4 Strategic Pointers from Content Marketing Guru Robert Rose for SMBs
Live events. Do you remember them? With inspiring key-notes, spontaneous meetings and a great party halfway through? Last year, getting inspired this way was not an option. But events are back. And I happen to love Content Marketing World. Ahead of this Content Marketing Institute (CMI) flagship event in September, I had the opportunity to speak with bestselling author Robert Rose, CMI’s inspirational Chief Strategy Advisor.
Robert helps many big brands with strategic content marketing challenges, but my questions are aimed at marketing challenges for SMBs. How can SMBs benefit from innovation in content marketing considering their limitations in staffing and resources? My 4 questions resulted in 4 strategic pointers for SMBs. Learn where to focus, to keep your competitive edge.
Pointer 1: Which content should a small B2B with growth ambitions focus on?
Content creation continues to be the biggest challenge in B2B content marketing. Smaller companies typically have less time, less resources and less budget available. When you had to choose as a small business with a growth strategy, where would you focus your content creation efforts? Would you first focus on content for the ‘top-of-the-funnel’ or on content for the ‘bottom-of-the-funnel’. Can you explain why?
- Top of the funnel: Engaging with your potential market over time, reinforcing your brand awareness and building an audience? Or
- Bottom of the funnel: Lead generation with a selection of high quality content ‘ lead magnets’ and engaging with them using super relevant content during their specific buyer journey stages?
Robert Rose: The answer of where to start is a tough one regardless of the size of the company. My general advice is the same for small business as it is for big business. The question is – “where does it hurt the most?” If the business is struggling with awareness, then top of the funnel is the place to start. If it’s losing business to the competition, then differentiation on customer loyalty might be the place to start.
Regardless of where you start – the key is to focus in on the platform that will help me the most for that particular part of the customer’s journey. For example, most small businesses have awareness challenges. They are trying to make more, new people aware that they exist. So, my focus there would be based on two goals. The first would be to widen my opportunity to be found by creating a publication (a blog, or resource center, or something like that) that educates or inspires my audience to the ideas that my company represents. This way I’m much more likely to be found if people are searching with questions that my ideas answer. The second is that I’m going to spend a lot of time guest posting, and finding ways to get my thought leadership, or inspirational content, on the channels that my audience is frequenting. And I’m going to pay special attention to trusted places that I want to be associated with, so that those audiences start associating my name and my brand’s name with other trusted content sources.
Now – if my challenge is mid-funnel, or customer loyalty etc… my approach might differ. The key is to associate your approach with prioritizing the places in your customer’s journey that are most in need of being helped.
Pointer 2: Which 3 marketing competences should a SMB focus on when creating a content marketing team?
We can define many roles in content marketing, from editors to technologists and from advertising specialists to social media experts. To fulfill all the different roles many B2Bs are recruiting or educating ‘T-Shaped Marketers’. But one marketer cannot be a specialist in all expert areas, which would be the 3 most relevant competences you would look for in a ‘T-Shaped Marketer’ if you were a small business entrepreneur?
Robert Rose: If I were building a three person – T-Shaped team – here are the three T’s I would hire:
The first skill I would look for is storyteller. What I mean by that is someone who can take data, customer stories, research, facts and figures and merge them all together to create powerful content. I don’t mean a subject matter expert . Any industrial topic, or business knowledge can be taught. But being able to assemble knowledge into relevant, and interesting content is a particular skill. The closest to this would be journalists, or other strategic communicators.
The second skill I look for with some amount of depth is marketing. The ability to create great content is one thing, but knowing how to promote it, build an audience, and leverage all the skills of a marketers is quite another. I prefer classically trained marketers who know how to do market research, develop audience segmentation profiles, develop unique value propositions, understand how to put together a marketing mix, and measure if effectively.
The third skill I would look for is data and technical depth. In today’s world, being able to work with structured audience data, and content is key. I want someone who can help the organization understand how to use the first-party data we are gathering, and draw insight into how we are scaling our efforts.
Pointer 3: Is content marketing the only marketing option left for a small business?
More than a decade ago Seth Godin said ‘Content marketing is the only marketing left’. Has content marketing really become the only ‘strategic’ option for small B2Bs? Aren’t there many examples where content is just a tactic within a broader commercial strategy? For example when your strategy to sell undifferentiated semi-finished products is focused on demand chain integration (deliver the best value to the customer at the least cost to the demand chain as a whole) shouldn’t that be your primary concern as a small business owner, with content marketing potentially being just an enabler?
Robert Rose: I love Seth. He is one of the most amazing thinkers and a pioneer in our industry. Fun fact – he actually coined this quote in a call with my friend Joe Pulizzi . In the moment, I understand what he was actually trying to say, but over the years it’s become conflated with the idea that we should replace traditional marketing with content marketing.
I disagree with that idea. Content Marketing is more than a tactic. It is a strategic approach that needs to be created with a very particular purpose, resources and measurement goals. But any great content marketing strategy is made more powerful with a smart direct marketing strategy. And any direct marketing strategy is made more powerful with a great content marketing strategy. They are all part of our modern integrated marketing mix – and should be applied as such.
Pointer 4: In which content marketing tools should a small business owner invest?
Small business marketers can benefit from an abundance of great and easy-to-use marketing tools. Let’s say you have your basics in place, like a CMS, email marketing, social media posting and analytics. Which 3 tools would you invest in to accelerate your content marketing efforts as a small B2B business?
Robert Rose: I think the three I would invest in would be:
- A competitive content intelligence tool. I’m a fan (no relationship just a fan) of RivalIQ.
- An SEO and content analysis tool such as SEMRush or Moz.
- Editorial collaboration – calendar and team collaboration tool
Can you solve your SMB content marketing challenge with these pointers?
Based on the pointers Robert Rose gives in the conversation, I draw the conclusion that as an SMB entrepreneur with limited resources, the key is to have the right strategic focus, embrace creativity and commitment to achieve your predefined goals. If you don’t have a budget for external help or media available, time, hard work, smart tooling and the availability of diverse competencies within your company are a precondition for success. In that respect, content marketing is just like running a small business itself.