Content remains king in the world of digital marketing as we enter 2018 – it just doesn’t look the same.

The elements of a good content strategy —blogs, social media, search, etc.—are similar, but the rules of the game are changing as technology evolves. Search is adapting to help internet users (a.k.a. potential consumers) find better quality content that answers their specific questions, entertains them and fits seamlessly into their normal online habits.

With so many consumer interactions moved to a digital space, companies need to develop content to connect with their consumers and build lasting relationships. We joined a few thousand people at the recent Internet Summit conference in November to explore the most effective ways to make those connections.

There is clearly no one way to effectively build those relationships since there are plenty of options and avenues to reach an audience. What is clear is that none of those strategies can be successful without effective content. We left the Summit with five keys to developing superior content.

1. Relevance

With the rapid growth of voice search, it’s become increasingly important to address the semantic intent behind a user’s query within online content. Ask yourself what additional questions will arise after the user’s initial query is answered. Once determined, aim to answer those new questions within the same post. A great tool to start finding the questions people are asking is Answer the Public. Once you’ve found the question you want to answer, make sure to include natural variants and related terms or phrases. They’ll indicate a stronger topic focus, meaning more of your content is likely to be relevant to the search than sites prioritizing frequency of a keyword or phrase.

Better quality content will not only help you earn more traffic to your site, but could also help you out-rank your competition on Google or even rank zero to become a featured snippet.

2. Empathy

Empathy between a brand and its consumers shows a high level of understanding of customer needs. Put yourself behind their screen and ask if this content is helpful. Is it relevant to my audience or is it simply pushing products in consumers’ faces?  The focus of content should be on people over product.

It’s all about reaching your audience with quality content relevant to them, even if it is not directly relevant to the product. Consider how your audience feels while using each platform and then use that to produce something interesting that will leave people with a positive connection to your brand. The recent MassMutual Super Bowl commercial effectively accomplished establishing an emotional connection with its audience, bonding over common experiences.

3. Authenticity

Similar to empathy, authenticity focuses on being true to the platform on which content is being posted, but also being honest with your audience and yourself.  Brands should approach a platform with the intent to fit in. If they stand out, the post will be considered intrusive and annoying by consumers and platform users. Tricks and gimmicks won’t work in place of helpful content because most people are smart enough to recognize when they are being targeted by advertisements.

4. Experience

Remember, your content is not your product or service. The internet has created another kind of economy where engagement is generating a new type of currency: attention. Experimental marketing campaigns bring new elements of a brand to consumers. A positive experience can lead to further engagement, making someone much more likely to make a purchase and also more likely to be a repeat customer. By starting a conversation the audience wants to be a part of, you are cultivating an active community of future customers and brand advocates. Pepsi Max created a unique experience that got people talking at a bus stop.

5. Community

Consumers and online platforms already have established communities they have chosen to be a part of, with certain expectations of engaging content and people with similar mindsets. For brands, it is more beneficial and efficient to fit into these existing communities than try to build a new one from scratch. Using the previous four tips is a good start for finding a loyal and engaged community. Finding a common enemy or frustration in your industry can also create connection between you and your audience.

Keep your content game strong to stay relevant, provide experiences and build a community.  The internet will continue to change the way clients and agencies approach digital marketing, but the goal remains the same: connect.

We live in a developing age of marketing where we have been given a multitude of tools to connect people with solutions to their problems and the products to meet their needs. We need to take that a step further and help consumers develop personal relationships with companies that will last a lifetime.

Contributions by Kelly Nylander