This article originally appeared in the January 2016 edition of TAB magazine. It is reprinted here with the permission of the American Chamber of Commerce Thailand. You can download a PDF version of the magazine for free here.
Crafting a unique brand identity in previous generations meant hiring a Madison Avenue advertising agency to create TV, radio and newspaper advertisements for your company. The prohibitive cost of accessing these media platforms meant that SMEs were generally excluded from the process and had to limit their marketing efforts to parochial activities, such as distributing flyers locally.
However, the digital revolution which has taken place over recent years has meant that even the smallest company can now potentially reach a huge audience online. Digital content marketing allows for low-cost, two-way interaction with customers like never before, enabling you to drive sales, articulate your company’s unique story, build positive associations with your brand, and differentiate from your competition. The best part is that a successful digital marketing campaign can be successfully implemented using freely available tools.
In the internet’s salad days of the late 90s, blogging was cool. For the first time, individuals were able to bypass traditional media and potentially get their message out to the whole world. I even kept a blog in my teenage years, although I never could figure out how to get anybody outside of my family to read it! While the popularity of maintaining a personal blog declined in the early 00s, the practice never really went away, and many writers with talent and unique stories have built successful careers from humble blogging origins.
The arrival of Myspace in 2003 was indicative of the changing nature and potential of the internet as it allowed people to connect and share images and videos with friends all over the world; this shift to greater interactivity laid the foundations for the highly-social and interactive internet we know today. The higher-speed internet connections which enabled these developments also made digital commerce feasible, and suddenly a number one ranking on Google was potentially worth millions of dollars.
Google’s algorithms determine which websites rank well, as well as which sites are condemned to languish in the uncharted wilderness beyond the first page of search results. These algorithms give favour to websites which produce new content on a regular basis; therefore, an unexpected by-product of the need to rank on Google has been the return in popularity of blogging for businesses.
There is no charge for hosting a blog on a website. The challenge is deciding what to write. You have full editorial control from the comfort of your desk and, as one of the main reasons people choose SMEs is for the personal touch, you should use a professional but conversational tone in your writing. Although achieving the ideal authoritative tone – while also appearing friendly and approachable – can be tricky, try to imagine you’re writing as you would speak in a business meeting: a more formal register than in casual conversation for sure, but focused on the objective of delivering your message as clearly and concisely as possible.
You are already an expert in your field; the secret is to find a way to impart this expertise to your audience in a way that defines your brand’s identity and builds interest and hype around your product or service. If you offer professional services, then advise potential customers on contemporary and evergreen topics in order to build your credibility as an industry thought leader. It takes time for thought leadership initiatives to bear fruit, but if done well, people will look to you and your firm for analysis of emerging trends, keeping your name at the forefront of their mind when it comes time to purchase goods and services.
Many companies choose to publicize their key branding messages through their CEO’s blog, and larger companies benefit from having their executive team blog about a variety of topics which cover their distinct fields of expertise. SMEs can also use this strategy to appear much larger than they really are by having key members of staff write thought leadership blog articles. However, it is a little-known, but unsurprising, fact that, due to their busy schedules, a lot of executive blog content produced by major firms is actually ghost-written.
Employing a ghost-writer ensures a unified brand message is maintained and that publishing deadlines are always met. This writer can be an existing employee or subcontracted through an outside copywriting firm,but they must have a thorough understanding of a brand’s message and tone, as well as of the writing style and personality of the person they are emulating.
The same principle applies to firms offering more light-hearted products or services. Know your audience and build positive associations by writing about contemporary topics, such as movies, trends, songs or events. This approach shows that you are connected to, and care about, the same things as your audience, and encourages them to engage with your brand by reading, sharing and commenting on your content.
Social Media Marketing
Now that you have your blog article written, it’s time to find an audience. Facebook is the outstanding choice for social media marketing professionals due to its world-class advertising system, which allows for the kind of laser-focused audience targeting that was impossible to achieve just a few years ago. While this system is not well-known to the general public, it enables you to ensure that your content is seen by your target demographics, while ensuring that every cent you spend is bringing in return on investment: sales, downloads, engagement, etc.
Facebook’s marketing tools also provide an abundance of data with each campaign, allowing you to analyze what’s working (and what’s not) and refine your content and target audience each time to maximize the impact of your campaigns. The existence of this data is truly a revolution in marketing. While previously you could only speculate as to which campaigns brought in business, now you can know with absolute certainty exactly who your clients are, exactly how they found you, and exactly what words, images and content brought them to you. This knowledge gives you an immediate pulse on the interests of your customers, and saves you time and money that can instead be spent on fine-tuning future campaigns.
These days many companies have entire departments allocated to digital marketing, reflecting the importance of these social channels for revenue generation, PR and customer service. For the first time in history, advertising is now an interactive process and audiences can now publicly comment, praise and criticize in real-time. Therefore, while missteps can be easily amplified, negative perceptions can also be ameliorated over time, and long-term client relationships can be kindled and grown.
While setting up an entire SMM department may be too much of a drastic first step for an SME, if you are serious about digital marketing then the management of your social media channels needs to be assigned to somebody in your firm who speaks the language of social media and has their finger on the pulse of your brand identity and values. Another option is to outsource the whole content writing and social media marketing process to external professionals. Whatever approach you decide to take, a consistent and coherent brand identity should be maintained across all social platforms, including LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram.
While both LinkedIn and Twitter allow for advertising, neither allows for the precision targeting of Facebook and both are significantly more expensive. Nonetheless, these channels should not be ignored. LinkedIn is an excellent tool for networking with B2B connections, and Twitter is an excellent way to engage in conversations and use hashtags to keep abreast of trending topics.
Instagram is an image-hosting website, which has become very popular in recent years, especially since it was acquired by Facebook. Because of this acquisition it is now possible to use Facebook’s audience building tool to run precision, ROI-led advertising campaigns on Instagram. You can use Instagram to extract quotes from your blog posts, deliver core branding messages, show testimonials, run competitions, and show the human side of your organisation with pictures of staff and satisfied customers.
SMEs can make a huge impression with a smart content marketing strategy, and it all starts with an on-site blog. One well-written, interesting and helpful blog post can deliver more measurable benefits than an expensive traditional marketing campaign ever could. You are showing your expertise directly to your audience, while also presenting yourself as accessible and approachable. At the same time, almost as a fringe benefit, your Google ranks are improving due to the new content and increase in website visits, meaning that potential clients will be able to find you more easily when searching for your industry.
By driving traffic to your website and social media channels, you are building up an interactive relationship with people who care about your product and like the content you produce, as well as establishing an audience for your future posts and announcements. In 1995 Bill Gates said that the internet was going to be “a marketplace of ideas, experiences, and products,” and this declaration is truer today than ever before.
The digital revolution has changed the way we do business forever. While it was difficult to find an audience online in the 90s, the marketing possibilities available today on social media are immense, and with a smart content marketing strategy, it is now possible for SMEs to outrank MNCs on Google. The new business models made possible by e-commerce have enabled the world’s biggest taxi company to own no cars (Uber), the biggest accommodation provider to own no real estate (Airbnb) and the most valuable retailer in the world to maintain no inventory (Alibaba). Now that news and commerce are data and bytes travelling at light speed, your blog post can travel far and help define your brand’s identity, while increasing your Google rankings, sales and client engagement as it goes.