What is Content Marketing? The Definitive Guide

Published: Feb 07, 2020
Last Updated:
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Content marketing is no passing buzzword. There’s a reason why this phrase has gained traction in recent years, and why your business should consider adopting a content marketing strategy.

But first, what is it exactly?

Content marketing is a type of marketing strategy focused on creating valuable, audience-specific content in order to attract customers.

And it’s nothing new—businesses have been doing content marketing for centuries through print materials, radio, and television, even before this term was invented.

What is content marketing?

Though many often interpret content marketing to be synonymous with blogging, there’s far more to it.

According to some, the history of content marketing reaches as far back as the caveman era. Others argue it rose with the development of the printing press. Whatever your take, individuals and businesses alike have been doing content marketing for centuries, even before the internet. In fact, Benjamin Franklin himself launched the Poor Richard’s Almanack to market his printing business in 1732.

Of course, in modern times, the typical content repertoire has expanded to include much more than print publications, including:

  • ebooks
  • infographics
  • newsletters
  • podcasts
  • webinars
  • white papers
  • video

While blogs are certainly a content marketing staple, other types of content also benefit businesses similarly. That is, they provide relevant and targeted information to a brand’s target audience. This information ultimately helps to guide readers along the buyer’s journey:

  • First, by making readers aware of an issue or need;
  • Second, providing valuable and relevant insight; and
  • Third, influencing the reader's purchase decision.
(Image credit: HubSpot)

What content marketing isn’t

The definition of content marketing above may lead you to believe that all forms of content, including traditional banner and display advertisements, count as content marketing—but don’t be fooled.

Content marketing does not mean selling blatantly to customers, and it is not about pitching a brand’s services to readers upfront.

Instead, content marketing focuses on establishing a brand’s authority and expertise by providing helpful information. Done well, your target users will be inclined to come back for more, and eventually make a purchase.

This style of acquiring leads is a form of inbound marketing, in which marketing efforts are designed to draw in leads rather than push a brand onto potential customers. In this way, you can think of content marketing as playing the “long game.” The key is creating content that readers find valuable, not thinly veiled ads and sales pitches.

<div class="tip">Curious how long it'll take before you see results from your content marketing strategy? There's no one-size-fits-all answer, as it will depend partly on how you define content marketing success and which engagement metrics you use. However, you’ll generally begin seeing ROI within 6–12 months.</div>

Why is content marketing important?

Though it may sound like a roundabout way of reaching customers, content marketing is a valuable addition to any marketing plan. Namely, it benefits your brand in these three ways:

  • Attract new leads and customers
  • Increase your brand visibility
  • Enhance relationships with preexisting customers

1. Attract new leads and customers

When you publish quality content on a regular basis, you provide more opportunities for readers to stumble onto your brand and website—especially when you incorporate SEO copywriting techniques.

Consider one of the most popular content marketing combinations: an active blog and an engaging newsletter.

If you publish posts regularly and set up an enticing email newsletter, you can cultivate a loyal following of subscribers. Over time, these readers may share your content with their own networks, whether by posting on Facebook or forwarding your newsletter to their friends. Moreover, if well-optimized, new readers will find your blog organically through Google.

In short, creating more channels of content as part of a larger content marketing strategy can amplify your business’s reach—snagging you more leads and customers in the long run.

For instance, you've probably heard of the magazine Travel + Leisure and the American television channel known simply as the Travel Channel.

The two brands are known, respectively, for their travel-centered print magazines and television programming. But beyond these traditional marketing channels, they also invest heavily in web articles to round out their content strategies.

See for yourself by searching "vacation ideas" in Google.

You'll find both companies' websites on the first page of search results, each with relevant content about vacation ideas.

Google search results for "vacation ideas"

Given their already substantial print and television audiences, you may wonder: why would Travel + Leisure and the Travel Channel bother producing online articles as well?

Simple: creating online content helps both brands reach audiences outside of their standard print and television format. After all, people who search for travel-related content online aren’t necessarily the same people who read travel magazines or watch travel shows—in fact, these online searchers are likely a much bigger demographic. So by creating web articles as a part of a greater overarching content marketing strategy, both Travel + Leisure and the Travel Channel increase their reach to draw more readers and potential customers.

