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Demystifying Content Marketing

Even marketing superheroes can find content scary. // Image credit: George Perez, The New Titans #61 (November 1989)
Even marketing superheroes can find content scary. // Image credit: George Perez, The New Titans #61 (November 1989)

Quick, want to scare someone? Leap out from behind a bush and shout “MARKETING!” at them.

Sure, the surprise is the scariest part, but “marketing” could be a close second. For many people the word conjures up visions of greedy magicians performing sleights of hand to fool you into buying something. But tack on “content” in front of “marketing” and the vision gets murkier. Content marketing? What is that… like trying to get people to buy stuff on Facebook or something?

Well, yes, but mostly no. Content marketing is not the same as social media marketing, although it’s easy to see how they could get mixed up. Like social media marketing, content marketing strategy does rely on digital channels and platforms to create and share content — but there’s a lot more to it than just that.

You’re already doing content marketing

Before I go any further, I’d like to share with you Wikipedia’s definition of content marketing:

“Content marketing is any marketing that involves the creation and sharing of media and publishing content in order to acquire and retain customers. This information can be presented in a variety of formats, including news, video, white papers, e-books, infographics, case studies, how-to guides, question and answer articles, photos, etc.

To put it another way, any time you publish an original post on your company blog, write a tutorial, add to the FAQ section, create a new product photo gallery, build a product data sheet, or link to a company webinar, you’re doing content marketing.

You are doing some of those things, right?

Not a passing fad

Content marketing seems like a hot new buzzword dreamed up by, well, a marketer. But this has been a popular marketing method for quite a while. Here are a few examples:

  • In 1895 John Deere launched The Furrow, an agricultural journal designed to provide tips and best practices to farmers while keeping them up-to-date on new products and company strategy.
  • In 1900 tire manufacturers André and Édouard Michelin published the first edition of the Michelin guide for French motorists, which they gave away for free. Intended to boost automobile ownership (and consequently tire ownership), the guide contained useful information such as how to change a tire, maps, and where to find hotels and gas stations. In 1926 the guide added restaurant information and in the 1930s refined its now-famous star rating system. Today the guides have become an undisputed authority on travel, selling for roughly $5-25 each depending on the region covered.
  • In the 1930s Proctor & Gamble, manufacturer of laundry soaps and other household products, began sponsoring daytime radio programs whose target audience was housewives who were presumably cleaning as they tuned in to listen. During breaks announcers would offer laundering tips using P&G soaps such as Duz and Oxydol — which is how the term “soap opera” came to be.

Anticipating needs

The key connection in all of the examples above is being able to identify a consumer need and provide information that helps them fulfill that need — no strings attached. By providing solutions you build positive connections, establish thought leadership and authority, and grow your brand reputation.

Your mission, then, is figuring out what your customers need before they do — and they find it somewhere else.

What content marketing looks like today

The content marketing landscape has certainly changed in the last hundred years, but the principles remain the same. Today you’ll find Callaway Golf’s YouTube channel of how-to videos that help people improve their game without being salesy; Panera Bread’s Pinterest page featuring pinboards like De-Stress, Live Consciously, and Take Care of Yourself, which provide helpful tips that also align with their brand image; and Virgin Atlantic’s blog posts featuring curated Instagram galleries meant to inspire wanderlust. On top of new content mediums, there are also new ways to use data to improve your content strategy.

Marketing isn’t such a bad word after all

Remember, content marketing doesn’t have to be scary, and it doesn’t have to be overcomplicated. Just make sure to create content that’s

  • relevant,
  • consistent,
  • targeted,
  • and above all valuable.

Your audience will thank you by remembering your brand the next time they’re looking to buy.

Now get out there and create some content!

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