Many small- and medium-sized enterprises power their sales and marketing funnel with content marketing.
Relying on paid ads alone is simply too expensive for most small and midsize businesses. Plus, SMB businesses tend to have actively involved founders and subject matters experts – so they have a lot of wisdom to impart.
But where should you focus your content marketing, to serve both potential customers and their marketing funnel? We bring you specific examples from peers to inform your strategy in this article. Read on for marketing case studies with a small blog, outdoors DTC brand, and kettlebell company.
This article was published in the MarketingSherpa email newsletter.
In Sales Funnel Planning: Three ways to diagram and densify the force of your value proposition, Flint McGlaughlin, CEO, MECLABS and MarketingSherpa, taught how to analyze your value proposition. Of the six steps, this one in particular stood out to me – “This is an experience they want now with something that can’t be found anywhere else,” he said.
This statement can not only help you analyze the value prop for your product and offer, but for the content that attracts customers into your funnel to begin with.
Content marketing has become brutally competitive. And small- and medium-sized businesses are especially challenged with having the time and resources to produce content that will stick out in the marketplace and attract an audience. To do that, your content must have a value prop, and as Flint mentioned, your content’s value prop should have an element of exclusivity.
To help you develop just such a content marketing strategy, in this article we bring you three case studies to help you answer these three questions:
“I research and write long-form content around WordPress and Shopify,” said Pulkit Bharwaj, Ecommerce Content Writer and Founder, BoutiqueSetup. But he had some free time, so he started to run a small blog.
“After doing the basics of setting up a site, I started with keyword research guides and followed the exact steps told by the online marketing experts,” Bharwaj said. “So I followed the guide and found keywords around my expertise which are Shopify and WordPress.”
After finding a pretty good keyword which had very low competition, like ‘Shopify bundle apps,’ he created a post on the topic, covering everything covered by competitors on the first page of search engine results. After following the same strategy for two to three posts, building some backlinks, and waiting for the results, the site never gained traction.
That’s where he realized the problem. He had the low-competition keywords but not the low-competition space.
After coming to this conclusion, he started another small blog – BoutiqueSetup. To make sure that he could find a low-competition space, he thoroughly studied his audience base. In this case, he started with a target audience he knew – ecommerce business that wanted extensions for adding a feature to their website and help guides for fixing store issues. “Shopify apps are extensions used by ecommerce stores for adding features like popup pages, tracking, and so on,” Bharwaj said.
But he realized the same ecommerce stores also look for suppliers for adding to their product catalog. And by creating content around suppliers in a specific industry niche, he thought he could find an audience based in a less competitive content space.
So, he found low-competition keywords and created longtail-keyword-based posts aimed at ecommerce store owners looking for jewelry suppliers. For instance, to target ecommerce businesses in the jewelry niche, he used keywords like ‘private label jewelry manufacturers.’
The competition was almost the same as before, but the process of acquiring and tapping into a new audience base, and then converting them to different affiliate networks, was much easier.
While the old blog still had zero traction, he was able to generate good revenue by attracting ecommerce entrepreneurs with supplier-based keywords and then suggesting relevant suppliers with affiliate networks. “For example, we redirected businesses looking for suppliers to one of the popular clothing-supply companies, Printful,” Bharwaj said.
This strategy of choosing the right space to compete in and then outranking competitors has generated the following results within the first few months:
To help find the right space to target, Bharwaj created a content map based on relevancy of the topic and wrote down different angles for the topic.
Creative Sample #1: Jewelry niche content map
He created the content map using the following three-step process.
When Bharwaj realized he needed to choose a vertical focus within ecommerce, he first determined the niche he wanted to focus on to know who to target. You might choose an audience based on your experience or interests, or simply an area you have the passion to research and explore. After going through these steps, you might determine that audience is over-served and does not present a good opportunity, so you choose another audience.
Bharwaj chose to focus on jewelry. “To start an Amazon affiliate website on jewelry, the target audience will be people interested in different kinds of jewelry,” he said.
Next, he narrowed down the jewelry niche to the low-competition keywords using keyword research tools. In his case, general jewelry topics have strong competition, so he looked into other angles of jewelry – supply chain, jewelry types, countries where jewelry is more popular, etc.
By studying the supply chain, he found that competition is pretty limited among manufacturers, wholesalers, and other supplier types.
At this point he had a target audience in the jewelry niche (suppliers) and its competition was pretty limited, but he needed to get an understanding of the target audience before he got started to help him create content in the target area. “It’s as simple as heading to Google and studying the entire [jewelry supply chain] process,” Bharwaj said.
In this case, jewelry suppliers can be further sub-categorized, i.e. wedding jewelry suppliers, wholesale jewelry suppliers, and so on. He then searched each of these keywords using a keyword tool and came up with the least competitive list of keywords. He even added geo-targeting – jewelry manufacturers in the UK, USA, and so on.
His goal is to start from this micro-niche and diversify as he gains authority on the subject.
