Is this the year that you’ve resolved to finally get serious about marketing? If you are like 75% of marketers in North America, you’re thinking about investing in content marketing. Content marketing goes hand-in-hand with relationship building, as it’s all about providing your prospects with valuable information they need.

Content marketing is e-books that provide a road map for solving challenges, podcasts that deliver insights customers need to stay ahead in their market, and speaking presentations that offer new solutions. It is stories on targeted websites that show people how their peers have thrived and grown. It is demonstrating to your prospective customer that you have information and want to share.

But how to you figure out where to start? Here are some ideas to spur content creation for different stages of the business.

Startups and Wakeup Calls

For many businesses, some sort of triggering event makes you realize you are ready to up your marketing game. Maybe you started a company or launched a new product (congratulations!). Maybe you raised VC and want to get on a path to growth. Or maybe you simply feel stuck and realize it’s time to stop accepting what comes your way and start reaching for what you want. Whatever it is, something will trigger your desire to start getting serious about marketing your company.

In this stage, you need content to help you position yourself to the people you want to reach. Ideas include:

  • Blog posts that describe your startup story, or the genesis of your product idea. People want to know why you are doing this – include them in your journey and get them excited about working with you. Point to these on social, share links to prospects and influencers, and include links in your email newsletter.
  • Presentations to potential investors and/or prospects. Presentation decks don’t need to be dry, text-laden, time-wasters. Focus on the vision and ideas that can excite investors about joining your team and prospects about the opportunity of solving their problems. Remember to focus: the goal is not to uncover every stone and answer every perceived angle – it is to entice and excite and get the second meeting.
  • eBooks that outline the market you’re addressing and why, along with insights on how you can effect change. These aren’t for everyone – but for people who express interest and want to know more, these can be a solid way to tell your story.
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Teasing Out Your Strengths

Some companies are confident from the start. Their leadership has vision, the team is poised to execute. If this is you, skip ahead to the section where we talk about how to leverage that strength. If you’re like most, you go through stages of doubt and inadequacy. You lose a big deal, fail to hit production targets, or miss sales goals. You compare yourself with other people and companies you admire, and question your company’s value, your team’s talent, and your ability to execute. Everything you’ve achieved in the past is probably just a fluke or a stroke of luck, right? You can’t possibly turn that into something sustainable and build a company like the 10 others you totally worship and admire.

This is a terrible stage of business, and the only good thing to say about it is that almost everyone goes through it. The heroes that you admire? The mentors you want to emulate? They have all been here, more than once. How can you break out?

  • Develop a list of every single success you have had to date, even the little ones. The goal here is to brainstorm and get out of your rut, not to second guess. Do you have expertise in a vertical market? Have you helped customers achieve their goals? How is your product innovative? Do you have a different way of approaching the business? Unique industry insights you’ve learned along the way? Start looking for patterns. You’ll see a market segment bubble up, or a style of customer success where you fit.

If you can find the discipline, keep this list as you go along in your business rather than waiting for the moment that you feel miserable. You’ll likely avoid getting into this pit to begin with.

Once you get into the habit of tracking the positive, things start to really happen. You start to truly understand what your company does well and what sets it apart. This forms the basis of your thought leadership. So what do you do with this information?

  • Each of the themes of success can be turned into a story that you can share directly with your prospects via your blog, LinkedIn, or social channels. Customer success stories, how-to-fix-this-problem stories, ideas on how the market is changing – these can be developed into a byline that you can offer to a trade magazine for publication. Some of them may be of interest to the press that cover your region or target market – figure out who they are and send them a pitch. Even more might make a great topic for a presentation in an influential event. All you need is a paragraph to pitch your topic to most event organizers – you don’t need a full presentation.

In short, stop obsessing about your failures and start focusing on your successes. Develop content that you can share with your network and use to expand it. You have stories to tell – tell them.

Develop Content to Match the Audience

Once you have a list of ideas, the fun part is to brainstorm all of ways you can develop them. A video outlining company strengths! A byline series! A podcast! White papers and eBooks!

Unfortunately, content doesn’t generate itself. Andy Crestodina of Orbit Media conducted a study recently that found a typical blog post takes more than three hours to write. Podcasts don’t magically go from dynamic phone call to iTunes – for every 30-minute podcast we produce, we put in about five hours on production behind the scenes. Someone has to edit out the ums and ahs, splice in the music, write the description, load it to the syndication channel, generate a transcript, create the artwork, and post it onto the blog.

