We can edit it using affordable video editing software. We can create animated videos using services like GoAnimate or PowToon very inexpensively. We can use affordable cloud-based video marketing software like Wistia to make sure our videos get the broadest possible exposure to our target audiences. We couldn't have done all this in 2009.
I totally agree that content marketing is becoming extremely competitive. But I think that competition brings out the best in us. SMB companies can and should embrace content marketing as an essential business growth strategy. We just need to be nimble and embrace changes as they appear. Those companies that are forward-thinking and adopt new technologies to support their content marketing will succeed. Those that don't will fail. Which do you want to be?