What is Content Marketing?

We’ve thrown around the term content marketing, but we need to flesh it out more deeply. Content marketing is a fairly simple concept, and ...

We’ve thrown around the term content marketing, but we need to flesh it out more deeply. Content marketing is a fairly simple concept, and we don’t want to overcomplicate it. It is the natural extension of a simple truth: Content is what users of digital media consume. It’s what they look for when they search for stuff. It’s what they promote when they like and share items.

Traditional marketers sometimes struggle to understand content marketing because it is such a departure from what they’re used to. They’re used to crafting visually compelling messages and pushing them out through various channels. They’re not used to crafting content that attracts the audience to come to a website and participate in a customer experience. They’re not used to using audience data to learn what those experiences should be before crafting them.

In fact, many organizations challenge the whole concept of content marketing. Critics say that creating high-quality content can be expensive. (Correct.) They say that it’s risky to spend all that money up front before you even know it will work. (Correct.) They say that most of the people who see your content marketing will never buy from you. (Correct.) And, therefore, that’s why you shouldn’t adopt content marketing. (Not so correct.)



what is content marketing


It’s human nature to be distrustful of something new; distrust has probably benefited the survival of the species because it keeps us from tasting any mushroom within reach. But just because you are new to content marketing doesn’t mean that you should distrust it. Yes, content marketing can sometimes be expensive and risky, and it is true that most people who see your marketing won’t buy from you. But isn’t advertising expensive and risky at times? And don’t most of the people who see your ads pass up the chance to buy from you?

It isn’t the model of content marketing that is a problem; after all, it’s the same model as for advertising. It’s just that we subject the unfamiliar to far more scrutiny than we bestow on older ideas that we are used to. So, if you’re a traditional marketer, before you dismiss content marketing, perhaps learning some of the hallmarks of the discipline (as detailed below) will help you embrace it and some of the data that helps you along the way.

Content Marketing Starts with Creating Great Content

Your content must consist of compelling, audience-centric, findable, sharable stories. If you build it, they might not come. Content must be built with audience interest in mind so that they will find it and share it with their peers. Once built, it must be published and promoted. Content does not market itself.

You measure the effectiveness of content marketing according to how often it is used and shared.

Content Is Useful Only in Context

You can’t just create content in a vacuum. In digital media, content is only as valuable as the number and quality of references to it (links, social shares, etc.). It is more useful if it builds on existing work than if it duplicates it. It is more useful still if it is built as part of a system of other content that answers specific questions in a several-step information journey. This is especially difficult for traditional marketers, who want to tell selfcontained stories.

You measure how well connected content is, within its context, by performing link analysis.

Content Marketing: The New New Thing?

All the cool kids are doing it. Content marketing is the flavor of the week, so you need to jump on the bandwagon, too. But is content marketing really new? Not really. Ever hear of the Michelin Guide? This venerable series of review guide books started as a giveaway from the French tire manufacturer to encourage driving to restaurants (thus stoking demand for replacement tires). That was in 1900. Know how soap operas got their name? These daytime serials started on the radio. They were actually produced by the soap manufacturers themselves. That was in 1930.

Such forays into content marketing set the tone for what we can do today. So what is content marketing? Many companies have engaged in content marketing over the years, so content marketing isn’t truly new. What is new is how much cheaper it is, thanks to digital marketing. In the old days (around 2003), content marketing brought with it high printing, production, or manufacturing costs and mailing or other distribution costs. Email, websites, social media, social media data mining tools , and mobile devices have dramatically reduced those costs. It is still expensive to create high-quality content, but it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to get it in front of your digital audience.

What this means, in practical terms, is that any marketer with a good idea can scrape together the budget to experiment with content marketing. But it means anyone with a bad idea can do this, too. And that’s the point. Content marketing isn’t new. What’s new is that distributing your content is now almost free, so content marketing is feasible with just about any budget. Even yours.

Content Needs Information Paths

Chances are that your audience will choose a different path through your content than the path that you designed. That’s to be expected. Digital media and books are not the same. In books, it is the author’s story. The reader implicitly concedes this point and passively consumes the story according to the author’s agenda. Digital media need not be consumed in such a linear fashion. The digital reader or viewer is in control. It’s their story, and they’re piecing it together from multiple sources on the fly. This fact vexes some traditional marketers because, like book authors, they are accustomed to crafting media to be consumed serially. You measure and track users through your content to create experiences that align with their journeys.

Great Content Speaks Your Customer’s Language

Because the audience builds their stories using multiple sources, you must use language that the audience understands. Though you want to tell your story, your story will not make sense in the context of the audience’s story if you don’t use common language. Coining your own terms can lead to jargon that’s confusing to your audience. It’s natural for marketers to desire unique trademarked names for their products, but when you need to explain too many words, your message loses its punch.

You learn the common language by conducting keyword research and by listening to social channels and creating social data visualization.

Content Marketing Requires a Publisher’s Reputation As in all other forms of publishing, credibility is the currency in the digital world. A sure way to gain credibility is through transparency. Not only must you publish the truth as openly as possible, you need to avoid hyperbole and other forms of exaggeration. This can be especially hard for some public relations professionals who are used to telling only the “good stories.”

You can measure the credibility of your content by performing sentiment analysis and other forms of social listening.

Content marketing is emerging as the primary way many brands engage with audiences, to the degree that resisting content marketing has become a career-limiting decision. For example, only 12% of UK companies do not focus on content marketing.

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