It recently occurred to me that some people (and marketers) still aren’t completely clear on what content marketing is and isn’t. Yesterday, I got caught up in a discussion on Danny Brown’s blog about exactly that.
I’d like to address some of the points in the post, but first, I’d like to start from scratch and build a case for content marketing. So what is it, exactly?
Content marketing is the marketing and business process for creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action. (Content Marketing Institute)
The label is new. The tactic is not.
Because it’s a new term, we like to think of it as a new discipline. But it isn’t. Businesses have practiced content marketing for years. According to That White Paper Guy, white papers made their first appearance in 1922. They became most relevant to marketers in the 80s, pushed forward by the rise of the PC.
Entrepreneurs and other leading voices in business have always used books to help build their brands and the brands of their respective companies. Organizations release research papers. It’s all a part of standing out from the noise of competition and offering valuable information for free. This valuable information points back to your brand and drives new customers into the “traditional” marketing process of evaluating your products and services.
Content marketing manifests itself in many ways, none of which are product-centric, including:
- White papers
- Books & ebooks
- Research reports
What I think the rise of content, social media and conversation marketing in general does is call into question our old definitions of marketing. It turns out this isn’t such a black-and-white field after all.
The show & tell dilemma
Robert Rose’s definition of content marketing is the one that sticks out to me:
Traditional marketing and advertising is telling the world you’re a rock star. Content Marketing is showing the world that you are one.
As a writer, this definition hits close to home. Showing always builds a much stronger case over telling. First, you gain the lead’s trust by offering them valuable but free information. Then, you drive them into the traditional sales and marketing process. Finally, you retain their business with a continuous stream of engagement.
One of the biggest questions I have for Danny Brown is the motivation behind writing his blog. Before finding this post, I’d never heard of him or Jugnoo, the company he works for. So, his blog increases brand awareness and connects him with potential customers. It raises the value of his own brand. It’s purpose isn’t to tell the world what he does; it’s to show the world that he does it with passion and insight. And that makes it an integral part of the sales and marketing funnel.
After much deliberation, I interpret Danny’s post to be a criticism of content marketing evangelists who say the practice is a standalone discipline. But I don’t hear anyone saying that. It’s an integral part of the marketing experience that acts in tandem with traditional marketing. It flips the old model of jamming your product or service down your lead’s throat by spoon-feeding the pitch.
Danny also appears to make the argument that content marketing has little impact on the post-sale customer. I have clients who would beg to differ. Sears does it. These non-profits increased brand affinity. Mint.com, HubSpot and American Express all maintain wildly popular content marketing channels.
The reason Danny came across 560 million Google results for content marketing is because the term helps businesses make sense of their digital communications. It’s also why “content marketing success stories” returns more than 77 million results of its own. I believe it will continue to be a strong, crucial descriptor for years to come.
Think I’m an arrogant blowhard? Agree with what I’m saying? Share your content marketing success (or horror) story in the comments.