For the last three years, Digital Sherpa has had a ringside seat to the rise of content marketing among small and mid-sized businesses. The Norcross, Georgia agency has helped about 3,000 businesses—most have less than $50 million in sales— provide news and information to their customers in ways that generate sales and put their company’s brand name on the map.
What has the marketing agency learned? That the most effective content strategies aren’t traditional advertorial or generic “top ten tips,” says agency president Adam Japko. While any outreach program should be customized to the company and its customers, he notes that smart content marketing tends to share certain elements. And a healthy budget is only part of the equation.
Prior to joining Digital Sherpa, Japko was an executive with business-to-business publisher PennWell. He answered Ebyline’s questions about what does and doesn’t matter for busy, independent companies that want marketing programs to provide their audience with real information.
What are small and mid-sized companies asking for when it comes to content?
Well, they sure don’t come to us asking for content marketing. Instead, they say they need a blog or that their website and social pages, like Facebook, are disjointed. But the bigger picture is they want to figure out a better way to nurture prospective customers, engage their regulars and make it easy for people to discover them on the web. They know marketing is changing and they are searching for solutions. They feel like they are slipping behind.
Generally, the client provides some raw ingredients for content and you handle the publishing, measurement and back-end tasks. What kind of information works best?
Their best content is when they are answering their customers’ questions. Whole Foods does a great job of this at a local level. They answer all kinds of questions about healthy eating. When people go online to find answers about food, they discover that Whole Foods often has the information they are looking for. Of course, Whole Foods has an awesome topic to work with.
What’s wrong with content that promotes the company?
It isn’t effective. When you walk into a cocktail party, you don’t go up to people and say, “Hi, I sell real estate. Do you want to buy a house?” Everybody would avoid you. Instead you start with, “Hi, you know I just saw a house with this really tricky design challenge and they got this designer who helped fix it in this way.”
Content marketing must include listening, so you know what questions customers have. You can only broadcast information if you are engaged with the audience.
How much time and money are we talking about for your approach?
We handle the time-consuming tasks, such as making the content easy to find via online search, analyzing the response, and re-purposing the content into emails, videos and other formats. Cost is about $10,000 to $15,000 a year. Clients can compile the content themselves; we estimate they spend at least about a half hour a week. Or they can pay someone about $40,000 a year to do it. It is inexpensive if they do it themselves, but it’s not for everyone.
What is the hardest lesson for these smaller companies to learn about using content as a marketing tool?
That it requires a consistent commitment of time and resources. Running a full-page magazine ad is different. You pay for it and then you are done with it and go about running your business. Producing and sharing content is an ongoing process. And for the best results in attracting customers, the company can’t treat it as a separate task. If they outsource it, they still need to be involved in the process.