If you’ve got the marketing budget of Red Bull and can afford to launch a human cannonball from outer space, you’re going to get some attention. But what if you’re a little mum-and-pop small business, simply trying to get a bit more attention through the digital space? Well, I’ve got some good news for you. Content marketing is not the exclusive domain of mega-budget multinationals. Don’t take my word for it though – check out these five real-life examples of content-savvy SMEs.
Planting the seeds of a life-long passion: Leaf, Root & Fruit
Industry: Garden Supplies and Maintenance
Leaf, Root & Fruit is the brainchild of Melbourne-based green thumb Duncan Cocking. Driven by a desire to help people grow and maintain edible gardens, Cocking gave up his “comfortable, office based career” to set the company up in 2014. In keeping with his belief that everyone should be able to grow their own food, Cocking produces a blog, a monthly gardening newsletter and maintains Facebook and Pinterest accounts packed full of useful gardening-related information.
The blog features recipes, gardening tips, seasonal planting guides, events, news and quotes. All of the gardening advice pieces conclude with a call to action inviting readers to contact Leaf, Root & Fruit for help with their edible gardening needs. The company’s Facebook page not only acts as a distribution channel for the blog, but also features funny gardening memes, behind-the-scenes updates on Leaf, Root & Fruit’s harvests, and cute and awe-inspiring videos. Fans are also encouraged to send in pics of their own edible gardens. The company’s Pinterest page mainly centres around an ‘edible gardening inspiration’ board, with a combination of pins from Leaf, Root & Fruit’s own and others’ work. It also features a week-by-week update on the company’s Giant Edible Trellis Project.
Cocking’s content marketing efforts were not initiated by a desire to bring in business. “I just wanted to inspire and support people to grow their own food. I love gardening and growing food, so for me it’s fun and easy to write about it,” he says. Cocking’s combination of passion and expertise is a formula that’s paying dividends. “The digital stuff is a great validation tool when people are researching to see whether they will hire me,” he says. “Many of my clients have commented that they made the decision to call me based on my website.”
Milking the power of online: Black Milk Clothing
Industry: Women’s Clothing
With a staff of around 220 people, Black Milk can hardly be classified as an SME anymore but it is worthy of inclusion as an example of the phenomenal potential of content marketing in growing a small business.
Black Milk’s is a classic story of rags to riches – in the most literal sense of the phrase. It began just six years ago as the solo enterprise of a serial entrepreneur with a sewing machine. Brisbane-based James Lillis was broke and working “odd jobs” when he decided to cash in his CD player at the local pawnshop for a sewing machine and teach himself how to sew. With limited funds, he bought the cheapest fabric he could find – nylon lining – and started making bright, quirky leggings. He tried to sell them at markets but would barely sell enough to cover his site fees and coffee for the day. Meanwhile, he started writing about the things he was making in a blog called Too Many Tights. He quickly built up a loyal following, online demand for his leggings soared and his market days became history.
That was 2009. These days, Black Milk sells more than 100 garments a day, including leggings, swimsuits, skater skirts and t-shirts, featuring characters from Star Wars, the Harry Potter series, The Lord of The Rings, The Hobbit, Adventure Time and DC Comics.
Key to Black Milk’s success has been engaging with its evangelistic fan base through social media. From the early days, Black Milk has used fan feedback to inform its designs, and has used hashtags to encourage the trend started by its customers of taking selfies wearing the brand’s clothing. This strategy of allowing the label to be showcased on ‘real women’ has helped fuel brand loyalty and create a sense of camaraderie among fans – to the point where there are now more than 80 private Facebook sites promoting the brand and regular in-person meet-ups.
Leading the way with thought leadership: Pod Legal
In an industry that’s not known for its progressive marketing strategies, Pod Legal has used content to establish itself as a thought leader in the areas of intellectual property, technology law and social media law. Led by husband and wife team Jamie and Karan White, Pod Legal was created in 2010 and has now become a thriving practice with offices in Melbourne and Brisbane, and business interests in over 42 countries.
