Media has changed.
It used to be that startups couldn’t buy media. TV, print or radio remained inaccessible to early-stage companies for simple budget reasons but also know-how and complexity. It also used to be really hard for startups to earn media. When I became an entrepreneur close to 15 years ago, right after the internet bubble exploded, no reporters wanted to hear about startups anymore and tech blogs didn’t exist yet. It took achievements to get covered, and revenue to buy media, which caught a lot of startups in a chicken-and-egg catch-22.
Web 2.0 completely changed the way media is consumed and distributed creating new opportunities for businesses in general – and startups in particular – to generate visibility. Startups can (and must) become their own media. Fragmented attention is killing established media but it’s a benediction for long tail players, as consumers have more ways than ever to zoom in on their interests. The real change that’s been called content marketing is not about the ability for a few brands to become renowned media outlets; the Michelin Guide did that almost a century before the internet. It’s the ability for niche media to reach extremely targeted audiences through a combination of SEO and social media distribution that is really new.
You’ve known it all along: few people can tell your story better than you do (and spoiler alert: those reporters you’d give anything to be covered by won’t tell it the way you want them to anyway). So why not tell the story yourself? Think about it: the only thing that prevented this from being practical was finding distribution. But now you can.
You’ve heard about lean startups, right? Well, marketing also became lean, which means it is now:
- scalable: no need to spend a $50,000 minimum on your first campaign anymore; you can start small and grow;
- measurable: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half” is no longer true. You can track, measure and analyse to separate what works from what doesn’t;
- experimentable: traditional marketing required not only money but also time and complexity. Now you can get started with online tools in a few minutes or hours and try out for yourself;
- leverageable: this is probably the most important part. Becoming a media would remain tough and out of scope for startups if there weren’t many ways to piggyback on existing resources and audiences. But through guest blogging, content curation and good community management, startups can get way more return for their content efforts.
So how do you make that happen?
Here are 3 basic things that every entrepreneur should consider.
1. Break down your pitch into landing pages that convert
You must have done your pitch a million times already, right? You start by describing a target person then you talk about how miserable they are with problem X and finally you explain how your solution solves problem X in such an elegant way that we all want to cry out of relief for your soon-to-be-not-miserable-anymore person.
It’s a great story and you know how to handle objections, questions and feedback from your audience. Based on who they are and how much thinking they’ve done on problem X, their questions are different. And you’re also not doing the same pitch if you have 1 minute, if you have 5 minutes or if you’re meeting for 30’.
The problem with website visitors is that you don’t get to be in front of them; you have to hand the job over to your website. While you can’t overload your home page with answers to each and every objection or questions, here’s what you can do: break down your pitch into as many landing pages as you need. Use tools like Unbounce to create them without even having to code. Make them as long as needed to really hand hold your visitors through the entire articulated and convincing argument.
Add clear call-to-actions so that these landing pages can not only convince but also convert.
A/B test several versions to optimize conversions.
2. Don’t just create content: breathe content
Now that you have landing pages that tell the pitch exactly as you would to your potential users or customers, how do you actually get those potential customers there?
Publish content that has value or is useful to your target audience.
Wait… how can I publish a lot of content and run a startup? It’s a good question. Plus, if you try to become a full-time blogger, you will fail as an entrepreneur.
First, make it a mindset. If you look at it more closely, there are constant opportunities to leverage things you already do such as writing emails or answering support questions: seize them. This blog post for instance was one of our most successful posts back when we published it but it originated as an internal email: I wanted to check on how we were doing on our email campaigns so I dove into our Mailchimp analytics and put the data together to share with the rest of the team. All I did was write it in a way that made sense for readers outside of the company et voila: it became a blog post that was useful to our target audience. The same goes for a number of support questions which – more often than not – are useful to more users than the person who emailed you. Make them FAQ’s using tools such as UserVoice.
Second, make it collaborative. Get others to create content for you: people in your team (content should be everybody’s job), but also your first power users who can write about their experience with the product. Even if it’s a short testimonial, this is precious: grab it. And you can start building up on those when you have a few.
Finally, you can and should leverage what you already read through publishing-by-curation (disclosure: that’s what Scoop.it helps you to do). If you’re passionate about what you do, you regularly consume a lot of blogs, videos or infographics on your market. Because you’re an expert (yes, you are: as a pioneering entrepreneur, you have to be), you can easily pick the good stuff from the bad. Beyond that, you probably also have an opinion on it: don’t waste this. Publish the curated content you found useful to your target audience as links and enrich them with your own thoughts. You might think they’re only worth 2 cents but trust me, these 2 cents are worth a lot more to people trying to understand what’s going on in your industry. Again, with the right mindset, this will come naturally and you’ll be publishing daily before you realise it.
Now whatever you do to create content, tie that back to point number 2: make sure most of your content is published in a content hub that includes call-to-actions to drive traffic to your landing pages. As much as your content should not be about yourself or your product, you should make it clear for your readers where to follow up with your company and these are what your landing pages are now for.
3. Distribute and leverage existing distribution
“Content is king but distribution is queen and she wears the pants” – Jonathan Perelman, BuzzFeed.
Of course, the first distribution method that comes to mind is social media. But sharing everything you publish is just the basics: just like radios don’t play good music hits once, you should air your content several times on Twitter and also repurpose some old but successful posts (as Buffer does with great success). Don’t assume your readers are always connected on Twitter: we’re all quickly scanning stuff and reading summaries anyway. And you can be smart about it: edit titles to change the angle, use a different visual.
Email newsletters seem old-fashioned but they’re essential to properly distribute your content. And if you’ve done #2 well, your newsletters won’t be spam but content your targeted audience actually enjoys receiving. Don’t forget to add social sharing buttons to it so that your subscribers amplify your social media distribution.
All of this is great but as you get started you don’t have many followers or email subscribers beyond your friends and family, right? The thing is that there are some existing audiences out there you can leverage. So beyond sharing to your own social profiles, you can also:
– pitch other blogs to publish your content, which – for the reason listed in #2 – will be interested in publishing your content if it’s good and matches their audience interest;
Of course there’s a trade-off: when using other people’s audiences, you can’t control your call-to-actions or conversions as efficiently and this content will generate fewer leads. But, it will help you get exposure from a much larger audience and also from an audience that doesn’t know you yet: an audience beyond your social media followers and your subscribers.
By doing all the above consistently, you’ll see little rivers of traffic from all these channels add up and you’ll also start to generate search traffic without even thinking about SEO techniques (most of which having been made obsolete by Google algorithm’s changes anyway, the new rule being simply: publish good content).
By leveraging these lean content techniques, you have an opportunity to build a basic inbound marketing strategy fueled with content at limited costs. Try it.
Top photo: Decugis speaking at LeWeb’11 Paris – Credit: @LudoFJ