You will have to invest in building your content. This investment may be your own time, your team’s time, or budget to fund a content developer. Any one of those things must be worth it to your company.

A short example of this in motion:

A family-run fabric manufacturer passed management of the company to the next generation. They had been losing sales and falling behind the competition. They reevaluated their product line and realized their strength was in high-end fabrics. They decided to capitalize on the resurgence in quilting and to target fabric shops that specialized in this area. They built an elaborate email campaign with a coupon call-to-action.

Smart, right? Nope. Turns out that quilt shop owners don’t check their email very frequently.

Moral of the story: Don’t build a YouTube channel if your customers read trade journals. Develop and pitch bylines instead. Don’t create a webinar series if your prospects are never in front of a computer; start a podcast so they can tune in while they’re in the car or working out. Our fabric friends? They reinvested their time in building in-store events, which drive tremendous loyalty with the shop owners.

If you listen, your market will tell you what they need. Research Google results, evaluate the analytics on your website, track the influencers on Twitter, and ask your customers what they read – listen to – watch – follow. The top channels will bubble up to the top.

Focus on one or two to start, and own them. Create awesome blog posts that people want to read, podcasts that people want to listen to, events that people want to attend. Align the content to display your core strengths, and showcase your ability to help. Include a powerful call to action to keep them connected. And develop a schedule and internal process to make sure it gets done.

This is the true signal that you will succeed: you recognize that marketing is a priority and you will commit the time and resources needed to execute.

Make it Work Twice

Once you have built a library of content, you should start looking for new ways to use it. A series of blog posts on a particular topic can be a great eBook. Package them up with an attractive design, post it on your site, and share the link via your social channels and email newsletter. Ask people to provide their email in exchange for the download and you have a list of potential prospects for follow up.

Proud of your podcast? Generate transcripts to post on the page to get an SEO bump. And extract the themes to build a byline that you can pitch to a trade magazine. Or create a presentation that you can pitch for an influential event.

Have great customer stories on your site? Generate a video – this content is extremely popular and generates tons of interest on social media. They don’t have to be long – Twitter’s limit is two minutes. Find one angle and focus on that.

Share Your Stories

We all know about trees that fall in the woods … Promoting your content is work, and the game is always changing. Stay on top of the influencers, publications, websites, and events that matter to your customers, and pitch them ideas tailored for their needs.

Do they need a customer to quote in a story about an industry trend? Here’s their contact info. A three-part series on what’s driving market growth? In your email inbox, with illustrations, an author bio, and headshot. A presentation for an event? Here’s the PowerPoint deck. An insightful and provocative guest for a podcast? Listen to this podcast to see how great she’ll be.

You’ve made an investment in developing your content – take the time to make sure it is seen. At a minimum, share your content or links to it on all of the content channels you own, including your LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social channels along with your email list.

When you share with website editors, podcast producers, event organizers, and editors you have the opportunity to break outside of your own sphere and generate new followers. Your results may vary, but plan on investing as much time to promote your content as you did to generate it.

Review, Refine, Reach

Content marketing requires ongoing work, including evaluating results. Are your email campaigns delivering solid prospects? Who is engaging with and reacting to your podcast? How many customers did you close based on e-book downloads? Which leads came in from speaking engagements or magazine mentions?

You need to know which channel performs the best, which content style delivers the most results, and whether or not you’re getting the right return from your marketing investment. Not all benefits are hard – it can be tricky to measure awareness, for example, but it can be a hidden factor in the success of other channels. Or an e-book might not have pulled the number of leads you anticipated, but it ended up being a powerful closing tool for the sales team. Factor in as many metrics as needed to determine what is working.

Once you know what works, then it’s time to think about reaching further. Have you done a great job of doing in-person speaking events? Build a YouTube channel for the videos and promote them to your list. Have your gotten solid engagement on your blog posts? Take the topics and develop a podcast series to engage a new segment of your audience.

Don’t sit still – if you keep bringing your content marketing to the next level, company growth will follow. You just have to start.

Words of Encouragement! Cheerleading!

You’ve got this! Everyone is smart about something – find your strengths, match it to your markets, and make it happen. Don’t forget to reach out when you need help – I’ve helped a lot of companies figure out their strengths, create and implement marketing plans, and generate and promote content. I’d love to help you. Call or email to set time for a mini brainstorming session or to answer questions. Or just ask for some samples for inspiration. I’ll be happy to fill your in-box.