I’m a passionate believer in the power of content marketing as the only real future marketing has. When it comes to launching my own, brand new SMB content marketing program, I got a trial-by-fire over the last several months. Make no mistake, I’ve done this before. As CMO of ion interactive, I had built an entire company on content — interactive tools, webinars, blog posts, ebooks, white papers, solution briefs, videos, case studies, etc. But ion’s machine was built over years of evolution that paralleled the discipline itself. Married2Growth’s SMB content marketing machine had to be built from scratch in just a few months. Here’s how it got done and how you can do it.
Define SMB Content Marketing Needs
Start by looking at your overall marketing mission. What are your objectives and what needs fall out of that? For Married2Growth, we sought to create the definitive source of SaaS business best practices from capital-efficient, non-valley SaaS operators. Delivery of those best practices would start with free content in the form of a blog and videos. From there, premium content will evolve in the form of interactive tools and courses. But step one was establishing a sustainable flow of blog posts and videos to build an audience.
Building an Audience for Your Content
The reason this section is here, rather than lower in the article, is because you need to think through how you intend to build your audience before you commit to your martech infrastructure. Married2Growth definitely had a hiccup in that regard, so my cautionary tale is a very fresh one. (We adopted some martech in our hasty first iteration that cost us some momentum in SEO. More on that later.)
Part of the allure of content marketing is that good content is great for discoverability — i.e. organic search (SEO) and social. Smart marketers leverage that advantage to reduce their reliance on paid lead-gen and consequently lower their average cost-per-lead (CPL). Your marketing technology foundation can either help or hinder your ability to create and distribute content organically. If you intend to buy traffic for all of your content, you still need an optimal foundation, albeit with less scrutiny on the discoverability capabilities.
As you create your infrastructure, be sure to think through social distribution. Will you be driving traffic from LinkedIn and Twitter? How about Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram? What about Medium or third-party placements? Whatever your market — B2B/B2C — be sure the tools you need to succeed are effective within the infrastructure you choose. Also, remember, just because something is possible, doesn’t make it plausible on a sustainable basis. The ease with which you can make things happen will dictate your willingness to make them happen. Choose tools that make your most important tasks doable…
Suitable Martech for the SMB Content Marketing Mission
The last thing you want is for your martech to make it harder than it should be for people to find and engage with your quality content. Everything in your arsenal needs to support your mission to build audience and drive traffic. Sounds fall-off-a-log obvious, and everyone says they do just that. But all tools are not created equal and some go much further and deeper than others.
We originally launched Beacon9 pretty hastily in January 2018. We had (again, hastily) chosen to move forward with Squarespace, a platform I had a long history utilizing. The site looked great and housed our blog content. But, Beacon9 was our consulting company, not our content company. In choosing to launch a second startup specifically for our content company, we split Beacon9 into two sites and created the Married2Growth brand.
Haste again made waste when we took the easy, short-term way out and created Married2Growth as another Squarespace site. Again, the site looked great, but wasn’t performing as well as it should have in SEO. After a bunch of research and an irritating pause in launch momentum, we made the decision to switch foundations and move both sites to WordPress, specifically using some superior themes and infrastructure from the folks at Copyblogger’s Studiopress (and a boat ton of complementary plug-ins). It basically took the month of April to make that happen, but it was well worth it.
SMB Content Marketing Strategy and Tactics
Everything in your SMB content marketing strategy starts with your content. Again, focusing on the end-game will back you into stronger, early decision making. For example, with Married2Growth we started with key categories of content that drafted off of our areas of expertise: capital efficiency; sales; marketing; customer success; vision, values & culture; and the exit process. Within and around each topic, we built our list of tags and keywords. Both categories and tags were intentionally designed to improve discoverability.
As you begin to create original content, it pays to have a steady guide of topics, tags and keywords. At Married2Growth we use those guides to steer our editorial calendar and keep each topic relatively fresh. We can see when categories or tags are underrepresented or stale and make adjustments to solve for that.
So far, I’ve touched on content quality more than content quantity. Over the last decade or so of content marketing, I’ve made high quality, authentic content the foundation of a highly effective, demand-focused and capital-efficient marketing effort. That success has made me very focused on quality, which frames how I see quantity.
Sustainable SMB Content Marketing Levels
There’s too much content in this world. Each of us is barraged with far too many pieces every day. Not only can’t it be consumed, it can’t even be skimmed or considered. The vast majority of content is wasted, because it doesn’t cut through all of that noise. This is a big reason why ‘more content’ isn’t a good strategy but ‘better content’ is.
Quality content takes more time and must be produced by higher-level people who have less time. That means that great content can only be produced at relatively low quantities. And, a big factor in content marketing success is consistency and sustainability. It’s not a ‘try it for three months’ kind of thing. It’s a constant lifestyle choice to consistently produce authentic, quality content.
At Married2Growth, Anna and I are the only authors because that’s the level of personal, authentic content we want to provide. Early on, we committed to produce three original articles per week. With our consulting and advisory commitments, three posts-per-week is a sustainable commitment to ensure that we consistently deliver quality articles. We’re adding original videos to the mix now and have set two videos per week as our sustainable cadence.
Speaking of Video
Video is the future of content marketing. At Married2Growth we’ve made video an integral part of our plan and promotional strategy without creating undue production burden. How? We’re using video as a short-format tool to add context and perspective to deeper, longer and more specific written content. (Again, content is our product at Married2Growth and education is what we provide, so written content continues to drive significant value with our audience.)
Video is critical for us as its highly consumable and shareable. Each Vimeo video ends with a link back to the complementary article that delivers full value on the topic. As you consider video’s role in your SMB content marketing machine, think carefully about production resources. Video is resource intensive, even if you’re shooting handheld selfies. In order for even the most basic video to be effective in content marketing, you need to:
- deliver it for all devices (responsive player);
- wrap it in a branded player;
- include some type of call-to-action;
- and include captions for muted play.
None of these criteria are rocket science, but they can make content production arduous and consequently less sustainable. Again, this tracks back to martech tool choices and ensuring that you have the hardware and software you need to accomplish your video goals. Video is hard, but made way easier by quality tools. Married2Growth is pushing two videos per week from its Podcaster iPad rig (running Filmic Pro) through Vimeo to YouTube and WordPress. Both the Vimeo and YouTube players are using closed captions seamlessly transcribed and passed in from 3PlayMedia. That workflow is as painless as it can be (being on camera is not).
SMB Content Marketing Measurement
If it’s not measurable, you won’t know if it works. Needless to say (I hope), you need actionable and useful analytics on everything (including video). At a minimum you need to know views, and hopefully, consumption. Many platforms include specific analytics that can have perspective layered above them from a Google Analytics or MixPanel.
At Married2Growth we use Google Analytics on top of more specific and granular analytics in our ancillary platforms. There’s a future post (or two or three) coming on analytics, and this one’s getting pretty long, so I’ll leave more details on this meaty topic for another day.
Build Your Machine
SMB content marketing is about quality, distribution and sustainability. Making the right choices up front can give you the strategy, tactics and infrastructure you need to make success likely. I’m a whiteboard kind of guy, so if I were you, I’d start with the categories, tags and keywords around the content your organization can authoritatively and authentically produce. Then I’d map how and where you’d like for that content to appear. Then through what resources you have and what is sustainable for them to produce, distribute and promote. And finally, what tools do they need to make all of that successful. That’s roughly what we did here at Married2Growth.
More to come on analytics, distribution and promotion (content go-to-market plans) — so look for those.