Be honest with yourself: Why should customers and prospects care about what you have to say? Everywhere your customers look, they are being bombarded with sales messaging. Instead of contributing to the noise, be truly helpful. Be their go-to informational resource. This type of quality storytelling can act like steroids for your search rankings and social media, as customers share with their networks.
That said, very few small businesses have the skills and training to create a content marketing program and consistently deliver on that promise. So how do you create content that moves your customers and prospects to take action?
It's possible. Take the small business Copyblogger Media, for example. Based in Boulder, Colo., Copyblogger sells software, but they also have more than 200,000 regular subscribers to their daily blog posts. Their revenue growth comes from having a loyal audience who will buy their products because they trust their content. Another example is Boston-based OpenView Venture Partners, a small venture capital company whose site has more than 20,000 entrepreneur subscribers. Those subscribers rely on the site for information on a regular basis.
Here are six principles that should be core to your content marketing strategy:
1. Fulfill a need. Your content should answer some unmet need or question for your customer. It needs to be useful in some way to the customer, over and above what you can offer as a product or service. In some cases, it may fill an emotional need -- take Coca-Cola or Red Bull's storytelling, for example.
2. Stay consistent. The great hallmark of a successful publisher is consistency. Whether you subscribe to a monthly magazine or daily email newsletter, the content is always delivered on-time and as expected. This is where so many companies fail. Whatever you commit to in your content marketing, you must consistently deliver.
3. Be human. Find your voice. The benefits of not being a journalistic entity is that you have nothing holding you back from being you. Find your voice and share it. If your company's story is all about humor, share that. If it's a bit sarcastic, that's okay too.
4. Have a point of view. This is not encyclopedia content. You are not giving a history report. Don't be afraid to take sides on matters that can position you and your company as an expert.
Chipotle's runaway viral hit The Scarecrow clearly has a point of view -- that locally sourced and responsibly-produced food is superior to processed foods. Don't be afraid to take a stance.
5. Step away from the sales-speak. At my company, when we create a piece of content that is about our own products or services versus an educational post, it only garners 25 percent of the page views and social shares. The more you talk about yourself, the less people will share and spread your story. It's that simple.
6. Be the best of the breed. Although you can't get there right away, you want your content to be best of breed. This means what you are distributing is the very best of what is available in your particular content niche. I know this may sound overly simplified, but if you expect your customers to spend time with your content, you must deliver amazing value.
Take time to examine your content marketing strategy. How many of the six principles are you practicing? Let us know in the comments below.
The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.
Joe Pulizzi is founder of Content Marketing Institute, a Cleveland- based education and training organization for content marketing, which host the annual Content Marketing World event. He has written three books, including the most recent: Epic Content Marketing (McGraw-Hill, 2013). You can read his blog here.