Is The Strategy a Hidden Time Suck?
The "content marketing" crowd touts "content" as the singular solution to all that ails your online business. Do it right and clients will flock to you and the search engines will magically reward you.
What is "content marketing?" The short definition is that content marketing is the act of creating online articles or videos related to your business. When done right, the content you create should amaze the world and make you a fortune. That actually does happen. Ordinary people also win the lottery.
But should YOU go down this slippery slope of content creation? Maybe. It all depends upon your skill, the appropriateness of your product or service, your creativity, and your willingness to invest in this for the long haul, maybe with very little to show for it in the beginning stages.
Analysis: First, are you a good writer? And by that I mean good enough to engage people, again and again? Do you have a distinctive "voice"? Do you have a unique perspective and do you understand your business better than most other people who are in it?
If you can't write well (and honestly, most people struggle with writing), then you'll need to pay someone who can take your great ideas and mold that into something compelling.
What does that cost? Well, for example, I have already invested at least six hours in writing and editing this article. Most business managers who successfully use content as a marketing tool have staff assigned to the task. Not all, but probably most.
Listen Carefully to Gurus: I recall a real estate conference where the featured speaker was an agent in a large metro area who was well known nationwide in the real estate industry as a "content guru". BTW, keep in mind that he also gets paid well to tell you how he does this at real estate conferences.
His content strategy came down to this. He creates all kinds of well-written articles about his local market, promotes them, and uses them to generate leads in a large metro area. The large theatre room where he made his presentation was packed to hear this fascinating story.
He laid out his approach in detail, and in the end, the most impressive thing about it was the sheer amount of time (both his own and his multi-person staff) spent on this content strategy.
Takeaway: Sure, it worked, for him, but I seriously doubt if ANY of the hundreds of agents and brokers in the room ever even tried to duplicate his effort. His success was an anomaly in the business, and in practical terms, it was not something that the average agent or broker could pull off.
Nevertheless, it was a fascinating story and it all sounds compelling. That's how it works in the content marketing world. You have to look beyond the sizzle, and listen very carefully to what is presented.
Content Curator?: If you can't write or don't have the time, then you will be advised by the gurus to become what is known as a "content curator". This means finding other good online content that is related to your own expertise, and sharing those links with your readers, by first routing people through your own website or social media account along the way. It can be a worthy goal.
You'd better get very good at finding the right content to curate and have the time to dig for it. Unfortunately, the best content is often found on your competitor's websites and you sure can't send them over there.
Like content creation, content curation can work. It can also be a huge waste of time if you do not have a clear vision of how it all plays out.
Also, be very careful of copyright law when you attempt to do content curation (or any kind of content promotion). You can't just "borrow" photos and place them on your own site or FB page, no matter how tempting. The original source of the content might have obtained rights to the photos, copy, or other content that they used, but those rights may not convey to you. Violations can get costly.
Video content: If it is video content that you are after, then you just upped the ante. Way up. In addition to good writing and editing skills (good video scripting is very demanding), you will also need to plan your shoots, get the right equipment and props together and produce them. Then edit all of that raw footage to make it presentable. Or hire someone who can.
Video is great stuff, and it can be very engaging when it is done right.
Carefully crafted, low cost, "grassroots" video can sometimes work (YouTube is full of it), but in most cases, low rent footage looks like it was shot and edited by amateurs with a smart phone. We all know it when we see it.
Video that works well consistently in a marketing context usually requires some elevated level of professional effort.
Beware of "Success Stories"
The content crowd loves to tout specific examples about how this all works so wonderfully, especially with video. The good examples can be intoxicating with their potential.
They'll tout the "Dollar Shave Club" as the #1 shining example of a bootstrapped, snarky video that sent that business soaring, and it certainly did. Dollar Shave Club was sold for 1 BILLION dollars, just a few years after it launched.
So, using that example, the content crowd points out that with a little creativity and a video camera, you can break out like a superstar. If only you'd try. You can't win the lottery if you don't play, right?
The Web marketing crowd will rarely tell you the whole back-story to the Dollar Shave Club video. One of the owners had previous experience with comedy video production and comedy writing, and the original owner's close friend owns a fully equipped, high-end video production company.
Alas, it turns out that this was not exactly a couple of smart-assed blokes in their basement joking around and getting lucky with a Sony camcorder.
Further, many of stories about the Dollar Shave Club video phenomenon in the Web marketing world proclaimed over and over that it cost only $4500 to produce the skit, and technically, it did. A perfect example of bootstrapping at it's best!
It turns out that the $4500 in expenses was really a sweetheart deal. The skit producer says that the "billable cost" to a paying client (i.e. those of us who are not one of his close friends) would need to pony up about $50,000 for that kind of production.
Who has $50K to risk on such a speculative video? If it were not so polished and well done, it could have easily fallen flat, as just more dormant content posted on YouTube, seen by nobody.
So unless you know exactly what you want to accomplish, and have access to a fully-equipped video producer who will work cheap…
Just How Hard Is This Content Marketing?
A couple of years ago there was a very well know content marketing guru by the name of Neil Patel who put forward a public challenge to himself and his readers that he could create a significant online product business from scratch, using his content marketing skills.
A summary of that journey is here (It is hard to find a summary of this project on Neil's own website, as he lost interest).
For your sake, I'll summarize the summary. Yes, Neil and a partner did achieve some impressive results, selling health supplements and associated health and fitness products.
The amount of work that went into it with the content creation and the promotion of that content was substantial. Along the way, Neil did share some very interesting insights and strategies. It is a good road map, if you decide to you try something similar.
