What content marketing needs to do to move on to the next level

When it comes to marketing, technological advances have had a liberating effect on small businesses.

In days gone by, smaller firms would be left trailing in the wake of big chains and multinationals that could afford to gobble up the available space, whether it be on billboards, radio airwaves, TV commercial breaks or in newspaper column inches.

Technology has disrupted the old consensus – wresting power from the publishers and, therefore, the people who could afford to pay their prices for exposure. But all this has really done is create an opportunity – and a space – to be filled through new practices and pursuits.

That’s where ‘content marketing’ has come in. Businesses can now produce their own material – whether it be blogs, social media posts or videos – and share it on freely accessible platforms. Clearly the ‘big boys’ still have the budget to be able to do all of this, but as a smaller business you’re able to be there with them, side by side and punching above your weight with a bit of creative thinking.

See also: Content marketing trends – How to get audiences engaged

Content marketing is now, as a result, coming of age. It’s grasping the space and opportunity opened up by technological disruption but now it faces challenges of its own if it wants to play an increasing role in the ways brands promote themselves in the digital age.

We can see the state of this industry born out in the results of The State of Content Marketing survey conducted by Zazzle Media.

Content marketing valued highly

The agency finds that 79 per cent of decision makers rate content marketing as ‘effective’ or ‘very effective’.

The survey shows that 70 per cent of respondents are going to increase spend on content marketing in 2017 – and not one person told Zazzle that their budget would be going down.

So, at a top level, the study shows that content marketing works and that people will be spending more money on it as a result.

So far so good, but there were other statistics in the survey which showed the hurdles that now need to be overcome.

Surprisingly, given the confidence expressed in the statistics above, only 6 per cent of decision makers say their team is ‘definitely clear’ on how best to run its content marketing output.

Brands and agencies know that content marketing works and that they should spend more money on this – but they aren’t sure why. That can’t carry on.

Zazzle managing director Simon Penson says, ‘It is staggering that – even when speaking to expert marketers – only 6 per cent feel they are ‘definitely clear’ on best content marketing practice. It highlights a clear need for education, together with more robust measurement strategies that will give marketers the confidence to invest in the content space.’

Investment in education

The need for investment in education will be even more important for smaller businesses. After all, when you’ve got a more modest budget, you need to be certain about the way in which you use it. Content marketing needs to up its game when it comes to explaining how and why it has enjoyed success – both internally and externally. Small businesses don’t, after all, want to take a shot in the dark.

Penson adds, ‘As content marketing experts, it’s important we continue to share performance measurement tools, educational guides and best practice with marketers so that they have the tools to bridge the gap in knowledge and confidence we have seen in our survey today.’

This ‘knowledge gap’ is one of two key challenges demonstrated by Zazzle. The second one relates to a shortage of manpower.

The study finds that 61 per cent of those surveyed feel that a staff shortage is holding back their marketing activity. One in three CMOs say that they struggled to find the top creative talent they need to meet their marketing objectives and, in a similar vein, 65 per cent say that they struggled to produce the content that they need, while 60 per cent report that creating this content on a consistent basis is a bugbear. If they had the staff, those latter two stats would surely show a lower percentage.

It seems apparent, therefore, that the investment in content marketing that is being made in 2017 needs to be channelled into a big recruitment push. Businesses with an inhouse team need to ensure that it has the skills and manpower needed to have the required impact, while agencies need to increase their capacity so that they are able to take on work from an increasing number of clients.

Without a push to bridge the knowledge gap, or an investment in the skills needed, content marketing risks stalling its progress. Small businesses need to encourage this change where possible, even if they outsource this to agencies, so that the opportunity to make the most of the opportunity offered by disruptive digital technologies is not lost.

Content marketing has certainly established itself as an influential part of the marketing mix.

Further reading on content marketing

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of SmallBusiness.co.uk from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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