Every day, we’re surrounded by stories. In conversation, on social media feeds, on billboards. It’s our way of making sense of the world and connecting with it.
Storytelling and marketing became close companions long before the term “content marketing” existed, so it’s definitely not a new form of marketing. As with everything though, it’s changed considerably and continues to do so. It’s often been used in the same breath as “advertising”, but the truth is; both play by slightly different rules.
With traditional advertising, you’re directly trying to tell people why your product or service should be bought or used. Content marketing, on the other hand, is less about on-the-nose sales tactics than it is about communicating your brand’s opinions, expertise and general ethos.
Immersing people into different ideas, stories, or feelings is content marketing’s muse. Depending on the brand, concept or product, it’s often used to rouse a narrative in effective and engaging ways.
However, you need to understand exactly what it is and why it’s important in order to recognise its true value. Its definition can be pretty unspecific, so let’s take a look at what it is, what some of the main forms it can take are, and why they’re effective.
So…what is content marketing?
Most of what we see every day is a form of content marketing. Though broad in meaning, the phrase itself has become something of a buzzword.
According to the Content Marketing Institute, content marketing can be defined as; “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”.
Writer and influencer Neil Patel also sums it up nicely: “content marketing is a long-term strategy that focuses on building a relationship with your target audience by giving them high-quality content that is very relevant to them on a consistent basis”.
The whole idea behind content marketing, therefore, is to create material catered to your audience’s interests and tastes. It’s generally implicit in its approach to generating sales, instead focusing on specific topics or ideas which may ultimately stimulate interest in your products or services.
While this kind of marketing existed before the rise of digital platforms, the digital age has certainly awakened the desire to adopt it into marketing strategies. More people are beginning to trust opinions and views they gain from blogs and influencers over a company’s voice. It’s easy to understand why this may throw a spanner in the works for businesses, but it can also be seen as an opportunity.
Generally, B2B marketers who use blogs generate 67% more leads than those who don’t. Blogging also gives brands the freedom to provide views and news on what’s relevant to their audience without relying too heavily on plugging themselves.
Why is content marketing important for businesses?
We’ve established that one of the most effective aspects of content marketing is its indirectness on the sales front. But if you’re not overtly selling products and services, how does this generate interest and ultimately leads?
Think of it this way: most companies want to be viewed as credible and trustworthy. Content marketing allows you to build relationships with your audience from a different angle. With digital content marketing forms such as blogs, video content, infographics, and so on, you’re able to talk about the things that really matter to you and your audience. You can engage them in a way that’s different from straight-up advertising.
Creating effective and engaging content is easier said than done, though. 65% of companies find it a challenge to create engaging content. The key is to map-out your audience’s or customers’ needs and interests, and subsequently the kind of content that would grab their attention.
American Girl, a US-based company which manufactures dolls for girls, previously created a print magazine of the same name which included articles, advice columns, fiction, and arts and crafts. These magazines rarely put the dolls at the forefront of the content, instead focusing on its audience (girls aged 8-14) and providing material specifically for them. Although they weren’t directly selling the products per-say, its circulation reached over 700,000 at its peak.
Whilst not all businesses will be able to roll-out content on a scale as large as American Girl, it’s certainly a lesson in creating effective content that’s exactly right for your specific audience.
Content marketing isn’t about the brand, products or services. It’s about connecting with your audience. What do they care about?