The Small Business Owner’s Content Marketing Handbook

Thinking about using content to attract leads and drive sales?

This content marketing handbook was put together to help you in planning and executing your first content marketing campaign.

What is Content Marketing?

content marketing handbook

The art of using information to communicate to your target audience, in order to ultimately promote a brand, product or service.

Or, as the OG of content marketing puts it;

”Content Marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience – and, ultimately to drive profitable customer action.”

Content Marketing Institute

As its name suggests, there are two parts to Content Marketing; 

  1. Content creation

The process of ideation, planning and creating the content piece.

content creation

This content piece will be used to attract your target audience and fulfill the objectives of your content marketing campaign.

Some examples of content include:

  • Long form written articles (eg. how-to guides),
  • videos,
  • podcasts,
  • infographics,
  • etc.
  1. Content marketing

The process of getting your content piece out to your target audience.

content marketing process

No, hitting ‘publish’ or ‘post’ isn’t enough!

People are swarmed by new content every single minute. You’ll need to take a more active approach for your content to reach a larger audience today.

Sounds complicated?

Fret not, this content marketing handbook was created to give you everything you need to run your first content marketing campaign.

But before we jump in, let’s talk about the diminishing value of paid advertising and why content marketing works today.

Why Content Marketing?

News flash! In case you’re unaware, consumers are starting to tune out advertising.

People are abandoning free-to-air channels for paid on-demand streaming services which are ad-free. Those who remain on free-to-air channels tend to make mad dashes to the toilet during commercial breaks.

On digital platforms, we scroll pass sponsored ads speedily, without batting an eye…or tap crazily at the countdown ‘skip ad’ timer.

With ad-blocking tools readily available, it’s getting more difficult to push your message directly to consumers.

On the flip side, people are actively searching for information and solutions to their problems, all the time. The same people who would avoid a 30 second video ad, would read a long 6,000 word article that solves their problem. 

Guess what? 

We’ve been fighting the wrong war; attention span isn’t the problem. 

What’s in it for Small Businesses?

Sure, content marketing sounds good, but why should small businesses allocate their resources and budget to it?

Here’re 5 compelling reasons, imho:

1) Outdo your competition

Although the concept of content marketing has been around for ages, many businesses are still oblivious to it.

A survey done in 2018 by Clutch suggests that 80% of small businesses do not invest in content marketing. This trend has remained relatively unchanged since.

This trend may vary depending on your industry. And if it holds true for yours, you may be onto a key opportunity to becoming the go-to brand in your space.

Which brings us to…

2) Build Trust and Authority

In a survey by Contently, about 47% of millennials indicated that they’re more likely to trust a financial services company if it created useful content. 

And we’ve seen similar trends across industry. A popular case study for content marketing is River Pool and Spas.

You can anchor your brand as the go-to expert in your industry by owning high quality content that helps your target audience solve their problems.

3) Nurture Relationships

Marketing is no longer a one-way communication channel. 

These days, brands have to descend from their ivory towers to interact directly with their customers.

If done right, content marketing allows you to interact and build relationships with your audience. And these relationships will go a long way.

4) Longevity

For various reasons, businesses still favor the quick returns of paid advertising campaigns. So much so that digital ad spends are increasing year on year

However, while paid ads tend to bring immediate returns (when executed well), the opposite is true as well. Once your ad campaign stops, your sales may dwindle to a trickle or even stop completely.

In contrast, although content marketing tends to start off slower, content has been shown to enjoy a lifespan of 2 years (or more). 

Well produced content assets have a longer lifespan and could have the potential to attract sustainable amounts of traffic and sales for years to come.

5) Better conversions

On top of its longevity, content is reported to deliver 3 X more leads and content marketing shown to cost 62% less than traditional marketing. See source and more content marketing stats here.

When executed effectively, your content marketing asset should become an investment that keeps on delivering returns.

Now, if I’ve successfully convinced you about the advantages of content marketing, you may start to wonder how you can execute your own content marketing campaign.

So, let’s talk about:

How to craft your content marketing plan

Content marketing isn’t just about hitting publish on a random piece of content. Like any marketing campaign, there should be a well defined goal, process and desired outcome.

P.S. I am assuming that your budget has been predetermined.

We’ll dive into the 7 steps to crafting your content marketing plan in this section. In a nutshell, they are:

  1. Establish your objective
  2. Identify your audience
  3. Craft your marketing game plan
  4. Brainstorm content topics
  5. Execute
  6. Evaluate your performance
  7. Improve

So, before you get all excited about creating viral content, let’s take a step back and…

1) Establish your content marketing objective

This will be the beacon guiding your content marketing campaign.

