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Lee Odden of TopRank Marketing gives this advice to content marketers: "Be the best answer." It's great advice. You'll never be the only answer—there's far too much content competition out there—but you can be the best answer for the prospects and customers you're marketing to.

After a few decades of doing content marketing (we called it by different names in the past, but the principle is the same), I can think of four foolproof ways for you to be your audience's best answer. But they come with a caveat, the same one that marketers and performers, writers and musicians have always known: The first step in connecting to others is always to know your audience. Listen to what they want, listen to what they need, and know what it is.

With that as a given, then, here are four steps to creating content that will be the best answer for your audience.

Step 1

You are probably reading this because of the "four steps to developing winning content" part of the title. That's because how-to articles and content offering tips and practical advice are perennial favorites. That's always been the case.

Decades of magazine covers and millions of worldwide publications can't be wrong: People want to learn how to do whatever they do better, faster, more often, more easily... the list is endless. And so are your options for content creation.

Finding what your audience wants to do—and wants to do better—is key to getting your content read, thought about, and shared. Becoming the one whose advice gets followed is key to becoming a thought leader, a guru, a star in whatever firmament your audience inhabits.

Face it: We're all pretty self-centered, and any content that's addressing us directly and giving us tips for self-improvement is automatically a winner.

Step 2

The next big content attention-grabber is content that's tied in to other things going on in the world.

The best and most obvious example of tie-ins is working a connection between your content and a holiday. Don't have a holiday? Make one up: Days of The Year gives you the opportunity for a little humor and creativity in making connections with your marketing.

How about a celebration of Cuddle Up Day for a furniture outlet selling sofas? And there's no one that cannot find a tie-in to Talk Like a Pirate Day. This month (July 2014) is ice cream month, and if you can't work content around that, I give up on you altogether!

But don't stop at holidays. Use the news, as long as it's positive (no one responds well to the exploitation of tragedies). Local events and celebrations can work extremely well for locally based businesses. If the event is (or can be made) relevant to your audience, tie-ins are great tools for seizing attention.

Just make sure the content that follows is equally riveting!

Step 3

If you are, like me, a writer, then when you think "content" you lso automatically think "copy." Wordsmiths in particular have to remember that content—and often the most compelling content—embraces all media, including graphics, sound, and video.

The more different touchpoints you can create, the more people you will reach. Present useful webinars, put together helpful e-books, record podcasts... and remember that YouTube is the fastest-growing search engine.

Step 4

Finally, follow social media's golden rule and get people involved. Tap into where your prospects and customers or clients hang out, and be present there. Make them laugh, offer trivia, send them reminders—it's all great content that begs to be shared with others.

Long-form content still works, too, so publish blogs and engage segments of your customer base specifically within that content. Write newsletters and make sure that your forward-to-a-friend technology is turned on. The most brilliant content in the universe will do you no good at all if you don't share it and engage people so that they share it as well.

* * *

"Be the best answer" by constantly creating content that adds value to the lives of your audience; prospects and customers alike will come to see you as their first—and best—resource.

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'Be the Best Answer': Four Steps to Developing Winning Content

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image of Jeannette de Beauvoir

Jeannette de Beauvoir is a principal at Harbor Marketing Associates, a marketing company engaging clients with digital strategies and tools for brand success.

LinkedIn: Jeanette de Beauvoir