Q&A: Paychex’s Karen Wozniak on a winning SMB content strategy in the pandemic

With the pandemic, small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) are looking for more business management advice than ever before from vendors like you. Recent Bredin research found that 70% of SMBs with 100 to 500 employees and 35% of those with 20 to 99 employees have increased their use of vendor content since the pandemic began. And, one in three SMBs have made a purchase because of advisory vendor content.

Paychex is a great example of an SMB marketer that has rapidly pivoted to help SMBs through COVID-19 by providing practical, actionable advice. In the process, its content marketing team has developed some best-in-class habits that it will use long after the pandemic ends. We spoke with Karen Wozniak, Senior Manager of Brand and Content Strategy, to learn about how Paychex adapted to support SMBs through COVID-19, and how it will use what it’s learned for future SMB content development.

BREDIN: How did you shift your content marketing approach in response to the pandemic?

WOZNIAK: As a payroll and HR services provider to over 650,000 customers, we were very conscious of the impact COVID-19 would have on employers and business owners, as well as their employees. Like any marketing content team, our role is typically looking for prospects and leads. But as of March 16, we refocused on providing helpful, mission-critical information to help our customers stay in business.

BREDIN: What changes did you make?

WOZNIAK: We put together a team of representatives from across the organization — sales, product marketing, customer service, legal and compliance — who met every morning to look at the news of the day and prioritize what content we had to get out there. For consistent communication not only to clients but within our company, we built a COVID Help Center. We started by posting quick-hit articles and then added weekly webinars. And, we launched the Paychex Business Series Podcast, interviewing small business owners, compliance people and government representatives who could provide tools that companies need to stay in business.

BREDIN: What role did research have in your content strategy?

WOZNIAK: It helped us take the pulse of what challenges small businesses owners were facing, so we could get ahead of the trends and find their content needs. We did a weekly snap poll to talk to business owners; that gave us a framework and drove our content strategy from a thought leadership standpoint.

BREDIN: How did your content mix change?

WOZNIAK: Not surprisingly, our engagement with webinars went through the roof. People were tuning in to hear the specifics of what would impact them — the CARES Act, Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, anything to do with compliance and regulations. We connected shorter articles to longer pieces with additional research. After we put content out on our own channels, our PR department was able to pitch that to other outlets, so it was a great unified approach.

BREDIN: How did you support your sales team?

WOZNIAK: The content we developed became a lifeline for our 3,500-member sales organization, who were also quarantined at home. Typically, a lot of the thought leadership content we’ve developed is top of funnel. We’d hand a marketing qualified lead over to the sales rep, and they’d provide the bottom of funnel content. But suddenly, with COVID-19, they were doing their own demand gen, so they needed front-line content. Webinars were very important to them, and instead of long whitepapers, they needed synopses to communicate with their prospects. Another thing that drove a lot of sales engagement was video testimonials. We couldn’t go out and shoot them ourselves, so we worked with a remote team. These turned out to be tremendous tools for our sales reps.

BREDIN: Has the majority of your content in 2020 been purely advisory, or has it been aligned to Paychex products or services?

WOZNIAK: In the beginning of lockdown, it was 100% informational, and wasn’t tied to any offers. In fact, we turned off our demand gen funnel, our nurture tracks and our gated content — we had everything open. It felt against our brand to be soliciting sales during such an unprecedented time. But then, we started to see demand. People were reaching out and looking for the services we offered, so we started to shift the focus and tie content to offerings that would help businesses get back to work.

BREDIN: What have you learned about content marketing during this time that you’ll carry forward?

WOZNIAK: The importance of collaboration to content creation, breaking down the silos and getting that cross-functional group meeting and talking every morning. Also, we saw the value of content marketing having a 100% alignment with sales. We made sure sales understood everything we were producing and had the tools they needed. Our content marketing strategy has become more robust — we’re looking at continuing podcasts, upping our video strategy, elevating webinars for more engagement, and more online events to take more advantage of digital. Content drove our success this year, and continues to help us provide information to clients and prospects.

Need help creating content that works with SMBs? Bredin can help you develop high-value content to boost SMB awareness, strengthen your position as a thought leader and keep customers loyal. We can also conduct quick-turn, actionable market research to provide insight into your audience’s content preferences, or to generate data for use in high-value content and PR programs.

About Bredin

Bredin was founded in 1991 by America's foremost small business expert, author and syndicated columnist Alice Bredin. From its beginning, Bredin was designed to be a breed apart: 50% research consultancy, 50% creative agency, 100% focused on SMB. Based in Somerville, Mass., Bredin helps Fortune 500 companies understand, reach and retain SMB customers through timely, targeted research and award-winning marketing programs.