2. Increase your brand visibility

On top of boosting traffic and acquiring new leads, publishing content strengthens your brand’s visibility.

How so?

Whether it’s a blog, newsletter, podcast, or something else, your content represents your brand. Your content marketing efforts shape its image and reputation, and done well, this can make your company stand out.

Under the right circumstances, your content—a video or infographic, for example—can gain traction; it might even go viral. Even if your logo isn’t the focal point, mention of your brand name alone is enough to make it more familiar to users.

Just check out Dove for an idea of how this might look.

Outside of its personal care and hygiene products, the brand produces award-winning video content about self-esteem and body positivity.

And the result?

These video campaigns have not only earned Dove critical acclaim but have also made its name and branding more recognizable to the average consumer.

3. Enhance relationships with current customers

It’s not enough to just convert a lead; you also need to figure out how to retain them as a customer. Content marketing helps to accomplish just that by giving your current users content that’s relevant to their specific needs.

Fitbit is a perfect example for how content marketing can nurture relationships with preexisting customers. The company is best known for its activity-tracking devices, but its website encompasses far more than simply descriptions of its technology. A quick look at Fitbit’s blog shows healthy recipes, workout plans, success stories, and even the latest in fitness research.

Fitbit blog screenshot

As a result, people who already own a Fitbit product can still find value in Fitbit’s blog—the site is for more than simply trying to cultivate prospective buyers. Preexisting customers who frequent Fitbit’s blog may even feel more loyal to the brand, relying on it for lifestyle tips and motivation.

Are you struggling to execute a content marketing strategy for your growing business? Not to worry—we've got a guide on how to scale your content marketing strategy.

Real-Life Content Marketing Examples

Content marketing is more ubiquitous than ever; in fact, 91% of B2B organizations report actively using a content marketing strategy.

Think that sounds like a stretch?

It isn’t—and as a consumer, you likely come across several forms of content marketing on a day-to-day basis. Take a look at some real-life examples below and find out why they succeed in content marketing.

Example 1: AARP

AARP was founded as an interest group for retired Americans, although it’s since expanded to include anyone aged 50 and above. Membership includes access to a variety of exclusive offers and discounts, including travel and insurance.

What makes AARP a prime example of content marketing is its breadth of content. On its website, you’ll find:

  • Video content about subjects like caregiving, politics, and retirement
  • Cover stories and articles from the AARP Magazine
  • Trivia quizzes on pop culture, health, finance, and other subjects
  • AARP-produced podcast series

And that’s only the tip of the iceberg for AARP. But you get the point—the organization’s content is comprehensive and far-reaching to say the least, extending well beyond simply advertising their membership.

What makes this effective content marketing?

AARP magazine cover
(Image credit: AARP)

AARP’s rich variety of content makes it a major resource hub for all sorts of information—and it’s easy to access, regardless of your membership status. And though created to help educate older populations, AARP doesn’t stop there; it also makes its name in entertainment with its interactive quizzes and storytelling podcasts.

Example 2: thredUP

thredUP is a secondhand fashion website that essentially functions as an online thrift store. But apart from selling used clothing, it also takes an active stance in promoting collaborative consumption and sustainability by way of content marketing.

Specifically, thredUP:

  • Publishes blog posts on outfit ideas, and interviews with style icons
  • Releases an annual resale report and studies detailing U.S. fashion trends
  • Partners with designers and activists to promote its #secondhandfirst and #chooseused campaigns on social media
thredUP blog screenshot

An ordinary thrift store might skip out on producing this kind of content, opting instead to focus on traditional ads to showcase their selection of brands.

However, by engaging consumers through a variety of channels, thredUP cements its reputation as a uniquely trendy and eco-conscious brand.

Final Words

The value of content isn’t going away anytime soon.

But while it was once enough for a buyer to see an ad once and then immediately act upon it, today’s consumers require more cultivation before making a purchasing decision.

This makes adopting a content marketing strategy more imperative than ever. It’s a way for your company to show its value and expertise, as well as raise customers’ awareness of a need or an issue. As users move further along their buying journey, when a user is ready to convert, they’ll come to you.

This article was originally published in May 2019.


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