Content, The Driving Force Behind Your Small Business Marketing Strategy Jessica Lunk Earlier this year Gartner reported that by the end of 2015, digital marketing budgets will be up about eight percent. Yet despite that, nearly 40 percent of small businesses don’t use core digital marketing tools—like a blog, an email newsletter or a website. But as they dive into digital marketing, small businesses have to figure out the most cost effective way to market themselves online. Digital marketing–essentially any kind of advertising or marketing effort done online–is different from traditional marketing in that it involves one or more forms of electronic media and incorporates tools (for example, Google Analytics) that enable an organization to analyze the effectiveness of their advertising. That said, digital marketing is also a little like the Wild West: a lot of new things are being tried and those tactics are constantly evolving. Small businesses with limited budgets often rely on social media, like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Instagram, to spread the word about their products and services in an organic way. (You tell two friends and they tell two friends and so on.) Outside of that, one of the least expensive ways to capitalize on both social media and the power of search is content marketing. Not all content, however, is the same and none is effective if you don’t build an audience for it. So how do you do that? Use multiple channels. Lots of companies have corporate blogs and although they are important, they aren’t the only way to use content to build an audience. You should include a variety of channels and media, like social media, newsletters, product information and visual content. But before you start the content train down the track, it’s important to have a solid content marketing plan in place first. That means you’ve defined an objective: Do you want to drive sales? Email signups for your newsletter? Retweets and reposts? These established objectives help you to determine which content you will need to create. Offer valuable information. Your business’ posts should offer information that is valuable to prospective and current clients. Experts generally advise that created content not be promotional, instead be created to solve your audience’s greatest challenges. Just don’t hit people over the head with a hard sell. They will only come back and trust your site and your company if they are gaining something useful from what they read. Create content for specific purposes. Some of what you write, post and disseminate should appeal to potential customers, who are just starting to explore their options. Other content should target those that are ready to buy, already searching the web for a specific product or service. In that case, your content can tout the value of your product or service, but shouldn’t read like a sales pitch. Create content that is search engine optimized. Not only does content have to be valuable, it has to be written in such a way that a search engine will find it. Think about the ways people might search for the information you’re providing, and make sure whatever is posted online—whether that’s a blog post, a column in a business magazine or the copy on your corporate website—includes terms a search engine will use to find it. Maybe advertise. If you are creating content in a highly competitive industry, you’ll probably have to advertise to make people aware of it (for example, using Google AdWords, Facebook ads or Twitter ads). Creating content can be cost effective, but it can also be challenging because good storytelling isn’t as easy as it looks. Keep in mind that whatever form your content takes, it should not be overtly selling something. What you’re really doing is moving prospects through a process that converts the curious to customers. Sales will happen, but they will be a byproduct of the relationship and trust you’re building with those prospects, not the result of a sales pitch.