Many brands are digging deep into content creation mode these days. Netflix, Apple, and Amazon will each invest billions of dollars to create original content this year alone. Facebook, not to be left out of the game, is also planning on investing more than $1 billion this year to fund content for its Watch video platform.

Gary Vaynerchuk and Harvard professor Bharat Anand even agree that every company and brand should think of themselves as media companies as a means to stay relevant. And media companies produce content. A lot of it.

Content is used as a growth mechanism by companies of all sizes as it helps them build deeper emotional connections and relationships with the customers they want to serve.

Even though business leaders recognize the need for producing remarkable content on a consistent basis, one of the big areas companies struggle with is what kind of content to produce. They get stumped on figuring out what forms of content will be most relevant to the customers they want to attract.

Use content to grow.

Liz Miersch is the Executive Managing Director at Furthermore, the content sub-brand of Equinox, the luxury gym company. Liz and her team have not only used content as a means to strengthen and grow Equinox, but they've created such a powerful relationship with their audience that Furthermore produces direct revenue for the company.

She told me that the Furthermore approach to content that has served them well has always been about "telling the story of the brand." But for them, telling stories about the brand wasn't about touting their features and benefits within their content. They wanted to take their audience and club members' high-level of knowledge about health and wellness a little further.

"One of the first things that we wanted to do when we wanted to start telling stories about the brand was really to dig into the science and the credibility and the amazing experts that we have here," she said. 

As you think about the type of content you should be creating for your customers, start by thinking about the overarching purpose of what you want that content to accomplish. Then focus on how that objective can be woven together with stories that are intrinsically linked with your brand.

One of my clients had a healthcare product and spent much of their time talking about how their product worked along with their efficacy and scientific data. It was very brand focused, with little storytelling involved. Everything was a commercial.

I advised them to expand the topics they covered with their content to focus more on helping their customers solve the problems associated with managing a chronic disease, rather than solely focusing on the brand choice.

Reconsider who you hire to produce content.

Miersch had smart advice for business leaders as to the proper way to lead with storytelling with your content, so that it doesn't feel like a commercial your customers want to tune out:

"Hire editors, not marketers...We have such an incredible partnership with our marketing team. They know how to do what they do incredibly well. Our editors and writers, I mean, they're the storytellers. Finding that partnership I think is incredibly, incredibly important, and I think one of the things we did so well was hire editors and writers that come from traditional publishing, and let them do their thing, and then figure out how to integrate it into the marketing machine and not vice versa."

Storytelling is a skill that once learned can pay many dividends for you with any type of content you produce. But just because you are a marketer doesn't mean you're a good storyteller.

I worked on a brand a few years back where we hired bloggers who already had large and engaged followings to create content on our behalf for our website. They were natural storytellers, and we knew they would do a better job of talking about the challenges our customers were having than we could in that medium.

Apple, Facebook, and Netflix use a similar strategy with their original content. Netflix inked a deal with hit producer and writer Shonda Rhimes. Apple partnered with Steven Spielberg. And Netflix has worked with producer and director Ridley Scott for content.

As you work on creating content your audience wants to devour, start by figuring out how to tell stories about the topics that they most care about as it relates to the problem you help them solve. Then, skillfully weave your brand into the story, so that it fits seamlessly into the content. 

Your customers will enjoy and consume more. And they'll engage more deeply with your brand as a result.

Published on: Oct 29, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.