By Steven Porter
Freyja Conrad took a seat in the back of the room Tuesday evening inside a modern office space built into an old manufacturing building off West Irving Park Road.
Clutching a stemless glass of red wine, Conrad, a landscape designer who works primarily in Chicago’s western suburbs, attended a special event designed to help her build key skills she feels her work requires.
But as the speaker cracked his first joke, it became clear the topic had nothing to do with yard work. The mandatory skill Conrad hoped to hone was far more indoorsy: blogging.
Andy Crestodina, co-founder and strategic director of Orbit Media Studios, offered blogging advice to about two dozen people who attended Tuesday’s “Wine & Web” event at the company’s headquarters, 4043 N. Ravenswood Ave., Suite 316.
“The Internet is not waiting for another medium-quality blog post,” Crestodina said, lauding the potential benefits of content marketing done well.
Large companies have capitalized in recent years on their direct access to online consumers by launching their own publications, such as General Electric Co.’s polished webzine GEreports.com. This direct-messaging strategy is now something even small businesses are pursuing.
Conrad, who works for Dig Right In Landscaping Inc., said that following Crestodina’s advice will help her distinguish the company’s brand in a crowded marketplace.
“There are so many landscaping companies. We want to be the one that people call and the one that people remember,” Conrad said. “We want to be considered experts in our field.”
Crestodina said regularly publishing informative content online is a great way for businesses to keep their brands at the forefront of an audience’s mind. It also helps build trust, he said.
A survey of marketing professionals working for business-to-consumer, or B2C, brands in North America found that more than three-quarters of them use this strategy, called content marketing, according to the Content Marketing Institute, which is operated by Z Squared Media LLC.
On average, the B2C’s spent about a third of their marketing budgets last year on content marketing, with 50 percent of respondents saying they expect that spending category to increase in the coming year, according to the survey report.
More than half of those marketers work for small companies with fewer than 100 employees, nearly all of them publishing blogs or articles on their company websites.
Crestodina said some content marketing principles work just as well face-to-face as they do online. That’s one of the reasons why Orbit Media has hosted monthly “Wine & Web” events for more than five years, he noted. The venue empowers him to court prospective clients over the long term while establishing himself as a recognized expert in the field.
“It’s one of many formats for content,” he said. “But because there’s a deadline with a live event and the fear of failure, it pushes the quality higher, which is extremely valuable when you know how to repurpose.”
There’s a $10 fee to attend a “Wine & Web” event, but it’s free for current and prospective Orbit Media clients.
“It’s basically a break-even event,” Crestodina said, noting that the mere $200-250 in revenue is enough to buy a case of wine from his brother’s company, Independent Spirits Inc., and pizza from his client Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria.