A Guide to Content Marketing for Start-ups

How can content marketing help satisfy a start-ups customer acquisition and quest for growth. Old sales tactics are declining and the push sales cycle can mean a new business is out of runway long before their business gets off the ground with revenue. The rapid change in buyer behaviour for both B2B and B2C means an unforgiving economic climate in which a start-up has to function. Thankfully, the meteoric rise of inbound marketing together with social selling has added a suite of new tools to the business sales and marketing toolkit.

While the sales and marketing field have been levelled they are also becoming more complex as buyers seek out useful and valuable vendors via quality content as they self educate like never before. So how can a start-up business win with content marketing and what does it stand to gain from it?

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It begins with a plan

To develop a content marketing strategy, we must first understand the role of content in attracting the buyer in the digital economy. As buyers self educate online in both B2C and B2B markets they consume content as part of the buying journey. When we refer to “Content” we are referring to whitepapers, video, infographics, images, press releases, newsletters, help guides right through to thought leadership articles. Also, focus content themes and topics that match the interest of your “Ideal Customer Profiles” or “Buyer Personas”. When it comes to content curation do not consider content to be anything you find funny or amusing as you dive into the sea of digital content being published about your industry. Instead, think of content that adds value to customer or buyers journey, information that is useful and benefits the reader in some way. Start-ups who remember that content is bait and the better the content, the better the fish will have taken a big step towards getting their business moving forward. So ask yourself, “Who is your customer?” “What is their need?” and “How will you deliver on their need”. Now you can start to assemble a content marketing plan.

The first step as mentioned above is to define your target audience (ideal customer profile/buyer persona) in terms of Firmographics, demographics, age, occupation, habits, etc. Then, the start-up needs to plan who and from where will they create and source a steady stream of content for publishing. Next it is time to research what is their favourite social media platforms. This information allows us to define clear goals and social KPI’s. These may cover items such as content views, content downloads, traffic, blog visitors, total traffic, social reach and social engagement. Now the start-up can proceed with moving their plans from the drawing board into social media reality.

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Put the start-up on the social media stage

We know from research that over 75% of B2B buyers seek business information online. Over 90% of consumers now consume content prior to making an online purchase. So it is no surprise to know that one of the greatest benefits of content marketing is increasing the exposure to potential customers whether it is locally, nationally or globally. That is why building a social brand and social reach through content is closely tied to the process of developing closer relations with the target audience, and getting to know each other. The ultimate goal of any content plan is to inform, educate, engage, inspire, and spark attention. This is no easy task as the work of attracting buyer’s attention has fierce competition. The best shot for a new business is to become a valuable information source with real insights and fresh, challenging points of view. Content blindness or overload can be avoided if the start-up can separate itself from the competition and rise above the noise generated by vanilla flavoured content.

Also it is important to avoid the pitfalls that go with content marketing. Don’t be tempted to write about product superiority and service excellence without social proof which may include influencer opinions or valid customer reviews. Do not overlook the value of visual content and videos. A whooping eight seven percent of the top posts on Facebook have pictures included, while it is thirty five percent on Twitter.

Another critical point is to convey the businesses personality and social purpose. Content should reflect the business culture and be used to plant seeds with targeted buyers on your beliefs and philosophy around serving customers. Finally, create a content sharing schedule so that the selected content must is posted regularly. Creating a calendar is paramount, as this enables start-ups to plan themes and topics to match buyer interests while scheduling posts ahead of time.

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A content publishing engine room

Content creation falls into two main categories, “First click content” and “Second click content”. First click content is designed around the search engine optimisation (SEO) and driving traffic. It is heavily keyword focused with “Tips” “Guides” and “How to” type content the best themes to ensure sharing and thus getting the content at the forefront of search engine results page (SERP). Using content to build inbound links is one of the best marketing strategies there is, so ensure your content publishing engine knows what keywords to target.

Remember Google carefully monitors the content surrounding the anchor link (title, topic, theme, keywords) so it is vital that the quality of the content has to be top-drawer when doing link building. Other aspects of a content publishing plan are to monitor industry trends and new relevant keywords as to develop content or visuals. Identifying these elements can boost a business’s search ranking and drive more traffic.

While content marketing can be an inexpensive, yet highly effective lead generation method to reach ideal customer profiles, it does require investment in the production of the assets to be published. Create a content publishing engine that will help your start-up to attain a position of industry leader over a period of months. Sometimes if not often start-ups have little room for manoeuvre and must operate on a shoestring budget. So to make every Euro count, content marketing can have both short tailed and long tailed benefits by aligning all social media marketing to target buyers supported by quality, relevant content.

The runway is shorter than you think

A sense of paranoid can be healthy when launching a new business; one can live or die by their ability to quickly identify real wants and needs of buyers. The runway to getting the start-up of the ground maybe shorter than you think with more effort than you planned. This requires social selling with content, social media marketing, social reach and social engagement. To pull this off, the business must make the best use of content marketing strategies. Relevant, regular, appropriately themed quality content that engages the target audience to find you useful and valuable is the only way to make a name for the business quickly. If content is king, then badly written, irrelevant or copied articles, have little chance of becoming royalty. Always refer to the plan and only produce content that is tailored to the needs of the customers. It is about using content to be seen, be found, be useful and be valuable in the eyes and minds of buyers so the start-up can generate revenue sooner rather than later.

