The term ‘content marketing’ is thrown around a lot these days. It’s a buzz word, a “latest and greatest” marketing trend. It’s also extremely powerful. Sort through the hype and get down to the essence of why and how content marketing works and you’ll find an invaluable tool for your marketing strategy.

Unfortunately, many marketers don’t really understand what content marketing is and, perhaps more importantly, what it isn’t. You must understand how to create content that works as an ROI tool.

As a marketer, I have been involved in content creation since the early days of my marketing career over a decade ago. Back then we were using an educational program conducted via snail mail, tailored for our target audience to provide high-quality “classes” complete with certification levels. By offering live conference events at our trade shows which complemented, and expanded upon, the snail mail educational offerings, we grew our trade show into a truly spectacular event and positioned our company as the thought leader in our industry.

That was my first real experience with content marketing, although we didn’t call it that. In those days the internet was still pretty new and most of our marketing efforts were more traditional, ‘interruption’ style marketing; magazine ads, direct mail, even radio placements. This was long before the days of “Web 2.0” with its unlimited information at your fingertips and the newfound power of buyers. But even then, this marketing strategy was arguably more powerful than anything else we did. Why did it work? It worked because it did its job.

Let me repeat that: It did its job. It wasn’t just words or webcasts or white papers randomly created to put on a show and demonstrate that we had content. It was targeted, it was exactly what our customer wanted and it drove them closer to a sale. Every piece of content you produce must fit into the goals of your company, reflect your USP (unique selling proposition), fulfill a need of your target audience, and do something to move the prospect further down the sales pipe. If you are just out there, throwing content to the four winds and hoping it’ll come back to you, you’re throwing away money. So much for ROI!

In the medical industry with its typically long sales cycles and often complex products and services, content really is critical. Start taking into account that with most major purchases of medical equipment or software, you’re marketing to more than one audience, including doctors, engineers, administrators, IT among other departments and the need for targeted, credible content becomes even more apparent. With so many different stakeholders having input into buying decisions, you have to speak to each group to convince them how invaluable your product is (and lets’ be realistic – demonstrate how it can help their bottom line after the money they spent on it).

Content marketing is essential in today’s medical marketplace. Whether you are just starting to put together a content marketing strategy, or you are an old hand at content creation, make sure you’re doing it effectively.

Use Your Buyer Personas.

Take those buyer personas you so painstakingly created and figure out what your customers need and how you can help them get there. Who are you speaking to? What will make their professional lives easier? What does your product do to help? What is coming in the future that might affect their business that your product will address? What current trends might impact them and how can you help? What business challenges are they facing today that you can fix? Ask them how you can help. Listen to them, then educate them.

Only use content that fits you, and your audience.

Look at all the various kinds of content, and decide what best suits your audience, and your product. White papers may be universally read and a no-brainer, but is your audience on Twitter? If not, you can Tweet away but you probably aren’t going to accomplish much.

Place content only where it makes sense in your sales cycle.

Content is essential for demand generation and lead nurturing but it must be plugged into your sales cycle where it makes sense – where it will move your prospects a little closer to a sale. Case studies are sought out by prospects, but where in the cycle? If they are in the “looking for information” stage, perhaps a white paper is a better tool. A webcast can be powerful, but perhaps it’s better targeted to existing clients, showing how they can use your product in new and different ways and perhaps leading them to something else you are offering.

Integrate content into your existing marketing strategy.

Your content should be integrated into your overall marketing strategy – it shouldn’t just be standing alone. If you’re sending out a direct mail piece to hospitals, use your white paper or a webcast as a “bait piece”. You probably put your website on everything, but does it have a content library to keep prospects coming back for more information? If you’re placing an ad, use an abbreviated case study as your material and be sure to indicate where interested readers can get more information. Attending trade shows on a regular basis, or even speaking at events? Print out well-designed copies of your white paper and hand them out or integrate them into a power point presentation.

To publish high quality content, find a great writer.

Find a good copywriter who can turn your vision into a powerful content-driven sales piece and become your own publisher of high-quality information. Companies today are, for better or worse, in the publishing business. Your prospects are going to the web for information and it behooves you to provide what they seek. But if it’s not well-written, and your writer doesn’t understand how to position content to further a sale, you’re just wasting your money.

Your USP should shine through every piece of content.

Make sure everything you put out there reflects why you are unique and what makes your product or service indispensible. You should have a USP (if you don’t, what are you waiting for?!). Use it! All your marketing should speak to that USP. It states succinctly why you are the best solution to the problems your prospects face.

Market it!

Whatever you do, don’t forget to market your content. Get out there and get creative about reaching your audience. You have something they want, but they need to be made aware of it! Drive prospects to your website with targeted pay-per-click advertising, send out press releases about your new case study. Utilize social media to get the word out. Be where your customers are.

Put some thought into what you put out there and understand that fundamentally, you are a partner to all those clients and prospects who keep your company going. Without them, there is no you.