Whether or not the statement below is 100% accurate, virtually all marketers agree that content marketing should be a major focus for any business trying to grow. There is no shortage of data out there that gives a sense for the adoption and efficacy of content marketing, but most of that data is skewed towards larger brands with big budgets and high-priced teams.
“Content Marketing is all the Marketing that’s left.”– Seth Godin
We wanted to understand better the current state of content marketing specifically for small businesses. Small businesses are defined as companies with fewer than 500 employees and they represent 99.7% of all businesses in the United States. Fully 9 out of 10 businesses in the US have fewer than 20 employees. For the purposes of this study, we will refer to them as ‘micro businesses’.
These companies represent the overwhelming majority of businesses in the United States, yet when it comes to data that can help both marketers, business owners, and 3rd party vendors, there is surprisingly little data to inform them, especially in regards to content marketing.
We surveyed 702 small business owners or managers and asked them various questions about the state of their company’s content marketing and below is what they reported and we learned.
Before we begin, we wanted to share the basic demographics of the survey respondents.
Breakdown of small business respondents by type:
60% of survey respondents reported consumers (B2C) being their primary client, while 40% reported businesses as such (B2B). Interestingly, when filtering by these groups to analyze adoption rate, methods, results, etc. there was virtually no variance between B2C companies and B2B companies.
Breakdown of small business respondents by industry:
- Professional and Technical Services – 19.11%
- Retail Trade – 12.89%
- Construction and Skilled Trades – 11.11%
- Healthcare and Social Assistance – 8.00%
- Restaurant and Food Services – 6.67%
- Educational Services – 6.67%
- Real Estate – 5.78%
- Finance and Insurance – 5.33%
- Transportation and Warehousing – 4.00%
- Manufacturing – 2.67%
- Other – 17.78%
Breakdown of small business respondents by company employee size:
- Sole proprietors – 23.11%
- 1-5 employees – 23.56%
- 6-10 employees – 10.67%
- 11-20 employees – 8.00%
- 21-50 employees – 12.44%
- 51-200 employees – 12.89%
- 201-500 employees – 9.33%
Small Business Content Marketing Adoption Rate
To start, we wanted to get a sense for how pervasive content marketing was amongst small businesses, and whether or not those that did content marketing had a strategy in place.
38.07% of small businesses reported doing no content marketing at all. When filtering by micro businesses, a majority (50.03%) reported doing no content marketing.
While this might seem like a startling statistic in terms of just how many small businesses do no content marketing whatsoever, it’s worth pointing out that many small businesses simply aren’t trying to grow and have no need to perform various marketing-related tasks in order to keep busy. Their work comes via repeat customers and word-of-mouth referrals, which is more than enough business to keep them busy.
Small Business Documented Content Marketing Plan
Next, we hoped to get a better sense amongst those small businesses that did do content marketing, what percentage had an actual strategy in place versus an ad-hoc approach.
Only 61.00% of respondents that do content marketing reported having a documented content marketing plan. When filtering by micro businesses with 20 or fewer employees only 51.61% reported having a documented content marketing plan.
Later in the survey we asked respondents if their content marketing was successful. We looked at that data amongst various groupings of survey respondents, and no where was the correlation between likelihood of success and another variable as great as whether or not they had a documented marketing plan.
Small Business Content Marketing Goals
Content marketing can be done for a variety of reasons but we asked small businesses to choose their primary goal.
44.80% reported generating new customers as their most important goal, while 32.80% reported improving customer retention and loyalty as most important and 20% reported increasing brand awareness as their most important goal.
The smaller the business the greater importance on generating new customers. 53.97% of micro businesses with 20 or fewer employees reported generating new customers as their most important goal.
Small Business Content Marketing Resource Adoption/Allocation
For those small businesses that did content marketing, we wanted to better understand what level of commitment/resources they devoted to those efforts.
Human Resource & Work Hour Allocation
To start, we wanted to know if they had someone internally that handled their content marketing, outsourced it to a third party, or didn’t have anyone specifically responsible for those duties.
63.20% of small businesses that do content marketing have an internal person or team that handles their content marketing, while 27.20% outsource those efforts.
