Creating Content Your Customers Will Love

"A customer newsletter? What would we say?"

Content marketing may have been crowned king by the digital marketing experts, but many companies are still struggling to figure out exactly how to make it work for them. After all, it isn't as simple as publishing a bunch of blog posts or starting a monthly newsletter. You have to find something meaningful to say, and deliver the message at the right time. So where on earth do you start?

Think of it as a chat

If 'content marketing' sounds scary, why not call it what it really is: a conversation. You don't want to talk AT your customers; you want to talk WITH them. When you think about it this way, the first place to start becomes fairly obvious: you begin with the customers themselves. Who are they, where are they, what are they interested in? What knowledge are they seeking and where are they going to find it? What keeps them up at night and what can you do to help them?

Break your conversations up into two parts - the kinds of discussions are you having with people before they buy your products and what you discuss afterwards.

Find the sweet spots
Let's be frank, it is highly unlikely that people are lying awake wondering about your sales pitch. However, they might be worried about questions related to your product. You can find your first sweet spot of content marketing by looking at the universe around what you're selling.

Let's start with potential customers - what considerations will factor into their decision to purchase? Take the energy market as an example. We talk about energy sources - traditional and renewable. We talk about contract lengths. We talk about service offerings. Obviously, each of these offers us the opportunity to tout what we do, but it also gives us the chance to frame our solution up within the big picture, so it feels more informative than sales-y. It helps potential customers along the decision-making process, hopefully culminating in a sale. But even if they don't buy with us right now, we've given them a strong reason to revisit us in the future.

Once you've made the first sale, how do you keep your brand top of mind with customers? Simple - move beyond the product features and focus in on the benefits. Does it solve a common problem, like time shortages, limited manpower, or lack of money? If so, write about those broader topics. A great example of this is the Gore-Tex brand blog. Gore-Tex products allow you to go outdoors without having to worry about the weather; their blog showcases things you can do while you're out there - from stargazing to hikes to ice-climbing to the most extreme sports. Every article provides a subtle (and sometimes overt) reminder that you can do these things thanks to the benefits of the Gore-Tex technology.

The important thing is to not feel too constrained. Just because you sell office supplies doesn't mean that everything you write has to be about pens and staplers. You can write about anything office related, from office culture to productivity to work/life balance to humorous videos of David Brent. After all, your supplies are used by real people, and they have a lot of different things on their mind while they're sitting at their desks. If you can tap into some of those other ideas, you'll keep them coming back for more.

Now go where they are

It would be nice if all of our customers phoned up and asked how they could keep in touch with us, but I think we can all agree that pretty much never happens. So how do you start up and continue the conversation? You need to go where they are and connect with them in ways they find to be interesting. The first place you can find them is on Google. Everyone goes there sooner or later to find an answer to a question. If the question is in your area, you need to make sure that your answer comes up towards the top. You do this by investing in an SEO strategy, so that your content is organized and formatted in a way that makes it easy for Google to pinpoint what questions you are answering.

The second place you can find them is social media. Yes, we know that is a broad term. We're not saying Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest because it might be some, all or none of these, depending on who your target audience is. Before leaping into any of the social channels, do your groundwork to find out which members of your audience are there, and what kinds of content they are consuming within the social environment. Is it videos, blog posts or photos or maybe a combination of all of the above?

When you've identified which social platforms are right for you and what format of posts you'll need, you can start to build out a schedule and a promotion plan. After all, it doesn't do you much good to have a fantastic Instagram account if no one knows that you are there. Make sure to set aside a budget to promote your profile using targeted ads, and to add links to your social profiles on your website, email signature, invoices and any other document where it is relevant.

Last, but not least, make friends

The last crucial step in a content marketing plan is remembering to include relevant content from others. Identify related brands and experts whose content would be of interest to your audience. Reach out to them on social media or via email to introduce yourself and don't forget to tag them when you share their content. In the worst case scenario, they'll ignore you. In the better case, you may find opportunities to guest blog or swap social shares, helping you both reach new audiences.

Content marketing may seem like a scary buzz word, but it doesn't have to be. Combine together the right plan and a small amount of research (and common sense), and even the smallest business can excel at it. With short and long term benefits in gaining and retaining customers, it is certainly a marketing strategy that you can't afford to ignore.

(This post originally appeared on Brighter Business.)