How content marketing builds real relationships in the digital world.

Content marketing is becoming a big player in the marketing world. According to the Content Marketing Institute, 88 percent of marketers are using content marketing in their plans this year, an effort they define as “a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience—and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

Content—including blog posts, social media updates, videos, white papers, case studies, and more—is published across the Internet, and users consume it with a voracious appetite.

Some reports show that on average, individuals spend more than 490 minutes each day consuming media in all of its forms, and the Internet is projected to reach almost 30% of daily media use in 2017.

With all of this time spent online, many people worry about the ability to truly connect with others. Face-to-Facebook can’t replace face-to-face, they argue.

Content marketing, though, is the exception to those worries. It’s become such an important part of the marketing world precisely because of the relationship formed between content consumers and the individuals or organizations marketing themselves. While the end result of content marketing is built around a specific, often sales-related action, it’s the relationship formed through content marketing that drives that action, rather than the marketing itself, for several reasons.

Content marketing is storytelling at its finest.

Think back to a book you couldn’t put down. You were completely wrapped up in the storyline, the characters, and the situations presented. You probably remember the title and maybe even the author—but the book didn’t stand out because it sold you these elements. Content marketing is the same, except you are telling your brand’s story. Selling should never be the means of content marketing.

Some of the best content creators aren’t marketers. They are journalists, leaders, and bloggers who know how to ask questions that elicit the answers the brand’s audience seeks.

As you start to tell your brand’s story and produce content that interests your audience, you’ll see members start to respond. They’ll share your content, comment on a social media update, or download a white paper. This is the first step your audience takes towards developing a relationship with your brand.

Content marketing builds trust.

Your audience and content consumers gauge each piece you publish. Whether you design highly technical pieces, detailed how-tos for industry participants who are in-the-know, or light-hearted posts that showcase your company culture, your audience decides if what you create is true based on their knowledge and experience.

As your pieces get higher circulation and increased shares, you gain credibility—an important part of building trust. Ratings, shares, and likes speak highly of a post or product, and positive social proof is highly effective at increasing your trustworthiness.

As your audience’s trust of your brand increases, your content consumers begin to connect with your brand. They develop loyalty, and you develop a following. They share pieces that resonate with them and invite their friends, family members, and associates to follow you. You become a valuable resource.

Content marketing revolves around engagement.

Timely and relevant pieces that engage and interest your audience are primary components of content marketing and increased sales.

Whether you respond to a question on Twitter, reply to a blog comment, or answer an emailed question, the prospective customer made the decision to reach out to you. They entered your sales funnel, and you now have the opportunity to connect with them on a deeper, more personal level. This doesn’t mean you need to start selling to them, but it does mean you’ll want to take the time to give a thoughtful, personal response. Building this base is key to developing meaningful relationships online.

Most experts note that it takes anywhere from six to 13 points of contact for a prospect to become a qualified lead, and the same for the qualified lead to become a customer.

A thoughtful email or a powerful blog post can be an important touchpoint in moving your content consumer closer to a sale. If you get to know your audience, publish pieces that appeal to them, and engage them authentically when they reach out, you’re sure to build meaningful relationships, earn trust, and win customers.

Gabe Arnold is the founder of Copywriter Today where you can get unlimited fresh content for all your marketing needs. If you want 250 free headline ideas for your next marketing campaign, use their free tool here.