How to use content to drive sales -- without the hard sell

Content marketing can be a great way to position your brand as a thought leader and build a reputation for your product or service, but content must engage your target audience in order to be effective.

More and more companies are finding that focusing on the needs of their audience is the basis of a strong content strategy. In fact, 90% of the top-performing B2B content marketers put their audience’s informational needs ahead of their company’s sales message, according to research from the Content Marketing Institute.

However, knowing you need an audience-first approach is only half the battle. One in three attendees of a recent SmartBrief webinar said content creation is the biggest challenge they face when it comes to content marketing. Here are some of the insights SmartBrief’s content experts shared during the webinar, “It’s Not About You: Creating Content That Serves Your Audience.”

Focus on educating rather than selling

“I’ve watched numerous companies approach content marketing from the ‘we want this piece to be about us’ perspective — that approach fails,” said Kanoe Namahoe, director of content for education at SmartBrief. “Research and practice has shown that this approach does not engage audiences.”

A smarter approach is to create a piece of content that uses your company’s expertise to inform readers about a topic that’s relevant to your industry -- regardless of whether or not they buy your product. Done well, this approach still generates leads and sales. Content that is more educational than promotional in nature is among the most important qualities of content reviewed during the purchasing decision making process, according to research conducted by SmartBrief and the Content Marketing Institute.

Be specific -- and honest

Another important quality of content that decision-makers consider before a purchase is that it speaks to readers’ specific needs or pain points. One way to forge a connection with readers is by focusing on these pain points -- especially if they’re something your brand has also dealt with. An honest account of how a brand has worked to overcome issues that its target audience commonly deals with can build trust, and it’s a lot more compelling than content that reads like marketing copy.

Let the function dictate the format

Once you’ve found the perfect topic to engage your audience, you also need to consider which format best suits the people you're trying to reach and the information you’re presenting. Oftentimes, one topic can be presented in multiple ways. A blog post that summarizes a webinar is a quick read and more shareable than an hourlong recording. The same information can be condensed even more into an attention-getting infographic that makes a complex topic more accessible.

To learn more about creating an effective content strategy, view the webinar recording and download “Cracking the Content Code.” We also created an infographic to illustrate how you can plot your course for a winning content strategy.

By combining industry expertise and an engaged network of nearly 6 million senior executives and professionals, SmartStudio is a proven performer in strategizing, developing and distributing content that cuts through the clutter and provides real solutions to your audience’s business needs. View SmartStudio for our content marketing capabilities.