Is Content Marketing a Viable Strategy for Geographically Restricted Businesses?

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Content Writing

I examine whether content marketing works for geographically restricted businesses.

Content marketing works.  This isn’t news to anyone in marketing – nor to most business owners and C-suite executives.

The idea of shifting from aggressive, shove-it-down-their-throats advertising to much subtler, more effective inbound marketing techniques has taken firm hold over the past fifteen years, and it’s not likely to disappear anytime in the near future.

Despite the popularity of content marketing, there continue to be hold-outs: not every type of business sees value in providing free things to their customers (commodities business and businesses working with governments/large corporations come to mind).

One of those classes of business is the geographically restricted business (GRB).  In this article, we’ll look at what a GRB is and whether content marketing works for them.  Let’s get into it.

What is a geographically restricted business?

A geographically restricted business (GRB) is a business whose serviceable available market (SAM) is limited by geography.

Most service and product businesses will realistically never reach their SAM, but they are theoretically able to.  For example, a small marketing agency who operates digitally might have a SAM comprising every English-speaking business that needs marketing in the world, but they could realistically only service a tiny portion of this (their serviceable obtainable market, or SOM).

A business that doesn’t operate digitally, by contrast, has a SAM that is limited by geography.  This is what we’ll call a GRB.

Examples of GRBs are service-based businesses like hairdressers and restaurants, as well as product-based businesses like shops and supermarkets.

geographically restricted business graph

Local businesses versus GRBs

There is a difference between local businesses and GRBs.  A business needs neither to be small nor local to be geographically limited, although many local businesses are also GRBs.

How Content Marketing Delivers Value

We’ll come back to GRBs in a minute.  Before we start delving into exactly how content marketing might work for them, we need to understand the basics of how content marketing delivers value in a classic setting.

Content marketing – the process of creating free content for the purposes of marketing that inspires, educates or entertains readers – works for a few reasons.

  1. It builds brand awareness.
  2. It’s currently essential for your SEO efforts.
  3. It can target your market before they realise they even have a problem.
  4. It builds brand loyalty.

Content marketing’s biggest and most touted trait is its ability to spread brand awareness far and wide with minimal expenditure on the part of the business.  People will happily spread good content for free, but they’ll rarely go out of their way to talk about how great your brand is on their own.

Content is also a great way of accumulating backlinks (people like linking to helpful/interesting resources), which in turn helps boost your SEO efforts.

Another key ability of content marketing is that it can advertise to consumers before they know they even need to buy something (and possibly even convince them that they do need to buy something).  A stressed-out businessperson probably wouldn’t glance twice at an ad for timeshare, but they’d almost certainly read an article about the impact stress has on their family life, and they might end up reading more interesting, helpful content from the same company, which eventually funnels them towards an explanation of how timeshare can be a way to restore balance to a work-dominated life.

Brand awareness – reaching new audiences – is essential for growth, but brand loyalty -keeping existing customers – is essential for sustainability.  Woolworths and Coles (Australia’s two biggest supermarkets) don’t create recipe-filled magazines so people learn about their brands.  They write to incentivise already-aware customers to shop with them.

Of course, each of the benefits I’ve mentioned is not unique to content marketing.  There are many other ways to generate brand awareness and brand loyalty.  Good PR skills can be used to build backlinks.  You can create brand associations which interlink problems with the brand’s solutions to address awareness-level buyers.

But content marketing does all of these things at once, and it does them affordably and well.  An evergreen piece of content is not like an ad – there’s no huge outlay for creative, no agency retainers, no chunks of budget burned on advertising platforms as the in-house team prays that something resembling a good ROI shows up for their efforts.
A half-decent piece of content might cost a few hundred to create and promote.  It won’t normally create an immediate bump in sales, but it will deliver consistent returns across an extended timeframe – it’s an asset, more than anything else.

Can content marketing work for geographically restricted businesses?

