I’m often asked how content marketing benefits a business – especially a startup or small business. It’s a fair question, and the answer is… it depends.

If you’ve read a few articles about modern marketing you know that today’s buyers have changed, demanding changes in the way you go about trying to reach them.

Self-education rules the world, so you must become on online teacher.

Buyers stay mostly invisible during their buyer’s journey, so you must help them see you before you can see them.

Buyers are looking for helpful information, so you can’t just pitch products to them.

Buyers don’t care about you or your company (at least not initially), so you must understand and serve their needs, not yours.

At its most basic level, content marketing benefits your business by aligning your actions with these realities of buyer behavior. It’s the smart way to build trusting relationships: provide helpful, educational information that buyers truly care about.

But what exactly can content marketing do for you? How will it fit into your business? It depends…

Content marketing benefits depend on your strategy

Strategy is the essential starting point for any content marketing journey. Specifically, you need to Focus Fast and Aim Adeptly in order to get your content marketing execution off on the right foot.

Focus comes first. Before you can gain any content marketing benefits, you need to determine what your specific business niche is going to be, clearly describe your unique value proposition, and decide how you’ll use content marketing to communicate that value.

My Content Marketing Startup site provides a framework for these decisions, but there’s no such thing as a standard content strategy or approach – you must make your strategy uniquely yours.

Your focus will define your desired content marketing benefits.

Content marketing benefits depend on your niche

One key to successful content marketing (and business startups) is to target a narrow niche for your business specialty. That’s because it’s easier to be an expert in a small arena than to cover everything well in a broad universe.

B2B firms can narrow their focus by geography, industry, business size, job role or level of expertise served (or all of these).

B2C companies can tighten their niche using geography, sub-topics, demographics and more.

A narrow niche will help focus your blog topics. But it will also give the rest of your content the focus it needs to be effective. The more you focus your niche, the more likely content marketing will help you achieve success.

As Joe Pulizzi, founder of Content Marketing Institute puts it,

Stop writing about everything. So many brands create content and try to cover everything, instead of focusing on the core niche that they can position themselves as an expert around. No one cares about your special recipe… Find your niche, and then go even more niche.

The unique characteristics of your chosen niche will determine both your content marketing strategy and your expected benefits.

Content marketing benefits are driven by your revenue model

Content marketing can help almost any type of business. But the specific benefits you’ll gain depend on your revenue model.

If you’re selling physical products, you might find that content marketing can help you drive traffic to your brick-and-mortar or e-commerce store. For digital products, your content marketing will likely be focused on driving downloads, upgrades or add-on options.

Other business models will greatly affect how content marketing benefits are derived. Where are you on this (partial) list of ways to generate revenue?

  • Physical products
  • Digital products
  • Personal services
  • Business services
  • Advertising revenue
  • Education and training
  • Community-building
  • Consulting
  • Reselling or referring others’ products
  • Freelance marketing
  • Agency relationships

For your business, align your content marketing efforts to support your specific revenue model. That will determine your likely benefits.

9 content marketing use cases

“So Tom,” you might say, “that’s all well and good. I understand how my business strategy, niche and revenue model will affect my content marketing benefits. But can you give me some more concrete examples, please?”

I’m glad you asked, because that means I can finally list 9 practical ways that content marketing benefits business.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I hope it will inspire you to think about your unique business and content strategy and find the most compelling benefits for you.

1. Grow web traffic

Content marketing can increase traffic to your web site in a number of ways. For example, the topics in your blog can improve your search engine ranking for keywords that are central to your niche, driving more organic search traffic your way. Or, your social media posts can end with an offer of additional information in an ebook, available for free on your website. This benefit could be of particular importance to a business that drives ad revenue from their site, or other monetization based on site visitor volume.

2. Generate leads

My ebook, Content marketing isn’t a one-night stand, outlines how a sequence of social posts and blog content can lead your invisible audience to identify themselves in order to download a piece of even more valuable content, such as an ebook or white paper. That generates a lead. A business selling products, services or memberships could then nurture that lead toward a sale or other conversion.

3. Establish thought leadership

If your business depends on getting your target audience to think differently about a business problem, industry trend or solution approach then you need to establish yourself as a thought leader. You provide the breakthrough ideas; content marketing provides the podium.

4. Drive direct sales

Once you have a lead, content marketing can be used to nurture that lead toward a sale. You might use a series of educational emails interspersed with promotional email offers to activate your buyer. Or, you could invite your newly identified buyer to an in-depth webinar about a particular business problem, and end the webinar with a special “act now” offer to purchase.

5. Fill seats

If your business makes money (directly or indirectly) with in-person events or online webinars, content marketing can be an ideal way to fill open seats. Use email, web banner ads, landing pages, testimonial videos, curriculum outlines, social posts and other content to raise awareness and drive viewers toward registration.

6. Build a social network

Some business types can profit from having a large social network. B2C businesses especially can benefit from social shares, friend recommendations, and a large online following. In this case, your social posts can be augmented with other valuable content including videos, e-books, info-graphics, links to related articles and more. Your blog can contribute, too, with thoughtful articles that position social sharing and follow buttons prominently on the page.

7. Build an email list

If your content is good, your audience will want more of it. An email list is an ideal way to deliver it to them. Content Marketing Startup, for example, announces its new blog posts by sending an email with a link. But email can be used for so much more including education, special offers, lead nurturing and simply staying in touch. So, a content strategy that encourages your invisible audience to share their email address can be very valuable. Just be sure to respect your subscribers’ interests, be authentic and avoid spam.

8. Increase speaking engagements

If public or private speaking is a part of your business model, then content marketing should be part of your strategy. To build interest in you as a speaker, deliver content that gives your target audience a glimpse of your ideas, style and impact: Video clips of past presentations. Testimonials. Written articles. Potential topic lists. Even a published book! Your social content, too, can increase visibility by associating you with other leaders in your field.

9. Solicit new product ideas

When done well, content marketing is all about a conversation with your audience.

“Traditional marketing talks at people. Content marketing talks with them.”
Doug Kessler, co-founder Velocity Partners

By engaging your audience in conversation, content marketing can help you understand more about what your readers need, which can lead you to create products and services that they want. There’s no better market research than that.

What are your goals?

Do these usage examples give you some ideas for gaining content marketing benefits in your business? Are there other applications you can think of?

As you consider these and other goals of content marketing, it helps to determine your top priority goal and plan a content marketing campaign to support that.

If you have more than one goal, create multiple content marketing plans and roll them out over time. After all, content marketing is a long-term strategy, not a quick fix.

Get specific and measurable

Whatever your goal, try to be as specific as you can about the outcomes you seek. Make your goal measurable and give it a timeframe. Examples:

  • Increase web visitors by 12% between now and next quarter
  • Generate at least 10 qualified leads by June
  • Get my blog post re-tweeted or back-linked at least 3 times next month
  • Add 100 names to my email list by the end of this month

Being specific about your goal helps you design appropriate content marketing tactics. It also helps you know if you’ve succeeded. And even if you fall short, your measurement will help you get better on the next campaign. In other words, it will help you learn from your successes and your failures:

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.”
Michael Jordan

Your benefits are waiting

I believe strongly in the value of content marketing to support your business. There are so many ways it can bring you benefits, from aligning with your buyers’ needs to driving specific business metrics.

I’m with you as you travel your content marketing journey. Let me know how I can help you!

Download a free copy of my ebook, Content Marketing Isn’t a One-Night Stand. It’s a short, lighthearted look at how content marketing is like online dating – really!

This article was originally published here.