Editor’s Note: This post is based on a presentation that Content Marketing Institute founder Joe Pulizzi recently gave at Content Connections, Acrolinx’s online, virtual conference. Held in November 2016, the event attracted thousands of content professionals from around the world. You’ll also find a recording of Joe’s full presentation embedded in the post below.

Back in the 1990s when the internet started taking off, marketers got really excited. That’s because websites finally gave us a place to put all of the collateral we had been creating about our companies’ products and services. It seemed like a great thing. When social media started arriving on the scene a few years later, it looked like things were getting even better. Suddenly we had a bunch of new ways to distribute all of our content.

Unfortunately, over time we learned that some of our assumptions weren’t quite right. It turns out that for the most part, our customers don’t actually care to hear about our products and services, except at very specific points along the buyer journey. As a result, if we want to get their attention and use content to communicate with them effectively, we’ve got to focus on sharing really interesting and useful information that cuts through all of the clutter.

Looking back prior to 1990, there were only eight ways that consumers could get information:

  • Direct fax
  • Direct mail
  • Events
  • Telephone
  • Print
  • Display
  • Radio
  • Television

Practically speaking, what that meant is that all of the power resided with media companies and the brands with the biggest advertising budgets.

Fast forward to today, however, and there are hundreds — if not thousands — of ways for consumers to get information. That’s important for a number of reasons, not least of which is that it means that customers and prospects can ignore us at will. As a result, these days you can no longer just rely on advertising. You need something interesting to say on a consistent basis to get people to pay attention to you. That means that your biggest challenge is creating content that your customers will care about.

The Challenge of Content Marketing

There are lots of different definitions thrown about when it comes to content marketing. Here’s mine and it’s really simple: Content marketing is about building an audience. You can do that by publishing your own content on your own channel to help you create amazing experiences for your audience. When you do so consistently, it gives your audience the opportunity to get to know, like, and trust you, and ultimately leads to behavioral change.

And while research shows that 90 percent of businesses do some sort of content marketing, only about 30 percent say that they are successful at it. If you’re wondering why, what it comes down to is that most companies:

  1. Are focused on creating content for specific campaigns rather than on an ongoing basis.
  2. Still talk too much about their own products and services.
  3. Don’t have clear goals.
  4. Haven’t got a documented strategy.

Despite these issues, just about everyone is creating content — and lots of it. In fact, 75 percent of marketers say that they’re planning to create even more content over the next 12 months. The problem, however, is that very few are developing audiences that know, like, and trust them.

6 Steps to Getting Content Marketing Right

The good news is that there’s a better way to succeed at content marketing than simply creating more and more content. I’ve spent a lot of time reverse engineering what companies that are really successful at content marketing do, and I’m going to share what I’ve learned with you here. They follow what I call the Content Inc. model, which consists of six steps:

  1. Find your sweet spot. You have to know what to create content about. It should be something that you’re really passionate about or about which you’ve got a unique and deep level of knowledge and expertise. You might create content that reflects a particular skill that you have or that hones in on a specific pain point that your customers face. Whatever the case may be, you need to find the best topic that you can write about to be viewed as an authoritative and trusted expert.
  2. Figure out your content tilt. Most people stop at their sweet spot and that’s a mistake. That’s because there’s so much competition out there, and in all likelihood there are already others writing about the same things as you. You’ve got to find an area with little to no competition where you can differentiate yourself and break through all of the clutter. To find your content tilt, start by creating a content marketing mission statement that outlines who your core target audience is, what you’re going to deliver to them, and what the outcome will be for those people.
  3. Build your base. Next, it’s time to start building up your base of followers. What I’ve found through my research is that the best way to do this is to focus on just one type of content (blog posts, videos, SlideShares, or whatever you like) and to post them to one main platform. When you publish consistently over a long period of time (we’re talking 9–18 months), you’re going to get results. If that sounds daunting, fair enough, but remember that content marketing is a marathon, not a sprint.
  4. Harvest your audience. Distribution is a critical part of content marketing. While it’s important to leverage social media to help, you also have to think beyond that. Remember that organic posts don’t often work, that it’s incredibly difficult to build an audience on rented land, and that you should create your own amazing newsletter. With that in mind, focus on subscribers as your key metric and make sure that you’re always providing value to your audience in exchange for their subscription.
  5. Diversify. Over time, you’re going to want to diversify the content that you create. What we’ve found is that when people subscribe to three things (say, a newsletter, a podcast, and a magazine) they’re most likely to buy. The idea here is to wrap your customers in content love, and you’re going to need more than just a blog to do that.
  6. Monetize. Being able to monetize your content marketing is basically the Holy Grail for everyone. And, while there are plenty of ways to do so (by selling advertising and sponsorships, creating events, developing cost savings initiatives, etc.), you’ve got to be careful in how you approach it. Do some analysis and try to figure out what the difference is between the people who subscribe to your content and those who don’t. Once you understand that, monetization will fall into place. And remember, you’ve got to create value for your audience before you can start extracting value.

Are You Taking a Content Marketing Approach or Just Creating Content?

Never forget that content marketing is about a lot more than simply creating content. Everyone can and does create content these days, but not everyone is successful at content marketing. If, however, you follow the six steps I’ve outlined for you in this post, you’ll be well on your way to developing an audience that knows, likes, and trusts you.