While the overwhelming majority (91.2%) of small businesses have someone (whether in-house or outsourced) responsible for content marketing, when looking at micro businesses 17.46% don’t have anyone specifically responsible for handling their content marketing. That isn’t surprising for most people who have worked for micro businesses where it’s common for employees to wear many different hats. But certainly that ambiguity in terms of who ‘owns’ content marketing ensures there is no coherent strategy nor end-goal in mind. When filtering by micro businesses that report having no one responsible for content marketing only 18% report having a content marketing plan in place. Content marketing for these companies is probably a more haphazard process where someone decides to create and distribute a piece of content organically.
87.81% of small businesses devote less than 40 hours per week to content marketing, with 59.76% devoting less than 10 hours per week.
Obviously very few small businesses see content marketing as worthy of a full-time position within their company. What’s surprising is just how little time is devoted by the majority of small businesses. Even for those with a plan, not much time is spent on a weekly basis focused specifically on creating and distributing content to achieve their goals.
53.66% of small businesses reported using a 3rd party tool to coordinate and/or execute its content marketing strategy while only 37.10% of micro businesses utilize 3rd party content marketing tools.
Adoption rates for software across a variety of business functions remains stubbornly low for small businesses. Many still resort to pen and paper for scheduling purposes and maintain their email subscriber list in an excel spreadsheet. Given that backdrop, we were surprised that a majority of small businesses used a 3rd party tool to perform their content marketing. That perhaps helps explain how they are able to devote so little time to content marketing while seeing good results?
We then wanted to understand in terms of actual dollars spent, what small businesses’ commitment to content marketing looked like.
42.40% of small businesses spend less than $500 each month on content marketing, with 54.4% spending less than $1000, and 68.80% spending less than $2000.
While small business budgets are, by nature, small, clearly most small businesses aren’t pouring a significant amount of their resources into content marketing. When it comes to micro businesses, 87.30% reported spending less than $2000 per month on content marketing.
Small Business Content Creation
We wanted to understand what types of content small businesses created and at what frequency they created them. Small businesses reported the following frequency in terms of content creation.
Small Business Content Creation Frequency
|Content Type||At Least Weekly||Never|
|How-To Guides / Academies||36.13%||20.17%|
|Influencer / Paid Ad Content||33.61%||31.15%|
- Product reviews is the clear winner with 56.2%.
- Testimonials remain a high priority for small businesses with 44.55% producing those weekly.
- Video (44.17%) and blog posts (40.68%) remain popular as weekly content assets.
- Educational items like white papers (37.41%), infographics (36.14%), and how-to guides (36.13%) are relatively popular for small businesses.
- 33.61% produce influencer or other paid content on a weekly basis.
There appears to be a strong correlation between the effort required to make the piece of content and the frequency of those content pieces. That makes sense given what we learned about the time and money resources (or lack thereof) small businesses allocate for content marketing. As you can see with the data, ‘easier’ content pieces like product reviews, testimonials, short videos/blogs are significantly more common than more resource-intensive informational content like podcasts, webinars and eBooks.
Small Business Content Distribution
We wanted to better understand what channels small businesses used most frequently in order to promote their content. Small businesses reported the following frequency in terms of content distribution by channel.
Small Business Content Distribution Frequency
|Content Channel||At Least Weekly||Never|
|Email / Newsletter||43.97%||12.07%|
|Google My Business||36.44%||20.34%|
- Meta is the clear winner, with 60.96% small businesses publishing content at least weekly on Facebook and 55.17% at least weekly on Instagram.
- Email continues to be a well adopted channel by small businesses, with 43.97% utilizing email at least weekly.
- When sorting by B2B respondents, not surprisingly LinkedIn is the most popular channel with 62.50% of respondents publishing content there at least weekly.
The battle between Facebook and TikTok remains an interesting one. Of small businesses that do content marketing, Facebook is nearly universal (only 6.84% never use it to publish content), while 39.32% of small businesses never use TikTok to publish content. When contrasting that with data from our consumer survey (where 33% of respondents aged 18-29 reported having patronized a small business in the past year as a result of a TikTok ad compared with 37% for a Facebook ad), there is a clear opportunity for small businesses that cater to a younger crowd to utilize TikTok to expand their reach.