A Social Selling Guide for Sales Leaders

A social selling strategy starts at the top. If sales management and senior executives are suspicious about social media – if they only see risk, their people wasting time clicking “Like” buttons and employees posting funny pictures, then they would be right to draw down the shutters and, in the process, cut off the opportunity social media presents.

If, on the other hand, they want to become a social business and prepared to invest in training to optimise its potential and reduce risk, to reconfigure operations so that departments work together digitally, not in silos. Then social selling could be the key to unlocking the data insights into customers and prospects. Where do they engage, digitally? What language do they use? How active are they? What external content do they share? There is a mountain of social data out there if a business knows how to mine it.

Some 62 per cent of Irish companies said they used social media platforms as their primary method for connecting with customers, up from 58 per cent and 46 per cent in 2014 and 2013 respectively.   (Compiled by CSO December 2015)

So how many of our companies have formal social selling programs, policies and KPI’s in place?

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The social networks allow us to interact with other human beings in meaningful ways online. Social Selling is an evolutionary step forward making the sales process more productive and meaningful. It is not about using social media to shout at, stalk, or spam people digitally. It is not about employing the social channels to replace cold calling/sales outreach or replacing the telephone with Twitter and LinkedIn.

The reality is that integrating social media into your team’s selling process is a must if you expect your salespeople to break through the competitive clutter and reach buyers who are better informed and more digitally connected than ever before.

A well planned social selling program will see sellers will use the online channels at the front end of the sales cycle to be useful, to network, build their online brand, and be found, demonstrate credibility, generate leads and conduct presales customer engagement. Social channels can and should also be used to nurture existing customer relationships and as part of account based management

To turn your sales organisation into a social selling machine, you need to do these things:

Accept that buyer behaviour and the buyers journey has changed. Sales management must shift their mindsets. The selling world is different than it was five or ten years ago. Some if not most of the sales tactics that worked when a business was building its customer base, are not working for sales teams today. Saturated with sales approaches, buyers ignore phone calls and emails from people they have never heard off. It takes so much more effort to break through the noise these days. Sales people must alter their sales approach.  The role of sales leadership is to help them learn how to do it.

Develop a social selling strategy. Engage both the marketing and sales teams as part of the planning process.  Be careful not to head straight for social selling training without having thought through items like culture, change, KPI’s, content and making social selling a consistent activity. Heading straight to tactics without executive sponsorship and a well developed plan is a recipe for failure.

Establish social etiquette and social media guidelines. Sales people need to know what is expected of them from their actions online. Sales people present themselves PLUS the company brand. Remember what is posted online stays there is forever, while mistakes are bound to happen a business can reduce any risk by ensuring that all the sales teams understand the art of communicating online. As important is to teach them what is and is not appropriate to say and do on behalf of your company when they are using social networks as part of their selling activities. Less than 26% of sales people know how to use social media correctly as part of their sales activities.

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Include social selling training into the bigger sales training plan. The digitally connected buyer means that sales behaviours have to change and sales people need to understand how to strategically use the social networks in the right way. If a company or sales people just view social channels as a vehicle to spam prospects with vanilla sales pitches, a huge opportunity will be wasted, and the company brand is put at serious risk. Social training should be ongoing and not just a one-time event at the end of induction training.

Implement and focus on the metrics. Social activity is not about doing more – make more connections, send more invitations, or do more demos. Without the right metrics and KPI’s, sales teams can waste a lot of time hitting like buttons. Without clear goals and objective sales people do not link their social behaviour to social etiquette, policies or structure. They commit “random acts of social” where at times self-promotion takes precedent over company promotion. The quality of sales activities as a result of social selling is what counts. Using the social networks to attain measurable sales results is more important than checking off the box that says sales person A sent 50 connection requests.

Be realistic in your expectations. Using the social channels is not a quick fix to increasing sales pipeline and revenue. No one who implemented a social selling plan saw results overnight. No surprise here as this is no different from any other sales tactics a business may have invested in for the sales teams. When it comes to the social channels learning how to do things differently does take time. This is why the planning that goes into providing the sales training and coaching that sales people need is vital so these new approaches bear fruit overtime.

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Social selling is an additive process. This is not a replacement for phone calls and prospecting emails. It is an additive approach, a prescriptive process like another arrow in the quiver that you should think about, “How do I apply social to every prospect, every deal, every account, every single day for no more than 30 to 60 minutes a day.

Forward thinking sales leaders know that social selling is not some snake oil, nor is it a gimmicky approach to selling. These leaders know social selling is another set of sales tools and an evolution in how we reach buyers in the digital era. Social selling is a complement to traditional sales methods—not a revolutionary approach that replaces them. Social selling, due to its ability to enhance the customer journey, is an incredibly powerful sales tool. But, like any tool, its value and utility are ultimately tied to the skills of the individual employing it.