Building brand awareness and earning audiences' trust is no easy task. But according to a survey of business-to-business marketers published by the Content Marketing Institute, marketers rank efforts at the top of the sales funnel as less challenging than bottom-of-the-funnel initiatives like driving sales and revenue, and cultivating loyalty among existing customers. 

So how can you keep your customers coming back for the long term? Try these four strategies, which combine data from the study with my own experience as the CEO of an industry-leading visual communication agency. 

1. Craft content around the customer journey. 

The CMI reports that while just 48 percent of all survey respondents "always or frequently" develop their content around particular stages of the customer journey, 74 percent of the most successful content marketers do this. 

So what does this tell us? It means that it's worth your while to craft each piece of content you produce with a particular customer in mind based on where that customer is in your conversion funnel. When you do this, you can more accurately predict what questions or concerns your audience might have -- and more readily offer up some useful answers. 

It's more important than ever to optimize your visual content for every channel where you're planning on sharing it. A huge part of this effort is considering what audiences you'll find on each platform and how you can make sure your content feels personalized to them. Thinking about where those audiences may be in the stage funnel should be a part of your strategy, too. 

2. Put their informational needs first. 

Developing trust doesn't just happen at earlier stages in the customer journey. It's something that requires constant and thoughtful attention, even after a client converts.

One way to maintain trust with current customers and audience members is to avoid messaging that's overly sales-y. This can tend to drive them away, especially since you've already sold to them once. 

What you need to do now -- just as you did at the top of the funnel -- is to provide them with real value. Educational content -- from video tutorials to interactive reports to visual ebooks -- can help them learn more about a topic that's important to both of you. Deliver actionable, relevant data and advice, and they'll be more committed to a longer-term relationship with your company. 

Informational motion graphics, videos, and tutorials, in particular, are a great way to help your client learn about the full breadth of what you have to offer, and feel fully fluent in working with your product or service.

3. Develop your organization's thought leadership. 

While 63 percent of all organizations surveyed by CMI focus on speaking as an organic content distribution channel, 70 percent of the most successful companies do. This is because speaking is usually part of a larger campaign to develop an organization's thought leadership in its industry. High performers also focus on media relations efforts and the placement of guest articles more than the average business-to-business marketer. 

Thought leadership establishes your company as a recognizable name, a leader in its field -- and an organization your customers will be proud to work with. It gives them more opportunities to interact with you, often in person. And meanwhile, it offers you the chance to share educational content with a broader audience. 

Just make sure that you're focusing on quality above all else when producing visual content to support your thought leadership efforts. A conference presentation without a beautiful, well-crafted slide deck can easily fall flat. Articles without engaging artwork often fail to engage. If you want to be a leader in your industry, you need to look like one -- and that means you need to put your best foot forward, every time. 

4. Create content that shows your value. 

Your educational content can do double-duty, providing actionable advice for customers and making a broader argument for the value of your industry, product, or service at the same time. 

Visual ebooks are a great tool for achieving this. An ebook that shares key data related to your field and offers up useful advice not only constitutes valuable content -- it helps your industry or niche thrive. 

Interactive tools are also a great option for helping people farther down the sales funnel, and even existing customers. Decide which of the products or services you offer is right for them. A quiz, calculator, or widget might ask them to input information relevant to them, such as their budget or the problem they're trying to solve, then provide personalized recommendations based on their answers. A full 72 percent of consumers today will only interact with personalized marketing content. So the potential for interactive content is huge. 

Try these four strategies, and you'll be well on your way to better long-term relationships with your clients.