So you want to start a blog.

Blogs are huge these days. From mommy blogs to home improvement blogs to cooking to beauty to skateboarding to TV recaps to marketing agencies bragging about their work, everywhere you turn there’s another blog, in your face, pushing so-called expert opinions on you.

The desire to keep up with the times isn’t unusual or even inherently misguided. And the desire to capture the kind of loyal following that can come with a blog is certainly understandable.

What you’re chasing after is what’s called content marketing. And there’s a lot more to it than just starting a blog and watching the masses flock to your company.

Content marketing is the creation and distribution of valuable, relevant content designed to engage and educate consumers so they know, like and trust you enough to buy what you’re selling.

Blogs are the most common example. But there are countless others, and technology is giving way to more every day. Infographics. Videos. Podcasts. Apps. Books. E-books. Webpages. Newsletters. The pool is deep when it comes to content marketing media.

As the world changes into an increasingly ad-free environment, content marketing will only become more important to companies hoping to engage consumers.

How to create effective, engaging content is another topic entirely, so for now let’s just talk about why content marketing is important and why incorporating it into a marketing plan will help yield better results for your other advertising efforts.

If you read our blog post on marketing to millennials a few months back, you’ll remember that the landscape of marketing is changing from a “you need [product] because of [circumstances]” strategy to a “you want [brand] because of [passions/causes/values]” strategy.  Content marketing is the sun that shines on this new landscape.

Modern consumers have the world at their fingertips, and they use it to make researched, informed decisions that suit their unique lifestyles. Having accessible, valuable, informative content about your brand enables consumers to make these researched, informed decisions. And the bonus is that millennial consumers demonstrate a lot of brand loyalty because they invest a lot into their purchasing decisions.

How does a company expand to new customers, and how does engaging content contribute to that goal?

The four basic steps (in order) to gaining a new customer are:

  1. Brand awareness. They must know you exist.
  2. They discover what you do and how you do it.
  3. They compare you to other similar companies.
  4. They buy what you’re selling, or positively engage.

Traditional advertising works for steps three and four. Advertising a sale or a great deal might get some attention, and for some consumers that will result in a conversion.

Content marketing focuses on steps one and two. Creating content that lets current and potential customers know who you are as a company. What you do, but also how you do it differently from the competition. What you stand for. Consumers are becoming more and more concerned with the message it sends to be a “fan” of any given brand. Don’t believe us? Ask ten of your friends when they last shopped at Wal-Mart and why.

Where do consumers go for this information? For grassroots campaigns, they go to social media. They see what their friends are reading and sharing. They read and share content that they find interesting, valuable and engaging. But not every company is chasing down the same target consumer, which is why shareable content is so important. It allows information about what you do to be shared with others by people who care about it. It allows your message to be shared with new audiences by their own networks. That’s a powerful delivery system.

Having content that can be easily shared on social media is a great way to boost awareness about your company. The added SEO and inbound links are invaluable, and creating a network of fans helps ensure that you won’t need to rely on sales and gimmicks to get people’s attention.

Seems easy enough, right? Create content and put it on Facebook. There are a few pitfalls that we come across pretty frequently.

  1. It has to be valuable.
  2. You have to be trustworthy.

To be valuable, you have to demonstrate expertise in whatever you are creating and promoting. It must be well researched and well written. It must provide information that people want, not simply what you want to tell them (See the difference? It’s a big one).

To be trustworthy, it can’t just be thinly veiled advertising. Content related to your industry is important. Content that simply delivers a one-sided, self-serving message will be quickly dismissed. A lot of companies have a hard time with this idea. Just like you want consumers to trust you as an industry expert, you must trust the message you deliver to reinforce your expert status and trust consumers to put the pieces together. Content marketing isn’t about the sell. It’s about education and information.

Engaging, compelling content gives way to the inherent desire humans have to share with others. Whether it’s trendsetters trying to demonstrate that they’re hip to the latest and greatest or friends genuinely trying to enhance the lives of their friends, shareable content (sometimes called “viral” content) is the new king of the Internet.

So whether you want to start a blog, launch a podcast or simply amp up your email newsletters, you should make sure content marketing is a part of your plan.

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