Your content marketing objective will allow you to identify the type of content you should be creating, the audience you’ll be reaching out to, your call to action, the success metrics that you’ll be tracking and more.

Some common content marketing objectives include:

  • Brand awareness
  • Authority building
  • Lead Generation
  • Sales Conversion

Once you’ve established your marketing objective, determine 1 – 3 success indicators for your campaign.

For example, in a lead generation campaign, you may want to use the number of leads and cost per lead as success indicators.

Alternatively, in a brand awareness campaign, the number of brand mentions could be a measurable success indicator for your team.

Remember to determine and use realistic goals and success indicators at this stage. You may need to carry out research to determine what’s realistic for your campaign.

2) Identify your audience

Nope, we’re not going into the whole shenanigans of crafting your customer avatar or target audience persona here.

However, you’ll need to identify who you’ll be creating content for, based on the objective of your content marketing campaign.

For example, an ideal audience for a brand awareness campaign would likely be someone in your potential customer group who has never heard of your brand.

Or, an ideal audience for a sales conversion campaign could be someone who has an immediate need for your service or is currently looking to buy your product.

Your Customer Journey

Understanding your customer’s journey allows you to pinpoint the type of content that they may be receptive to.

You’ll need to carry out some research at this point to understand your audience better. Your existing group of customers is a good place to start from.

What to take note of when trying to understand your audience

I’ve found that effective content tends to address the following:

Your target audience’s pain points

Ask these questions: 

  • What is the main issue they’re looking to solve?
  • How do they seek answers?

Knowing how your audience would phrase their questions helps tremendously as well. You should be able to pick up such information in online forums or QnA platforms.

Your target audience’s consumption behavior

Ask these questions: 

  • Where do they get information from?
  • Who they trust for information?
  • How do they consume information?

Answers to these questions gives you key insights that will guide your content marketing strategy.

3) Craft your marketing game plan

Armed with your research, you can start to plan your marketing strategy.

Here, you’ll need to identify the following:

  • Where should your content be published?
  • Where should your content be shared? (eg. are there active forums or relevant Facebook groups?)
  • Are there ‘influencers’ or ‘key person of influence’ whom you can work with to increase the reach of your content (within your budget)?
  • Are there suitable platforms that allow you to pay for additional reach?
  • Are there business partners who could benefit if they help share your content with their audience?

Strategise your game plan, identify key people whom you should speak to and the platforms on which your content should be on.

4) Brainstorm content topics

Now we can start working on the content. 

If you have done your audience research, you should have some content topics, angles and ideas in mind. You can refer to the list of content types below for inspiration.

You may also find our client case studies interesting.

5) Execute

This is the stage where you run the campaign.

I’ve found that having an editorial calendar helps to keep the team on track.

You can set this up using any free calendar tool, as long as you make it accessible to the people involved in the campaign.

6) Evaluate your performance

Using success indicators you’ve selected in Step 1, evaluate your performance.

It is important to remain objective in your evaluation whenever possible and…

7) Improve

Look for ways to improve your content marketing campaign:

  • Identify content pieces that did well
  • Platforms that delivered better reach
  • Any unexpected takeaways that could improve future campaigns

If you’re running a content marketing campaign for the very first time, it is common to fall short of your initial goals. 

Use what you’ve learnt to improve on your content. 

If you’re not sure where to start, here’s what I’ve learnt:

Why content marketing isn’t working for you

Ever had the experience of working hard to produce content, only to have little to no response?

In this section, I share 3 common reasons why content marketing fail and some ideas to improve your results.

P.S. There could be many other factors that are holding your content marketing campaign back, these are the top three issues in my opinion.

1) Inaccurate audience research

Most businesses would skip the initial research because they are confident that they understand their audience well enough.

Unfortunately, that is not true most of the time.

Dedicate time and resources to pinpoint and understand who you are targeting in your campaign. Outsource the research for objective data.

And oh, “everyone” or “anyone” are not suitable target audience groups or demographics.

2) Mediocre content

Next, take a deeper look at your content. 

Here are some common content mistakes:

Mistake 1: It’s all about you.

Businesses who create their own content have a tendency to fall into the trap of selling blatantly, instead of providing valuable or entertaining content.

Such content does not get shares and often leave a bad impression in the minds of your target audience.

Ever clicked on an article, only to realise that the content doesn’t match up to its title and the author side tracks and starts talking about his company? Yea, your target audience were probably as frustrated as you were.

To avoid this blind spot, ask for objective feedback from your existing customers or even business partners.

Mistake 2: It’s irrelevant

This mistake is common among business owners who are too entrenched in their business and industry.

Your target audience may not be that into your product features, most of them are just looking for an answer to their problem.

