Surviving SA’s SME crunch: 7 reasons why content marketing will save your business in 2020

by Dec 17, 2019

One thing all small business owners know: it’s a daily battle.

You start ‘your baby’ with entrepreneurial wanderlust and hope to sommer make a difference, too. You nurture it through Eskom downtime, downed tool strikes, and down-on-your-luck month-end scrambles. And then, just as you see the light of a full night’s sleep… Level 6 load shedding slaps yet another devastating snooze button on the economy.

You find yourself on the doorstep of a year marking a decade that has claimed too many small businesses. But you will not be one of them! In fact, you are as committed as ever to thrive despite the odds. And you still hope to make that difference. But, how do you push through 2020, and yes, probably a bit longer, to get there?

You need to make a serious go of content marketing. Why? Because, at its heart, content marketing echoes what resilient South African businesses have always known: the people you serve should be centre stage.

Content marketing done right means you will understand your customers with authentic curiosity, unobstructed by your own goals. You will discover what worries and delights them, outside of the story you want to tell. You will call them your audience rather than your target market, because it’s a two-way relationship.

And then? Then… you will gift them ‘content assets’ with real value instead of smart copy that sings your own praises. You’ll stop pushing products and start building relationships. And finally, you’ll stop paying for ‘good, yet rather meaningless’ online articles that are created as offerings to the SEO gods, and not for humans. This is content marketing done right.

“Great, but how exactly is that going to save my business?” you might ask.

Here are the 7 reasons content marketing will give your business a fighting chance in 2020.

1. Your content strategy will toughen you up by asking the hard questions

Small business in Africa is not for sissies. But, there is also no place like Africa for a business owner who is prepared and open-minded and keeps rolling with the economic punches.

One thing many fail to do is to step back and take a hard look at their baby. Does your business still solve your audience’s problem today? Does your product or service realistically help them, save them, or make life easier for them? Do you truly understand where they are at?

Our pressure-cooker economy makes people look at things very differently. Your audience’s values and the way they make decisions shift constantly. Did your business stay on track over the last five years? Are you still speaking to the right people?

Content marketing will answer these questions for you. To cut through the online clutter, your content marketer will need to pitch your message in an unmissable voice with perfectly-on-target, deeply meaningful content. That can only happen if your audience is clear.

If you come up short here (and most companies do), your message is literally going nowhere.

The only sure-fire way to fix it is to create or update your realistic, vivid customer persona. This is a core step in crafting your arsenal of content assets. Without it, your content will be second-rate arrows scattered around on a very crowded digital battlefield.

For effective content marketing, understand your buyer personas in terms of demographics, professional roles, values and goals, challenges, sources of influence and their buying decision.
Know exactly who you are speaking to when creating content.

What we uncover during persona research is always incredibly eye-opening, and often shocking, for businesses. However, it is your roadmap to get unstuck. It is your blueprint for crucial adjustments (if not a complete business pivot) to match the field you’re playing on. In fact, 82% of companies say that personas have helped them toughen up their value proposition.

2. Content marketing is your only shot at outplaying much bigger companies

“But the big players have armies of marketers behind them!” you say. “They’ve been in the digital game much longer, and our budget is a drop to their bucket.”

This is paradoxically why content marketing will save you. It’s the only strategy that beats those odds. The power doesn’t lie in thrusting volumes of content at the masses, but in creating spot-on information for a very specific group of people. You’d be surprised at how many big brands get this wrong.

Content marketing also relies on a unique voice. Where large corporates spend millions to design their brand personality, small businesses usually have this built in. Add the fact that small business owners and managers have a direct relationship with actual customers, and the head start becomes clear.

Let’s take an example. When the 2008 recession came knocking, River Pools knew they were in trouble. Whilst we South Africans often can’t live without our swimming pools, indoor fibreglass pools are a definite non-essential in the US. How could this small, niche business save itself at a time when large competitors had reserves and momentum in their favour? By using what the owner had: deeply specialized knowledge.

He knew his typical customer’s interests and fears intimately and set out to answer every imaginable question they might ask. Today, his website commands more traffic than any of its big-brand competitors. One single post, How much does it cost to install a fiberglass pool, proved indispensable to customers who constantly had to beg for pricing. It bagged the company $2.5 million in sales (yes, that’s around R35 million).

When vying against bigger fish, River Pools also gets another content marketing principle right: do a few things well. In a 2013 interview the owner, Marcus Sheridan, said they don’t really use social media, “We have found there is a much higher return on investment when we focus our time producing more content on the site.”

A big part of the online offensive is to know which channels and formats are perfect for your products and your audience. Focus all your efforts and budget into those.

3. Real content kickstarts your digital marketing on a rock-solid foundation

Over 51% of people find new brands or products on their cell phones. 46% act after they see a video ad. 46.5% of South African consumers bought something after seeing a positive comment on social media. And, more specifically for small businesses, digital marketing ad campaigns are 20 times more effective when they are location specific.