Now we know the basics of how content marketing delivers value, let’s talk about how it works in the context of lead generation for GRBs.

Unlike social media or search ads, which can normally be run on a clicks- or impressions-based pricing model and discontinued at any point, creating a piece of content (research, writing, editing, formatting and upload) requires a one-off outlay, which might be anywhere from $100 to $1,000.

If we look at the average CPC for Google Search Ads (AU$3.47) and the average CPC for Facebook ads (AU$2.22), it’s immediately obvious that content chews up a lot of clicks just to create.

Now we need to consider two other factors: a) that a piece of content typically can’t function well in isolation and b) that you’ll need to invest budget into boosting those posts with advertising and improving your SEO so they get found organically.  You’ll need to create at least one content cluster, devote time to things like content hygiene, constantly fight an uphill battle with SEO, and, of course, keep churning out new content to stay ahead of competitors.

That’s the real cost of content marketing.  It requires a huge amount of time and effort to actually work, with costs that go beyond the cost of creating the content itself.

Content marketing’s strength, however, is scalability.  Content is typically deployed to deliver value organically, so, unlike PPC or other forms of paid advertising, reach and therefore impact is not restricted by budget, but rather by the efficiency of the asset itself.  Content marketing also becomes more affordable as you create more content – secondary considerations like content hygiene and SEO, for example, benefit all your content assets, so, the more you have, the less these actions cost per asset.

This means content can be used to help businesses with small budgets stay visible at a relatively low ongoing but relatively high initial cost (especially in markets that have a high average CPC for PPC ads).  The catch?  It needs a relatively large SAM to be effective.

Here’s an example with two businesses: Chevron Editing, and a fictional hairdressing salon.

The total available demand (TAM) for hair dressing is obviously much, much higher than for the type of specialised marketing we offer.  Theoretically, this means there should be many, many more high-volume search queries for hair dressing than for, say, content strategy.  Even though we can assume many of these queries will be dominated by beauty magazines, there are probably plenty of long-tail keywords a savvy content marketer could target, rank for, and get plenty of traffic for.

So why would content marketing be an inefficient form of marketing for a hairdressing salon?  It’s simple.  The hairdressing salon has an extremely small geographic range, whereas Chevron Editing, a purely digital company, is unrestricted by location.  Consequently, our SAMs are entirely different.

On average, people might be willing to travel a maximum of 25 minutes to visit a hairdresser (although that’s optimistic – BrightLocal found consumers would be willing to travel an average of 14 minutes to visit a hairdresser).  Therefore, to make a single blog post viable, the hairdressing salon would need to rely on consumers within a 25-minute radius searching the target keyword, clicking through, reading it, and then actually making an appointment.  They’d be extremely unlikely to achieve anywhere near enough conversions to offset the cost.

The more budget-efficient options for the salon would be to work on their SEO, run PPC ads, accumulate positive reviews and get mentions in local media.  Content could be used to help customer retention or gain backlinks, but a content-focused strategy would be unsuitable for lead generation.

Considerations: Geographic Range and Population

As with all marketing, there is a point when the cost of content marketing is matched by the numerical value it delivers – in other words, it has an ROI of 1 or 100%.

For many GRBs, content marketing will be unable to achieve an ROI of 1 in a reasonable timeframe, making it a non-viable strategy.  For some businesses, however, this will not be the case.

There is one primary consideration when determining viability: the population within your business’s geographic range.  For example, a hairdressing salon with a geographic range of 25 minutes’ drive might have a SAM of 10,000 people in a suburban setting, but a restaurant in the heart of Sydney with a geographic range of 40 minutes might have a SAM of 150,000 people.

Consequently, the restaurant’s content marketing efforts could elicit action among a much, much larger pool of consumers.  Transient populations like tourists also need consideration – these groups may have a higher need for content (new locations mean a greater need for information), and may be more accessible for GRBs than local populations.

