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Content marketing not only allows you to engage with your audience, it showcases your expertise, builds trust, and can potentially build sales. — Getty Images

When you use content to support your growth goals, you are engaging in content marketing. A solid strategy leverages content that represents your brand, is of interest to your potential buyers and provides them with value regardless of whether they purchase from you. If you do this well, you’ll connect with the right prospects and engage them in a relationship that generates sales.

This guide provides you with steps for creating your content marketing plan.

Key ingredients of content marketing

The Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as: “A strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

These key phrases that should shape your content plan:

  • Valuable.
  • Relevant.
  • Consistent.
  • Attract and retain.
  • Clearly defined audience.
  • Drive profitable action.

The benefits of content marketing

You can set yourself apart from the competition when you create content that establishes your brand story and demonstrates your expertise. Sharing your experience, knowledge and unique perspective provides value to your audience, which begins to build the trust needed to turn prospects into customers.

Content then becomes a vehicle for many marketing goals, including:

  • Creating brand awareness.
  • Capturing new leads.
  • Leading potential customers through the buying process.
  • Maintaining relationships with existing customers.

How to get started

Use the following steps to establish your content marketing plan:

Define your potential customers

You want to share content with an audience made up of prospects who would be your ideal customers. When you know who they are, you can develop the right content and put it in the right place. A good way to start is to create buyer personas. These are like cheat sheets that outline key characteristics of you target customer(s). If you have more than one type of customer, create a persona for each. Be sure to include the buyer’s pain points, the type of content they tend to use (e.g., video, webinars, articles, white papers, blogs), and where they find their content (e.g., magazines, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google searches, YouTube).

[See more: A Guide to Growing Your Business with Social Media Marketing.]

Identify your uniqueness

You know who you are and what your business stands for. Find the parts that make you unique and share those.

For example, if you have a plumbing business and a great personality, perhaps you can create short videos of do-it-yourself repairs to post on YouTube. You can also create blog posts about quick fixes homeowners can do themselves. Imagine being the company that shows customers how not to need them: You’d be establishing trust and demonstrating your knowledge to viewers while helping them save money. And then, when a big plumbing issue arises, who do you think they’ll call?

Determine your format

Now that you know your audience and your uniqueness, you have a good idea of the media platforms your audience is using and the content format that best conveys your message. For some, video posted on Facebook and Instagram is best, while others will share white papers via email campaigns. Still, others leverage frequent blog posts to keep their audience engaged. In reality, a good content strategy includes a variety of formats posted on different platforms to be able to reach your whole audience.

[See more: 5 Best Ways to Grow Your Business with Content Marketing.]

Content can do more than just get the attention of your audience.

Supporting the buyer’s journey

Content can do more than just get the attention of your audience. By creating pieces for each step of the buyer’s journey — which aligns with your sales funnel — you build relationships with your audience and guide them to becoming customers.

The following illustrates how to connect your audience to the right content in each stage of the buyer’s journey:

  • Awareness. This content introduces your brand and establishes your expertise. You’ll share or promote it in places where your target prospects spend time. While some content should be easy to access, you’ll want to offer some that requires entering contact information on a sign-up form so that you can continue communication. Justify this by providing some higher value content that your audience cannot find elsewhere or that is fairly comprehensive, thus requiring more of your time and expertise. Examples include in-depth guides, webinars and series of instructional videos.
  • Consideration. During this stage, prospects are considering and evaluating your business. You need to build trust and share content, like e-books and e-newsletters, that goes beyond awareness, demonstrates expertise and keeps the audience connected to your company, advised Neil Patel, a top web influencer and co-founder of Neil Patel Digital, a digital marketing agency.
  • Decision. It’s time to help the prospect make a purchase. Hubspot, a developer of software products for inbound marketing and sales, reported that, at this stage, case studies, trial offers, demos and product literature are often most effective. Now that you’ve built trust and established expertise, you can confidently ask if prospects are ready to buy and give them a way to connect to a salesperson.
  • Customer. Although this audience has already purchased from you, this stage of the relationship should not be forgotten. Provide content that supports them as your customer, keeps them engaged, and motivates repeat purchase and referrals.

Start, assess and adjust

You don’t have to create 100 pieces of content at once. Plan a couple of pieces for each stage, which you will link to from various media platforms. Document your plan and then get started. Be willing to assess results and learn. Pay attention to response rates, track activity at each stage, and get feedback from your sales team. Then, adjust your content mix as needed.

[See more: 3 Expert Strategies for Creating Great Content.]

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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