A content marketing epiphany


Content marketing has changed a lot since I entered the scene officially about five years ago (though I’d been doing it unknowingly since about 2010) and, until recently, I’ve been having a hard time putting my finger on exactly what those changes are.

In short, content marketing (as with many things in business) has been won by big companies with big budgets. The more volume you can afford, the more your website will own Google search results’ coveted first three pages.

I’ve seen both sides: the giant enterprise’s multi-million dollar content marketing efforts that involve everything from podcasts and video to gorgeous social media graphics, event coverage, and journalistic “thought leadership” blogs; and the scrappy small business trying to win local search results through targeted social media posts, reviews, networking, and search engine optimized website content.

I feel for small businesses because I own one, about to become two. It’s hard not to compare yourself with the big guys and feel like your efforts aren’t worth it (thanks social media…). How will you ever beat them?!

But, small business owners, you are playing a different game. A lot of marketers will attempt to sell you on complicated monthly retainer packages or flashy, expensive, one-time marketing campaigns. Let me be clear: you do not have the budget or power to pump out the volume of content the way a big company does. You are selling to fewer people and a much narrower audience. Therefore, whatever marketing you do should be targeted directly at them. And it should be lean enough to do well within your budget and time constraints. A bunch of stuff done half-assed will not benefit you (and it will usually cost you more).

You may never become the global authority on backpacking, snowboarding, or hiking boots. Aim to become the authority on something much more specific, such as backpacking in Washington State, snowboarding jackets for serious park snobs, or wet weather hiking boots for women. Start there. Focus. And make sure that whatever marketing agency or freelancer you work with stays on target too.

It means that a tidily boxed package deal might not work for you—you’ll want to customize to ensure you’re reaching the right audience with the right message in the right place. You might want to forego Facebook ads for in-store promo events or LinkedIn for Instagram. Comparison shop. Go with someone who is willing to do small experiments to find the right fit.

Almost every small business client (and some friends) I’ve ever worked with has a first-hand or second-hand story of “being burned” by a marketing agency or marketing freelancer. I think the main problem is fit. Business owners aren’t clear on what they’re trying to achieve (for example, selling a popular tour or the purpose of using social media) and marketers are trying to fit businesses into their packages without supplying proper education about how what they do works.

“Nicheing” has been a popular term for a while in the content marketing world but it requires more than choosing a specific set of keywords. It’s about differentiation, standing for something, and speaking to and designing products and services for a very specific audience.

Content marketing involves so much more than social media, blogging, and emails. That’s why finding the right fit between your business and your marketing team, one that understands your niche, is essential. On that note, here are three things you can ask marketers you’re thinking about working with:

  1. What experience do you have with my audience/customers? They should be your audience, ideally, as it will help them empathize and they’ll already have insider knowledge about what makes your audience tick.

  2. How does your marketing strategy lead to increased awareness among the right people and, ideally, sales?

  3. If your initial strategy doesn’t work, are you flexible with changing and testing new things? Further to this, how will we know quickly if something is or isn’t working?

Bonus points if you ask me these questions when we meet!

Rikki Ayers