We’re moving toward an ad-free society, and the biggest companies and the best marketers have realized for a number of years now that their ads are being seen and engaged with less and less.

People Will Engage with Stories

How do we unleash this potential? How do we build an emotional connection between us, some form of content, and our customers? There are really two distinct strategies. You’re not selling your products. People don’t want to deal with companies constantly selling to them when they’re casually browsing social media. You’ve got to find ways to help people make money, save money, have a happier life, have a healthier life, have more fun in their lives. You’ve got to find some way, some angle, some niche to create true value for people, and this takes time.

Create Brand Awareness

We’re leading people on a journey, and the first step is awareness. Research shows that 85 percent of businesses in the first year that start brand awareness and do it well and do it consistently have a bump in awareness. Now for the bad news: for most businesses it may take three or four years before they’re able to report financial benefits. So the first lesson is that this takes time.

Align with Successful People

The second strategy is to find those who have already done this. Borrow the audience and the brand recognition from people who have been creating content for a long time. Let me walk you through a couple of steps that I use with my clients. There’s a series of questions that I ask them to try to determine where we go with this. The first one is always a little uncomfortable, because I ask them, “Can you finish this sentence: Only we . . . “ If they can’t do it, that means they don’t really have a marking strategy. They don’t know what makes them distinctive. You can’t have a content strategy or a social media strategy before you have a marketing strategy. So you have to be able to know: 1) What are we going to say? 2) Where are we going to say it? and 3) Who do we need to reach?

Research Your Competitors

I think a second smart thing is to do some competitor research. How saturated is your niche with content? Then you have to figure out how you can maneuver. Marketing is all about maneuverability. It’s not about doing something that everybody else is doing; it’s about finding something new.

Culturally Appropriate Content

Another thing you have to look at is the type of content that fits for you culturally. Are you a company that needs to explain a lot of things? If so, then you might want to do video. Are you a company that already has a lot of existing documents and FAQs? Maybe writing is more important. Just pick one thing, do it well, and build an audience there for at least a year. Create content that your audience will connect with emotionally. It’s important to do that no matter what business you’re in. You need to make that human connection. You need to always remember that you’re connecting with other people, not just little icons on LinkedIn.

I was talking with the chief marketing officer of a huge international company, and he said, “We’re having a conference. We’re bringing in all our marketing people from all around the world and we want to hire you to come and speak to this conference, and I think it’s going to lead to a long relationship with you because we’re really excited about the things you’re doing.” He then told me, “I don’t even remember how I got connected to you. I’ve been reading your blog for years. I’ve been reading your books for years. Your last book, The Content Code, had this profound impact on me.” I’ve never met this man before in my life. I didn’t even recognize his name. Now is that one-on-one marketing? I don’t know. It was to him.

Persistence

Sometimes with content marketing, we have to persist even when we’re unsure of the impact because feedback like that is rare. We may get a few comments from people on our YouTube videos or our podcasts or whatever content that we’re creating, but that’s just a small fraction of the people who are actually consuming the content, a small fraction of the people we’re actually impacting.

It’s amazing to me. I kind of have an idea of who my most fanatic fans are. I see every day the people who are sharing my content, but those aren’t necessarily the people on whom I’m having the biggest impact Doing content marketing or any kind of marketing or advertising takes a certain leap of faith.

Do What You Love

Writing is generally my main social media drug of choice and the reason is because I love it and it brings me joy. I think that’s important, because if I’m having fun, then the readers will see that. If you’re doing something that you hate, your audience will see that, too. Sometimes it doesn’t really matter what your competitors are doing. You have to do something that you love. You’ve got to stand out today. You’ve got to be original. To be original, you have no choice but to insert your own story, your own personality, to have that courage. It’s more about that than creating content for a persona. Instead of me finding my audience, my audience found me.

Selling Happens on Your Website

Less and less direct traffic is coming to websites today. People are finding this through Google and through blog posts and through YouTube videos and through asking friends on Facebook. So we need to have this presence in this ecosystem around our website. We need to populate this information ecosystem with our helpfulness, with our stories, with an emotional connection to real people. That ultimately leads potential customers back to our website because that’s where the business gets done.

Value Comes from Sharing Content

I’ve written the best-selling book about blogging. I think this book sells for about $12 on Amazon. I’ve given away 180 blog posts for free, and yet, every single week people, hire me about creating content on a blog. Through my content, through my generosity, I built a voice of authority. They know I’m the go-to guy for this topic. My goal is to unleash everything I know about these platforms. If I’m holding content hostage and keeping it secret or putting it behind a firewall, there’s no economic value to those ideas. There’s no economic value to content unless it is seen and shared.

The world doesn’t work by having a mind-set of sell, sell, sell. The world has to work on a mind-set of help, help, help. If you can truly internalize that and live it, it works. Be generous. Be courageous. Focus on setting the content free. I think the most important metric in marketing is social shares of content. That shows your word is getting out there which is the leading indicator to sales. Short of something that’s top-secret intellectual patented property, let it go and trust the system. Trust how the world and the economy works today. It’s almost impossible to monetize content.

Site Traffic Value

There is a business model for traffic if your business is advertising based. Most of our businesses are not advertising based. We have to sell something and that shines a light on the myth of traffic. Most businesses should look at Google Analytics. There you’ll find that the traffic that comes from organic search will spend less than two seconds on your site, then they’ll leave and never come back. Yet most businesses are obsessed with driving traffic. We need to obsess with the people who really love us, the people who are sharing our content, and the people who are our biggest advocates.

Build Trust

People share our content for one reason: they trust us. They know that sharing content is a big deal. It’s an intimate decision because it’s an extension of their personal brand. So people go through this thought process: what are people going to think of me if I share this piece of content? Sharing content is the ultimate advocacy. So my view is, instead of focusing on traffic, we need to focus our resources on building trust with our audience. That’s what really marketing is about. You can trick people into clicking a link. You can’t trick them into reading it or sharing it. There is no shortcut. You got to do the work. You’ve got to create this really truly helpful content and you’ve got to build this connection of trust with an audience that is really going to share it. SEO isn’t going to work in that environment if that’s your goal.

Resilience and Tenacity

I wrote this book, Known, and it’s all about building your personal brand. I interviewed nearly 100 people from all around the world and the last question I asked them was: If you could give one piece of advice to encourage people to stick with it and to build their brand, what would it be? Almost everyone said a variation of the words “consistency,” “resilience,” and “tenacity.” They said people quit too soon and on average it took two and a half years for these people to get traction. There’s room for you, your business, your ideas, and your content. Take the first step. Have courage and just start.