Small Business Content Marketing Results
Armed with a better understanding of how, where, and how much small businesses devoted to content marketing, we wanted to find out how well those efforts were working and what their content marketing plans were for the near future.
Insights Into Success
No marketing type is worth much if you don’t know if it’s working or not. We wanted to see if small businesses felt like they had that type of visibility into the success of their content marketing efforts.
78.23% of small businesses feel like they have good insights to measure how well their content marketing efforts is working (41.13% agree and 37.10% somewhat agree)
Content Marketing Success
Now the moment of truth…how well did small businesses feel their content marketing efforts were achieving their goals?
Overall, 83.87% of small businesses see success with their content marketing efforts.
As mentioned previously, having a documented content marketing plan has a huge impact on success rate. 96.05% of respondents with a documented content marketing plan reported seeing success while 69.69% of those with no documented strategy reported seeing success. While certainly the difference in success rate is stark, what stands out most is how likely a small business is to see success with their content marketing if they have a documented plan for executing it.
46.77% of respondents plan on increasing their content marketing budget over the course of the next 12 months while 41.13% plan on investing the same amount of money over the same time period.
While budgets for content marketing are small, almost half of respondents reported they are seeing enough success to warrant increasing those budgets over the course of the next year. As is often the case, small businesses can be slower to adopt new strategies for growth and it seems when it comes to content marketing that is true. So while our study shows a lower adoption rate as well as somewhat meager investments, things are trending in a positive direction for content marketing as more and more small businesses start to see success.
Results by Content Type
We asked small businesses what types of content were the most effective in terms of helping them achieve their content marketing goals.
Percentage of small businesses that believe this content type is one of the most effective
|How-To Guides / Academies||21.77%|
|Influencer / Paid Ad Content||15.32%|
- Video is the runaway winner in terms of effectiveness. 50.00% of small businesses reported it as one of the most effective content types they produce.
- Blog posts (41.13%) and customer testimonials (39.52%) remain consistent producers for small businesses.
- Bringing up the rear is some of the more resource-intensive content types, with eBooks (12.10%), podcasts (10.48%) and white papers (9.68%) showing little value in terms of efficacy for small businesses.
It should come as no surprise that video comes out the clear winner in terms of effectiveness. Video is simply the best medium to engage an audience. Meanwhile, blogging remains an effective tool in the content marketing arsenal, proving it should continue to be a mainstay for any small business wanting to expand its reach.
Content Efficacy Versus Creation Frequency
An interesting thought exercise was comparing and contrasting the frequency of creation/distribution of content with the efficacy of that content. When comparing those metrics, there were some interesting observations.
When contrasting frequency of production (percentage of small businesses the product the content type at least weekly) versus effectiveness (percentage of small businesses that reported the content content was one of its most effective), a couple of things jump out. First, video, blog posts, and testimonials seem to produce the best results for the time spent. Second, product reviews sit alone as the most popular in terms of frequency but aren’t in the top 3 in terms of effectiveness. And lastly, the biggest loser in the group is white papers. While it’s not clear why they are deemed so ineffective, certainly small businesses do not see much value in them relative to the frequency in which they create them.
At first glance, the reality that nearly 4 in 10 small businesses do no content marketing at all seems startling. But it must be contrasted with the reality that many small businesses do no marketing at all as they have a steady stream of customers through word-of-mouth and repeat business and lack a desire to grow.
When looking at the segment of small businesses that do some form of content marketing, a few things are clear:
- Planning is at best, haphazard, and at worst, non-existent, for many small businesses, especially those with fewer than 20 employees.
- Small businesses devote few resources, in terms of money and work hours, to content marketing. However, that commitment appears to be growing as more and more small businesses see success with those minimal efforts.
- Despite poor planning and minimal resources, the overwhelming majority of small businesses see success with content marketing.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from this survey is that small businesses that are willing to commit real resources to content marketing have an opportunity to differentiate themselves from their competitors and grow their audience/customer base while building lasting relationships with their customers. As is often the case, early adopters gain a competitive advantage, and clearly content marketing as a focused discipline is still in its infancy for small businesses.