David and Goliath content marketing

Top 100 Content Marketing Question: How to do content marketing with a very small team?

It’s all about David and Goliath content marketing

In a recent workshop, I heard this question: How do you implement an effective content marketing strategy with a very small team, and keep up with fresh content?

This is one of marketers’ Top 100 Questions about content marketing. Here are the answers.

Look at size and scale constraints as an advantage in content marketing, because they force you to focus. To make your small team into an advantage, do David and Goliath content marketing.

To succeed with a small team, focus on your advantages. Be bold. Be controversial. Be quick.

A small guy can beat the big guy. In this David and Goliath battle, content marketing is your slingshot. And small guys have many natural advantages.

Understand how Goliaths work

Big companies have the fantastic advantage of rich resources: more people, more money, a stronger brand. But as I saw working inside several Fortune 500 companies, unless they are run nimbly, big companies get bogged down. Sheer size creates blind spots.

One blind spot is that big companies tend to do things in a big way. They assign big teams and big budgets, and they expect big results fast.

Big companies often start content marketing by deploying a bunch of tactics because they can:

  • Social Media
  • E-Newsletters
  • Articles
  • Blogs
  • In-Person Events
  • Case Studies
  • Videos
  • Illustrations
  • Photos
  • White Papers
  • Mass Media
  • Online Presentations
  • Infographics
  • Webinars
  • Webcasts
  • Research Reports
  • Microsites
  • Mobile Apps
  • Branded Content Tools
  • Print Magazines.

In fact, as the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) found in its study, B2B marketers deployed an average of 13 tactics in 2015. Twelve tactics sound like the Goliath approach to content marketing.

Who’s great at juggling 12 things? Especially when content marketing is in start-up or development mode?

Going too wide too early leads to people tripping all over themselves and learning lessons the hard way. That’s why companies are wising up: CMI’s latest study found that B2B marketers had reduced the number of tactics by a third in just one year, from 12 to 8.

Yet even 8 tactics may be too many.

As David, focus your content marketing by starting small. Joe Pulizzi advises: focus on one content type, one main platform, and consistent delivery over a long period of time.

Content Marketing Approach
One way David can beat Goliath at content marketing is by focusing solely on building the base.

Robert Rose tells clients to think about how much content you need to produce. “Produce the minimum amount of content to produce the maximum results,” he says.

But that’s just not how Goliaths think.

Getting lost in the Goliath bureaucracy

Another blind spot Goliath has is that big organizations move slowly. The advantage David brings is speed. Small organizations are able to move much faster — which is not to say that they always do.

Organizational complexity and bureaucracy encumber big companies. They struggle with siloes, processes and tools.

Marketers in big companies need to run everything up the ladder and gain many approvals. Big companies often design processes to minimize risk rather than to achieve speed or marketplace advantage.

A David can speed the process in many ways:

  • Gain approval of messaging in advance, using a 1-Page Message Map.
  • Agree to minimize the number of people who have to give an ok.
  • Grant a chief content officer or content editor the power to make real-time decisions.
Virgin Hotel Message Map
Here’s a 1-Page Message Map for the Virgin Hotel Chicago. With your own 1-Page Message Map, you can speed approvals and beat the big guys.

With those powers, a small team can curate news in real time:

  • Tie your brand into the news stories.
  • Share industry stories while injecting your brand.
  • Compliment customers on their news.
  • Comment on competitors’ moves.
  • Share news from distributors, resellers, agents or retailers.

Without real-time decision power (seldom granted to anyone in a big company), it’s almost impossible to newsjack content and get your brand into stories in real time.

Of course, there are rare exceptions like the moment when Oreo newsjacked the Super Bowl power outage and won national attention. Oreo had assembled a team of 15 people who were ready to jump on whatever happened.

Oreo newsjacking Tweet
Oreo newsjacked the Super Bowl with a Tweet.

When the power went out, the team improvised quickly, upstaging others with a Tweet: “Power out? No problem. You can still dunk in the dark.” When the whole country is watching, even a power outage can be news.

I applaud Oreo, but here’s the takeaway for David. You don’t need 15 people to make a Tweet.

Two people with the right skills and authority could do that. As a vice president who has led marketing teams as small as two and as large as 60, I’m absolutely sure of that.

