Seems like content marketing is everyone’s go-to advice these days. Has anyone—marketing professional or otherwise—ever told you, “Oh, you’ve got to get a blog (or more content. Or a book.) for your business website!”?

Is someone else pulling your content marketing strings?

Photo Credit: Jose Maria Cuellar https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/legalcode

How do you know if you actually should? Written content can be a real enhancement to your business. But content marketing, like any other marketing, lead generation, or sales tool, it has to be intentionally designed and executed to work properly.

So, first, how do you know that a blog is the way to go?

  • Do you need to be in regular contact with your fans/customers?
  • Does your business require you to cultivate a personal relationship with them?
  • Do you have enough information and/or experience to share it on a regular basis and offer REAL value?

A blog will only yield real ROI—whether it is the investment of your time or your money for someone else to generate content—if you can offer high value content on a regular basis that creates a personal connection with your readers.

If you don’t currently have a readership and building a personal fan base isn’t right for you, then regular guest blogs can be a good alternative. Look for opportunities to publish with established bloggers who have a good following in your target market.

White papers and case studies also get a lot of hype. Like blogging, this can be an asset, but only if used properly.

When should you offer white papers or case studies?

  • Will one body of content, with few updates, do for your online visitors over time?
  • Does your audience need in-depth information?
  • Will your audience benefit from a tool they can use after they leave your website?
  • Will your previous client successes give you a competitive edge?
  • Do you need to demonstrate expert knowledge in order to solve their problem?

Case studies and white papers require more commitment from both the reader and the writer. It will take you more effort to create them, and your audience longer to get through them. They need to look slick, be easy on the eye, and contain information a reader craves.

And then there’s the big one: the book. Chances are, if you are looking to build your reputation as a thought leader, field expert, or top provider, you have been told you need a book.

My friend and client Kevin Daum, one of Inc.com’s most popular columnists, likes to say that there are 3 reasons to write a book:

  1. Ego
  2. Catharsis
  3. Efficiency

No argument from me that 1 and 2 can be legitimate reasons to write, but I can claim with confidence that they are the wrong reasons to ask potential customers to engage with you in this intimate way.

So how do you know when a book may help you build your brand or business?

  • Does your topic truly need at least 30,000 words to cover properly?
  • Will you benefit from educating and pre-qualifying potential buyers before you directly engage with them?
  • Can you afford to give away some of your best stuff?
  • Can you give your reader a compelling reason to interact with you even after they know what you know?

Consider this scenario: you hand a promising contact a copy of your book, and enjoy the satisfaction of seeing surprise and admiration on that person’s face. Later, they open the book and start to read…and then toss it aside 10 minutes later. If your opus fails to move your reader, then bye-bye first impression. Remember that a book requires a significant commitment from both parties. You put in the effort to write it. Then you make a tacit request that they commit to you by putting in the effort to read it.

A book needs to justify both your effort and theirs. It needs to contain valuable information, clearly stated, and delivered in an engaging format. It needs to make the reader want to spend time with you, your product, or service. And don’t let anyone convince you that such things can be generated for rock bottom prices on Fiverr or eLance.[/fusion_text]

All three content marketing paths have something to offer, but they are not all equal for your specific circumstances. The first step is to choose the right ones for your professional needs and commit to figuring out what great content looks like in that channel. After that, don’t let writing spook you.

Take a few first steps. If you stumble, you can always hire a guide.