Content marketing could quite possibly be the most misunderstood concept in marketing today. Most confuse content marketing as synonymous with content, which is a solid way to make sure your content marketing program underperforms, or worse, fails.
Even experienced marketers make this mistake because they assume they already know what it is, after all, they’ve created a lot of content over their careers.
Here’s how one CMO put it in a piece for the Forbes Communications Council (which is a paid placement):
“Most successful marketing strategies are built around content. Period. It’s not an add-on or merely a component of a wider marketing plan – content comes first and resonates in everything we do. To put it another way: Content marketing is not anything new. It’s just something the industry has learned to, well, market better.”
If the writer had simply eliminated the term “content marketing” from his article, it would have been a well-conceived and convincing piece. But the idea that “all marketing is content marketing” is flat out wrong and this matters because it creates additional challenges for marketers trying to do it successfully.
So, what is content marketing?
The Content Marketing Institute (CMI), a for-profit organization that is largely credited with popularizing the notion, defines it this way:
“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.”
The emphasis is mine because the emphasized words are operative.
1) Consistent means on a predictable and regular basis.
The frequency of that regularly could be once a day, once a week, or just a couple times a month. The point is content marketers show up at the same predictable place, at the same predictable time, and sustain this activity – forever. You never miss a deadline because that would be unpredictable and break an inherent promise to your audience. By contrast, most marketing efforts have traditionally followed a campaign format. Campaigns start and end and while they might generate awareness, leads and even sales, they typically do not build an audience.
2) Attract and retain an audience implies subscribers.
It’s easier to attract an audience than it is to retain them. Just look at your web analytics for any given month. Chances are the percentage of new visitors is far greater than the returning visitors. This means most of those visitors read one piece of content and left. Maybe they’ll return, but probably not…unless you actively work to build subscribers. You don’t really have an audience unless you have subscribers because you have no method or measure of retention.
Content Marketing is Still Relatively New
Marketing organizations, by far and large, have not been doing this for very long. Yes, The Furrow, the long-time magazine published by John Deere, is a classic example, but this is an exception. Publishing used to be expensive, and while the web has made it easier, marketers still struggle to make that mental transition from pitch mode to education mode – and from renting an audience to building their own audience.
You can produce all the content you want and in whatever format you want – but if it doesn’t adhere to this definition, you are not doing content marketing. That isn’t to say that the former isn’t good, this post is an analytic dissection of the approach, not an evaluation of effectiveness. While I’d argue content marketing is an essential and complementary approach to marketing and communications, it’s quite possible for a marketing organization to not undertake a genuine content marketing initiative and still be successful.
Why Does the Definition of Content Marketing Matter?
There’s already a lot of confusion about marketing in general. As a result, marketers spend nearly as much time making the case for marketing and proving value as they do executing on programs. If you can’t define what you want to do, then you can’t develop an effective strategy. For those that do, content marketing offers a strategic advantage both because it works and because many marketing leaders think they are already doing it when, in fact, are not.
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