Content marketing is one of the most important emerging online marketing tactics today. This year, over 1,700 marketing professionals from both large and small businesses gathered at Content Marketing World to learn about content marketing tips, best practices, success stories, technology, and trends. So, what were some of the highlights? We rounded up five content marketing tips we think every small business needs to know from this year’s conference. Here’s the scoop:

1) Make your marketing more useful.

Is your marketing so useful people would pay for it? This is the challenge author, speaker, and consultant Jay Baer kicked off the conference with in his opening keynote about the “Youtility” concept. In today’s saturated, always-on media landscape, any business that can cut through the noise by creating marketing that is truly useful wins.

Sound like something only big businesses can achieve? Think again. For example, Baer shared the story of a local cab driver “Taxi Mike,” whose guide to the best spots to eat in the city was a local triumph that also served to advertise his services. So, what can you do that would be extremely useful to your users, customers, or prospects? Start with this question in mind and let your creativity explore new ideas for true marketing magic.

2) Create marketing that is intensely interesting.

Every status update, image, blog post, ebook, and tool that is created in the name of content marketing is also competing with every other person, status update, question, conversation, video, or song that your audience is exposed to every day.  Just think about your Facebook news feed: ads from brands you like may be competing with a post from a friend or loved one. In this context, does your marketing cut it?

One of the most re-tweeted sound bytes of the conference was a tweet from Ann Handley of MarketingProfs highlighting Jay Baer’s opening keynote:

“This is the bar your content has to clear on social: ‘Are you more interesting to me than my wife?’”

3) Use visual content to tap into the image boom.

In the last year, with the launch of video on Instagram, the Vine app, and the quickly- growing use of other visual apps and social networks, visual content has skyrocketed online, according to Todd Wheatland of Kelly Services.

By looking at emerging apps that younger generations are using, such as Path, Viber, WhatsApp, Kik, and snapchat, which are used heavily for image and video sharing, it’s clear that visual content is the trend.

So, what are the tricks to using visual content well? Wheatland recommended:

  • Making your images simple and compelling so that they perform well via mobile
  • Create images that are cool to compel your audience to share on social networks
  • Make sure that your images work well across different devices since your user may view them via desktop, tablet, or smartphone
  • Make sure your images are entertaining, because your audience is consuming so much visual content today
  • Since people see so many images every day, make them unique

4) Tell true and engaging stories.

When it comes to content marketing, it’s important to include fantastic storytelling. This doesn’t mean inventing a story to tell, because today’s customers are savvy enough to see through this smokescreen. Today, consumers appreciate and expect transparent and interesting storytelling behind the brands they love.

How can small businesses apply this? Think about these questions: What’s the real story behind your business? Your customers? Your products? Your services? What are their results? It may differ for every business, but at the heart of all great marketing is great storytelling.

5) Invest time in marketing your marketing.

It’s important to be creating content that compels, informs, entertains, and engages. And that’s such a time-intensive creative process that often it’s the primary focus in content marketing. In fact, a recent study by the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs found that the biggest content marketing challenge is producing enough content.

But session after session drove home the point that while it’s important to spend time developing useful, engaging content, it’s just as important to spend time marketing your marketing. In fact, if it comes down to a matter of time, many speakers advocated creating less content in favor of finding ways to do more with it. This includes both repurposing some marketing tools into others (think creating blog posts from ebook content; transcribing video content and editing it into blog posts, etc.) and building a strategy and using the right tools to spread the word about your awesome content.

Are you using content marketing to share the story of your business and connect with prospects and customers online? Have a question about content marketing for small businesses? Share your thoughts in a comment!