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Talk about more than the obvious to reach a wider audience.

It’s easy to write yourself into a run with your content marketing. You get a specific set of topics or ideas that you feel are relevant to your company, and you adhere to those topics religiously. Straying from them would be off-target and a waste of money, right?

Not so fast. Part of delivering relevant content means you should bring your users what’s relevant to them, not just to you. Content that feels like a continuous sales pitch may feel like its serving you well, but it makes your visitors feel used. Instead, you need to deliver content that brings value to your visitors. Because in the long run, content that isn’t valuable to them isn’t valuable to you. This will mean expanding your idea of relevant content to include topics that inspire your visitors, rather than just inform or instruct them. And in order to do that well, you need to know your brand well enough to pick topics that make sense for your business while they’re bringing value to your visitors.

Begin with your brand.

Your company is more than your product or the services you offer. It’s a mindset. It’s a way of doing things. It’s a whole set of related likes and interests and tastes that fits into its own micro culture. Owning your brand means making yourself part of that culture.

So, what is your brand? Is it trendy? Helpful? Efficient? What reputation do you want to build for your company? Are you the people who always on top of the hippest industry development? Are you going to supply the friendliest service on the block? Or are you the knowledge curators with innovative, outside-the-box solutions? Whichever of these best describes your brand should give you a clue as to the sort of content you should be generating.

Let’s say you run a body shop. You want to be a great source of information. But you also want to show how engaged you are with your industry. Your sphere of influence extends well beyond basic “how to” articles on how to change your air filter, or informational pieces about which engine oil to use. Instead, it covers all ideas related to cars and car culture: auto shows, racing, antique models, road trips, etc.

Do these posts relate directly to selling a product? No. But they are still relevant content for your site, because they promote your brand. They tell people who visit your site that you are one of them. You get cars, you like cars, cars are what you do. You are not just part of the tribe—you are leading it.

People come to you because they have self-selected into your brand. The stronger and more influential your brand, the more homogenous that group of people will be, and the safer your assumptions about their tastes and interests become.

Write for your personas.

None of this means you can post about anything and everything: there’s still plenty of topics that have no bearing on your products or services, and therefore do not belong on your blog. Again, if you run a body shop, it makes sense to share posts about auto-related content. It does not make sense to share that food video you just watched, no matter how tasty those bacon gruyere sliders looked.

What’s the difference? Think about your marketing personas—your ideal customer type—and the sort of content they might be interested in. You can say with a high degree of certainty that the kind of person who would come to your shop for auto work might also be interested in your list of top backroad road trips in the US. You know this because their buying preferences and the fact that they have come to you for service shows that they own a car and care about maintaining it. But you do not know if that same person likes cooking videos or enjoys preparing food at home.

Knowledge of your customer base goes a long way toward informing what content is relevant for your site. You may know that your customers care about local businesses, which may make blog posts about community events worthwhile. Or your customer base may travel a lot, implying the possibility of travel-related content. Find what sort of content your customers enjoy, and then deliver that content.

Relevant content keeps your business top of mind.

We’ve talked a bit about the direct sales pitch, and how it may often feel useful to you without pleasing your customers. Well, the truth is that if your content is off-putting to your visitors, it actually isn’t serving you well. Again: content that isn’t valuable to your visitors isn’t valuable to you.

This doesn’t mean that a direct sales pitch is always off-putting: sometimes it’s what your visitors want. But even your most loyal customers aren’t likely to be always wanting to buy. Instead, most of them will be somewhere in the early to mid stages of a buying cycle. In that case, nothing you do will convince them to close if they don’t need to (just like I will never bother getting my oil changed if I’ve only driven 1,000 miles).

This is where a broader content strategy can pay off. An article about changing oil may be useful, and will be great to have around the next time someone asks you about it and you want to share that awesome blog post you wrote. But an article about the top 10 road trips to take in the fall will grab almost anyone’s interest, no matter what stage of the buying cycle they’re in. And this means that they’ll be more likely to remember you—and come to you for service—when the time rolls round.

So take time to think broadly about how to engage your visitors through your content. Your articles don’t have to be tied to a product or a service to be relevant to both you and your audience.

Published 02/16/17 by Laura Lynch