Again, you should ask for feedback from existing customers.

Mistake 3: It’s meh

Countless content creators are publishing their spanking new content every minute. If your content is average, it gets drowned in the wave of content that your audience are constantly swimming against.

People are just not able to pay attention to everything they see today.

Mistake 4: No call to action

You could bet on creating a piece of content so good that people are rushing to share it, or you could simply suggest that they do.

Remember, most people are just dying to move onto the next piece of content in their feed.

3) Promoting on the wrong platform(s)

In Singapore, the first online platform that comes to mind for most business owners is Facebook.

However, it’s wrong to assume that every business should be on the same platform. Instead, you should be finding out where your target audiences turn to for information. Promoting your content on such platforms may be more efficient.

Now, I’d like you to take a break and relook at your content marketing strategy, with an objective eye.

Types of Content

Brainstorming for content ideas can be frustrating for small business owners who are attempting content marketing on their own.

So, here’s our huge list of content ideas. Save this page and use this list whenever you find yourself in need of inspiration. (Or, let us help you with it).

Written Content

Oftentimes, written content is preferred as these are relatively easier to produce. Plus. they allow you to share more information within a single piece of content.

Additional benefits of written content are that they can aid your search engine optimisation (SEO) and boost your organic web traffic, if that is one of your objectives.

Examples include:

  • How-to guides
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Interviews
  • Lists
  • Case Studies
  • Testimonials
  • Comparisons
  • Roundups (news, advice, etc)
  • Opinion Pieces
  • Personal Stories
  • Reports
  • Research Pieces
  • Industry Statistics
  • Industry News Summary
  • Public Service Announcements
  • Checklists
  • Editable Templates
  • Slide Decks
  • Emails
  • many more

Visual Content (Stills)

These are great for capturing attention or relaying information in an easy to consume manner.

Examples include:

  • Photos
  • Infographics
  • Posters
  • Charts
  • Flow Maps
  • Diagrams
  • Memes
  • Illustrations
  • GIFs
  • Heatmaps
  • Visual Timelines
  • Instagram Carousels
  • Quotes
  • Information Decks
  • Data Visuals
  • many more

Video Content

People spend at least 40 mins on Youtube daily, this suggests a demand for video content.

Although the production cost and time is higher, video content is a great way for your audience to get to know you and your brand.

Examples include:

  • Explainers
  • Documentaries
  • Interviews
  • Vlogs
  • Event Highlights
  • Demos
  • E-courses
  • Presentations
  • Behind the scenes
  • How-tos / Instructionals
  • Product Reviews
  • Testimonials
  • Visual Tours
  • Product Tours
  • many more

Interactive Content

This form of content is great for building relationships with your audience and / or building a community.

Examples include:

  • Webinars
  • Live streaming
  • Ask me anything (AMAs)
  • Contests / Championships / Leagues
  • Challenges
  • Giveaways
  • Virtual Events
  • Insider Invites
  • Twitter storms
  • Quizzes / Games
  • Meetups
  • Workshops
  • Interactions/Comments
  • many more

Multimedia content

This form of content is one of the best ways to combine your online and offline content marketing efforts. Multimedia content tends to be of the highest production value and the returns are equally high.

Examples include:

  • Microsites
  • Databases
  • Resource Packs
  • Certifications
  • E-courses
  • Forums
  • Gift Packs
  • Content Libraries
  • Magazines (digital)
  • Awards
  • Syndication of useful content
  • many more

Others

Marketers are constantly exploring new forms of content, here are some content types that don’t fit into previous categories.

Examples include:

  • Podcasts
  • Mobile Apps
  • Micro-sites
  • Tools (Calculators, Plugins, Widgets, etc)
  • Personalised Content
  • Playlists
  • Google Maps Lists
  • User Generated Content
  • Sponsored Content (for Influencer Marketing)
  • many more

PDCs – My favorite type of content

It’s normal to feel overwhelmed by that giant list of content types. If you’re not sure where to start, here’s my favorite type of content; Problem driven content (PDCs)

Inspired by River Pool’s case studies, I’ve used problem driven content to grow web traffic from zero to 4000 users a month, using just content.

What are PDCs?

Problem driven content (PDCs) are content that focuses on the problems your customers face. PDCs can be in any format suitable for your audience – written, video, podcast and even tweet storms do well.

A successful PDC allows you to:

  1. build rapport with your audience by showing them that you understand their problem
  2. build trust and authority by providing an actionable solution to their problem

You’re probably skeptical about the idea of “providing an actionable solution”.

I’ll share how you can efficiently create PDCs below. However, fret not, you do not have to reveal your business secrets or give away your products for free.

Why do PDCs work?

