At the core of content marketing - and much of the rest of modern web marketing tactics - sits a single concept: connecting with visitors.

It's all too common for companies to lose sight of this core issue, pumping out meaningless, worthless, inauthentic content to fill space on their blogs, YouTube channels, and social media accounts. Or, even worse, to make genuine attempts to connect and nonetheless fall short due to a perceived lack of authenticity.

Why Connect in the First Place?

This might be a question with a self-evident answer for most marketers, but to understand how best to connect, we need to consider what we're trying to accomplish in doing so. In connecting with customers, a company establishes a tie that goes beyond the simple transaction of goods or services for money.

After all, a stripped-down relationship may make you money right now - today - but will you see positive word-of-mouth spread from such an interaction? If your product falls behind the competition, will you have a loyal core to keep you afloat until the next iteration? And if something goes wrong, will the customer seek to correct the issue, or jump straight to asking for a return?

All of these issues tie back to the nature of your relationship with your customers--what you've established through your marketing, sales, and customer service.

So how do you start off on the right foot, building the first layer of a connection via your website content?

Going Behind the Scenes

One of the simplest ways to foster a strong connection with your audience is transparency. Let them see the people who are making the content they enjoy, building the products they depend upon, and yes, occasionally messing up and botching an order or blowing a deadline.

When customers are able to put a face on the faceless corporation, they start to empathize, to understand, and to 'like.'

Idioms aside, people actually love to see how the sausage is made. There's a reason so many shows exist solely to show how things function behind the scenes. People get really excited to see the machinery behind the curtain, and the men and women working the levers. So use that to your advantage.

Show off the who of your business, the how of your business, and most importantly, the why. Get guests invested in you and what you do, and make them understand that their purchase isn't just a purchase - it's helping your company do the exciting things it does.

Honesty and Authenticity

Good connections are born of an authentic desire to connect, an effort to provide value to prospects and customers, and transparency in who you are, what you're aiming for, and what you expect from your customers.

Of course, honesty is not without its downsides. You'll often find that when you produce authentic content, you're limited in who you can appeal to, what you can sell, and how broadly you can expand.

This is not, however, as serious a problem as you might think. As your reach expands, what you can offer without losing authenticity will expand as well, giving you the tools you need to connect deeply with an increasingly wide range of potential buyers.

Recognizing the Perils of Inauthentic Outreach

Wondering why I keep talking about authenticity? It's because being recognized by your audience as inauthentic doesn't just weaken your brand, it can destroy it completely - along with the relationships you've built with your customers. When people get the feeling that they're being strung along with nonsense in the hopes that they'll fall into the 'trap' of buying, they leave and they don't come back.

And when that happens, you've paid to make it happen. You've invested the time, resources, and personnel necessary to put together the content that drove them away - you've spent money damaging your own reputation.

The problem becomes even more intense when your fraud occurs with a behind-the-scenes glimpse. Customers expect some degree of marketing spin when they visit the site of any company, but when you start changing up employee biographies or claiming to support causes no one at your corporation really cares about, you're playing a very dangerous game - the kind that destroys empires.

Authenticity Done Right

While it's nice to discuss the principles behind making genuine connections with your customers, it's more useful to show you a few examples of what it looks like done right.

As you look at what these companies have built, consider how clearly their brand image shines through in every word and image. Look at how often they're building content with no intention other than to share it and to show their interest in the subjects their customers are interested in, too.

Commitment to social responsibility

Many companies have started to put more of a focus on social responsibility in order to better appeal to millennials. According the product team at Leonisa:

"Our website makes it clear that this content isn't going to be about products or selling you something - it's going to be about how they make things, who makes those things, and whatthey care about. The people we're introduced to at the top of the page aren't your normal C-suite executives in business suits either."

Companies dominating the market go a great job showcasing not only the driving principles behind their brand, but what they do as a result. It's not enough to say you care about your employees if that's part of your brand; you need to show the student loan forgiveness, the benefits, and the bonuses. Words on a page can be very powerful, but make them authentic words--show the actions that prove your brand.

Showcases users

Making your customers the star is a great way to connect with website visitors. The team at EyeEm advised,"Pull your existing relationships out into the light and show them to the world. By featuring users like Chris Caliman and collections on themes like love, we take our strongest existing customer relationships and use them to feed our brand image."

The authentic care and consideration shown by both parties in this sort of interview paints an extremely potent picture of your company, your brand, and what a connection with you means for your customers. It's powerful stuff.

So now you've seen some of the possibilities of transparency, of authenticity, of making real connections with your website visitors. And it should be clearer than ever - why leverage weak, generic nonsense when you can fill your content with emotion, with value, and with things that will resonate with your visitors long after they click away? That's how real brands are built, and that's how real success is cultivated.
How have you connected with your website visitors? What strategies have you used to build authentic connections? Share in the comments below:

Published on: Jan 24, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.