In today’s hyper-competitive business climate, you could say it takes a village to run a startup. Between staff, products, marketing and sales funnels, it’s no wonder nine out of 10 startups fail.

Developing and nailing your marketing strategy is no easy task, especially when your initial brand awareness is limited to beta testers and a handful of personal contacts. Content marketing can help get the word out about your startup, but only if you’re on the top of your game.

Know your brand and product inside and out, understand your target audience like they’re your best friend, and consistently execute your marketing strategy until your messaging and product are synonymous with your brand.

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1. Develop a content strategy. As a startup, your existence is best encapsulated by the “little fish in a big pond” metaphor. You’re swimming in a school of enterprises, hoping to grow big enough to muscle the other minnows out of the food chain. Fortunately, content marketing doesn’t have to break your marketing budget and can be quite cost-effective. On average, content marketing costs 62 percent less than traditional methods and generates three times as many leads in the process.

Unlike a fish, you don’t accomplish growth through muscle alone. Customers operate on their own timeline and can’t be forced to buy your product. Your brand must stand out and dominate your market to attract life-sustaining revenue. Creating a content-marketing strategy is one cost-effective tool in your arsenal to start dominating.

Before you ever create a single piece of content, stop and consider your strategy. Know what it’s going to look like, sound like, convey, its goal and how it will reflect on your business. Look at your company’s mission statement and understand its core values and infuse it into your marketing strategy.

Ask yourself what your product and marketing says about your company. Test it with a small group of clients and ask for feedback to help measure the results. Ask if your messaging is more appealing by video, infographics or podcasts. Find out what your clients' pain points are and how your services can help them.

2. Befriend your audience. Creating content without understanding your audience is a complete waste of time and money. Companies with a website-content strategy designed around their audience’s preferences are nearly twice as likely to convert as those without. Further, 73 percent of online buyers get frustrated when website content appears to have nothing to do with them. 

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Study your audience through market research, blog comments, online surveys and talking to them at events and conferences to figure out their needs and pain points. Consider running focus groups in exchange for a chance to win a free product or discount code. Get deeper insights into their demographic information, lifestyle habits and product perception.

Treat your audience like you would a friend you're getting to know and respect. Engage with your audience on social media to learn more about their interests. Collect and refine all the data you gather to customize your content.

3. Win leads with consistency. One of the greatest challenges involved in content marketing is maintaining a consistent presence. The limited attention span of online audiences creates a “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately” mentality necessitating a constant flow of content. The numbers speak for themselves. Companies that produce a mere 15 blog posts per month reported an average of 1,200 more leads per month as a result.

Establish a workflow pipeline and schedule to show your audience you’re reliable and stay on at the forefront of their minds when they need your services. Establish which team member creates ideas, who approves them, who writes them, who edits them and who publishes them to keep a steady flow of blog posts, infographics and videos funneling into the hands of customers.

Above all else, know that content marketing isn’t about quick, easy results. Like any relationship, getting to know your customers takes time, and earning their trust and respect is a privilege. Show customers you care by creating content that reflects how you can serve them and their unique needs.

Related: Create Content That Gets Your Customers' Attention