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How small businesses can market directly to customers

Consumers have a growing appetite for fresh content, and marketers are responding.

In the coming year, 77 percent of business-to-customer marketers said they will produce more content, and 50 percent plan to increase spending on such efforts, according to findings from the Content Marketing Institute/MarketingProfs sixth annual content marketing survey.

“Consumers have a 24/7 device with them at all times . . . their smartphone,” explains Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute in Cleveland, a marketing education and media company, and author of “Content Inc.” (McGraw-Hill; $25). “They have access to all the information in the world.”

To break through that clutter, marketers have to provide “valuable, relevant and compelling content on a consistent basis,” he notes.

That’s the idea behind content marketing.

“It’s about creating magnetic content that engages your audience and nurtures them through the decision-making process,” says Nicole Larrauri, president of EGC Group, a Melville-based marketing and digital services firm.

To be sure, there are many ways to do this.

According to the CMI/MarketingProfs study, the top five tactics used by business-to-customer marketers for content creation and distribution were social media content (other than blogs), illustrations/photos, e-newsletters, videos, and articles on websites. For business-to-business marketers, the top five were social media, case studies, blogs, e-newsletters and in-person events.

To figure out which tactic may work best for you, it pays to develop profiles of your ideal customers, says John McHugh, president of Brainstorm Studio in Melville, a digital marketing agency.

“You may have different types of customers,” he says, and “they may be interested in different types of content through different channels.”

While many marketers create their own content, others opt to put their own spin on existing curated content they’ve found.

Research the topics your audiences are interested in, says Ariane Lindblom, vice president of product marketing at BrightEdge, a San Mateo, California-based content-performance marketing company. Topics they are searching for provide good insight into what they want to hear about, she says. Then tailor your content to deliver pieces that resonate and engage with your target audiences.

And if you’re unsure of what content they are interested in, you might even send out a simple survey to past and prospective customers gauging the types of content they’re interested in, Larrauri says.

It pays to keep a list of ideas for content or catalog interesting content that comes your way, McHugh says, adding it also helps having an editorial calendar of planned content to help keep you on track and maintain consistency.

Consistency is key, Larrauri says. For instance, EGC Group each Friday afternoon sends out three or four of the top trending articles in marketing to its subscribers via email, she says.

“You need a consistent rhythm,” she says, to be present at least weekly.

Going forward, Larrauri says she thinks video will be a popular medium: “YouTube is the second largest search engine after Google. It’s still a dominant player.”

Content combining both video and images drives a 9 percent uplift in performance, according to Lindblom.

Of course, every business is different, and it’s important to track performance to see what works and what doesn’t.

“After producing content, ongoing measurement and optimization is critical to ensuring maximum ROI [return on investment] and customer engagement for your efforts,” she says.

Tools like Google Analytics can help you track what your most popular content is, McHugh says.

But keep in mind it takes time to build an audience, says Pulizzi, noting the average was 15-17 months to start seeing return on investment from your content marketing efforts.

“If your timetable to do this is less than six months, go buy advertising or do direct mail,” he says.

Fast Fact:

37% of B2C marketers reported having a documented content marketing strategy vs. 27% last year.

Source: Content Marketing Institute/MarketingProfs

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