Content marketing has been growing in recent years. Companies seek to publish materials, such as e-newsletters, videos, blog posts and case studies, that engage customers and prospects by addressing their needs. According to a recent Content Marketing Institute survey of midsized companies, the two most popular forms of content are articles at 78 percent and social media posts at 73 percent. The pure number of middle market companies adopting these strategies has been growing fast. The survey also found that, among business-to-business firms in the middle market, 89 percent had adopted content overall. One would expect a similar number in the business-to-consumer segment.

A businessman is pondering and writing down his thoughts on a notepad.

What benefits can content bring to your middle market company? There are many, including boosting brand awareness, customer retention, client acquisition and recruiting efforts. Because so many of your customers use digital media and mobile devices, you're essentially forced to go where they go (lest you get left behind). The key to successful content may sound simple, but executing a great strategy is tough, especially when you lack the resources of larger firms. They key is to consistently develop quality content targeted to your customers and prospects through the channels they use.

How Not to Do Content

Generating good content, like all marketing, takes resources and strategy. Too many companies use ad-hoc approaches that don't connect with any long-term vision. Having employees post articles on your Facebook page is not a successful strategy on its own, nor is getting internal thought leaders and experts to blog about what they know. Your midmarket company's employees are obviously focused on their work and may, rightfully, view writing blog posts as a secondary function. It's little wonder that many content-generation initiatives die from a lack of time and interest. How can you define and execute a coherent strategy when resources and interest vacillates? You need consistency if you want customers to pay attention and keep coming back to your digital content.

California-based midmarket firm Clif Bar & Company, for example, has produced a wonderfully interactive, content-rich website that engages its customers by discussing active lifestyles and how its product supports them. You'll find articles, videos, photos and event listings. Obviously, you'll want to use your knowledge of your own customers to decide what approach to take.

Some Best Practices

To accomplish your goals, you'll need to treat content development like an important long-term project, which it is. If you put people or money behind it, keep them there until you see results. If you use in-house employees, then designate them to the function, clearly define their roles and provide enough budget. If you don't have sufficient in-house capacity or if you don't want to allocate people exclusively to content, then consider finding one of the growing number of vendors who can help you. These vendors work with companies of all sizes, including middle market firms.

You'll also need to develop ways to measure your efforts' return on investment (ROI). Of course, your ROI depends on first defining your goals, then developing your key performance indicators and tracking them over time. Many companies, whether they're midmarket or not, struggle to track and measure their content efforts. Have a plan to prevent your firm from becoming one of them.

The takeaway: Content-focused marketing continues to grow in importance. It's a great way to engage with your company's existing and prospective customers. To do it well, you'll need a strategy and consistent focus from your people and resources.

Has your company ever tried a content initiative? How effective was it? Which parts of this marketing strategy have worked for your middle market company, and which haven't? Tell us by commenting below.

Boston-based Chuck Leddy is an NCMM contributor and a freelance reporter who contributes regularly to The Boston Globe and Harvard Gazette. He also trains Fortune 500 executives in business-communication skills as an instructor for EF Education.