What is Content Marketing?

Content marketing: you’ve likely heard these words thrown around a lot in the last few years.

But what is content marketing?

Is it blogging? Social media? Do you need to be making videos? How is it different from the marketing you’re already doing? And what is this content thing, anyway? What is the purpose? (And how are you going to find the time to do this too??)

If you’re wishing someone would just speak plain and explain this whole content marketing thing once and for all, you’re in the right place.

So, let’s start with the basics – what is content marketing?

Content Marketing Defined

  • Oxford Dictionary, those smartie pants, define it like this: a type of marketing that involves the creation and sharing of online material (such as videos, blogs, and social media posts) that does not explicitly promote a brand but is intended to stimulate interest in its products or services.

  • So, it’s creating content about the thing you are selling, but not “selling” or talking about the thing you’re selling in a promotional way. Oooof…. okay…

  • Wikipedia opens the conversation about content marketing as such: Content marketing attracts prospects and transforms prospects into customers by creating and sharing valuable free content. Content marketing helps companies create sustainable brand loyalty, provides valuable information to consumers, and creates a willingness to purchase products from the company in the future. This relatively new form of marketing does not involve direct sales. Instead, it builds trust and rapport with the audience.

  • So, as we dig deeper, we learn you’ve got to give it away for free; that content marketing is a sales tool but it does not involve direct sales. It’s a long term, trust building exercise. Awesome, just what you wanted, right??

  • Finally, the gurus at the Content Marketing Institute teach us: 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.

  • Okay, okay… are you liking these definitions more and more? Driving profitable customer action sounds pretty good, doesn’t it??

But What Does Any of That Mean?

Summed up, content marketing is the art of creating content that delivers value to your customers and helps them solve their problems. It’s about giving away your thought leadership, advice, helpful tips, and information in a way that creates value for your target audience. It’s about proactively answering questions, sharing insights, and helping them do the legwork of finding the information they need to make the best possible decisions. It’s about being real, transparent, open, and honest.

Content Marketing = Telling Your Story, Not Selling Your Story.

Here’s the best part: Do you know what happens if you can stay focused on value creation? Your audience grows to know you, like you, and trust you.

And do you know what happens next?

When they need the product, service, or offering that you sell, you’ll be their go-to person. When someone asks for their opinion, you’ll be the one they recommend. When you then tell them about a sale, promotion, or critical investment, they’ll listen and buy.


Because you took the time to get to know them. You cared enough to answer their questions; to meet them where they are; and you never (never!) tried to pull a fast one on them. You never pretended to care and then, just when they let their guard down, started spamming them with emails or blowing up their phone with creepy sales calls.

It’s About Building Relationships

Content marketing is about using content to build relationships and rapport with your target audience by offering value in any multitude of forms. In this very act, content marketing changes the tone of your interactions with consumers and offers them not only your product/service/offering, but value along the way.

Because content marketing is driven by the value you can offer to the audience and not by the value you can get from any given transaction, it asks a different set of questions. So instead of thinking, “how can I sell more?” you need to be asking:

  • What does my audience need to know in order to make the best purchase decision?
  • What would help make my audience’s life easier?
  • How can I help them look like a superstar at work? Or amongst their friends?
  • How can I help them avoid common mistakes?
  • How can I entertain, engage, or delight them?
  • What’s the best way (place, time, format) to connect with them?
  • How can I make our organization more available to them?
  • How can we tell our story in a way that helps them do more, be more, feel better?

Content Marketing Truths

Apparently we see somewhere between 4,000 and 10,000 ads every day. GASP. And that study was done in 2015. DOUBLE GASP. Those numbers aren’t getting smaller. The truth is that advertising and marketing has to get smarter. Schools are teaching children as young as 8 years old about media literacy, including the truth about advertising – ie, don’t trust it, ever. We’re catching onto the “influencer” marketing game. No one wants to be “sold to” —or worse— find out they were wrong about an organization they trusted. The next generations are asking big questions about old institutions, and how, what, and from whom they buy is no exception.

Enter content marketing – worrying less about that “big” sale and more about building trust.

Content marketing isn’t a sales tool – it’s a trust-building tool. (This is the big Oprah “a ha,” tweet tweet moment!). The content you are creating and sharing online is the way that your target audience will come to know you, evaluate you, and decide to do business with you –- ideally, over and over again. Because you aren’t using gimmicks. You’re not trying to scam them. And you’re giving them enough information to make an informed decision. Content marketing is the real-deal, true-story, authenticity-offering kind of marketing. And if you aren’t there when people start looking, they will never find you. This is marketing in the world where the Internet is the medium of almost every message.

The Internet and all of its blessings/curses drives content marketing. If you aren’t active, optimized, and compelling online, you won’t be found when your target audience is looking to buy (or learn) What?a?shame?.

Your online presence— your branding, website, content, social media—is your virtual stand in; it’s making your first impression and holding the conversation while your people get to know you. It needs to instantly start building trust and delivering value. Why? Because it’s all that your target audience has to evaluate you on. And they’ve learned they need to be skeptical. They need to know immediately that you’re the real deal and have their best interests at heart.

Putting Content Marketing to Work

So the smartest, most successful brands are using their online properties to share content, ask questions, listen, and respond. They deliver content that teaches, inspires, and engages their audiences. They become the thought leader and trusted resource for information in their industry. They are the ones who have done the work of sharing more than product specifications or customer testimonials, but who have also offered up valuable content along with it. They’re helpful. And balanced. And understand the struggle (it’s real!) that their audience is facing.

So what is content marketing? Really, it’s the way forward. Trust me.

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