Earlier this year, social media guru Mark Schaefer coined the phrase “content shock” and made a compelling argument that content marketing is not a sustainable strategy for businesses. Only brands with deep pockets will be able to ride the content tsunami wave, he reasons, because only they will be able to afford the increasingly high costs involved with “paying” people to consume their content. (We recommend you check out the article. It’s a great read.)
Schaefer makes many excellent points, and we definitely hear what he’s saying. But before you panic and think it’s impossible for small businesses to compete with big brands with even bigger pockets, let’s take a step back and tell you how we see things:
- Yes, there’s a lot of content out there.
- Yes, it’s crowded, and it will only get more crowded.
- Yes, there are just so many hours in a day for people to consume content.
- Yes, in order to compete and be “found,” businesses will need to adjust their approach. For big brands, this might mean increasing their budgets. But for small businesses, this probably means something else. We’ll explain more below.
How Small Businesses Can Deal with “Content Shock”
Small businesses should adjust their approach to developing content. The focus needs to shift to content that’s developed around long-tail keyword phrases (phrases with low search volume and low competition). So how would you do this? Well, instead of developing a 20-page white paper on a broad topic with a ton of competition, it would make more sense to develop five four-page mini white papers, each one on a hyper-specific topic with less competition.
In other words, let big brands with robust budgets compete on broader topics. Small businesses should focus on hyper-specific topics that relate to these broader topics. Yes, you’ll attract fewer people with this method, but you’ll have a good chance of truly engaging with them when they find your content. And with this approach, your content does stand a chance at being discovered organically (i.e. without dumping more money into advertising the heck out of the content and essentially “paying” people to read it).
If you stick with developing broader topics, your content will end up falling to the bottom of the content barrel as big brands crush it with their money.
Small businesses should spend more time cultivating engaged fan bases on social media. How many times have you found yourself scrolling through your Facebook newsfeed and you’ve clicked on a video, article, or some other piece of content that a friend shared, something you never would have clicked on or even knew existed, if not for the person sharing it?
Nurture your fan bases. We can’t stress this enough. Because if loyal fans post, tweet, and otherwise share your awesome content with their friends and family, you increase your reach, despite the “content shock” and glut of content that’s out there.
Small businesses should increase their content-marketing engagement with existing customers. You’ve probably heard this marketing adage: it costs less to get a sale from an existing customer than it does to get a sale from a new customer.
Apply this philosophy to content marketing. Develop quality content for the customers you already have since they’re already engaged with your brand. Yes, we realize you probably do this to a certain extent (e.g. you might send a monthly newsletter), but we mean upping the ante. This will involve thinking way outside the content marketing box. In fact, it might mean giving your customers content that’s only tangentially related to your business.
For example, a design/build firm might release an annual white paper on 30 creative ways to incorporate Pantone’s color of the year into a home without gutting or renovating a thing. The white paper doesn’t have anything to do with design/build. In fact, the white paper’s title specifically says there won’t be any gutting or renovating at all. But the content will be branded with the design/build firm’s logo and information at the end. Plus, the audience will likely find this content extremely valuable (since it makes sense that customers who worked with a design/build firm would be interested in home decor tips and trends).
How does this benefit the design/build firm? This content will remind people about the firm, which could lead to new jobs or referrals (think of all the people you know who are doing some sort of home renovation). It will also show people that the firm is interested in providing useful info, instead of just promoting itself and trying to make a buck. And because the content is universal, it’s extremely shareable as well.
Another bonus: this sort of content could be co-branded, which means the cost of producing the content could be spread out. Think about it: a design/build firm, interior decorator, and local paint supply store could team up every year to produce this content. Suddenly, the audience “reach” increases as well, since the design/build firm’s name will be put in front of the paint shop’s audience and the interior decorator’s audience (and vice versa).
Looking Ahead…the Future of Content Marketing
Even Schaefer states at the end of his content shock article that content marketing is not dead. While big brands might need to shell out more dough in order to compete with one another, the same isn’t necessarily true for small businesses. At least not from our vantage point.
What do you think? Do you think we’re suffering from content shock? Can small businesses compete with the big guys without breaking the bank? Share your thoughts in the comments.