I’ve written previously how email and social have staked their claim in marketing resource allocation because of their ROI. The channels are alike in that they are both permission-based, requiring marketers to earn their audiences and the attention they lend. Email and social are alike in another important way – they are both forms of Content Marketing.

Content Marketing existed as a practice before it was coined as a term, and then became established as a specific marketing discipline. The premise of Content Marketing is that brands rely on content that is relevant to their audiences rather than advertisements that promote the brand in order to aggregate and engage an audience. The purpose of the content in Content Marketing is normally not focused on explaining or communicating specific brand attributes or a company’s qualifications for doing business, but instead implies authority and expertise so that the audience comes to its own conclusion that the company producing this content knows what it’s talking about and would make a good partner or vendor. A magazine produced by a trade association, such as the National Retail Federation’s Stores Magazine, is a good example. So are conferences and symposiums developed by a company  to educate audiences on an industry issue that the particular company is well-suited to address. And so is this blog, not designed to tell you that Real Magnet is the ESP you should choose, as much as to demonstrate that we’re not a bunch of mouth-breathers, and inspire some confidence in our ability to help you craft and execute a communications strategy.

If you publish an email newsletter, you may already be in the content marketing game. Here is how to bring your content marketing program to the next level, and grow your audience in other channels in the same way you’ve grown your email audience:

Blogs: I don’t just extoll the virtues of blogs in content marketing because we have one; rather, we have one because they’re one of the most effective ways for a brand to tell its story in a way that will aggregate and engage an audience. To be successful in content marketing, blogs should be educational and authoritative, of course. But they should also be empathic, and include content that is highly relevant to the intended audience. Screening topics so that as much of the content is a direct hit with the audience is almost as important as the way the content is presented. Unlike email newsletters, many readers actively seek out blogs. One too many posts with off-topic content that wastes a visitor’s time can erode the blog’s perceived value, losing some of the audience it has aggregated.

Social media: The format here is much shorter than blogs of course, but it still enables a brand to tell its story and to be of use to its audience. (It’s the being of use rather than telling the story that aggregates the audience.) Many brands, particularly B-to-B, use their social presence to relay and comment on industry news. Acting as a resource in this way does not require an 800 word essay, but it’s also not just enough to point at news using your Twitter account or Facebook page. Comment briefly each time to let your audience know how your brand interprets the news. Even if it’s a crisp 5 word comment preceding a link to a piece of news, your perspective is essential to establishing yourself as an authority. Authorities have opinions, and social media allows you to show yours frequently and clearly, while at the same time educating your audience on what is important to them. Do this, and not only does your audience become larger; they become more connected to your brand and cognizant of your point of view.

Video: Like blogs, video is a form of social content that lets brands educate and engage. Consumer brands lean more towards the engage side, particularly through entertaining, but B-to-B brands can use video very effectively to educate. Instructional videos, behind the scenes looks at industry issues, interviews with key industry figures and conference sessions are all examples that work better as content marketing in video than text.

Email Newsletters: Subscribers have invited you to engage, educate, inform, edify and/or entertain them, right in the comfort of their own inboxes. Keep your eye on the prize here, which ultimately is to make sure that they look forward to the next newsletter as much – or more – as they did this one.

In all of these channels, content marketing aggregates and an engages an audience, which is a very different objective than selling to them or driving another action. Next time I’ll discuss how to leverage the audiences from your content marketing programs, in ways that generate ROI from content marketing without compromising the engagement between your audiences and the content that attracted them.