I’ve been asked several times recently: “What is content marketing?” And if you’ve seen it, consumed it, and/or created it, you know what it is. To some, it’s really easy to explain. To others, it’s more difficult to explain, especially if you use other terms in the definition that are also foreign. Below is an explanation of content marketing by way of analogy.
Explaining Content Marketing Using a Meal Analogy
First, imagine your content as a meal. When I say content, I don’t mean an asset, like a white-paper or a webcast. I mean the message or main idea you want to communicate to your customer or prospect. That’s the content.
A: Of that content, you will have a core piece. It might be a whitepaper, it might be a webcast, it might be a slidedeck. Call this the main dish or entrée.
B: Leading up to that, you might want to whet the appetite. You might want to tease the core content a bit, create intrigue or desire. You might want to generate interest for the main dish, so perhaps it is paired well and complements the main dish. This might be a salad.
C: You might need to signal to the market that you have something worth consuming. You need to let them know that hey – it’s worth stopping by… it is worth having a seat at the table. This might be bread, a signal that this is a seat that’s going to be getting a meal soon. In the content space, it’s a tweet or even a short blog post to let your readers know more is on the way.
D: Perhaps your main dish (A) is a video. But it’s a big video. It’s too much to consume in one sitting. So, you cut it up into smaller chunks (little 2-minute clips, one leading to the next, but good enough to stand alone on their own), making it digestible.
E: You’ve can’t wait to eat this meal! You’ve got this spread in front of you – bread, salad, an appetizer, main dish, soup… How can you get all of that content into your stomach? How can you collect all of those meal parts into one place (your mouth) at once? An RSS aggregator/feed catcher.
F: You really like the way the chef prepared the food… but it could use a bit more flavor. Maybe a dash of salt and pepper. Adding some of your own flavor to an existing piece of content is a mash-up.
G: To accompany the main dish (in this case, maybe it’s a slide deck), you want something that pairs well to accentuate it in the right places, and fill the gaps in the light parts. Much like a fine red wine complements a rare cut of beef. In the content world, this can be an audio track that walks a reader through a slide deck.
H (not shown): The meal was delicious. So delicious, in fact, that you ask the waiter to speak with the chef. You shower the chef with praise, and ask for her secret recipe for the sauce that accompanied the beef. She tells you and you write it down so you can come back to that later and use it on your own. This is similar to bookmarking (in this case, it happens that I’m referring to delicious!)
I (not shown): Aside from your main dish, you also have delectable side dishes that accompany the meal, such as a mushroom risotto, or frites. In the content world, side dishes can be a follow-on interview with a key subject matter expert, or the re-blogging of a similar piece, weaving it into your main dish. It adds to the main course, but doesn’t stand on its own.
J (not shown): Clearing the dishes from the main meal, soup, salad, appetizers, and the like leads the way for dessert. In terms of the meal, this is the final cap – the little extra at the end to make you say, “Wow – what a great meal.” This could be an exclusive interview (similar to above, but a bit different), it could be a re-distribution of your core content, it could be getting one of the assets syndicated into a larger arena.
K (not shown): Eating dinner alone is no fun. The conversation is what turns it from food to a meal; from a dinner to a dinner party. Friendly funny banter back and forth, or even a spirited debate enhance the overall experience. Blog comments, discussion forums, and Facebook walls are where this happens in the content world.
This analogy isn’t perfect. After all, it’s an analogy. And if I used a different picture of a meal (e.g., a picture that included a soup bowl, or a gravy boat), I could add two more analogies to the list. The point is that there are several ways to take a concept of an entire meal and split it into multiple parts to reuse, respin, reshape, and serve up that overall meal. I’m hopeful that is was clear enough for you to start looking at different pieces of digital content (and many pieces of digital content are made social merely by the platform they are placed upon and how they are distributed and shared) and see how they can fit together.
Fellow content marketers: what analogy would you add? Or, which of mine would you augment or correct? Please share this around. I’m confident that if enough people add their thoughts to this, and then point others to it, the term ‘content marketing’ will be much easier to describe and explain in the future.
If this piques your interest, be sure to check out the forthcoming book, Content Rules, by Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman. You can read all about it, including where and how to order, and how to stay current (Twitter, Facebook, RSS) on the Content Rules Book website.
Image source: Microsoft clipart, with edits from the author
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