The most common buzzword on the lips of marketers right now is content marketing.  Like all good buzzwords, this term implies a powerful new approach for consumer engagement, but its exact meaning—and more importantly its application—can sometimes be elusive.

“Content marketing is the art of communicating with customers and the target audience without selling,” according to Sonja Jefferson and Sharon Tanton in their book Valuable Content Marketing. This description highlights the essential truth about branding engagement: consumers expect to be engaged before they will even consider buying into a brand’s line of products or services.

In this world of content as cultural currency, the greatest investment marketers can make is not in advertising, but in providing consumers with a chance to engage, contribute, and learn.  The content must be dynamic, relevant, and useful to the consumer, whether that content is a helpful how-to video, a sleek infographic, or a well-crafted blog post.

Engaging consumers without breaking the bank

The advantage for brands is that producing this content is cost-efficient—a boon for small brands on a budget that need to invest in low-risk strategies such as content marketing to guarantee a strong ROI.  The first step any brand should take before developing their own rich content is to engage its community by asking them what they’d like to see and what questions they want answered.

Many brands will find that once they’ve established a culture of content, their most engaged brand ambassadors will often contribute their own rich ideas and media, enhancing the experience for other users in organic and exciting ways.  The end result is brand loyalty and trust, as the community will know they are being listened to and respected.

What makes the best content?

As is often the case with most Web 2.0 strategies, there is no one-size-fits-all type of content that will work for all brands all the time.  Brands looking to develop rich content should have a clearly defined goal, whether it’s to drive traffic or foster brand loyalty.

Here are a couple examples of smart content marketing for small businesses:

  • A small plumbing business could post blogs and diagrams to help its customer base deal with various small plumbing issues such as a leaky faucet.  By offering free advice, the brand will build trust and become a thought leader.
  • A hair salon could use Pinterest to post images of the most recent trends—from prom styles to professional fashions.  This will not only establish the salon as an authority that keeps up with the fashions in its industry, but also it will save consumers time when trying to decide what hair style is best for them.
  • A chef at a popular local restaurant could post short videos teaching its patrons some simple cooking techniques.  These videos could be especially helpful during the holidays, when people are looking for the best recipes to really make their holiday dinners sparkle.

How is your business building its content currency?  How are you measuring customer engagement and the effectiveness of your content strategy?

 

Cheryl Burgess (@ckburgess) is a digital and social brand consultant, blogger, and speaker. Her knowledge of business strategy, passion for creative expression, and marketing technology helps businesses achieve the remarkable. AT&T has sponsored this blog post.