6 Rules for Engaging Customers

Growing your online business starts with knowing the difference between marketing and content marketing. “Content marketing,” has a plethora of definitions depending on whom you ask, but at the core of it is this: It’s about engaging customers and having a conversation, not hard sells and pitches. It’s the difference between a discussion and a lecture. Whether you’re creating content for a special event or re-branding from scratch, engagement should be at the core of your marketing.

This can be especially tricky for old school entrepreneurs who spent decades in traditional, corporate marketing departments. On the other hand, Millennial entrepreneurs might have trouble balancing between, “conversational,” and way too laid back. No matter where you fall on the spectrum, make sure you follow these rules for customer engagement:

1. Match the content to the audience

You might have a great piece on bartering which your B2B customers will benefit from, but it’s not the right fit for your consumers who buy your cookware, office supplies, etc. The first rule of content marketing is to be a good matchmaker. You can do this with research, focus groups, or trial and error--followed up with analytics. You wouldn’t recommend, “50 Shades of Grey,” for a church book group—so don’t make a similar mis-match with your marketing.

2. Timing is everything

It’s pretty tough to engage anyone if your timing is off—that goes for everything, (not just content marketing.) For example, you wouldn’t have a serious, sit-down conversation with your significant other at 2am after a night of partying, (or if you’ve tried, hungry, etc., you know it never ends well.) Understand where your audience is coming from and when they’re most open to your content. It’s the easiest way to optimize your efforts.

3. Ask questions

Asking questions is important. The Huffington Post recently reported on the need to speak up. With content marketing, it’s even more critical. Ending a blog or other piece with an honest, open-ended question is the best way to kickstart a conversation with your audience. However, it has to be a question that nobody can resist, that speaks to your widest audience, and that isn’t too controversial. Most importantly, active listening should be your follow-up default.

4. Keep it short and sweet

Like it or not, people are enjoying reading less and less. They like plenty of white space, no more than four sentences per paragraph, and maybe visual content more than text. A lot of people are reading on the go, on mobile devices, or don’t have more than a minute to spare. Respect their time and make that content easily digestible.

5. Remember: Sharing is caring

Making sure your content is shareable is another critical aspect you can’t miss. There should be obvious buttons for sharing on social media, email, etc. that go best with the content and your business. Shareable content is virtually free marketing, letting you reach more people than you ever imagined. However, not making it easy to share is shooting yourself in the foot.

6. Mix entertainment with information

Content marketing should be educational, informative, entertaining, or a combination of all three. It shouldn’t be a hard sell or a pitch—nobody wants to read that. It should be something new, something that draws readers in, and works well with native advertising. Is it something you’d want to read? If not, why would anyone else?

Content marketing isn’t an easy feat to master, and it’s constantly changing because the market and your audience are evolving. You’ll make mistakes, but if you learn from these mistakes, you will definitely forward.