What is content marketing?

According to the Content Marketing Institute, content marketing is an ongoing process – integrated into an overall marketing strategy – that will “attract and retain customers by consistently creating and curating relevant and valuable content with the intention of changing or enhancing consumer behavior.”

That’s a lot to digest. When it comes down to it, what’s the point of content marketing?

It’s really about presenting useful and relevant and interesting information – text, imagery, audio or video – to your targeted audience of customers and prospects, says Sonia Simone, a writer, educator and co-founder of Copyblogger Media. At the same time, she adds, you’re setting the stage for future sales.

How can you be successful with your content marketing?

The content, she says, must hinge on three elements. First, it must move your audience. Second, it has to earn your audience’s attention. And third, “it has to have a spark.”

How does that work?

One of the best ways to get the attention of your audience is to infuse your content marketing with storytelling. Stories are memorable, much more so than just a presentation of raw data. They also help you to connect with your audience on a personal level. Skilled storytelling can make any topic appealing, especially when that topic resonates with your audience. One proven approach is to address a common problem or frustration that members of your audience must contend with. This shows that you’re in synch with your audience. You understand what’s important to them.

Any pitfalls to be mindful of?

Too many marketers, Simone says, take their audience for granted. They have a misguided sense of entitlement, an attitude that just because they’re in the marketplace they deserve the attention of their audience. This is flawed thinking and a surefire way to be unsuccessful with content marketing. It’s up to you to draw your audience in.

Anything else?

Yes. Another guaranteed road to failure is to put out content that’s just like everyone else’s. Simone calls it the cookie-cutter approach. From your audience’s perspective, your company appears to be no different than any of your competitors – a deadly proposition for you. Additionally, your content ends up whiffing on any wow factor to make it memorable. There is no spark to excite your audience or even a unique selling position to demonstrate how your company is a better choice than your competition.

How can you identify a potential spark to use in your content?

One way is to consider where the passion for your enterprise resides. How did the business come about? What were your personal motivations? These are all questions that will take you back to the enthusiasm that had to be present for starting your business.

Is there a structure for presenting effective content, especially in written form?

Absolutely. Like many successful content marketers, Simone advises you to be keenly aware of three particular elements: the headline, the first few lines of copy, and your call to action.

What about a headline?

Good headlines entice readers to look at your message. They have to work almost instantly in order to compete with everything else that’s competing for your audience’s attention. To get that punchy effect, your headline should be in the active voice. You want to deliver a strong point of view. Backing into your headline with passive construction is to assert something in a roundabout way. This weakens the power of your idea.

Headline length?

You may think the shorter, the better, for a headline. However, that’s not necessarily true. Consider this classic, 18-word headline that legendary adman David Ogilvy wrote for a 1959 Rolls-Royce advertisement: “At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in the new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock.”

No way you’d want to abbreviate that.

Why are the first few lines of copy so important?

That’s where you are providing impetus for your audience to continue reading. As noted earlier, presenting a common problem with your solution is a good way to hook readers. Because those first few lines are such valuable real estate, avoid repeating the headline – say something new, perhaps thought-provoking, or even fascinating.

What about the call to action?

You’ve made the effort to entice your audience and have proceeded to deliver a message to them. It only makes sense then to get to the point. What do you want them to do? That, after all, is why you’re investing your resources in content marketing.

Gerald H. Levin, a freelance writer and editor, specializes in content development for business. He is a member of the chamber. Reach him at ghlevin@gmail.com or through www.ghlevin.com.