How David can beat Goliath at content marketing

For a small team to succeed, it needs to be strategic, be good at generating content ideas, and have the authority to make editorial decisions quickly.

To start content marketing with a small team, create an editorial mission statement, build a 1-Page Content Marketing Strategy and gain internal agreement. To run your content marketing program, hire an editor, preferably one with a background in news or journalism, who can write, make decisions and publish quickly. Then go!

To get started with content marketing in a company with multiple divisions or product lines, find a place to start in a greenfield.

A greenfield is an untouched market, one that hasn’t seen much marketing investment before. It may be a new product line, a newly acquired company, a new geographic market or an underserved customer segment.

If you can avoid it, don’t build your first content marketing program in a brownfield. Why? When you build in a brownfield, you won’t be able to tell which results came from content marketing and which came from advertising or other marketing activities.

In a brownfield, you can’t cleanly calculate a return on investment (ROI) from content marketing. When content marketing is one of several marketing activities, rather than the only marketing activity, it’s much harder to tell when it’s working.

John Wanamaker's quote
John Wanamaker’s question even applies to content marketing.

When you build in a brownfield, you face John Wanamaker’s dilemma: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

When you introduce content marketing into a market where there’s been little to no marketing before, you can safely attribute all the marketing results to your content. That makes it easier to measure:

  • The inputs going in (staff time and money)
  • The results coming out (qualified leads, customers and revenue)
  • The return on investment (ROI) of your content marketing.

To keep your content fresh and newsy, use Google News, Google Trends and similar tools to monitor news in real time.

Start by curating industry, company and competitor news on your social media streams. Write newsy blogs that tie into current news stories. Even evergreen content attracts new attention when you add today’s news hook.

Tie content to news through newsjacking. Newsjacking means just as it sounds: you hijack a news or trend story to gain media and customer attention for your brand.

Successful newsjacking requires you to monitor news in real time, anticipate future events, improvise, and set up an instant-approval process.

Newsjacking by David Meerman Scott
Newsjacking is one way to make your content more relevant and resonant.

David Meerman Scott, author of the book Newsjacking, shares a story about how an Australian insurance company won news coverage by writing a gimmicky insurance policy, then publicizing it through a news release.

When President Obama visited Australia, the company issued a news release, offering Obama free insurance against a crocodile attack. Since all the reporters were writing about Obama’s visit, a gimmicky story generated outsize news coverage for TIO.

To pursue newsjacking, make a comprehensive list of upcoming events that are expected to occur in your industry — those that affect your company, your customers and even your rivals.

Add events with firm dates to your content calendar, prepare and be opportunistic. If the event dates are uncertain, think through the news angles in advance and prepare as much as you can so you can strike quickly when news breaks.

What’s even more powerful than newsjacking is news-making. What can you do to propel your company into news headlines?

REI Opt Outside
REI challenged customers to Opt Outside instead of shopping on Black Friday.

REI challenged customers to Opt Outside instead of shopping on Black Friday. The retailer arrested attention by launching its #OptOutside movement as an alternative to Black Friday.

REI closed all its stores and encouraged customers to go outside instead of going shopping. That surprising, brilliant counterpoint to the usual Black Friday shopping stories won mega-attention.

What’s more, REI’s unexpected action may have influenced other retailers to close on Thanksgiving Day this year. For example, the Mall of America will be closed on Thanksgiving for the first time since 2012, as will some 50 national retail chains.

Become a news-maker

At Tellabs, where we played David in a David-and-Goliath industry, we created newsy content and tied it to major industry trade shows.

For example, on the first day of major trade shows, we regularly fielded industry surveys on controversial topics. We asked telecom experts questions like this: Did they expect a major outage on the Internet – a blackout or brownout – in the next 3 years?

Nearly half of them did! That made headlines. We compiled and published survey results overnight, enabling a news release on the second day of the show.

Controversy is fantastic for news content. The more controversy, the bigger the story plays in media.

For content marketers, news may be a force for good or for evil. Here are 9 lessons content marketers can learn from the news media.

To succeed with a small team, focus on your advantages. Be bold. Be quick. Be controversial. You can beat bigger teams the way David beat Goliath.

Here’s my SlideShare presentation on David and Goliath content marketing from Content Marketing World.