You've just created an awesome product that you know is going to change lives, and you're getting ready to launch. There's just one problem: No one outside your team knows it exists yet.

Promoting a product launch can feel as challenging as creating the product itself. And if you treat it like an afterthought, like too many leaders and marketers treat promotion and distribution, your launch will fizzle out before it ever fully takes off.

I've seen plenty of leaders turn immediately to public relations and paid ads to get the word out to as many people as possible as quickly as possible. And while these approaches can work in the short term to generate buzz, they don't make for the most viable long-term strategy for recruiting your audience members to become brand advocates and customers on their own. To amplify them, you've got to bring PR and content marketing together.

Content's Place in Your Launch Plan

It's important to have a content marketing strategy in place that makes it easy for you to consistently create content that helps you connect with your audience. That way, when they're hit with those ads you've paid for or that press you've landed, you're already somewhat familiar to them, making your message more trustworthy.

I'm not saying that PR and ads don't have a place in your product launch promotion strategy--of course they do. Advertising and PR are obvious choices for promoting a new product, but there's not a hell of a lot they can do on their own if you don't have any other content surrounding your brand to support what those efforts are telling your audience.

Content marketing is a long-term option that builds trust and forms relationships with your audience members. It positions you as an expert in your industry who's able to engage your audience and help your readers solve a problem in their lives.

Because your content shouldn't be promotional, people feel like they're actually learning about your new product and discovering on their own how it benefits them instead of being sold to. Even if they don't ultimately buy your new product, they'll still walk away with something of value--an understanding of the "how" and the "why" of your launch, not just the "what."

Incorporating Content into Your Launch

Content is also a great way to build a following before you even consider launching a product. If you have a long track record of producing engaging content that your readers love, it will be a lot easier to promote your product launch when the time comes.

Your options for promoting your launch are always changing, and one of the biggest ways you can see that change is in their convergence. PR, ads, social, and thought leadership can all work together to benefit you, your audience, and your product launch. You just need a few of the right types of content to get started:

Educational blog posts: Posts written for your company blog are a simple, effective way to build relationships with your readers and educate them at the same time. The key to promoting your product launch without seeming overly promotional, though, is to seamlessly integrate information about your product into the content.

For example, I recently wrote a book called Top of Mind. After I wrote my book and it was published by McGraw-Hill, my team started pulling some key ideas and snippets from it to form educational posts for our blog. Our readers were still receiving engaging, high-quality information, but if they were also interested in my book, they knew it existed.

Similarly, after we released our latest industry research report, "The State of Digital Media," our team members didn't just publish a bunch of posts that shouted, "Download now!" They generated awareness and buzz for the report by highlighting key takeaways in our blog content. Try something similar with your next product launch.

Guest posts: Contributing guest content can help you establish yourself as a leader while helping you share insights with an audience beyond your own company blogs.

Similar to your company's blog posts, it's important to only mention your brand or launch in an article in a way that improves people's lives, not in a way that brags about how cool your new product is. If it's over the top and just blatantly all about you, then it's not going to work, and you've missed the point.

Social-media content: With free social-media tools and some trusted social distribution tactics, you can distribute all this content directly to your followers on the channels that receive the most engagement. This helps you maximize the content you've created, building a stronger community of advocates to help you spread the word.

At first glance, content marketing may look similar to advertising and PR. Each approach is designed to reach a target audience and share information about a particular topic or product, and both areas can help you drum up interest in your brand. But only content positions you as a trusted expert and gives you the chance to offer real value, convincing consumers to buy into your product launch without you even having to ask.

Published on: May 21, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.