But…you will see that it this not a game for the faint of heart. The labor that was expended along the way was considerable (it was likely full time work for at least one of them), and that labor was very front-loaded and not at all rewarded until the late stages of the project. The promotional strategies deployed were rather complex and very intricate.
Any missteps along the way by less skilled players trying to duplicate this effort could turn out to be a useless exercise, with nothing to show for it.
The bottom line is that content marketing, even by highly skilled practitioners, is a very risky road due to the investment required. You need to know what you are doing, and then continue to invest in it, even when it seems that it is going nowhere.
Bad Examples: Let's get practical. You are a house painter and you need more business. Do you really think that writing a bunch of articles about the subject of house painting and posting them on your website will make a difference? Maybe it would. But let's examine the logistics.
What are you going to write about? Maybe the various differences between brands of paint? Prepping techniques? The latest faux finishes? Maybe the differences between types of brushes? Color selection skills? You'll need a compelling subject for every article, and that list might get very thin after a few articles are completed.
If you create one article a week, that's a tall order, but at least you'd then have about 50 articles posted in just one year. If you can only produce one a month, then how long will it take to build a library of good material?
Further, any content that falls in that forest known as "your own website" is heard by nobody until you promote it. It is a massive waste of time to do all of this work and have nobody read it.
Once you create the content, now you have to "market" that content, probably by using social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. So you'll also need to create and manage nice-looking, engaging posts that link back to your articles. You can now can see why the real estate agent needed a staff of people to do all of this.
Unless you get a lot of gratuitous "shares" and re-tweets (and don't count on that. Just ask yourself, how often do YOU share content?), you'll need to dive deep into these platforms to find users who are willing to divert their attention over to your content.
Maybe you need an email newsletter. To have a newsletter, you need to have an email list. So you'll need to deploy an email list manager and then USE it regularly. Add that to your task and cost list. Without a newsletter, you have little chance to re-connect with your readers.
And yes, you will need to do all of this in between painting houses. After all, you really don't get paid to create content about painting. You only get paid to paint. So you WILL need to turn some of these site visitors into paying clients, or else this is all just wasted effort.
I could run through the same scenario for plumbers, electricians, and just about any other local contractor. Even product vendors.
The time spent doing all of this content creation and content marketing can be substantial. If you are just starting out, and time is all you have, then it might be worth trying. But tread very carefully.
Good Example #1: Ok – now you are a maritime lawyer with a specialty in personal boating and yacht law.
If you build a website that has a lot of articles (often called a blog) that are related to this subject in which you discuss the nuances of the case law, you can easily make yourself a recognizable expert on the subject.
That kind of content is also great fodder for search engines, so your content will probably help propel you to the top of the search engines for searches about maritime law and yachting. Boating enthusiasts will link back to it, further solidifying your position in online search.
A prospective client who visits your site and compares you to some other maritime attorney who does not have any content posted on their site may be inclined to pick you because of your content.
That is a very good example of how this is all supposed to work for the RIGHT KIND of small business.
Good Example #2: Since we're all not attorneys, what if we bake cakes? OK, good. Make it German chocolate or Boston cream pie for me, please!
Here's some quick and dirty social media marketing advice: Take a decently posed, well-lit picture of every cake that you bake and, with the permission of each client, post it to your Facebook and Pinterest pages. Also, go one step further and create a photo gallery of them on your website, for easy client browsing.
Let your client know that you posted it to Facebook. There is a very good chance that they will share your post with their friends. If they do, then you are now reaching far beyond your own circle of influence, and into their circle of friends, who now become aware of you and your cake business.
Maybe you'll get a testimonial from your client along the way, too.
That is a very simple, low cost gambit, and it takes only a limited amount of time to do it. Hire someone to upload and post it, saving you the hassle. This is online guerilla marketing at it's best!
This simple strategy applies to anyone making customized products, from cakes to cars to clothes to landscaping, and more. Good pictures of your products are "content", so use them online when you can (with client permissions). Social media can really help you here, so put the tools together and do it.
Analysis: Content marketing online does work. That has been proven. Big brands do it all the time. They hire staff to make it happen.
Small business owners need to realize that there are commitment thresholds that must be met in order to make it happen correctly. If you want to produce video, then be ready to spend the money and time that it takes, not just on production, but on marketing the videos, too.
Writing articles and promoting articles is a time consuming task. In the right situations (usually where people need to know your expertise), that is exactly what you should do. But you do need to make the commitment to get it done.
For many small business owners, making such a commitment is just not practical. You also have to run your business. If you can find a way to get your story out there, with very little in the way of production time and money, then give it a try.
Time is Money – Money is Time
With web marketing for small business, there is no escaping the old adage that time is money. It is probably going to be your own time that makes it happen, and certainly your own money.
The Web can be a great resource to you. You just have to pick and choose carefully, and maybe apply some real creativity to it, to make it work for you with minimal time and money spent.
Dig deep and think before you leap. Use social media groups to target your audience.
Collect email addresses from clients, one at a time. Eventually, if they are potentially repeat customers, then you will build a nice mailing list. Send a simple email newsletter once in a while.
The Web can help you. Just be careful of the Web marketing industry when they make all of this sound easy and low cost. In many cases, it's not.
I welcome any and all feedback and inquiries about this article, good, bad and ugly. I am sure that some of you will disagree with my assessments, and you may even have proof to the contrary.
None of this is cut and dried, so all of that is good fodder for discussion in the comments below. Disagree all you want, I only ask that you be professional about it.
If you are a business owner or manager and you want me to do a very quick-and-dirty profile assessment of your own business with respect to online marketing, please just ask and I will do what I can for no charge.
I do wish all of you good luck with your business journey through cyberspace!