This article originally appeared on Column Five.
Content marketing is not about talking about yourself; it’s about creating content that delivers true value to your audience—the content they need and want. No matter who your audience is, I can guarantee that what they need and want is information that helps them learn, grow, and improve in some way.
When your brand provides that information, you’re providing an education—and that is a truly valuable service.
“Education” through content marketing can take many forms: practical (how-tos and tutorials), theoretical (deep dives into specific subjects), or brand-specific (product information and features). Most importantly, it delivers useful information in the right context, at the right time.
Unfortunately, over the last decade, we’ve seen too many marketers focus on what they want to say instead of what their audience wants to learn. This is a huge mistake; if you want to succeed in content marketing, focusing on education is crucial. It’s also not that hard. Here are five ways to create education-based content that delivers great value to your audience.
1) PROVE THAT YOU FEEL THEIR PAIN
People want help from those who know what they’re going through, who can help them navigate those issues. Therefore, the best way to make yourself attractive to a customer is to help solve their problems via content.
An added benefit: Creating this type of content not only shows your audience that you care about educating them but proves that you can educate them, positioning your brand as a helpful resource.
How do you get familiar with your clients’ pain points? Ask. Email them. Call them. Take them out to lunch, dinner, or drinks.
Whichever way you do it, use this information to fuel your content.
We’ve created audience personas with the information we’ve gleaned from our conversations with clients, which we reference during every brainstorm. This helps us ensure that each idea addresses as specific pain point. (Here’s how to make your own personas if you haven’t done it already.)
2) LET THEM LEARN FROM YOUR MISTAKES
In addition to wanting help from people who understand their problems, your customers want to know that you have personally overcome their struggles (or personally know how to solve them).
Customers respect industry leaders who can speak authoritatively on the issues they face. Yes, “thought leadership” is a term that gets tossed around a lot, and so it has been cheapened, but the original idea behind it is to showcase your experience, share the lessons you’ve learned, and prove that you know your stuff.
Seth Godin has said, “The lessons we remember are the lessons we learn the hard way.” Even if you don’t think you are the expert, you probably still know more than your customers and thus are in a good position to educate them.
On that note, if you feel like an impostor because someone has 10 more years of experience than you do, here’s the good news: Everyone deals with this syndrome—myself included. (Here’s a great piece to help you overcome impostor syndrome.)
3) HELP THEM GET TO KNOW YOU
Showcasing your unique point of view is truly the only way to stand out from your competitors. No one has had the same set of experiences and life lessons you’ve had, and this is truly your best value prop.
Sure, there’s a company with more website visitors than you have. Sure, they may have more e-books than you do. And, sure, they may have more speaking gigs than you do. But what they don’t have is your exact experience or perspective. They don’t have your same personality, values, client service style, or goals.
Don’t try to be Tim Ferriss, Seth Godin, or Tony Robbins. Learn from them, but forge your own path.
The more you can showcase who you are through content and educate your audience through interaction with your brand, the more your audience will forge a more unique, personal connection with you.
This content will also attract people who have similar perspectives or philosophies, which means that audience is more likely to convert (as opposed to other methods, such as paid search or radio advertising, which reaches broader audiences).
At Column Five, we produce informative content for our clients, but we also create content to showcase our company’s values and personal passions (e.g., our People for Periods interactive infographic to help destigmatize menstruation).
4) TEACH THEM A PRACTICAL SKILL
Thought leadership is important, but sometimes brands get a little too esoteric, musing in long blog posts or philosophizing on a podcast. That knowledge is valuable, but if it isn’t immediately applicable to your audience’s life, it can take a backseat.
Instead, try repackaging that knowledge into smaller, shareable content your audience can put to use. Even a small tidbit via a tweet can help. Seek to educate through tutorials, how-to guides, hacks, and tips, but remember that practicality is key for this type of content.
You can also use this type of helpful microcontent to promote your larger pieces. For example, we created this infographic on how to optimize your blog for publishing to help promo an e-book on content distribution.
5) LEARN TOGETHER
You are an expert in your industry. You know your stuff. But you’re also eager to expand your knowledge to give your audience the best information possible at all times. Demonstrating that you are also an active student teaches your audience that you aren’t just resting on your laurels. It helps them learn new things, too.
To help educate ourselves and our audience, we conduct Q&As with industry leaders we think are doing great work and are successful in their own lanes. For example, a few members of our team were so enamored of PopSugar’s Snapchat stories, we interviewed them to find out everything about their production process and provide a few tips to our readers.
REMEMBER: VALUE COMES FIRST
Expanding your reach, exploring new ideas, and fostering a learning community through content can only help your brand, as long as you’re focused on providing value. Remember the wise words of Zig Ziglar: “You can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”
To learn more about creating better content, check out our team’s top tips to make you a better content marketer and take a look at our best fixes for your biggest content marketing problems. Of course, if you need help with your content efforts, we’re always happy to chat.