In the pantheon of buzzwords overtaking pitch decks and CMO-speak, “content marketing” is the new darling. The term has legitimate grounding to be fair, but like “long tail” and “web 2.0” in days past, its overuse precedes it.
Content marketing also isn’t anything new — it’s been done for years, albeit under the ethically challenged “advertorial” rubric among other flavors. Now it’s new, improved, and hitched to en vogue terms like “native.” It’s also gained new steam and identity in the age of mobile and social. Facebook, in particular, can be credited with minting native and content marketing into prominence with the recently affirmed Sponsored Stories.
But what about local? Perhaps there’s no better fodder for “stories” than the character, experiences and milestones of a local business. That indeed seems less contrived than the Nikes and Pepsis of the world.
Capturing that content in monetizable ways is analogous to what players across the local space have been doing for years in various flavors. That includes MerchantCircle, Angie’s List, Closely, Patch, Yelp, PagePart, and many more. Foursquare has recently taken a different angle in local content marketing with its Promoted Updates and Promoted Specials. These are crafted in the mold of Facebook’s Sponsored Stories but with a local twist.
Then there are SMB opportunities to capture and distribute marketable “content” through Twitter, Facebook or even blog posts (i.e. “how to fix a sink”). The problem, as it often goes with SMBs, is that they don’t have the time.
That’s where companies like HubSpot and Signpost, as well as some of the above players come in. Here, an opportunity awaits if content marketing can be personalized, yet automated enough to preserve margin among low-spending SMBs. This can involve curating third party content and creating shorter-form content that can be shared easily. The need especially exists when the above “time starved” SMB challenge is joined by “content starved”.
“I don’t want to read an article from my dry cleaner about the science of cleaning cottons,” said Closely CEO Perry Evans at the recent SMB Digital Marketing Conference. In fact most SMBs are decidedly unsexy (HVAC anyone? It gets even more complicated in an increasingly democratized and connected world. The question of whether or not SMBs should engage in content marketing is sometimes pre-empted by the fact that they don’t have a choice.
In other words the capture and distribution of experiences around their venues isn’t being done by them but by their customers — whether they like it or not. We’re talking Yelp reviews, Foursquare check-ins, and the rest. This isn’t a new phenomenon by any means. But growing smartphone penetration (now at 64% in the U.S.) and escalating capabilities (iPhone 5s camera,) equips larger ranks of content-capturing locals, many of whom are becoming more and more accustomed to share. Though that excludes un-sexy home service categories mentioned above (with the exception of capturing finished work a la Houzz), this plays well in high-value categories like restaurants. Cue iPhone-toting foodies.
And it’s not just pictures on Foodspotting or Yelp. Things like Vine and Instagram Video are literally adding additional dimensions to the capture and social sharing of SMB content. Look for Yelp to make moves here as well.
This all boils down to a massive opportunity (or threat) to SMBs whose content marketing is being done for them for better or worse. The question is how is it harnessed by SMBs, or by agencies working on their behalf?
Evans says that that Instagram is now the biggest content source for merchant venues on Closely. These are mostly selfie pics (no twerking, unfortunately), but even that presents an opening: “What does an SMB do with that? Use this content to start a conversation: ‘we want to start a gallery, if we can use your pic, we’ll give you a return visit.'” he poses. “SMBs won’t do it themselves, so that’s an opportunity.”
Mike Boland is senior analyst at BIA/Kelsey, where he heads up the firm’s mobile local coverage. Previously, he was a tech journalist for Forbes, Red Herring, Business 2.0, and other outlets.
Related content: For SMBs, Content Marketing May Not Be So Easy