Humans’ digital engagement has no slow-down in sight.

Digital marketing is not an if, it’s a when and where to start. South Africa now has a glut of digital marketing agencies promising you the Facebook-sun and the AdWords-moon for a healthy chunk of your marketing budget. Pay-per-click, search engine optimization, boosted posts, high clickthrough rates, and other arcane phrases get tossed around with vigour. Once you jump in, it’s easy to get lost or lulled by impressive looking reports that don’t tie back to actual business success.

When you start your digital journey with a content marketing strategy you get the basics right. Who am I speaking to, and how do I make them trust me? Answering these questions will guide you towards your ideal digital marketing route. Using real content in your digital marketing strategy is certainly the best way to get the results you hope for.

4. Content is trust, bottled for the digital ocean

Accenture Strategy’s 2018 Global Consumer Pulse report found that lack of trust costs global brands $2.5 trillion per year.

“What clients need most in tough times is a provider they can trust, an ally rather than someone simply looking out for their own bottom line,” says Mel Sauvé, president of Global Growth.

This is especially true of South African customers. Of course, it’s crucial to lure in new customers. But, if you don’t take care of the ones you have, you will be even worse off. As an economy slows, competitors turn into poachers, and highly price-sensitive customers will be tempted. Only trust will keep your client base intact.

Valuable content that serves your people, rather than tout your wares, is a profound way to build trust. You show that you care and that you have the resources to excel at putting them first. Your business is clearly alive and well.

And with all the work that goes into poaching, your competitors are most likely watering down their own service. Your content marketing efforts will shine even brighter.

5. Content strategy keeps you from knee-jerks that harm your brand

What are the magical ingredients to a successful small business in South Africa? Solid preparation. Small, yet well-planned steps. Consistency. Resilience. Taking a long-term view. These are also the same magical ingredients that define a great content strategy. Who would have thought, right?

A shrinking economy brings angst. Business owners scramble for quick fixes, short cuts… anything. This is the best way to kill your brand before finding out how far it could have taken you.

Having a clear, well-loved brand just happens to be a proven antidote to a tough economy. In 2019, the BrandZ™ Top 30 Most Valuable South African Brands outperformed the JSE Top40 Index, which fell 20% in dollar terms over the same time.

“Strong brands tend to emerge from economic downturns more quickly,” says Ivan Moroke, CEO South Africa, of the Insights Division at Kantar, the company that conducted the BrandZ™ research. “While we can’t control the winds of change, we can control the sails.”

Stay the course. Stay consistent. Stay relevant with the right content, at the right time. Your customers will notice.

6. Content marketing pumps a lot of extra mileage into your sputtering marketing budget

You’ve heard it a thousand times: whatever you do, do not cut marketing costs in difficult times.

It makes sense – it’s the time when you most need to stay visible. Plus, you have an even better chance to outperform those competitors that didn’t listen. However wise, it might not always be possible for South Africa’s small businesses. Clip a bit off the edges if you must, but the important issue is to not waste the little marketing budget you have.


  1. Find and list the best digital marketing places and formats. These should work for both your audience and your product or service.
  2. Rank them by the best ROI – pay attention to how you articulate your ‘results’; you should clearly see how the data feed back to your business goals.
  3. See how many can be covered by your available marketing budget.
  4. Focus on these and do them exceptionally well.
  5. Keep your eyes on the ball: measure and adjust consistently.

Consider putting content marketing on that list. It works for all businesses and industries. Its core function is to work for the people you want to speak to. Oh, and it generates over three times as many leads as outbound marketing and costs 62% less.

7. Real content gives you the keys to the actual social media party (the one you’ve been missing)

Social media landed on South Africa’s digital shores with bold whispers of a marketing prize so rich, traditional channels would be forever left in the dust. It reminded of a gold rush.

10 years later, this prophesy has not come true for most small businesses.
They claimed their stake on the Big 5 social media platforms: Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter. Then they tried their luck by going through the motions of posting and boosting and commenting. Rinse repeat. But they forgot the most essential skills of any good prospector: understand your mineral.

And the gold lies not in your likes or retweets, but in the “heart currency” you unlock when you really hit the spot for your audience. Your content marketing research will not only show you who your customers are and what content to create, but also how to give it the right wings on social media.

And, if you are shouting, dismayed from the social media trenches, “But the gold rush is over!”, think again! More than 40% of South Africans will use social media in 2020, up 5 million from 2018. We spend on average 2 hours 48 minutes per day on social media, beating the global average. We have, on average, 8 social media accounts. 38% of us say they use social media to find content and entertaining media. 31% uses it to find, research or buy products.

A snapshot of how connected our nation is. Source:

If you are serious about the long-term prosperity of your business, content marketing is where your energy should go. The best part of content marketing is that it lays the solid foundations you need to make a success of all your other traditional and digital marketing efforts. It all starts here.