SmartCompany readers will spend more money on content marketing than any other publicity venture during the next 12 months, according to the results of this year’s SME Directions Survey.
But one expert says businesses should think carefully about how they can position that content and utilise the most appropriate channels for their audience.
Additionally, SMEs in the survey face a challenge in creating this content: most don’t have a dedicated marketing resource.
The annual SME Directions Survey, sponsored by Netsuite Oracle, questioned over 700 respondents from a wide range of industries and states. The results were extensive, showing more businesses are concerned about artificial intelligence and automation, and will be investing heavily in technology in the year ahead.
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The findings come as more businesses worldwide are pushing millions into ways to help promote their brands, especially through emerging channels such as Snapchat or Instagram’s new “stories” feature. According to the Content Marketing Institute’s latest report, 29% of a brand’s total marketing budget is spent on content — and 39% say that will increase.
SmartCompany readers currently place content marketing as the third-most important marketing channel, behind email and social media. But when asked about what areas businesses will focus in the year ahead, content marketing was the most popular choice, followed by email and social media.
“Content” refers to a range of different mediums including not only blogs, but podcasts and other digital formats like video.
This emphasis on producing content marketing reflects the habits of business owners themselves. According to the survey, one third of business owners spend at least five hours a week searching out content related to their business or professional role.
The most popular forms of content sought out were blogs, newsletters and websites. Curiously, the survey found most respondents don’t consume video unless they come across it naturally — such as in a social media news feed.
The findings also reflect a growing dependence on businesses to create their own content. Consumers are moving away from more traditional media channels and over 200 million use ad-blockers. At the same time, research shows content marketing increases traffic, costs less and is more effective — generating three times as many leads.
While blogs and video shows have been mainstays of content marketing for years, more brands are experimenting in new forms. Large corporations like eBay are approaching podcast studios such as Gimlet to create story-driven podcasts, while even legacy brands like Rolex are leveraging platforms such as Instagram to create what is essentially a digital catalogue.
The rise of automatic video on Facebook has also attracted small businesses, which can use the platform’s targeted ad platform to reach its customers with the biggest propensity to buy.
Nina Hendy is a professional writer and founder of The Freelance Collective, a directory of freelancers for businesses to hire for content and other creative. She says SMEs embrace content marketing due to the power they hold over the final product.
“Content marketing gives businesses the ability to tell their own story, which can be a very powerful marketing tool given that consumers are switching off more traditional marketing methods,” she says.
“Content marketing gives consumers the ability to fall in love with the business and people behind the business. Or, you can use this marketing vehicle to educate your audience about your business processes, or help them in their own business or life.”
Hendy says businesses need to think carefully about the story proposition they want to deliver, and to make sure that story will “stand by in years to come”.
This also means businesses need to think carefully about the channels through which they share their content, and tailor their message to the platform. For instance, Snapchat and Instagram stories may be better suited to consumable, “behind the scenes” content, rather than more in-depth “how to” knowledge that should sit on YouTube indefinitely and remain searchable.
“The future lies in being able to amplify the story you’re putting out there by leveraging your business relationships to bolster your audience,” says Hendy.
Read the full survey findings in SmartCompany‘s ebook, The SME of the future.