What is content marketing?
Defining content marketing is the first step to getting it right
A great question that will require a rather thorough answer.
In the broadest sense of the term, ‘content marketing’ refers to the creation of any piece of media that has the purpose of acquiring or retaining customers. Strictly speaking, you could quite reasonably argue that all marketing is indeed content marketing, and that in fact the concept isn’t anything particularly new or ‘Digital Age’, as it were, when you consider that anything from an in-store sign saying “Bargain Basket – 50% Off Everything” to a cigarette advert in a 1950s magazine could be considered as ‘content marketing’.
However, when we talk about the term today, in 2015 going on 2016, generally speaking, we’re making reference specifically to digital content that is distributed over the internet. The purpose of this content remains the same – to attract and retain customers – but the technique and indeed the psychology of the approach is quite different to what might be considered ‘traditional marketing’.
Traditional Marketing Vs. Content Marketing
Traditional marketing is all about selling.
Sell, sell, sell, beats the traditional marketer’s drum. We are given information about the product or service, informed that it’s a good price, and asked to make a purchase.
Content marketing, on the other hand, is all about telling. Telling stories, in fact.
Tell, tell, tell, beats the content marketer’s drum. And the reason the content marketer tell, tell, tells is because he/she understands that the true power of marketing is borne from an emotional connection that is forged between brand and customer. When this connection is made, the customer changes his/her behaviour – and that is the ultimate goal of content marketing.
The Power of Content Marketing Explained
Put very simply, content marketing is all about communicating with customers without selling. In fact, selling stays far, far away from content marketing, because with content marketing, you are giving away valuable, relevant and intelligent content to your prospective customers for free.
Let’s now take a look at a definition of the term from the Content Marketing Institute:
“Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”
The key words in this definition are “valuable” and “relevant”. Indeed, without these words, then the above could just as easily be a definition of traditional marketing. But, with them, we can see exactly what content marketing is really all about.
So, what is it about?
Well content marketing is about empowering your potential client base with useful, insightful, and actionable information about things that are either directly or indirectly relevant to the product or service that you are selling.
For example, GetResponse is an email marketing service utilised by literally millions of businesses and individuals every day. Now, these users of GetResponse are ipso facto in need of email marketing services – but the marketing team behind GetResponse are smart. They know that that their customers will more than likely appreciate some information on other forms of digital marketing as well, and so they provide this information for free to the whole world on their website in the form of a blog.
Of course, GetResponse discuss email marketing in their blog posts, but they jumble this up with all sorts of other valuable, relevant and intelligent digital marketing information as well, and then they share this information for free across the whole web via social media, and people take an interest.
Indeed, piquing readers’ interests is an important factor of content marketing. In some respects it’s where the magic lies. Although content marketing is not about selling products or services directly, it is about selling the brand as something valuable and trustworthy. The Content Marketing Institute puts it like this:
“Instead of pitching your products or services, you are delivering information that makes your buyer more intelligent. The essence of this content strategy is the belief that if we, as businesses, deliver consistent, ongoing valuable information to buyers, they ultimately reward us with their business and loyalty.”
The SEO Game
Blogging is perhaps the most straightforward approach to content marketing. Most businesses have cottoned on to the fact that their website needs a blog these days. And, incidentally, this is not just for the sole purpose of informing and entertaining existing and prospective customers, for it has the dual purpose of enhancing the website’s SEO (search engine optimisation) as well.
First of all, Google likes websites that have fresh content. Fresh content means that the website is active and up-to-date, and so Google rewards webmasters with a higher ranking in SERPs (search engine results pages). Secondly, having a blog means that you have the opportunity to keep loading up your posts with keywords that you think your potential customers might be searching for – this again improves your SEO.
In fact, there are numerous ways that blogging can improve your SEO – from generating backlinks, to increasing your website’s traffic and popularity, to boosting your social media presence. And so, for starters, beginning your own blog is a massive step in the right direction towards a lasting and successful content marketing campaign.
But, there are many other means via which you can add value to your services and build trust and loyalty with your existing and potential customers. Here are three more great ideas for kicking ass at content marketing.
3 Content Marketing Weapons
There are many different Content Marketing tools, but here are examples of three formats which can work for many types of business in my view.
I don’t know how many times I’ve written it now, but I’m about to do so again – social media has gone visual. This means that most of you won’t even be reading this sentence right now, even if you’ve clicked on the blog! The fact is that the modern day internet user wants information to be displayed to them visually – and that’s exactly where infographics come in.
Infographics are generally long, vertical pieces of informational art, usually displaying a lot of statistics in a pleasingly visual fashion, which is easy to digest and indeed recall later. It is for these reasons that infographics are so powerful and popular. If you can start creating some valuable and relevant infographics that will both delight and inform your customers, then you can be sure that they will be read and shared far and wide.
For some examples, check out the 204 content marketing infographics on Michael Schmitz’s Pinterest board.
Podcasts are wonderful. Audio has so much potential. It’s such an entertaining medium, that can be consumed ‘hands-free’, meaning that people can download and listen to them whilst driving to or from work, or even on the under or over ground commute.
Author and podcaster Michael Hiyatt has his “This Is Your Life” podcast downloaded 250,000 times a month. In it he gives away lots of free advice, but the podcast itself drives sales of his bestselling book Platform: Get Noticed In A Noisy World. He gives the following advice in his blog post ‘4 Reasons You Should Consider Launching Your Own Podcast’:
“A podcast gives you visibility in a completely different world—primarily iTunes. I have had scores of new people say they had never heard of me until they stumbled onto me in iTunes.”
Videos and content marketing are a little trickier to marry, but when done well, the results are priceless. Most people, and indeed brands, tend to think of videos as being all about traditional promotions. Now, whilst this is perhaps still the most common occurrence of video marketing, there are some brands who get the content marketing spirit spot on with their video output.
Take Oreo, for instance. Everyone knows that Oreos are cookies. They’re cheap, and millions of people seem to agree that they’re delicious. So how can content marketing techniques be used when trying to peddle more cookies with video?
Well, the Oreo approach is all about adding value to their brand by creating entertaining videos that star the little cookies. Take this little spoof of The Shining for example:
This is not an example of traditional marketing, even though they contain the product that is being sold. No, it is still content marketing, because the emphasis is on the entertainment value that can be had with Oreo cookies. Indeed, I don’t even like the things, but I could watch Oreo Vines all day long. The brand has established itself as an entertainer, as much as peddler of products. Their content marketing strategies revolve around the ‘feel-good’ value of getting on board with the brand. And thusly, they build up even more fans and followers and customers who all love what Oreo produce in the media, as much as they may (or may not) love the cookies themselves.
[Editors note: For more examples of the many different formats to define content marketing and how it can support different parts of the buying cycle, see the Smart Insights definition by the Content Marketing Matrix]
Mark Mitchell is the Managing Director of the MySocialAgency.com, a fully-integrated digital marketing agency, with offices in Leeds and London. A digital veteran, he started up the agency back in 2010 and is an expert in both paid and organic search marketing, content and social media strategy.’
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