For example, a high-quality Sydney restaurant outputting content targeting both tourists and locals might use its content both for lead gen and PR purposes; the latter typically helps restaurants get more features in restaurant lists and food magazines, which further increases brand awareness (and, subsequently, leads).  In a situation like that, content marketing could well be a viable strategy.

Content Marketing and Customer Retention

Up until this point, we’ve talked about the viability of content marketing as a lead gen strategy for GRBs.  Content can, however, be used as a brand loyalty tool to assist with customer retention.

I mentioned a good example earlier: Coles and Woolworths, Australia’s two largest supermarket chains, using recipe magazines to promote loyalty.  These two supermarket giants are virtually identical in terms of offerings – they have more or less the same pricing, more or less the same range, more or less the same loyalty programs, and so on.  Remove the brand elements, and it would be impossible to tell which store belonged to which brand.

Situations like this, of course, result in customers choosing where to shop based on pricing and convenience – since both brands have constant specials and stores within 15 minutes of almost everywhere, they’ve arrived at a duopoly that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.

So how can Woolworths, for example, get people to choose their stores over Coles stores?  By providing solutions (recipes) to problems (feeding families quickly and affordably) with content, and then selling the means to implement the solution (using specific ingredients from Woolworths).  They even provide these detailed 100+-page magazines for free in both hard copy and online versions – the hard copy is sleek, well-composed and attractive, and having it in-store acts as a kind of real-world lead magnet.

Now, both brands have copied every innovation the other comes up with, including recipe magazines, but, to me, at least, Coles seems to have the upper hand.  Their website and online recipe book are much more user-friendly than Woolworths’s, and their partnership with celebrity chef Curtis Stone seems better publicised and more authentic than Woolworths’s partnership with Jamie Oliver.

woolworths versus coles magazine
Which magazine belongs to which brand? It’s almost impossible to tell.

If I was a parent with a family to feed, I’d probably choose to read Coles’ magazine, and that would probably make me more inclined to shop at Coles.

 

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A post shared by Woolworths (@woolworths_au)

Using content for customer retention is a strategy that’s useful for any GRB with a high customer churn rate or poor brand differentiation – gyms come to mind as an obvious example.  Content doesn’t have to be written, either.  Videos, infographics or even audio can all work, depending on the nature of the brand and its offerings.

Content Marketing and Customer Education

Some GRBs in specialised niches may find that content is not viable as a lead gen strategy, and also pointless for customer retention, as there are no competitors within their geographic range.

For these businesses, content might be useful for customer education and onboarding.  Having content which can educate prospects and customers about the benefits or usage of a product or service can often help persuade them to convert, make their onboarding process easier or reduce customer service time.

Many businesses – not just GRBs – use content like this.  A classic example: Microsoft Office’s Help and Training portal.  The purpose of this content is not to increase brand awareness or foster brand loyalty, but rather to reduce the volume of support calls Microsoft has to deal with.

This isn’t a ‘lazy’ solution that de-prioritises the customer either, but a smart one – it saves the customer time waiting on an overloaded support team, makes finding solutions much easier (a few clicks versus a phone call/chat and a conversation with a CS staff member), caters to customers with conditions that might impact their ability to contact support, and saves the company a huge amount of time and money.

Conclusion

Ultimately, the viability of content marketing for GRBs is dependent on a number of different factors.

Use as a lead gen strategy depends on geographic range and population density (and whether other marketing strategies might be more effective).

Use as a customer retention tool depends on whether customer churn rate is high enough to merit action.

Use as a customer education tool depends on the complexity of the product and consumers’ knowledge of it.

There is rarely a hard yes/no answer to strategic questions, which is why individual businesses must carefully analyse their target markets, their competitors and their own needs.  ‘It depends’ is not a quick answer, but I hope this article has shed some light on the ways content can provide value to GRBs, who are often overlooked in discussions about content marketing.

By Duncan Croker

Duncan is a copywriter with a background in editing and storytelling. He loves collaborating with brands big and small, and thrives on the challenges of hard marketing.

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