As a startup, you have huge advantages over older businesses and you probably don’t even realise it.
The reality is you are starting from scratch. You are about to create your first product. At the same time, you are building a brand and creating a system to sell your product to your customer. You are doing all this simultaneously, using methods that suit today’s world.
Old businesses started in a different world with different rules. As a result, they are now held back by outdated products, a history that is irrelevant to their customers and marketing methods that no longer work. Mostly old businesses struggle to stay meaningful to their customers.
Think of Marks&Spencer. What do they stand for? Would you buy their clothes in order to represent you as a person? How about NEXT? Do their clothes make a statement that shows off the real you?
Now compare this with a new company like Wear Your Label. This fashion brand makes clothing aimed at de-stigmatising mental health issues. They sell T-shirts with clever lines like “It’s ok not to be ok” and “You are enough”. When you visit their website you instantly recognise that the founder’s story, the products and the marketing work together effortlessly in a way that creates meaning.
Today, people with very diverse backgrounds are becoming entrepreneurs.
They may be parents, teenagers or recently retired people. What they have in common is experience or expertise in specific areas. They were able to overcome a problem they faced and turn the solution into a product or service. In contrast to old meaningless companies, the founders and creators of modern businesses step into the limelight.
New businesses are no longer about the product. Even if you can patent your idea, on its own your product is worthless. Modern entrepreneurs understand this and invent not just the product but a true and engaging story around it.
When you build your business from the ground up you can start in the right way. You know that the most important component of your business is your customer. Therefore you put your customer in the centre of your universe and have all other pieces move around it.
The most important tool that connects you to your customer is content.
What is content?
This is how the BusinessDictionary defines content:
In simple terms, content encompasses all messages your company produces regardless of the medium. It could be information on your website, newsletters - sent by email or in print. It can be a video on facebook or tweet to your followers.
It can be anything as long as it resonates with your audience.
A new form of marketing
Some people assume that content creation is new, something that didn’t exist before the Internet. Strictly speaking, that is not true. John Deere, the tractor company, is an excellent example of a company that understood the value of content and put it to good use as early as 1920. Watch this video if you want to see what great content looks like.
But John Deere is not a typical example of a traditional company.
Typically old-style companies focus on money (or maximising shareholder value) rather than on improving the lives of their customers. As a result, the communication with customers is a one-way-street of messages blasted out in the hope that someone can be persuaded to buy.
Traditional companies with their different mindset often see content creation as part of digital marketing. To them, it is an add-on that runs in parallel to other marketing activities. But in today’s world the whole premise of one-way marketing is outdated. It assumes that the business has to reach out and convince customers to buy their product.
But businesses no longer have to shout to reach their customers. Those that do generally get ignored or at least viewed with suspicion.
Google recently announced that Youtube will no longer feature 30-second unskippable ads, because they are a nuisance. It seems that old-style businesses are only just beginning to realise that you cannot force people to consume their marketing messages.
Contrast this with the approach of modern marketing. At its heart is content marketing, which is the honest way to connect with your customer. The primary aim is to connect and build relationships.
When you are able to connect with your customer and create a two-way conversation, it becomes so much more than simply a tool for selling your products. Your customer becomes part of your story. Over time your customer shapes new product ideas and has an active role in the development of your business.
Modern marketing is not a bag of tricks. Although that’s what old-fashioned companies believe it is. They think it is a hack with the aim of gaining more followers, which create free publicity through “virality”, which culminates in demand through digital sorcery.
Clearly, content marketing is not magic. Rather it is a business philosophy by which modern companies live and succeed.
Here are the most important things you need to know about content creation and content marketing.
It’s not about you - it’s about your customer
If you take away nothing else from this article, just remember this: content is not about you. It’s about your customer or potential customer.
Too many old-style companies make the mistake of only talking about themselves. This used to work when there were fewer products and fewer distractions. People were genuinely excited to hear about new products, even watched adverts on TV to discover what they could spend their money on.
Marketing then was about reaching the highest number of potential customers in the most cost-effective way. The product was fixed and the purpose of the marketing message was to get attention.
But the world has changed. People don’t watch adverts anymore. Instead, we use tools to keep adverts away from us. And if an advert does manage to force its way into our field of vision, we get annoyed.
Content is different. Content is not advertising and it is not marketing old-style.
