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Here’s a common question: Should every piece of content on the company website or blog promote a product or service? Some marketers would answer with a resounding, “Yes.” However, content marketing strategies that rely solely on self promotion aren’t always successful.

The purpose of content marketing is to offer valuable content that attracts and retains customers, which can result in measurable results like increased engagement, brand awareness and sales. The keyword is “valuable content.”

Of course, every content marketing article tells writers to create something of value, so what does it really mean?

Content should focus on the customers’ needs. Help customers solve a problem, inspire them to do something different, teach them a lesson or offer resources that can.

American Express understands the purpose of content marketing and created OPEN Forum, a platform that helps small businesses grow. The company realizes that when businesses grow, they need the products and services that American Express offers.

Here’s why the content provided on OPEN Forum is valuable:

Content comes from outside experts

American Express didn’t turn to inside writers to churn out a bunch of content about credit card maintenance or managing debt. Instead, the company asks outside experts to contribute content that small businesses can use to grow.

All of the articles offer tips or insight from people in small business. The articles average at least 500 words, so readers can actually pull useable information from each piece.

Content focuses on customers

The content in broken up into four topics: Planning for Growth, Managing Money, Getting Customers and Building Your Team. The topics are certainly connected to American Express, but focus more on what their customers need than the products or services they offer.

Content isn’t full of calls to action

A lot content that’s produced today is full of calls to action to get customers to buy this, or try that. The articles on OPEN Forum aren’t like that. There are links at the bottom of each article that connects readers to similar content, that’s it.

The site itself is branded. There’s an American Express logo at the top, and the site uses the company’s traditional blue color. At the very bottom of the website there are links to the company’s products and services.

A conversational platform

Most content created today is a one way street. In other words, a marketer or writer creates a post and the reader consumes it. With the exception of a comment box, a lot of sites don’t encourage dialogue.

OPEN Forum, on the other hand, allows people to make connections with other business owners and ask experts questions.

The company goes beyond offering helpful content, and provides a platform for small businesses to network and find support.

Member’s only access

To access some of the features on OPEN Forum, readers have to sign up. It’s free, but a login must be created and an email must be shared. It’s called gating content.

It’s a smart move by American Express. By collecting contact information, the company can use it to market its products or services through email.

For marketers looking to offer valuable content, OPEN Forum is a great platform to draw inspiration from. From using guest contributors to answering customers’ questions online, there are many aspects that OPEN Forum offers that even the smallest business can incorporate into its content marketing strategy.