If you’re in marketing, PR or any communications role you’ve likely been inundated with expert advice on how to incorporate content marketing into your business strategies and heard why it’s a must-have in your corporate plan. Many practitioners are just getting familiar with terms like content marketing, content strategy, content publishing and content curation, while others are writing books and blog posts about it. If you’re new to it all, don’t despair: You’re probably already doing some kind of content marketing, even if you don’t realize it.
There are as many definitions of content marketing  as there are ways to get it off the ground in your organization. If you are creating and sharing a steady flow of information about your products and services to educate buyers about your business in a way that is educational and not sales-heavy or laden with corporate-speak, you’re a content marketer. If you are publishing case studies and eBooks, proactive in social media and producing white papers, you’re a content marketer. And if you’re committed to educating, engaging and building relationships with your customers (and potential customers) to help them get the information they need to solve their problems, you’ve got a solid grasp of the principles of content marketing.
Let’s look at three straightforward and simple ways that you can get started.
Adopt a content strategy and stick to your objectives.
Any business strategy needs to be well thought out with clearly defined objectives; your content strategy is no exception. It’s important to set goals with internal stakeholders so that it’s clear from the onset what you are looking to achieve, whether it’s customer education and retention, better brand awareness and share-of-voice, increased sales or a mix of all of these things.
Content marketers often ask, “what kind” and “how much?” What you create and publish doesn’t just need to be relevant and interesting, it also needs to be frequent and current. These are lofty goals, indeed, and ones that an in-house publishing team (even a small one) can help you achieve. The team can set and maintain the pace for content volume and frequency, ensure brand consistency and keep tabs on where your customers are gathering online and off so you can decide what content is best suited to what audiences and what channels. A good editorial calendar helps keep creation and publishing on track and the content flow on schedule.
Give people the information they are looking for.
It’s important to remember that buyers spend a lot of time online looking for information and seeking peer advice about brands and products that will help them solve their problems. In fact, Cisco recently found that 74 percent of consumers turn to the web to conduct research before making a purchase in store. The best content marketers are those who know what people are searching for and fill that need with relevant, useful information. The American Express OPEN Forum  is a terrific example of how a community of users was built upon content and collective discussion around the topics of small business and entrepreneurship and not directly around the company, its brand or services.
How can you know what people are searching for and be proactive in your efforts to provide them with the right kind of content? If your company manufactures child safety seats, for example, it’s valuable to know the questions people ask and the conversations they are having so you can produce relevant content. Social media monitoring  can provide tremendous insight into online behavior and help guide your content marketing efforts. By looking at a graphic representation of online conversations about child safety seats (the word cloud, to the right), smart content marketers will recognize that by providing a steady stream of content geared toward the proper installation of seats, how to choose the appropriate seat based on age and weight, and how safety seats can reduce the risk of injury due to crashes, they can educate, inform and build relationships with customers.
Take an inventory of your own content assets.
Why not begin in your own backyard and use the content you already own? Taking a detailed, soup-to-nuts inventory is a great place to start. Not every asset is appropriate (some pieces might be too sales-focused, for example), but great ideas include:
- Collateral: white papers, blog posts, eBooks, case studies and testimonials
- Video and audio: interviews, tutorials, product demos, archived webinars
- Digital imagery: product photography, infographics
Remember to speak to your audience’s needs and not your corporate agenda. Recognize their pain points and hear their questions first, and then see how your content can help solve their problems. Author Paul Gillin has a great perspective: You should never start with piece of content and say ‘what do I want to do with it’? That’s like picking up a hammer and saying ‘what do I want to hit with it’?
Content marketing is not a ‘quick fix’ for companies looking to increase sales, and like any corporate strategy it involves a great deal of planning and patience. It’s also a dynamic and iterative practice. The best content marketers are those who listen to their audiences, respond to what they need, and stay agile and creative with the content they produce.
- Ask the Expert: 5 great tips on how to create content and conversations, courtesy of Rebecca Lieb 
- The 5 Ws of successful website content 
- How to use earned media to boost your brand