I’m a huge fan of the idea that content marketing at its core doesn’t change if your company makes 100k a year or is in the Fortune 100. At its core, content marketing is producing media for marketing purposes. And also at its core, the process is the same.

I find examples of this constantly, as I spend a lot of my time scouring the net for enterprise level research on content marketing. One of the companies I pay a lot of attention to is the Altimeter Group, a research based advisory firm.

Not only do they provide a lot of powerful, timely research on things like content marketing and social media but they do a fantastic job boiling processes down to simple steps.

For example, in this piece Content: The New Marketing Equation Altimeter breaks down the integration of content marketing throughout a major organization into 5 steps: Stand, Stretch, Walk, Jog and Run. In this post I will address each step from a small business perspective.

Step One: Stand

Altimeter group describes this step as one of curiosity and consideration. It’s for the company that hasn’t quite decided content marketing is a worthy concept. They might have a blog or social feed but it isn’t updated frequently and there is no strategy in place.

This is just the first step of the process and as you can clearly see this could describe a company at any level.

Step Two: Stretch

This is where Altimeter says that companies “realize the value of content marketing and begin to build the strategy and support necessary to create and publish content.” They point out the necessity of executive buy-in and how the executive sponsor must get the ball rolling.

They use the amazing example of Indium Corporation’s Director of Marketing Rick Short’s drive to establish 73 blogs right out of the gate. Short decided that creating blogs based on each of his most effective keyterms would be his strategy and he chose to keep the writing in-house. He jumped right in with the help and passion of his engineering team members to fulfill the content requirements. A massive task indeed – it paid off big time with a 600% increase in customer contacts within a single quarter.

At step two we begin to see the nuance of small business. Obviously it would be incredibly difficult for a small business to start 73 different blogs. Big business can afford to pay an engineer’s salary and allot time in that engineer’s day to write blogs. At the small business level there is neither the staff nor the money to launch such a massive project.

However, just because you can’t do it at the scale of a large business doesn’t mean you can’t do it at all, or with the same quality. The important thing about step two is that it’s about knowing content marketing is a viable option and starting the strategy process. Don’t worry so much about how it’s going to get done, but rather spend this time brainstorming what you want to accomplish.

Step Three: Walk

This is where strategy takes form. At the big business level this is where a “content team” is formed and trained. They might bring in a group of outside individuals or decide to train a group from within the organization.

Content is spread across different platforms and has a solid backing in both management and in the budget.

The case study used by Altimeter in this section was about Eloqua, a company that sells digital marketing automation software. They were already creating content when Joe Chernov was named Vice President of Content Marketing. This title was new to both Chernov and Eloqua, as well as many other organizations in recent years.

Eloqua chose to hire a former journalist from outside the organization as well as many internal experts as bloggers. As an analytics driven company, Chernov used content marketing strategically to measure the attention of their research. Altimeter reports “Four free guides influenced $2.5 million in annual recurring revenue, booked in 2010.”

Frankly, no matter how impressive those stats are, this stage is where I see small business really shine. Creating valuable content and using it strategically both on your site and across the web creates conversions.

Just because a company has a bigger budget does not mean that they can do content marketing more efficiently than you can. Sure, they can hire a legion of writers or a top analyst for research…but that means they are spending more money to make it happen.

When content marketing is done right, it can be done at scale. Which means 5% of the budget can product 5% of the results. I can’t tell you what Joe Chernov spent on those four free guides, but I can tell you that 5% of $2.5 million is $125,000. How would you like to add $125,000 to your bottom line this year?

Step Four: Jog

This phase is what Altimeter describes as “A Culture of Content” where simple stories or informational pieces are left behind for more experiential and engaging content. At this phase content takes on a life of its own.

The strategy is no longer to get the word out, but to enhance the overall experience of your customer. Content doesn’t revolve around products, but rather the lifestyle of your brand. Earned media takes priority as your content marketing has saturated enough of your industry that a true sense of community is alive on your site and around your brand.

Again, this is an area where small business can take a powerful competitive advantage. Have you heard the phrase “locally world famous” – this is it in a nutshell. In my opinion, when a small company commits wholeheartedly to content marketing it can bridge the gap to advocacy much quicker than its larger competitors.

People are bombarded with advertising, both passive and active. And the shift to content marketing means that genuine communication is valuable across the board. Small companies do not have to “come down the mountain” to meet their customers. Small companies know their customers. This means turning your customers into advocates for your brand, which is the magic bullet big companies have been longing for.

Think about this way – how many times in your life has a company asked you via their messaging to refer them to your friends? More than I could possibly count. And out of all those times, how many have you followed through with their directions? Probably less than 1% right, especially when you think about every commercial, every Facebook ad, etc.

Now, how many times has a person asked you for a recommendation? Whether for a job or for a date or whatever. How many times have you followed through? Probably a lot closer to 75%, right? Maybe even 100% of the time.

Which of these two situations is closer to small business? Exactly

Step Five of this study lies somewhere in the referral process. However, even in this comprehensive Altimeter Group study “Only a handful of companies have begun to Run, primarily global CPG brands with a strong commitment to pop-culture marketing initiatives.”

In other words, the big boys with their big budgets haven’t mastered this level. Frankly, I think you can. I feel like a broken record when I say this but content marketing is not about big budgets, it’s about being strategic. It’s about knowing your audience. It’s about engaging people on a personal level. You can do this!