Time and time again I’ve watched this story play out. A brilliant developer builds software to scratch their own itch, fill the gap, change the world. They toil away nights, weekends, before they go off to their day jobs, every spare minute because their driven to build that software. And then they finish. And the awful reality sets in: now they have to get customers. They have to — eww! — market.

The thought of marketing their software baby is so painful, uncomfortable, and unpleasant that time and time again developers will rationalize that since their software is so much better than everything else in the same space, they can just wait for customers to show up. They keep waiting in vain.

The inescapable reality is unless people who might buy your software know you exist, there’s a zero chance they will ever become customers. The Prime Enemy of your startup is obscurity.

The solution, a thousand marketers will tell you, is Content Marketing. It’s the new eyeball attractor, the new banner ad, the new blinking text that when liberally slathered over your baby startup will perform miracles of marketing for you. Just get a nice big vat of it from Amazon or fiveer, firehose that out every social media channel (especially Facebook, of course), and watch your sales soar!

That’s not how it works. That’s not how it’s ever worked for startups. That approach – the Content Marketing is a new hyped up form of advertising – may make excellent filler between dozens of ads at various “news” sites, but it’s the kiss of death to your startup.

Content Marketing for Startups is the art and science of helping your soon-to-be customers with things, ideas and information they’re interested in. Not about your brand, your software, your startup, you the founder – it’s about them, and what make make their life just a little bit easier, more enjoyable, more livable.

Startups that get that, like Zapier, prosper. While they started getting some attention via organic search and partnerships for their web integration service, it wasn’t until they started creating content that actually helped their would-be customers, did start to really scale.

We (Wade Foster, Zapier’s CEO told Influence & Co.) gradually realized that we got a lot of attention because of the apps that we work with and the integrations surrounding them. So we decided to focus not only on automation and productivity, but specifically on how these topics relate to all these apps that people are already using in their work. We moved from fluff posts on waking up early to the nuts and bolts: how to use the tools that are out there, as well as the ones that you’re already using in your business.

Take a look at Zapier’s blog: it’s not product update announcements, marketing hype and product explainers. It’s about the taking better screenshots, selecting software, what’s it like to take long paternity leave, organizing files. It’s about leveraging initial content in things that have more value: a killer guide on customer support as an ebook, The 50 Best Hidden Productivity Tricks in Trello, Slack, Evernote and More

It’s about authentically helping, caring and sharing with prospective customers. Things that are as alien to big non-startup companies as shoes for fish. You as a startup can do it. You as a person whose sweated blood understanding what your customers face not just within the narrow confines of your software can do it. You as real person with a real life can do it.

[updated July 16, 2016] Ready to stop looking for magic Unicorn dust and ready for real results? Read on.]