Ever wonder why content marketing works so well for some businesses — but doesn’t seem to do anything at all for others?
Curious about why some content that seems great doesn’t do anything to build a business?
“Content is king” has been an online cliché for years now, but it’s not true. It’s never been true.
Content all by itself — even terrific content — is just content.
It may be entertaining. It may be educational. It may contain the secret to world peace and fresh, minty breath, all rolled into one.
But it has no magical powers. It won’t transform your business or get you where you need to go, until you add one thing …
Content marketing is a meaningless exercise without business goals.
What makes content marketing work?
To make content work, you need to understand your marketing and business goals. Then you can create content that serves those goals, instead of just giving your audience something to pass the time.
Now, if you blog purely for creative self-expression, go ahead and write as the spirit moves you.
But if you’re using content to market a business, you need a strategic framework so you can get the most out of your time and hard work.
Here are 10 of the business goals that drive our content marketing at Copyblogger.
You might focus on just one or two, or you may use all 10. As you read through the list, see which of these you can apply to your own content marketing plan.
Goal #1: Build trust and rapport with your audience
This is the most obvious use of content marketing, and it’s a good one.
When you create useful, interesting, and valuable content, your audience learns they can trust you. They see that you know your topic. They get a sense of your personality and what it would be like to work with you.
Lack of trust kills conversion. An abundance of valuable content builds trust like nothing else.
But too many marketers stop there. In fact, it’s just the beginning.
Goal #2: Attract new prospects to your marketing system
We all had it drilled into our heads by Mr. Godin when we were just baby content marketers: You have to be remarkable.
Your content has to be compelling enough that it attracts links, social media sharing, and conversation.
Why? Because that’s how new people find you.
No matter how delightful your existing customers are, you need a steady stream of new prospects to keep your business healthy.
Remarkable content that gets shared around the web will find your best new prospects for you and lead them back to everything you have to offer.
Goal #3: Explore prospect pain
No, you’re not doing this to be a sadist.
The fact is, most enduring businesses thrive because they solve problems.
They solve health problems, parenting problems, money problems, business problems, technology problems, “What should I make for dinner?” problems.
When you understand your prospect’s problems, you understand how to help them — and then you have the core of your marketing message.
Strategic content dives into the problems your prospects are facing. What annoys them? What frightens them? What keeps them awake at night?
A smart content marketing program leaves room for audience questions. These might come in email replies, blog comments, or you may hold Q&A sessions or webinars specifically to solicit questions.
Listen to the problems your market asks you about, and use those as a compass to guide your future content.
Goal #4: Illustrate benefits
Obviously, we don’t dig up prospect problems and leave it at that.
We talk about solutions.
We talk about what fixes those annoying problems. Techniques, tips, tricks, methods, approaches.
If you have a viable business, you have a particular take on solving your market’s problems. Your individual approach is the flesh and blood of your content marketing.
Your “10 Ways to Solve Problem X” post shows the benefits of your approach. It illustrates how you solve problems and shows customers what they get out of working with you.
Strategic content doesn’t just tell a prospect “My product is a good way to solve your problem.” It shows them. And that’s a cornerstone persuasion technique.
Goal #5: Overcome objections
Your prospect is looking for ways to solve his problem, but he’s also keeping an eye out for potential problems.
Strategic content can be a superb way to address prospect objections — the reasons they don’t buy.
Is price a pain point? Write content that demonstrates how implementing your solutions saves money in the long run.
Do your customers think your product will be too complicated to use? Write content that shows customers going from zero to sixty … painlessly.
Understand the objections that keep customers from buying, and then think about creative ways to resolve those objections in content — often before the buyer ever gets to that sales page.
Goal #6: Paint the picture of life with your product
Ad-man Joe Sugarman was one of the great early practitioners of content marketing. He was a master of long-copy magazine ads for his company JS&A (a consumer gadget company) — ads that were often as interesting and compelling as the magazine articles they appeared next to.
In his Copywriting Handbook, he described how he might approach writing an ad for a Corvette.
Feel the breeze blowing through your hair as you drive through the warm evening. Watch heads turn. Punch the accelerator to the floor and feel the burst of power that pins you into the back of your contour seat. Look at the beautiful display of electronic technology right on your dashboard. Feel the power and excitement of America’s super sports car.
Sugarman isn’t describing the car. He’s describing the experience of the driver.
Sugarman was a master at mentally putting the customer into the experience of owning the product … whether that product was a pocket calculator, a private jet, or a multi-million dollar mansion.
It works very nicely in an ad. It works even better in your content.
Storytelling is one of the best content marketing strategies, and it’s a superb way to let customers mentally “try out” your offer before they ever experience it for themselves. Use content to show what it’s like to own your product or use your service.
Case studies are terrific for this, as are any stories that show how your approach to problem-solving works. Pick up Sugarman’s book for lots of ideas about how to create fascinating content for products that might not immediately suggest a fascinating story.
Goal #7: Attract strategic partners
Once upon a time, Copyblogger was one writer.
No software business. No marketing education business. No services division.
From very early days, the quality of the content posted here has attracted strategic partners — the partners Brian Clark worked with to create every line of revenue-generating business we have today.
Eventually, that evolved into the creation of a new company — Rainmaker Digital. The partnership brought together a great complement of skills, and together we could go farther and faster than Brian could have on his own.
Whatever your business goals are, partnerships are often the smartest way to get there. When you’re passionate about creating excellent content, you’ll find that potential partners are attracted to that passion.
Goal #8: Deepen loyalty with existing customers
This one is probably my favorite.
Every company needs to attract new customers. But the biggest growth potential in most businesses comes from building a tighter relationship with your existing customers.
A solid base of referral and repeat business is the hallmark of a great business. Even if you never did any content marketing to anyone other than your customers, you could radically improve your business by improving the communication you have with your customers today.
Create a richer experience for the people who have already bought from you. Make your products and services work better by pairing them with useful, user-friendly content.
Don’t treat the waitress better than you do your date. Give great stuff to the people who have already bought from you, and they’ll reward you for it.
Goal #9: Develop new business ideas
Your content stream is a fantastic place to try out new ideas.
Thinking about repositioning your key product? Trying to better define your unique selling proposition? See a new problem on the horizon that your customers might want you to solve?
Get those ideas into your content, and see how people react. You can watch what excites people and what fizzles out.
Business writer Jim Collins talks about firing bullets, then cannonballs. In other words, when you get a new idea for your business, fire off something low-risk to test the waters.
Don’t start firing your big ammunition until you’re sure you can actually hit the target. (And that there’s a target there to hit.)
Content is an amazing low-risk way to try out your ideas while risking very little. Your audience will let you know with their reactions which ideas fire them up and which ones leave them cold.
Goal #10: Build your reputation with search engines
Lots of content creators think this is reason #1 to create content — but if you put this goal in the wrong place, you’ll probably struggle with SEO.
That’s because search engines find you valuable when readers find you valuable.
Search engines are looking for content that’s valuable to their users. If you create that type of content, your SEO battle is 9/10 done.
So put the first nine content marketing goals first, and the 10th becomes a matter of relatively simple SEO optimization.
Editor’s note: The original version of this post was published on February 1, 2012.