In today’s content marketing industry, it’s no longer about who has the biggest budget or in most cases, the loudest voice in the room.

It’s about the businesses that create meaningful content that connects with their customers. The content that will have the greatest impact makes customers stop, pay attention, and realize that yes, this was written for me and yes, I can use this in my life.

This week, I’m in New York City for the 2013 Content2Conversion Conference. Content2Conversion is an annual event that brings together some of today’s most well known thought leaders in the content marketing industry. They discuss top trends and provide key insights into managing the content life cycle.

I’m here because like you, I am always looking for new ways to improve the work I do every day. And while the event is designed specifically for B2B businesses like us, Constant Contact, it has plenty of relevant content marketing lessons for businesses of all shapes and sizes.

“Would your network thank you for your content?”

That was the question presented by Ann Handley, Head of Content at MarketingProfs and author of Content Rules (a book you ought to read if you haven’t already.)

It’s a question that may not mean much as you’re reading it here on your laptop, tablet, or smartphone but for me, it was one of the most inspirational questions I’ve ever been asked.

It’s a question that of all of us, as content marketers (and make no mistakes about it, if you’re responsible with coming up with ways to market a small business, you are a content marketer) need to ask ourselves day in and day out.

What type of content will your network thank you for?

Today, consumers expect more from the businesses they interact with online and off.

With so many brands competing for their attention in all the places they visit every day — whether it’s through TV, email, or social media — consumers have gotten better and better at filtering out messages that aren’t relevant to their needs or interests.

People do business with brands they know, like, and trust, and as a marketer, you need to create content that helps build that relationship. Or, if you’d like to look at it another way, consider this quote from Ann’s presentation:

“If your customer signed your paycheck, what would your marketing look like?

Would your network’s network thank you as well?

When you deliver something of value, your customers will not only open your emails, visit your website, and pay attention to you on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, but they’ll share. This is where you’ll have the opportunity to reach your next great customer. If your network is personally thankful for the content you create, they’ll be more likely to share it. And, because your network’s network likely has plenty in common with the people who shop at your store, visit your website, and attend your events there’s a good chance they’ll want to do business with you too.

Tell a bigger story than your brand

As Ann mentioned in her session at Content2Conversion, your business is more than just the products you sell, the services you provide, and the marketing campaigns you put in place.

Your story has always (and will always) be about people.

When you create content for people, rather than creating self-serving content, you’ll have more opportunities to grow customer relationships, more opportunities to drive repeat business, and more opportunities to reach new audiences.

Overcoming your content challenges

If you’re feeling discouraged about the results you’ve seen from your own content marketing efforts…don’t. You’re far from alone.

According to a recent survey of B2B content marketers, only 36% of brands who are using content marketing think that they’re doing it effectively.

Here are a few pointers to remember:

  • Keep going. Look for ways to improve your content every single day.
  • Listen to your customers and think about the type of challenges you can help them overcome.
  • Worry less about how to drive sales from every post on Facebook, pin on Pinterest, or email you send out.

Try this tip Ann offered up during today’s session: pretend you’re writing a letter to the customer you’re trying to reach. What would you say? How would you say it? What type of message would get through to him or her and make them say thanks?

When your network says thanks to a piece of content, they’re essentially thanking you for relevant marketing or better yet, a meaningful conversation. That’s why content marketing matters and that’s why we all need to look for ways to get better at it every single day.

Don’t forget, we’re here to help you every step of the way. Tell us your biggest content marketing challenges in the comments below and let’s figure out a way to help you overcome it together.