What is Content Marketing?

Alan Belniakcontent11 Comments

Jackie Chan asks, "What exactly *is* 'Content Marketing'?"

I’ve been asked this question too many times in the past month or so, ever since I took on my new position at Staples.  One quick way I describe it is that it’s digital marketing still, and it’s a close cousin to social media.  That can’t be too far off – Jay Baer has been known to say “if content media is fire, then social media is gasoline.”  Sometimes that gets people to change the subject.  But sometimes it doesn’t.


Those who are generally interested ask for more.


So, what is it?  Let’s all acknowledge the elephant in the room here: the fine folks over at Content Marketing Institute have already asked and answered this question.  You can read that here.  But either skip that link, or indulge me for a moment.  Here’s how I describe it.


Marketing is the lubricant of sales.  It’s what makes “it” happen.  Sometimes it’s subtle, and sometimes its in your face.  Marketing in this sense is often confused with promotion and the selly-selly-sell-sell approach.  “Buy this!  It’s cheap!  It’ll do this!  It’ll fix this!”  Is that wrong? Not necessarily.


Content marketing in my mind is the amorphous, nebulous blob around the product or service you want to sell.  You’re not talking speeds and feeds, features and functions.  You’re giving the product or service depth, style, and color by creating the backstory and speaking to it, rather than about it.


Joe Pulizzi cites an example often of Jell-O.  Jell-O itself is an inexpensive dessert item.  But when salesmen went door to door, giving away a cookbook (thereby showing multiple ways to use and prepare Jell-O), sales shot through the roof in 1906, to the tune of $1m.  I doubt the book was 32 pages of “Buy This!” ad nauseam.  Instead, it gave Jello-O a life beyond the one recipe you get off the box.


Another example I like is ebags.  I bought a Timbuk2 bag from them a while back, and love it.  The pictures, videos (which are hilarious AND useful), and even the laptop sizer widget are all great examples of really using the site to determine the best bag for me.  There’s less “buy this bag now!” and more “you’ll like this bag for all the neat things it can do, plus what 100s of other users say, plus we know it’ll fit your laptop, plus ….”


When the sell is less apparent to you, the consumer, as a sell, and more about the ‘thing’ around the ‘thing’ – that’s content marketing.


There are lots of good examples.  And there are lots of bad examples.  One of the problems is that more and more companies are ‘doing’ content marketing.  And we’re about to get deluged.  So the defenses on consumers are back on the rise.


Tell the brand, product, or service story.  Honestly.  Consistently.  Communicate and embody purpose and value.  Offer value.  Be serious.  Be funny.  Connect.  Focus on utility, share-ability, and remarkability.


What about you?  If you were new to content marketing before this post, is it clear now?  For those that weren’t what would you add to this?

image source: http://memegenerator.net/instance/37227919


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