I know when you are just starting up your business you are eager to get sales. Eager, because you need the money to live and to grow your business. Eager, because you want to validate your idea.
But you must resist the urge to jump into sales mode. If you want to grow a company today you need to connect with your customer on a deeper level. You need to create content that tells stories about your customer’s life and how it could be better.
Use content to build trust
Customers don’t just stumble across your product and buy it. In our world of infinite choices, you must give your customers a good reason to part with their money. People will only buy from you if they trust that you fulfil your promise to make their lives better.
Your content needs to create the story why your product is the best solution to the problem your customer experiences. It's not about a 16GB music player; it's 1000 songs in your pocket.
Before buying from you, every single customer goes on a journey which starts with discovering your product and ends in the sale. This is called the buyer journey.
It is a big topic and I will talk about another time. But a short version is that your customer must first discover you, then like what you stand for before he develops trust to buy from you. Your content is the bridge between each stage.
In a world of infinite choices it is your content that has to work hard, so your product can become the only possible solution in your customer’s mind.
To achieve this, you need to understand properly who you want to sell to and how their lives will be better as a result. Always remember the customer chooses you depending on how you present your solution to them. The best content is written so that your customer feels connected to you, almost as if you read their mind.
When you are just starting out your efforts in content creation will focus a lot on figuring out how to craft messages that resonate with your customer. If your content fails to engage you will lose your potential customer. In the online world, an alternative solution is only a click away.
The most difficult stage to gain engagement is arguably the first time you interact with a potential customer. It’s the same as in the real world.
Consider how people will find your content
There are only a few ways in which potential customers can discover you: the main ones are search, adverts, email and social media.
As I said earlier nobody wants to see adverts anymore. Instead, you should start with the creation of content on your own website. It needs to be something that is of use and value someone visiting your site.
Initially, your early content is going to only produce a tiny amount of traffic through search. But you need to start somewhere. The traffic your website content attracts will increase over time.
It will only do so especially if you create content:
- with consistent focus on one topic
- that searchers landing on your site consume
- that your readers bookmark or recommend to others via social media
- that other website owners link to
Your success above all depends on the consistency and quality of your content.
I don’t want to go too much into the topic of search engine optimisation. But you need to know this: it is becoming increasingly important to create quality content that the searcher finds useful.
In the past search engines relied heavily on links that were leading to your site. But gradually Google is getting better at understanding what quality pages look like. As validation Google now relies increasingly on observing the searcher's behaviour.
If your content is great, the reader will consume it and possibly bookmark and share it. If your content is uninspiring, your reader will bounce off your page and go to the next option on the search results page. This sends a signal to Google to warn them not to send other searchers to your page.
Google rewards quality pages by sending free search traffic to them. Manipulation is no longer required; in fact, it may harm your site. If you understand nothing about SEO, start by creating content that is truly useful for your ideal customer.
Content marketing and the role of social media
Once you have created some content on your own website, the next step is to find people on the Internet that would benefit from your content. The first option is to start your own Facebook page, YouTube channel or twitter account and send people from there to your website.
A second option is to find a blog, group or social media platform hosted by someone else who is already talking to the people you want to serve. By tapping into an existing audience you can save yourself the time creating a community from scratch.
Once you have identified a group of people that would benefit from your valuable knowledge, give it away freely. I know you are keen to sell your product, but you must respect the users of the platform (blog, group, forum). They are here to find help, not to be sold to.
Interacting with potential customers in this way has two advantages. It builds trust in your potential customer towards your brand. And you can learn more about people’s specific problems. This may offer you insights to improve your product offering or simply allow you to phrase your solution better.
You may be able to link back to your website, but make sure you don’t come across as spammy.
Once people visit your website, the next step is to get them to stay connected with you. There are several options. You can ask them to connect with you directly on social media. Or you could get them to sign up to your email list and receive a weekly newsletter.
Don’t miss the opportunity to ask for people to stay in touch, or you risk that they will not come back. We are all busy and need reminders. A weekly newsletter will allow you to stay top of mind in your customer’s heads.
Not every searcher is a potential customer
As I mentioned earlier, traditional marketing relies on companies reaching out to potential customers. But in the modern world, people are not waiting for an advert to come along to alert them to the fact that they have a problem that needs solving.
We have the Internet. As soon as we identify a problem, we search for the solution.
The searcher chooses which solution suits him best. This means the customer chooses you.
