Do you have a content marketing plan for your business? Perhaps you’re a little fuzzy on what content marketing even is. According to expert Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute and publisher of Chief Content Officer, content marketing can do wonders for your business. At a recent meeting of the American Advertising Federation, Pulizzi shared some ideas on the subject.

What content marketing is (and is not). According to Pulizzi, content marketing is about “owning the media channel, not renting somebody else’s channel, like you would with advertising. It’s trying to attract and retain customers through creating and curating compelling, relevant content in order to change or enhance consumer behavior.”

Marketers often confuse content marketing with other forms of sales communication. “We talk to the smallest and biggest brands out there,” Pulizzi notes. “We say, ‘show us your content marketing’ and it’s all about the company’s products and services, their new widget, their latest award.  That’s not content marketing. That’s just sales collateral. There’s a use for that, but most customers don’t care about that. Only 2 percent of the marketing cycle is prospects who are actually ready to buy. Most of the time, they’re trying to learn, trying to find out how to choose the right product or supplier.”

Not a new discipline. Though people think content marketing is new, Pulizzi explains that it’s a discipline dating back to the 19th century. “John Deere developed a magazine for farmers called The Furrow in 1897. It’s still being published today, and it’s the largest circulated media property in farming, produced in 40 countries and 40 different languages. What’s important is that it’s not done by a media company. It’s done by John Deere.”

Jell-O is another example. “In 1904, Jell-O started going door to door giving away free recipes,” Pulizzi says. “Within 12 months after they started delivering this free content, they became a million-dollar brand. Today, they’re a multibillion-dollar brand.”

The biggest content marketing mistake? Not having a strategy. “According to our research, about 9 in 10 brands of all sizes are doing some kind content marketing, but only 42 percent say it’s effective,” Pulizzi reports. Why do so many marketers struggle with content marketing? Pulizzi says it’s usually because they lack a cohesive plan. “The biggest determining factor for success in content marketing is having a strategy. You need a strategic plan for creating and distributing content.”

A good plan starts with an editorial mission statement. “The first thing to do is figure out the ‘why’ behind your content. Why is your content interesting or important to your customers?  What’s the editorial mission?” Another mistake is viewing content marketing as a campaign. “Content marketing is not long enough in most cases,” Pulizzi observes. “This is why you need that media outline, because it takes a lot for long-term relationships with your customers, if you’re going to do that through content.”

Joe Pulizzi’s tips for content marketing success:

1.  Be the top information provider in your industry. “Most everybody’s story sounds the same in certain industries. Your goal is to be your industry’s leading information provider.”

2.  Create an editorial mission statement for your brand. “Even if it’s on a cocktail napkin, you have to start with this.”

3.  Get rid of the campaign mentality. “You’re really looking at a true marketing program. Content marketing should go on forever.”

4.  Answer your customers’ questions in your content. “That’s probably the easiest advice I can give you.”

5.  Do a visual content audit. “Print out your content and blog posts, your social media posts, put it all out on a table and get your marketing team around to engage in it. Is it helpful? Is it interesting? Is it targeted to the people you’re trying to reach?”

6.  Build subscriber relationships. “Think about building long-term relationships with customers and creating subscribers. It takes time to do that, but it’s absolutely possible.”

7.  Build a community of influencers. “Use a 4-1-1 plan to share influencers’ content—four shares of their content to every sales post of your own and every content post of your own.”

8.  Be consistent and keep at it. “Consistency is critical. Why do most content marketing programs fail?  Because they stop.”

Expect content marketing to deliver measurable results. Pulizzi encourages marketers to measure the results of their content marketing. “Is your content driving sales or saving costs? Is your content making your customers happier, thus helping with retention? At the end of the day, we’ve got to make sure we’re driving sales.”

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Jean M. Gianfagna is a marketing strategy expert and the founder and president of Gianfagna Strategic Marketing which provides marketing strategy and creative services to leading business-to-business and consumer marketers. Read her blog for more marketing tips at http://www.gianfagnamarketing.com/blog.