Forging long-term relationships with consumers is essential for any startup’s survival. And few marketing techniques are better for this purpose than a good content strategy
For startups, it’s hard to justify huge outlays on of marketing techniques that boost brand recognition. Whilst most enterprises recognise the need to get consumers in at the top of the purchasing funnel, getting their brand in front of enough eyes can be something of a struggle. Fortunately content marketing can offer an excellent way for startups to initiate new relationships with consumers without having to invest in costly ad campaigns.
With the rise of web 2.0, social media and, of course, blogging, consumers have become accustomed to seeking out content that meets their needs. “Content has always been important but everything that’s been happening online has made it more accessible to brands than it ever was before,” says Sarah Gavin, European director of marketing at Outbrain, the content discovery platform. This presents a golden opportunity for brands looking to initiate deeper connections with consumers. “If they can figure out what it is that their audiences are interested in then there’s a way of ultimately building a relationship that they can’t with other marketing media,” Gavin continues.
Purchasing decisions are based on trust. For example, TV ads work on the principle that the more someone comes to recognise and relate to a brand name, the more likely they are to invest in its products or services. “You tend to go with the brand name you’re most familiar with because you know you can trust it,” says Paul Maher, director at Fourth Day Content Services. Content is an excellent way to build consumers’ familiarity with a brand; if a company can serve the exact insights or info a consumer is looking for, it will help to establish trust and familiarity between them. “The more familiar you become with something, the more of a bond and the more of a relationship you’re creating,” he says.
For enterprises that are only just getting off the ground, online marketing techniques like pay per click – which offer a clear and immediate return on investment (ROI) – can seem easier to justify. But when looking at building deeper and more long-term relationships, drawing consumers in with interesting content can have a much more fundamental impact on the way a brand is viewed. “A banner ad may be great from a direct response perspective but content marketing, when done well, allows them to actually build their brand perception,” Gavin says. “It enables them to build greater trust and more depth.”
Creating effective content is easier said than done however. First of all, it’s vital that you know what your potential consumers are likely to be interested in. “You’ve got to really understand who your target audience is, what questions they’re asking,” says Maher. Certain consumers might be looking for advice or instruction: a home improvement brand could make significant in-roads providing a series of how-to guides on elements of DIY. Others might be looking for unique perspectives or new ideas: B2B services can achieve real results informing their audiences of the latest innovations or business practices. “You’ve got to tailor your content, absolutely hit the nail on the head in terms of giving people what they want,” he continues.
Once an enterprise has identified what engages and interests its consumers, its focus needs to be on creating content that really offers value on that basis. “You can’t just produce any old rubbish,” says Maher. “You’ve got to invest in high quality content.” Whether it’s investing in some research with a partner, hiring a cracking copywriter or commissioning a stunning infographic, investing in your content will massively boost the public perception of your brand. “If you’re not producing the best quality content then people are going to stop tuning into your social media channels, email marketing or website.”
But this isn’t the only reason to focus on producing quality content. Content can have a massive impact on where a company appears in Google’s search rankings, ensuring that it is heavily associated with certain keywords, but changes in the search giant’s algorithm mean that churning out low-calibre content will do more harm than good. “If you want to do well in search engine rankings, you need to be producing high quality content,” says Maher. “Over the last few years, Google has been penalising quite heavily companies that have not been doing that, which have been producing quite shallow, superficial content.”
However, even with the highest quality, most engaging content in the world, if a brand’s overall strategy is inconsistent then the results will be – at best – mediocre. “You don’t get into the content marketing side of things if you just want that quick win,” says Gavin. “It has to be a long-term strategy.” Sporadic content will do a brand no favours; to build up any real consumer loyalty and engagement, brands need to be consistent in their content production and not just see it as a slapdash activity to engage in when the mood takes them. “It isn’t a banner campaign that you can put up to promote one activity; it’s a long-term conversation with your audience,” she explains. “You’re either in a conversation or you’re not in a conversation and you can’t dip in and out.”
There are still plenty of methods a time-poor startup can use to ensure that they’re getting the best of the investment they’ve made in their content. “If you’ve got really good quality content, you can use that content and you can produce all sorts of things off the back of it,” says Maher.
Learning to reinterpret and reframe key insights can prove invaluable in the content space. For example, a solid piece of research can be presented both as a news piece and an infographic, while a survey can create great material for social media as well as acting as the launching point for some in-depth analysis. “With a great piece of content, you can really do an awful lot,” Maher continues. “It serves you huge benefits on all of your marketing channels, whether that’s through search, social or email.”
When building brand profile, few things are most cost-effective than content. However, it’s important to recognise cost-effective isn’t the same as cheap; content still requires capital if it is going to make a real splash. “Content is an investment,” Gavin says. “Things can’t just be cranked out in five minutes.” If an enterprise is going to profit from its content strategy, it needs to factor in the costs of distribution and dissemination as well as creation. “All of these are costs that need to be factored into any strategy,” she explains.
But whilst a decent content strategy is going to come at a price, it offers a real return. If a brand can capture a consumer not just with its service but with great guidance or industry insights then the result is a loyalty that is hard to quantify. “If you get into a situation where people are waiting with bated breath on the content that you provide then that’s the ideal, isn’t it?” concludes Gavin.