Retrospec has attracted nearly 60,000 followers on TikTok. “We are a medium-sized company and new to TikTok – less than one year on the platform – so these numbers are big to us, especially when compared to where we were this time last year,” said Ely Khakshouri, Founder and CEO, Retrospec.
Here’s what the team from the outdoors direct-to-consumer company has learned through trial and error.
The team discovered that product-focused content, overtly centered around specific products the company sold, did not perform well.
“Since we're a DTC company, we originally thought of organic social media as another platform to promote our products. Like free advertising, essentially. We've even seen product-focused content from other brands take off, so we attempted to replicate that success and learned pretty quickly that ‘success’ on social media looks different for every brand,” Khakshouri said.
Creative Sample #2: Product focused TikTok video from outdoors DTC company
The team discovered that videos that have their products in it but are more about the people behind the brand work better.
In the beginning, they were just experimenting with office content when they had their first video go ‘viral.’ “When we had three TikToks in a row get more than 10x as many views as our previous 20, we made the decision to pivot and start putting a heavier focus on office content,” Khakshouri said.
After even more trial and error, they finally hit their stride, and their videos went from consistently getting thousands of views to getting tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands, and a dozen or so standout hits have reached numbers in the millions.
Some of the most engaged-with content involves creating “moments” for the audience to be part of. They use a ‘show, don’t sell’ strategy with a lot of our content. The most viral videos show their products, office, and team without directly saying, ‘buy our products.’ Successful videos of this type one to three million views, and 50,000 to more than 200,000 likes and comments.
Creative Sample #3: People-focused TikTok video from outdoors DTC company
The team has taken the same approach on Instagram. They incorporate team dynamics and personalities in their content, and the audience has responded to the realness—and, at times, silliness—that they put in their videos. For example, they’ve seen more than four million views on videos of the social team around the office.
Creative Sample #4: People-focused Instagram video from outdoors DTC company
The team listened to its audience. When people engaged with them, the team engaged back by responding to comments and even taking their suggestions for future content.
This is helpful because the team concepts and produces everything in-house with a “small-but-mighty social team.” to credit for making all of it possible. “Without their talent, creativity, and nuanced understanding of the platforms we use, we'd probably still be sitting at square one, or we might not even have thought to start a TikTok account in the first place,” Khakshouri said.
“Our views, engagement, and followers boomed after shifting the focus of our social media strategy to relatable, short-form video content, and we were able to build up our following on TikTok (our newest platform) from under 100 to nearly 60,000 in a matter of months. On Instagram, this strategy increased our average engagement rate by 367% compared to the previous year and allowed our content to reach 41 million users,” he said.
Original Kettlebell, an ecommerce store selling gym equipment, was set up when the COVID-19 global pandemic hit. With gyms closed and supply from China disrupted, there was huge demand for UK-made kettlebells.
In this rapidly changing environment, the team needed a website and content strategy to cut through the noise and get a brand new website into fighting shape as quickly as possible.
“The business started by selling on Facebook and Google ads. This was going well, but the ad costs significantly fluctuated, and as the margins were tight, there was a real risk of losing money — especially in such a volatile market,” said Sam Franklin, Founder, Original Kettlebell.
“With a background in SEO, I knew that we needed to pivot to organic if we wanted longevity and consistency in our COGS (Cost of Goods Sold),” Franklin said.
Initially, the blog and website pages were simple text-only pages. They may have gotten a bit of organic traffic, but it was clear they didn’t fully answer the customer's pain point.
Creative Sample #5: Text from original website page on kettlebell website
“The team was flat-out manufacturing and supplying kettlebells,” Franklin said. “We wanted to be laser-focused on speed to market, creating only the essential pages and not wasting our time on secondary pages or features.”
Keyword research was the first step to plan the architecture and content for a minimum-viable product website that could attract Original Kettlebell’s ideal customer.
“The search for kettlebells is broken down really well. For example, inside ‘exercises,’ there are long(ish) tail keywords, e.g., ‘chest kettlebell exercises,’ with a 6 KD [keyword difficulty], 700 search volume, and traffic potential of 900,” said Rebecca Hey, Founder, Strategically (Original Kettlebell’s SEO content writing service).
When the team Googled “chest kettlebell exercises,” they found plenty of video results at the top of the page. “It was clear that video needed to be part of the strategy to compete with the other websites in the top spots,” Hey said.
The team created custom-made videos with an expert teaching kettlebell training moves and workouts. The videos had titles like “Top 5 Kettlebell Chest Exercises” and “Kettlebell Exercise: Kettlebell Single Arm Swinging.” Not only did the videos help with their SEO, but it also positioned them as the experts in the field and built trust.
“After understanding the importance of video on the landing pages, we aimed only to create pages that were valuable to the customer, adding images, videos, step-by-step tutorials, and anything else we could think of,” Franklin said.
Creative Sample #6: Video on new kettlebell website page
The team received more than 11,000 organic video views with zero promotion or ad spend, and the video-driven SEO strategy helped take them from zero revenue to more than £1 million in less than a year.
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