All over the web, users seek information: “I want what I want and I want it now.”

To attract the right target audience, we need content that’s interesting to them. And that doesn’t always mean information about our products and services.

We turn on a TV program or open a magazine because we’re interested in the content they offer. It’s well written and produced. It offers a distinct point of view. It solves a problem. It might even be entertaining.

Our content — however it’s distributed — should provide the same value to our clients and prospects. That’s “content marketing.”

According to Wikipedia, the purpose of content marketing “is not to spout the virtues of the marketer’s own products or services, but to inform target customers and prospects about key industry issues, sometimes involving the marketer’s products.”

Think like a publisher

On a website, content marketing requires you to think like a publisher. And your contributors to think like journalists. If your site were a trade magazine, what kinds of articles would you publish to get the right readers to subscribe? That’s the ideal content for your site.

Magazines and TV shows don’t expect visitors to return for stale stories and reruns. They keep the content fresh, timely and relevant. That requires a plan.

The editorial calendar

Like a publisher, you should create an editorial calendar. It could be one master calendar for the company, and separate calendars for individual divisions or departments. Designate employees as content managers to oversee content for their departments, like section editors in a newspaper.

List the topics your readers want to know more about. Every piece of content should solve a problem your audience cares about. Or it should entertain them. Or both.

Think about major themes and topics that are worth attention over the next 12 months, such as trade shows, seasonal events or product launches. Allow opportunities for breaking news. Then assign topics and deadlines to the relevant experts.

Your calendar should include topics that appeal to all your targets, as well as topics that appeal to specific segments. Some information should speak to prospects, and some to customers. Map it all out.

To maximize reach, make sure your content is easily shared through social media, accessible to mobile devices, and visible to search engines.

The value of content marketing

Junta 42, a leading content marketing resource, describes it as “the art of communicating with your customers and prospects without selling. It is non-interruption marketing. The essence of this content strategy is the belief that if we, as businesses, deliver consistent, ongoing valuable information to buyers, they ultimately reward us with their business and loyalty.”

On the web, through email, social media or blogs, relevant content will attract the people you want to reach. And don’t be overly protective of your information. The benefits of sharing usually outweigh the dangers of access. Educating customers — giving them the information they seek — can transform your brand into a recognized thought leader and industry expert.

(NOTE: For a great analysis of content marketing by American Express, see Make Your Content Make a Difference by Colleen Jones in Smashing Magazine.)