by Jeff Cannon, President of Think Cannon, digital PR specialist firm. Jeff is a leader in developing content driven campaigns that leverage proven brand strategies through digital applications. His content-driven approach to public relations and strategic communications leverages his experience in traditional public relations, as well as film and online marketing to brands and customers together through deep customer engagements. Jeff currently sits on the board of the New York City International Film Festival and is producing two sponsored documentaries with integral online platforms.

Building your brand on the Internet today means doing more than just creating a website.  Because today your website is not the only place your customers, clients and prospects are finding you.  They will look for your brand on blogs, on Facebook, on YouTube and on Twitter.  They will Google your products to find reviews from past clients and customers. In fact, they will probably rely more on outside information than on the material your agency has carefully designed for your website.  For some companies adapting to the way consumers now use the internet will pose some serious problems.  For others, it will create a world of opportunities.

For those of you who want to mine the opportunities of today’s Internet you have to think of a “push strategy” that extends your brand beyond the borders of your URL.  Instead of trying to bring people back to your website, you need to take your website out to them; and this is exactly where digital PR and content marketing come into play.  They give you the tools you need to connect directly with your customers no matter where they are.   If you do it right, you can more effectively position your brand, better differentiate your products from your competition, and drive more immediate sales for bottom line success.

None of this is new.  A good old fashioned sales person rarely sat by the register waiting for a sale to come their door.  The good ones went out on the sidewalk found their prospects.  They shook their hand and made a connection before trying to sell them anything.  They struck up a conversation to learn about that person and their needs. At the same time they dropped mentioned their products casually.  Most important, they found out whether that person was just looking for more information, or was ready to buy.  For some products this may have taken a few minutes.  For others, it took days and even years.  But it was as much about gathering information and building a relationship, as it was about selling a product.

Online it is really no different.  Success is still about connecting with your customers, learning what they need, and educating them about your brand and product.  It is a return to the skills of old fashioned salesmanship.  Only now, it takes place in the blogs, in the Tweets, and on the websites that influence your customer’s decisions.  If you know how to speak their language, building awareness through targeted placements is easy.  Differentiating your brand with niche content becomes a no-brainer.  Driving sales through strategic links becomes a part of the program.  But like any good salesperson, you have to know how to approach your prospect in a way that does not push them away.

So how do you leverage content to build your brand and business?

First, look at your product and your brand based on the different attributes that that your customers respond to – i.e., what makes different customers buy what you are selling.  Is it price, quality, prestige?  This will be the subject for your content. They are the reasons your customers will be interested in reading what you put out.

Second, segment your customers into groups based on which product attributes they will respond to.  This will define a) the subject of your content, b) the format it should take [video, graphic, copy], and c) which medium is best to reach them through.

Third, create the stories, articles, videos, even mobile apps that bring your content and your customers together in a familiar manner.  Just remember, like an old fashioned sales person, your content needs to be about what your customer wants, not what you are selling.  .

Finally, forget about mass press releases.  You need to reach out to the bloggers and online journalists on a one-to-one basis.   You need to make sure you are giving them a story they will personally benefit from.  If you get greedy about promoting your brand and forget to add value to their friends, fans and devotees, you risk what every sales person risks – having a prospect turn around and walk out the digital door.

The best part of both digital PR and content marketing is that anyone can implement an effective campaign that takes your brand beyond the URL of your website, and delivers your story directly to the people you want to reach in a very targeted and friendly manner.

Oh yes, there is one more thing.  Just like an old fashioned sales person, it takes time to develop a relationship that leads to a sale.  It also takes patience.  But then again, that’s the way it’s always been…