What is content marketing?

I define content marketing this way – how you’d talk, one-on-one, to your potential customers, if you could. It works like this:

Say your company sells a new form of widget. Customer A might really want to know about the technology itself – how this widget is superior to the one he’s already using. Customer B might not care so much about the technology, but really needs to know what can solve a problem that keeps shutting down her production line. And Customer C might not be in the market for new widgets at all, but really wants some advice that helps run his business.

If you were in a room with each one of these customers, you’d know exactly what to do. You’d show Customer A the differences between the widget he currently uses and the ones you produce. You’d tell Customer B the reason you got into the widget business – because your own production line kept failing due to shoddy widgets. And you’d mentor Customer C on all sorts of topics to help his business succeed.

Simple, right? Except you have WAY more than three customers. And you can’t sit down and talk to everyone.

Content marketing is how businesses get their story to the customer

That’s where content marketing comes in. It’s a way of getting your message and story to your customers and prospects, engaging them, and solving their problems by sharing your experience and expertise. It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution like a 99-cent promotion or a product-launch email. It’s more about building a relationship that lets your customers and potential customers know you understand them and the industry also helps them get to know you and your company’s products.

In the Customer A, B and C scenario, you might develop a short video and a comparison infographic for all of the Customer As; write the story of how you got into the widget business for the Customer Bs; and produce a series of weekly webcasts or blog post – or both – that offer business advice for people in the industry for the Customer Cs.

And you know the best part? That custom, tailored advice will probably resonate on some level with each of the other customer segments, too.

Knowing what’s most important to your audience

Just like your customers and prospects aren’t all the same, all content marketing isn’t either. Content marketing can and should be anything that you can use to make a connection with your audience. Articles, success stories, videos, webcasts and webinars, podcasts, white papers, annual reports, landing pages, social media, emails, interactive tools, slideshows, presentations, and blog posts and so much more – any of these can be part of your content plan.

What’s more important is the audience: what does the audience need to know? What problems are they trying to solve? What motivates them to want to learn more? How can my own product and/or experience help?

Equally as important is how you deliver the message. Short and sweet to a social audience? Or long-form through webinars and white papers? Odds are good your content strategy will include a number of different methods. Not variety for variety’s sake but variety necessitated by the complexity of your audience.

And, of course, there’s the message itself. Your goal is to encourage the audience to act because of the honest-to-goodness education you’ve given them, not because of a one-day sale or a product-launch announcement (those are more traditional marketing – and they’re great, too). Instead, it’s because the content you’re producing helps them trust and respect you.

Jeanie’s note: This blog was written in July 2015 and originally appeared on Nezy.com, a now-defunct content agency where I once worked.

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