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3 Don’ts of small business content marketing

Small businesses have the potential to tap into special strengths, but they also have a special set of pitfalls to avoid. Marketing a small business can sap time and attention from actually doing the work of serving customers, but it has to be done. Small businesses especially can benefit from tools that used to be the province solely of giant corporations, thanks to the internet.

Content marketing is one of the most valuable of these tools. If you are running a small business or helping a small business market itself, you need to take advantage of every edge, and every bit of leverage you can. Let’s see how to pursue content marketing without making some common errors and wasting opportunities. Exploit your position as a manageably sized operation, leverage the power of herd behavior, and keep your customers happy. Find out how below.

Don’t try to imitate your larger competitors

Your greatest asset may be your small size. Don’t fight this. In your marketing and your whole presentation of your firm, don’t try to pretend you are what you are not. Sell yourself as small and proud of it. Avoid focusing on the fact that you are NOT LARGE and wishing your firm were much bigger. Act intentional about your small size (even if you really aren’t).

Why should you take this stance? Small is beautiful because small firms can be nimble. They can respond quickly to changes in the environment, whether technological innovations, or fashion, natural disasters, or political upheavals. Small is beautiful because small firms can have a more intimate relationship with their clients through both, social media and offline interactions. Small can be beautiful because you can keep a close eye on quality.

All these are positive aspects of your business that you can highlight and promote in your content marketing. This can be explicit and/or implicit. For example, your website design is part of your marketing strategy. For a small firm, every employee can be featured on the website, with perhaps even a description of their duties. As long as you keep this updated so it does not become a liability or an embarrassment, this tactic implicitly gives clients a sense of connectedness to your firm.

Another tack on marketing your small size more explicitly is to feature your ability to customize some aspect of your product or service. Provide your customers with examples of the ways that previous clients have benefitted from this intense personalization. Such testimonials or past case histories can appear in a sidebar, suitably labeled. Remind your readers that this service is possible specifically because you are small.

You don’t need to be reminded that you do not have the budget for splashy marketing (yet, at least). However, this does not prevent you from letting customers know that your small size is a positive asset to them.

Don’t neglect the power of social proof

If you have not heard this buzz term, don’t worry. Social proof is simply the tendency of people to look for affirmation of their decisions in the behavior of others. We are group-living organisms, after all, and we usually like to do what others think is right.

Of course there are exceptions, but this is the usual way that most people operate much of the time. This is the psychological phenomenon responsible for assuring that every tween girl at the middle school dance is wearing essentially the same outfit, exchanging selfies prior to the event. We check out each other’s behavior, and use it as our guide to our own choices and decisions. This can be a really powerful tool for marketing small businesses, and always has been.

For example, for centuries, when crowned heads of England have designated a maker of preserves or leather goods with a “royal patent,” everyone has flocked to that business. If your business can land a high profile client willing to allow you to mention their name and use their image (tastefully), you are golden. The Smithsonian (which always needs donations) features glossy photos of well-heeled and well-known people discussing their estate planning for the venerable Institution. This, by the way, is termed celebrity social proof.

social proof

When the head of the US Centers for Disease Control is interviewed reassuring the public regarding the risk of Ebola in the USA, that would be termed expert social proof. If you have a way to link your service or product to a carefully selected scientific study (peer-reviewed, if at all possible) or interview with an authority, do so. Consider the example of a startup tea and spice shop run by a self-acknowledged tea obsessive.

He would love to feature links to articles discussing the health benefits of his beloved products. However, these are still ‘alternative,’ and he worries about linking his business name to a discreditable source. His solution is to compose his own definitive and scholarly study of tea.

Nice thing to do for the small business owner would be to post each section of the magnum opus on his website as he completes it, as an e-book, as a key element in his marketing. Not every business owner will be so ambitious, but when you know your field, it makes sense to leverage your in-house expertise. You can post case studies, answers to frequently asked questions, how-to’s, and suggestions for best practices. They need not be long – just a few paragraphs.

There are other types of social proof to consider, and these can take full advantage of the internet. The social proof of the user is among the most powerful. Make space conveniently available on your webpage for current users to give feedback, kudos, suggestions, and even criticism. Your other webpage visitors cannot help but be impressed if you are willing to display the bad with the good. If you have telephone customer service, offer the customer the chance to record a comment right when they are on the line.

Still another type of social proof is what is called the wisdom of crowds. This is the observed tendency of large groups of unconnected people of diverse backgrounds to converge on an opinion or decision, and often, end up being correct. You can exploit this phenomenon by having a social media and web presence in as many places on the internet as possible so that as large a ‘crowd’ as possible is looking at your site.

To cultivate this type of social proof, you need to provide ways for your clients and potential clients to see each other’s comments and opinions and share their experiences with you and your competitors. This could mean having a comments area that allows for ‘conversations’ between your site visitors, or comparison guides to which users can contribute. A variation of this is focuses on people who actually know each other already.

This is an opportunity to use social media to encourage people who are already in each other’s circle of contacts to let each other know when they are using your product or service or thinking about doing so. When the eighth graders all decide that they are going to wear leggings and midriff baring tops to the homecoming dance, that is a great example of what has been termed wisdom of your friends. You need to check the social media penetration of your target audience, however.

Don’t alienate your customer

alienate customers

None of this is going to mean a thing if you are not treating your customers well. You need to be providing attentive service or high quality product. However, you can keep in touch. There are plenty of ways to communicate regularly and without intrusion, like Constant Contact. Birthday greetings are old hat now, but what about the anniversary of a first purchase from your business? What about reminders regarding servicing or re-filling? Know their names, and use that information on the web site, when they sign on. Make your communications with them useful.

What about instructions on your page about getting the most from your business, whether in terms of service or product maintenance or improvements? Give your customer plenty of chances to say no to your communications, but if they are infrequent, you can get away with lots of useful content that also reminds them to do business with you again.

Above all of this – stay true to your customers and to the idea, which made you start your own small business. Good luck.

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