It took the major CPG brands some convincing that content offered solutions to consumer reach and engagement that neither display advertising nor search could, and these are the companies with “exploratory” budgets for new strategies and ideas. Where does that leave SMBs who lack that luxury in the content marketing landscape?
Ironically, content marketing has become something of an equalizer for SMBs competing for consumers’ attention. As the cost of Adwords skyrocket, the old dictum that you get what you spend is no longer the case. When it comes to search in fact the opposite is true. Increasing bids on keywords is a losing a strategy for many SMBs because a bigger brand who can afford to spend more in the cost-per-click market is always lurking around the corner. Direct competition over an asset like a keyword poses a serious challenge to sustainability.
What makes content so attractive is that it’s truly ownable. Creating, commissioning, or otherwise earning content provides SMBs the opportunity to extend their branding in a more meaningful way to consumers. Content creates value for consumers where other forms of digital advertising like display seek to extract value with direct-response cues that consumers have now been trained to ignore, a likely explanation for why display has hit a wall in recent years…
A blog is a perfectly simple way to engage consumers with content they find interesting, educational, or entertaining. Rather than sell them on what a product can do for them, SMBs should consider what they as a company –and member of the digital community—can offer consumers. What is their subject matter expertise? What is the source of inspiration behind their company? What makes them laugh? Bringing a smile to someone’s face may not directly result in a sale, but it can increase that person’s affinity for the brand or create a share on Facebook that extends reach to a new audience.
Previously, SMBs seemed unaware that this kind of engaging content could produce lasting, positive results for their business. Understandably, content marketing requires a shift in mindset from “how can I get customers to buy this?” to “how can I engage this customer today?” but it’s one that can and should occur organically. We are all consumers, after all. SMBs should ask themselves “As a consumer, what would I want to click on? What would interest me?” An honest answer probably wouldn’t involve a display ad.
Nowhere is this empathetic approach more needed than in the Quality department. Content is an experience and should be as engaging, immersive and pleasurable as possible. Skimping on design may not diminish the impact of the content’s substance, but it can diminish the impact of the experience, and that could be the difference in repeat visits, brand recall and social sharing. Including multimedia assets like video, pictures and illustrations when possible can go a long way at a minimum cost in projecting sophistication, which can help SMBs distinguish themselves from their competition.
In addition to owned media, earned media is a valuable component to any content marketing strategy. News coverage, press mentions or products reviews from third parties can go a long way in educating consumers without a brand’s direct involvement—which is to say consumers often trust earned media more than branded content. Look no further than the holiday season to see the role of earned media in consumer spending.
With the price of paid traffic getting steeper and the returns diminishing, SMBs should take comfort in the fact that increased organic traffic is well within reach thanks to content marketing. The popular SEO practice of link-building is at the mercy of Google’s algorithms, which continue to evolve in the direction of more natural, human results. Consistently producing great content that actual human beings interact with and share, on the other hand, creates quality traffic opportunities, including social, search, and viral. The greater the content footprint, the stronger the SEO.
For our part, the Outbrain Self-Serve platform goes one step further and helps SMBs bolster their content marketing strategies along these lines. We recommend SMBs’ content to engaged audiences on premium publisher sites (e.g. CNN, Mashable, Slate) for as little as $10 a day.
Unlike other CPC platforms (where the bigger the budget, the higher the bid and the greater the number of impressions) ours is first and foremost about helping people find interesting content. For SMBs, that means the more clicks they drive—purely through the interesting nature of their content—the more their content is served across our network, leading to lower CPCs over time. Furthermore our content recommendations are personalized; we’re pretty good at getting the right content in front of the users who want to read or watch it. The content is exposed in the top tier publisher space and produces high quality traffic at a cost SMBs control (see how some businesses have used their articles, video and third party reviews to double their traffic, time spent on site and save with lower CPCs than other ad platforms here.
Photos courtesy of Benjamí Villoslada Gil & Alison Bruning @ Creative Commons
November 26, 2012