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What is content marketing?

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Since I started my own content marketing agency, I find myself needing to define content marketing pretty often. Mostly it’s when I’m describing what my new business does to friends, neighbors and family. This is how it goes:

Them: “What type of business did you start?”

Me: “I started a marketing agency that specializes in content marketing.

Them: Long pause… “that um… sounds nice…?”

So I have started to head off the awkward silences with an included definition of content marketing. This is what I call the Momsplanation:

Me: “Imagine you own a company that sells exercise equipment and you need more customers. Rather than sending out a bunch of product brochures that talk about how great your products are, you publish material or content about health and fitness. By discussing health and fitness in an intelligent and engaging way, you provide value to the kind of people who might be interested in getting some exercise equipment. You show your expertise rather than telling about it. This leads to potential customers who trust you and want to buy your stuff.”

Them: (lightbulb!)

This is often followed up with a conversation about someone they know who could use this sort of approach.

Some others have created much more official explanations, and just so you get your requisite dose of business speak, I’ll put the most universally accepted one here:

“Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.” -Content Marketing Institute

This description is technically good. I don’t think it helps describe it to Mom, but it hits on some of the finer points of content marketing, which are:

  • Give your prospects something they value for free
  • Talk directly to those whom you want to buy your product/service
  • Why? So we get customers who buy stuff

The Wikipedia version, which is the first definition that pops up when you Google “What is Content Marketing” is:

“Content marketing is any marketing that involves the creation and sharing of media and publishing content in order to acquire and retain customers.” -Wikipedia

This description is pretty inadequate. By this definition any flyer you get on your car at a ballgame would qualify as “content marketing.” What’s missing is the intent of content marketing, which should always to educate and provide value–the “valuable content” part of the CMI definition above.

When you’re developing your content marketing strategy, here’s the trick I use. Forget you’re selling something. Focus tightly on your target audience–be really specific about who this person is and what he/she struggles with on a daily basis. Is it getting to the gym, losing weight, eating more healthfully? What information can you provide that will help them with that struggle? It’s ok if it has nothing to do with the exercise equipment you have to offer. You’re building trust and offering value, which will make them want to buy from you.

“A customer that feels valued beyond his or her wallet is a customer more likely to respond to your next message or offer.”
-Customer Experience Must Be at the Heart of Your Agile Marketing,by Paul Mandeville, MarketingProfs

Sometimes people feel they are “giving away” too much for free with this approach. But don’t forget, information is cheap these days–anything you can offer that is truly customized to your target market is valuable them and to your relationship in the long run.

Photo by Joe the Goat Farmer via Flickr Commons