Last week, content marketers descended upon the Huntington Convention Center in Cleveland for Content Marketing World. While plenty of attendees came from big brands, the content proved valuable to companies of all sizes, including SMBs. Breakout sessions ranged from intensive writing advice to using content marketing technology, and keynotes served as anchors with useful nuggets of information.

Linda Boff, chief marketing officer of GE, put it best in her keynote, “Imagination at Work: Lessons in Storytelling from GE.” Good content speaks for itself, but more importantly, “content that tries to sell doesn’t.” In content marketing, the focus isn’t on the product or service for sale. It’s on the customer.

But most SMBs don’t have the budget to be the next Red Bull or the resources to do what big brands do. How do they scale this advice to rise to the top? Content Marketing World speakers answered that question in a variety of ways.

Content Marketing World: Be the exception

Jay Acunzo’s keynote, “Be the Exception: How Brilliant Marketers Find and Follow What Makes Their Stories Different in a World Full of Average Content,” got the crowd about possibilities. No one actually wants to be mediocre; no one wants to be just another Google search result that says the same thing as the others. Instead, follow your intuition, and use experts as possibilities, like Mike Brown did.

Brown owned a coffee company, Saratoga Coffee Traders. He wasn’t making money – he actually had to move back in with his mother. He consulted the experts, and they all pointed to the so-called fatal flaw in his company: he was roasting the wrong type of coffee bean. Instead of roasting the tastier (but weaker) arabica, he roasted robusta, which yields more caffeine. One day, one of his regular customers, a truck driver, asked for the strongest coffee he could brew. Brown noted that a lot of his customers were asking for strong coffee, not flavorful coffee with hints of peach. So Brown decided to create the world’s strongest coffee with his robusta beans. The brand? Death Wish Coffee.

Today, Brown’s little coffee roasting company sells millions all over the world and boasts a passionate social media following. He followed his intuition, going after the customers that want more energy, more time, and the ability to work harder.

“When we question conventional thinking using our own context, we make better decisions, faster,” Acuzno said.

That translates to content marketing by taking the resources you have and paying attention to what the customer wants. In B2B software, a customer rarely wants the coolest new features. Customers want something deeper: the ability to close out the month-end faster and with more accuracy. So to find the answers, Acuzno advised asking questions about you, your audience, and your resources:

  • What is your aspirational anchor?
  • Why are you the person/team to do it?

And for small businesses, remember that constraints actually help marketers deliver. When you have a limited set of resources, you’re able to work inside them.

Feeding multiple channels on a budget

Nowhere were constraints more obvious than at Visit Sacramento. The tourism arm of the City of Sacramento, Calif. did not have a large budget,  but it needed to entice tourists and businesses to the historic city nestled in the center of the state. Its chief marketing officer, Sonya Bradley, started with a content foundation to boost tourism. In her breakout session at Content Marketing World, Bradley offered practical advice for other organizations starting with a small budget.

“Everything is a process,” Bradley said. “We’re always iterating.”

Visit Sacramento markets to both B2B and B2C customers, and according to Bradley, the organization adopted different platforms for each. B2C marketing uses a lot of visual elements on social media, while B2B leverages an email newsletter.

Bradley’s team created content pillars around the key themes of Sacramento tourism, including family fun, farm-to-fork dining, attractions, history and culture, recreation like nearby whitewater rafting, and meeting facilities for businesses. This content populates various channels. An editorial calendar helps ensure every pillar of content is accounted for when publishing. Visit Sacramento has three blogs, two hosted on WordPress and one on a proprietary platform. That’s then used for social media posts as well. Bradley also cited a promotion to create user generated content. The city gave away two tickets to a tomato festival in a drawing, in return for entrants that

Bradley also cited a promotion to create user generated content. The city gave away two tickets to a tomato festival in a drawing, in return for entrants answering a question about their favorite things about eating in Sacramento. This not only provided content the city could use going forward but also valuable insight into what tourists were saying – and for the cost of a couple of tickets to a local festival.

The goal has been to increase the numbers of hotel rooms booked and private revenue. By all accounts, the content strategy enacted by Bradley and her team is working.

Other sessions at Content Marketing World offered even more advice on content strategy, content marketing, video, social media, and related topics. As with everything, this advice could be scaled for smaller companies. Lunch and Learns packed even more information into the day and provided actionable tools for attendees. Exhibitors on the show floor demonstrated technology and tools to make content marketing easier, including email marketing and interactive content.

For SMBs looking for more marketing knowledge, don’t be intimidated by the size of Content Marketing World. It’s a great place to get tools to bring back to the company – in the introductory session, Joe Pulizzi even offered a presentation template to use to present ideas to your team. If there’s one content marketing conference you attend, Content Marketing World needs to be at the top of the list.

Note: This was my first Content Marketing World, and it was truly amazing. Everyone was so nice! Maybe it’s the midwest, or maybe it’s because of all the orange, but it’s such a fun conference. Also, a special thank you to Mo, Cathy McPhillips, and Joe Pulizzi for making me feel so welcome and loved. The simple kindnesses you extended to me went a long way.