But you also choose your customer. By truthfully presenting your world view, your values, your way of making the world a better place you attract the type of customer that you choose to serve.
Take the Patagonia campaign for example that says: "Don’t buy this jacket". It is aimed at people that are conscious about the impact their consumption has on the environment. With their message, Patagonia reminds its customers why they choose their brand. Patagonia's marketing messages may look like anti-sales but are in fact part of a clever strategy that connects the customer's conscience with the company's environment sustainability efforts.
For you as a startup, being authentic means that not every searcher that lands on your website is a potential customer. It is the easiest mistake to make for an entrepreneur to think that you want to appeal to everyone.
But all the evidence point to the fact that if we try to please everyone, we become the vanilla solution nobody believes is for them. Think M&S or NEXT.
Instead of trying to appeal to everyone, craft your content for your ideal customer at the exclusion of everyone else. Over time you will learn which content appeals to the right audience and which gets you rejected.
Ultimately what your business needs are customers that love your product.
Ideally they love your product so much they want to become part of your story and tell the world about you.
But this is still some way off, which means you need to start with a high level of commitment.
Build your company brick by brick
Each piece of content you create is part of a bigger body of work.
Think about what content you need to create to build a bigger picture. Imagine your brand story is a pixelated picture. Each pixel contains part of the story.
You will probably find it useful to produce a written strategy, so you have an overview of the points that matter. Once you have an overview, start writing your content one piece at a time.
Each piece of content should be written with:
- one business goal in mind
- one person it is aimed at
- one action or transformation you want to achieve
The more content you create the better you will get at presenting your views.
Build authority through unique content
When you are just starting out, it may seem odd to think of yourself as an authority. That’s because to become an authority on anything you have to create a body of work. Overnight success is not the norm. Success is built on a foundation of knowledge and the application of that knowledge.
Becoming an authority means to become so good at what you do, you cannot be ignored.
Developing your authority is a worthwhile activity in many ways. If you can communicate your expertise with others you inspire customers and collaborators. Authority creates a real advantage over your competitors because it cannot easily be copied.
Search engines also recognise authority. “Domain authority”, a measure of the quality of your entire site, is currently a significant contributor towards your search ranking for each individual page. Google knows if you are creating original valuable thoughts or if you are merely copying and rewriting information.
In terms of return on investment, creating high-quality content is the best activity you could engage in. But it takes time to see the rewards.
It’s a flywheel
Creating a new business means building a brand, generating content, seeking engagement, gaining social sharing and page ranking and receiving backlinks from influencers.
All of these things happen simultaneously.
But only if your content is effective will your flywheel pick up pace. In the beginning all measures will be at zero and every individual piece of content creates little noticeable change. But brick by brick you will build your company, one piece of content at a time.
The key to success for each channel (your website, SEO, social media) is consistency.
Measurements that show if you are on the right path
Peter Drucker famously said if you can’t measure it you can’t improve it. This is also true for content. While it is hard to put a figure on quality, there are quantitative measures that can tell you if you are moving in the right direction.
You are looking for increases in:
- Consumption of content
- Increase in traffic
- Sharing of content
- Increase in email sign ups
- Generation of leads
- And finally sales
To get the fly wheel moving things need to happen in the right order.
Start by creating value for your customer. Make your content so useful people would be disappointed if they didn’t get the reminder email. Make it so actionable that people share the information with others that also can be helped and so find out about you.
Reducing your content workload
If all of this sounds like a ridiculous amount of work, that’s because it is. That’s why large companies have teams of content writers, social media experts, and analysts feeding back results, not to mention a strategist to pull it all together.
But you can do it all single-handedly because you don’t have a hundred products and all the stress that comes with running a large company. Your challenge now is to create one product and one method to create happy customers at the time.
There is just one final tip for you that will make your work easier when you are starting.
Every piece of new content that you create can be re-purposed.
Almost all the content you produce can be used again in a different format. For example, you can use a list of tips as a list post in your blog or as a slideshow or presentation or as an email series for interested customers.
There are hundreds of ways to use original material which you have created.
Your startup needs content to thrive
I hope this article has shown you the importance of content creation.
It is fundamental to any modern business. You may never be able to calculate how much your content contributed towards your success. It’s like trying to calculate the contribution of one organ towards your overall health.
But your company cannot live and thrive without great content.