“Remember though, however it’s done, content is a slow burn, not a quick sale. The goal is to build trust, loyalty and an ongoing relationship with customers.”

Content marketing - everyone is doing it, and if they aren’t doing it, they are probably thinking about doing it.

In fact, 96 per cent of Australian B2B marketers are using content, according to a survey by the US-based Content Marketing Institute, Content Marketing in Australia 2013.

The good news is, as a small business owner, you can still content market without a team of marketers. But let’s go through the basics first.

What is content marketing exactly?

In a nutshell, it’s the creation and sharing of useful content with the end goal of gaining customers or getting existing customers to take an action like make a purchase.

Examples of content include newsletters, podcasts, how-to guides, instruction videos, top ten lists, briefings, infographics, reviews and so on.

Whatever form it takes, content must be sent to customers or potential customers free of charge and without obligation, and it must contain some value for them.

The confusing thing is that your content doesn’t have to be about your products and shouldn’t be a ‘sell, sell, sell’.

Instead it can show your expertise in a particular area by giving useful tips and how to’s or be about the lifestyle aspects of what you sell. Red Bull’s extreme sports site is a great example of this. They rarely talk about their sports drink and instead focus on content.

Remember though, however it’s done, content is a slow burn, not a quick sale. The goal is to build trust, loyalty and an ongoing relationship with customers.

Is content marketing new?

Content marketing has been around since US-tractor manufacturers John Deere launched a magazine for its customers called The Furrow in 1895.

And we’ve all received content marketing material through the door. Foxtel, Qantas, Coles and Fitness First all run successful magazines that market their brands through content.

The move to online business has opened up new tools which mean you can easily distribute and publish content without having to pay a third party – that is, a publisher - to do it for you.

Being able to publish content has added benefits too. It can help drive search results because having content bumps your website further up in search engine results. And it can increase links back to your site and let Google – and therefore customers – find you more easily.

So, how do you do it?

1. Be authentic

Don’t send thinly veiled ads for your own products. Do share quality research and news on your business area. Know your customer - only send customers content that's relevant to them. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes: would you read this yourself?

2. Be regular

Pick a consistent format, style or tone that suits your business’s identity and publish short, digestible pieces on a regular basis. Content marketing works by slowly building an impression of dependability and ongoing expertise. Swamping customers’ inboxes, then disappearing for months on end, is counterproductive.

3. Be useful

Michelin recognised the popularity of the restaurant reviews in its guide and responded to demand by introducing the Michelin Star system in 1926. Today, it is the single most prominent way Michelin gets into the public imagination because the content is useful to customers. And they sell tyres!

4. Don’t show the guillotine

Don’t threaten an end to the content unless a sale is made. Do, however, tantalise customers with the prospect of an upgrade in insight if they do business with you. Don’t drop the mask and turn content into a cheap plea for business. Keep the focus on good and trustworthy information and advice. 

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