How content marketing can help SMEs

I recently accompanied my girlfriend to get her hair permed at a salon.

When we got there, the hairdresser introduced us to various perm packages which used different chemicals. But before he could elaborate further, my girlfriend, who had already made up her mind, voiced like a pro that she was opting for a treatment which used the chemical, ammonium thioglycolate, in the pH range of 9-10.

I was bewildered and asked her: ''What was that again and how did you know it?''

She explained that this type of chemical is less harmful for her hair because of its lower pH value.

Nope, she is not a chemistry major or professor. Her knowledge came from a half-hour research session she did before leaving the house. I was impressed.

It turns out, there are others like her. A study by research firm Forrester found that consumers engage with 11.4 pieces of content on average prior to making a purchase.

In other words, consumers become mini-experts by the time they approach businesses or sales people.

There is a valid explanation: This generation received a better education and is comfortable with digesting truckloads of information.

After that episode at the hair salon, I started to connect the dots.

Market disruption in Singapore

This very phenomenon has seen industries getting disrupted in Singapore.

The insurance industry is one of them. We have known for decades that the distribution of insurance policies rely purely on a one channel- direct sales model, just like many other industries. It has worked extremely well for the longest time especially when information wasn't so readily available online.

These days, a dozen or so insurance portals have popped up here to cater to the increasing number of online insurance buyers.

This is not surprising given that online researchers are 50 per cent more likely to go on to make purchases online instead of offline in Singapore.

Given this knowledge, what can small and medium enterprises (SMEs) do about it to prevent themselves from getting replaced? It's all about content marketing.

What is content marketing and how can it help SMEs

I often hear from businesses that their advertisements on Google or Facebook aren't generating results. Here is the surprising truth: No one goes on the Internet to buy a product and in turn contribute to a company's bottom line.

They go to Google or Facebook to solve a problem, consciously or subconsciously.

As a business, if you help people out with your content on those channels, the principle of reciprocity demands that they buy from you in return.

This is because human beings are wired to return favors, according to Dr Robert Cialdini, the author of bestselling book "Influence".

If a site visitor benefits from the free information you provide on your site, they will likely feel the obligation to make a purchase from you.

Sounds idealistic? Let's put it this way. Consumers are smart enough to sniff through the self-promotional claims or sale pricing that is prevalent in conventional advertising.

These days, people want to learn before they buy and be educated instead of being pitched to, as Mr Brian Clark, the chief executive of Copyblogger, the largest content marketing site in United States, asserted.

The opportunity for businesses today is to stand out from their competition by becoming a trusted authority for their consumers.

The rewards are immense.

Take the example of River Pools and Spas which sold swimming pools, the type of business that you think would go on the Internet last.

One day, its adventurous founder, Marcus Sheridan learned about changing consumer behaviour and decided to try something different from his competitors. He wrote and published extensive blog posts on his website, answering all his customers' questions.

One blog post ended up bringing in US$2 million dollars. How? Many people were searching for pool information online and landed on his website.

Some 0.34 per cent of the visitors converted to leads and 2.7 per cent of them turned into customers eventually.

This doesn't sound like a lot, but when you consider the fact that a few hundred thousand people read his content each month, it translated to substantial revenue.

In fact, his website is now the most-visited pool website in the world, generating tons of leads, making him go from rags to riches. He did that without all the cold-calling, TV-advertising and painful prospecting.

Of course, I'm not going to claim that it will be a bed of roses for businesses. What is easy to do is also easy to replicate.

The devil is in the details.

Content marketing is made up of four major steps: content creation; content optimisation; content distribution; and content analytics.

It is also a long-term strategy rather than a quick sales booster. It is for businesses looking at becoming sustainable and dominating the marketplace in the next five to 10 years.

What's the thing about content marketing

In the past, content was distributed only by big media companies using magazines and newspapers. Businesses bought ads on those channels to attract more eyeballs on their products.

Now, anyone can put content and blast it to the world through social media platform.

There is content democratisation of sorts.

In a roundtable discussion on the future of media, Media Development Authority chief executive Gabriel Lim said: "At the end of the day, what matters is content, whether it's a written work, it's a video or a game."

I've probably said this more than once, but people of our time crave for content. This has given birth to a generation of online influencers with huge followings, who are nothing more than individuals with an Internet connection and a laptop, and something to say.

My question: What is to stop businesses from also producing content to gain a following and own their audience?

According to Sheridan, the top five types of content to produce for a business are:

- Cost/Price

- Problems (of customers)

- Comparisons

- Reviews

- "Best of" or "Top #" articles

With the new era, some businesses get left behind and vanish with time, while other businesses rise above the noise.

The opportunity for growth is there. It is a matter of going beyond what is familiar and comfortable and onward to unchartered territory.

Contributor Ted Chong is an advocate of content, a marketer for SMEs, and an experimenter in digital strategies. He blogs at Ice Cube Marketing.

To find out more about content marketing opportunities with SPH, visit BrandInsider