We all have to become media

Media has changed.

It used to be that startups or SMBs couldn’t buy media. TV, print or radio remained inaccessible to early-stage companies for simple budget reasons but also know-how and complexity. It also used to be really hard for small businesses to earn media. When I became an entrepreneur close to 15 years ago right after the Internet bubble exploded, no reporters wanted to hear about startups anymore and tech blogs didn’t exist yet. It took achievements to get covered and revenue to buy media which caught a lot of entrepreneurs in a chicken-and-egg catch-22.

Not anymore.

Web 2.0 completely changed the way media is consumed and distributed creating new opportunities for businesses to generate visibility: startups and SMBs can (and must) become their own media. Fragmented attention is killing established media but it’s a benediction for long tail players as consumers have more ways than ever to zoom in on their interests. The real change that’s been called content marketing is not about the ability for a few brands to become famous media; the Michelin Guide did that almost a century before the Internet. It’s the ability for niche media to reach extremely targeted audiences through a combination of SEO and social media distribution that is really new.

Over the past 5 years, content marketing became lean which means it is now:

  • scalable: no need to spend a $50,000 minimum on your first campaign anymore; you can start small and grow.
  • measurable: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half” is no longer true. You can track, measure and analyze to separate what works from what doesn’t. Better yet, “what works” does not need to be gut feel anymore: you can not only measure what brings traffic but also how much that traffic converts into leads and customers.
  • experimentable: traditional marketing required not only money but also time and complexity. Now you can get started with online tools in a few minutes or hours and try out for yourself.
  • leverageable: this is probably the most important part. Becoming a media would remain tough and out of scope for small companies with limited budgets if there weren’t many ways to piggyback on existing resources and audiences. But through guest blogging, content curation and good community management, startups and SMBs can get way more return for their content efforts.

What does the above concretely mean for startups and SMBs?

ROI.

Some companies like RedBull have pioneered content marketing with amazing and bold initiatives that impressed the world in general and marketers in particular but that failed to provide a clear model to inspire the millions of SMBs and startups who can’t launch a man into space to get attention. Lean content marketing, however, doesn’t just mean it’s possible for smaller companies to become media: it also provides a way to measure ROI and directly connect content investments with returns in terms of new leads and revenue.

If content is the fuel to inbound marketing and lead generation, lean content marketing means you can now measure your miles per gallon.

So what are the minimum steps required to make that happen?

Here are 3 basic things that every business should consider:

1. Break down your pitch into landing pages that convert.

You must have done your pitch a million times already, right? You start by describing a target personna then you talk about how miserable they are with problem X and finally you explain how your solution solves problem X in such an elegant way that we all want to cry out of relief for your soon-to-be-not-miserable-anymore persona.

It’s a great story and you know how to handle objections, questions and feedback from your audience. Based on who they are and how much thinking they’ve done on problem X, their questions are different. And you’re also not doing the same pitch if you have 1 minute, if you have 5 minute or if you’re meeting for 30’.

The problem with website visitors is that you don’t get to be in front of them; you have to hand the job over toyour website. While you can’t overload your home page with answers to each and every objection or questions, here’s what you can do: break down your pitch into as many landing pages as you need. Use tools like Unbounce to create them without even having to code. Make them as long as needed to really hand hold your visitors through the entire articulated and convincing argument.

Add clear call-to-actions so that these landing pages can not only convince but also convert.

A/B test several versions to optimize conversions.

Here’s a great example that generated $1 million for Moz as well as detailed explanations on how they did it. 

2. Don’t just create content: breathe content.

Now that you have landing pages that tell the pitch exactly as you would to your potential users or customers, how do you actually get those potential customers there?

Publish content that has value or is useful to your target audience.

Wait… how can I publish a lot of content and run my business? It’s a good question. Plus, if you try to become a full-time blogger, you will fail as an entrepreneur.

First, make it a mindset. If you look at it more closely, there are constant opportunities to leverage things you already do such as writing emails or answering support questions: seize them. This blog post for instance was one of our most successful posts back when we published it but it originated as an internal email: I wanted to check on how we were doing on our email campaigns so I dove into our Mailchimp analytics and put the data together to share with the rest of the team. All I did was write it in a way that made sense for readers outside of the company et voila: it became a blog post that was useful to our target audience. The same goes for a number of support questions which – more often than not – are useful to more users than the person who emailed you. Make them FAQ’s using tools such as UserVoice.

Second, make it collaborative. Get others to create content for you: people in your team (content should be everybody’s job), but also your first power users who can write about their experience with the product. Even if it’s a short testimonial, this is precious: grab it. And you can start building up on those when you have a few. 

Finally, you can and should leverage what you already read through publishing-by-curation (disclosure: that’s what Scoop.it helps you to do). If you’re passionate about what you do, you regularly consume a lot of blogs, videos or infographics on your market. Because you’re an expert (yes, you are: as a pioneering entrepreneur, you have to be), you can easily pick the good stuff from the bad. Beyond that, you probably also have an opinion on it: don’t waste this. Publish the curated content you found useful to your target audience as links and enrich them with your own thoughts. You might think they’re only worth 2 cents but trust me, these 2 cents are worth a lot more to people trying to understand what’s going on in your industry. Again, with the right mindset, this will come naturally and you’ll be publishing daily before you realize it. 

Now whatever you do to create content, tie that back to #2: make sure most of your content is published in a content hub that includes call-to-actions to drive traffic to your landing pages. As much as your content should not be about yourself or your product, you should make it clear for your readers where to follow up with your company and these are what your landing pages are now for.

3. Distribute and leverage existing distribution

“Content is king but distribution is queen and she wears the pants” – Jonathan Perelman, BuzzFeed.

Of course, the first distribution method that comes to mind is social media. But sharing everything you publish is just the basics: just like radios don’t play good music hits once, you should air your content several times on Twitter and also repurpose some old but successful posts (as Buffer does with great success). Don’t assume your readers are always connected on Twitter: we’re all quickly scanning stuff and reading summaries anyway. And you can be smart about it: edit titles to change the angle, use a different visual.

Email newsletters seem old-fashioned but they’re essential to properly distribute your content. And if you’ve done #2 well, your newsletters won’t be spam but content your targeted audience actually enjoys receiving. Don’t forget to add social sharing buttons to it so that your subscribers amplify your social media distribution.

All of this is great but as you get started you don’t have many followers or email subscribers beyond your friends and family, right?  The thing is that there are some existing audiences out there you can leverage. So beyond sharing to your own social profiles, you can also:

  • pitch other blogs to publish your content, which – for the reason listed in #2 – will be interested in publishing your content if it’s good and matches their audience interest,
  • leverage content platforms with existing audiences like SlideShare, Quora or Medium which will help your content be discovered by like-minded people through SEO or social discovery mechanisms,

Of course there’s a trade-off: when using other people’s audiences, you can’t control your call-to-actions or conversions as efficiently and this content will generate fewer leads. But, it will help you get exposure from a much larger audience and also from an audience that doesn’t know you yet: an audience beyond your social media followers and your subscribers.

Doing all the above consistently, you’ll see little rivers of traffic from all these channels add up and you’ll also start to generate search traffic without even thinking about SEO techniques (most of which having been made obsolete by Google algorithm’s changes anyway, the new rule being simply: publish good content).

A lot of companies have embraced blogging, social media, inbound marketing, marketing automation, etc… but it’s often frustrating to make everything work in an articulated way. And it’s also easy to get lost in the details and feel overwhelmed by the complexity of all the tools involved. By focusing on these 3 above techniques, you have an opportunity to build a basic but effective inbound marketing strategy fueled with lean content at limited costs.