Because people are actively searching for answers to their problems, all the time.

Before the internet, we had to ask our immediate network for solutions. But today, almost everyone has access to a directory of solutions online.

Your job is to provide the best answer in that directory, and let your audience find you.

How to create PDCs?

In 2 simple steps;

  1. identify and address the problem or question that bugs your audience

Here, you’ll want to show your understanding of the problem and your audience’s pain points. Step into their shoes, uses words and phrases that they’d use to describe their problems.

This allows you to build a sense of trust and rapport before moving onto the next step;

  1. share an actionable solution to the problem

Nope, you do not have to reveal your secrets or give your paid solution away here.

Rather, you want to be sharing alternative solutions that work, alongside yours. And, this is where most PDCs fail.

First up, let’s get things straight.

The internet is filled with solutions. Even if you were to avoid mentioning other solutions, your audience will eventually find out about them from other sources.  

I would argue that it’s best to provide a complete picture right off the bat and impress your audience with your depth of knowledge, rather than to skirt around the fact that there are other solutions out there.

Ultimately, it is your decision as a business and content creator to decide how much information to share.

Successful content marketing examples

We’re almost there!

But if you’re still looking for content ideas, this section covers real content marketing case studies.

The Michelin Guide

Michelin Guide 1929
Michelin Guide (1929) Source: Wiki Commons

Created in the 1890s, the aim of the Michelin Guide was to encourage motorists to travel by car in an era where few cars are on the road.

The idea was simple; the further motorists travel, the faster their tyres would wear out and the earlier they’d need a replacement.

Today, almost a century later, the Michelin Guide remains relevant:

“The Michelin Guide is part of our brand image in mature countries. It allows us to re-create a bit of this brand attraction among first time car buyers in emerging countries.” – Michelin’s Chief Financial Officer, Marc Henry [Source]

Bon Appétit’s Test Kitchen

bon appetit test kitchen
Source: Screenshot of Bon Appétit’s YouTube Channel

Bon Appétit is a food magazine established in 1956. They launched their YouTube channel in 2008 and have been publishing free to air content related to their magazines and recipes since.

To date, they have over 5.8M subscribers who love their Test Kitchen personalities. The subscriber count isn’t just a vanity number too, here’s what Bon Appétit said of its content marketing efforts:

“Magazine subscriptions from digital channels saw a 64% increase while video revenues have increased 40% since 2018” – Bon Appétit in an interview with tubefilter.

A similar example is Cook’s Illustrated’s YouTube Channel “America’s Test Kitchen”.

The Furrow

The go-to case study for content marketing, The Furrow is a magazine published by John Deere’s back in 1895. It is often touted as the oldest example of content marketing and it is still available today.

John Deere started off as an agricultural machinery manufacturer. Back in the 1890s, it was difficult for them to communicate directly with their clients who are mostly farmers. ‘The Furrow’ was launched as a journal that informs farmers about the latest farming practices and equipment.

I couldn’t find exact data on the impact of ‘The Furrow’ on John Deere’s revenue. However, the company continues to publish the magazine today and I think that says something about its impact.

Netflix’s microcontent

Okay, let’s get a little more relevant with this example.

Netflix needs no introduction. Unlike traditional production companies that broadcast snippets of their production as part of their advertising, Netflix takes its marketing to another level with customised content.

If you’re looking for examples, just take a quick peek at the content on Netflix Singapore Instagram vs that on Netflix USA’s. If you’re not convinced about the importance of knowing your audience, Netflix is a great case study to look into.

They’ve even created a YouTube channel  dedicated to Korean and Asian dramas, loaded with even more free to air content.

DBS’ Sparks

dbs sparks content marketing
Source: DBS YouTube

Want a content marketing example even closer to home?

Checkout DBS’ web series, SPARKS. Created to improve the image of banking in consumer’s minds, Sparks is said to be based on true stories that happen behind the scenes.

Season 1 has garnered over 258k views on YouTube.

Klook’s travel guides

Klook is a booking site for tickets to attractions and activities when you travel. If you’ve ever searched for things to do in a country, you’d most likely have come across one of their articles.

Theirs is a perfect example of PDCs and providing solutions to questions that their audiences are asking.

More examples

I hope this section gave you some sources of inspiration for your next content marketing campaign here. (p.s. that said, please do not plagiarise, it doesn’t look good on your brand.)

If you’re looking for more examples, here’s what we did for our clients.

Recommended Reading on Content Marketing

Want to learn more? 

Here are some of the best books to learn more about content marketing:

One thought on “The Small Business Owner’s Content Marketing Handbook

  1. Like!! I blog frequently and I really thank you for your content. The article has truly peaked my interest.

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