Pod Legal uses a range of content formats – including articles, eBooks, FAQs, tweets, ‘Ask a Lawyer’ updates on Facebook and even cartoons (‘PodToons’) – to answer common legal questions. Interestingly, for subject matter with no obvious point of visual interest, the company also has active Pinterest and Instagram accounts. Images are designed to look like ‘sticky notes’ with tips, facts and links to relevant articles. The brand’s Pinterest boards include focus areas such as trade marks, copyright and social media; links to blogs, eBooks and PodToons; and other points of interest such as ‘Brands we work with’, ‘In the media’ and ‘Things we love’.
Pod Legal’s successful strategy hinges on giving just enough away through its content to be useful and build a following, while keeping itself top of mind when prospective clients need more tailored advice.
Recruiting top talent with top content: Firebrand Talent
Founded in October 2010, award-winning recruitment firm Firebrand Talent is one of the original trailblazers of content marketing. Firebrand specialises in the digital, creative, marketing and communications space, so it made sense for the company to immerse itself in content marketing. According to CEO Carolyn Hyams, focusing on blogging and social media also made sense from a budgeting perspective.
Hyams describes the company’s blog as the “Central Station” of its content marketing, but adds that “you can’t just have a blog and expect people to see your stuff – you really need to make sure you are present on every platform that your target audience are on”. For Firebrand, this is basically everything – from LinkedIn to Facebook and Pinterest to YouTube. At the time of writing, one YouTube clip (‘Interview Tip: What is Your Weakness?’) had received more than 700,000 views. A key tool in Firebrand’s content arsenal is also its continually updated eSalary Survey.
Firebrand’s blog is a treasure trove of advice and information on job seeking, tips for employers and thought leadership commentary from industry leaders. Inviting expert contributors to guest blog has been a pivotal part of the strategy, and has enabled Firebrand to maintain the blog’s momentum and credibility, without overstressing internal resources. The company also maximises its investment in content by rescheduling blog posts (with altered headlines) across different social media platforms over a six-month period. Firebrand employees are strongly encouraged to distribute content through their own social media networks, giving the content even further reach. There are no strict social media policies – Hyams’ theory is that if you hire the right people, you should be able to trust them to be responsible advocates for the brand.
Opening the book on property investment: Open Wealth Creation
Industry: Property investment
Awarded BRW’s 13th fastest growing Australian company in 2014, Open Wealth Creation is clearly kicking goals with content. The company’s team of property specialists guide people in building property investment portfolios in the Australian market. As CEO Cam McLellan explains, “Our philosophy is that once you become an educated, experienced investor you have a responsibility to pass on what you’ve learned.” This spirit of knowledge sharing is also what underpins the company’s successful content strategy.
Like Pod Legal, Open Wealth Creation has positioned itself as an authority in its field by giving away generous snippets of its advice and expertise. As well as maintaining a regular blog and Facebook page, the company offers several free lead generation tools in the form of things like a mini guide to property finance, a mini guide to ‘good debt’, a 13-part video education series on wealth generation, and a free chapter download of Cam’s book ‘My 4-Year Old Property Investor’. As of March 2014, they have also been producing a regular ‘Property Wealth Workout Of The Day’ clip on YouTube, with some of the most popular clips featuring topics such as ‘Finding the property investment deal of a lifetime’ and ‘Top 10 property investment mistakes’.
CONTENT TIPS FOR SMEs
- Don’t feel that you have to create everything from scratch. Many brands have built successful models based on content curation (think BuzzFeed or Upworthy), and inviting guest bloggers to write for them (a win-win as you get content while they get additional exposure).
- Accept that you have to give a little to receive. Content is only going to work if it adds value. So be prepared to be quite generous with your knowledge. Spamming followers with overly product-focused content will turn them off following your brand.
- Maximise your content mileage. Think about repurposing (e.g. turning a series of related blogs into an ebook) and rescheduling (i.e. don’t be afraid to tweet or Facebook a link to something more than once – just change the headline/hook).
- Put your fans to work. Inviting followers to submit user-generated content (such as selfies with your products, or reviews) adds to your content bank while simultaneously strengthening brand loyalty.
- Don’t overcommit yourself. Content is like exercising. If you go too hard too early, you’re not going to make the distance.
- Be prepared to change direction. Pay attention to your analytics and don’t be too proud to alter your approach.
- Have a bit of fun with it! Brands that let a bit of personality shine though in their content are more often the ones that generate good followings. And if you’re going to commit to this content marketing thing, you don’t want it to be dull, do you?