Content marketing: don’t confuse it with long-form advertising.
The Content Marketing Institute has a clear and concise definition of what we’re about to talk about:
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.
You’ve already experienced content marketing. There are innumerable examples. Here are a few:
- You’d like to educate yourself on the latest features and developments in dishwashers so you can make an informed buying choice. You Google “dishwasher buying guide,” and you end up on an article on Home Depot’s DIY project site. It’s easy to understand, helpful, not biased toward a particular brand, and not a blatant advertisement for Home Depot.
- You have questions about an area of the law — say, dealing with estate and inheritance issues. Your search results include a blog post by a local lawyer which answers your questions.
Now, in these cases, you know that of course their ultimate goal is to sell you something. But you understand that because of this, Home Depot isn’t going to give you bad advice which could result in buyer’s remorse. If Home Depot or that lawyer’s office has done their job correctly, you’ve come away with new knowledge, you’ll feel that the source is trustworthy, and you’ll consider giving them your business.
Good Diapers, Good Advice
The Pampers blog does this particularly well. There’s no mistaking that you’re on the Pampers site, but the content is brand-agnostic and publisher-agnostic. Its quality and usefulness is on par with other professional baby-related publications. “Great diapers, bad baby advice” isn’t a perception that Pampers would like to be known for.
There are lots of forms of promotions and advertising that don’t help make the Internet a better place. But, properly crafted content marketing actually is a force of good. Good content marketing material hits all of these marks:
- The reader has a satisfactory experience reading your content, and they don’t think they wasted their time by clicking through. Your goal is not to create clickbait or filler, or to fool the reader. You’ve provided them with genuine value.
- They comes away with a positive impression of your business and believes that you are a trustworthy authority on the subject.
- And, they know that you’re selling a product or service, but they weren’t overwhelmed with a sales pitch. The reader will find it easy to learn more about your product or service, but the design of the page facilitates the consumption of your article or blog post first.
It isn’t a new concept. As the Content Marketing Institute points out, it’s at least 100 years old; they count the Michelin Guide (first published in 1900) as a prototypical example. It’s simply enjoying a resurgence in the digital age as effective marketing is getting more complex.
Content is content — it can be blog posts, articles, or downloadable PDFs, but it can also be artwork (such as infographics) or even video. But for now, let’s talk about prose.
How content marketing goes wrong
Beginners often confuse content marketing with long-form advertising. They’ll post articles which are essentially product pitches, ending posts with links to the products or services they’ve effectively advertised.
As mentioned earlier, effective content is both brand-agnostic and platform-agnostic. Brand-agnostic means that you’re not mentioning your brand at all within the copy, and publisher-agnostic means that the copy would be equally at home anywhere, including a print publication or even on a competitor’s site. Take another look at the Pampers blog post. The author, Kylee Sallak, is an expert in the care of babies and toddlers. In an alternate universe, she might have written it for Parenting Magazine or for another diaper brand’s blog.
This can be counterintuitive for people with years of advertising experience but who are unfamiliar with content marketing. It might seem like a tremendous lost opportunity to mention the brand name or to drive a sale by ending with a link to buy. You’re going to spend time writing (or having an agency write) an article that goes out of its way to not sell your product?
The key difference
The thing to understand is that, unlike advertising, content’s purpose is to have intrinsic value to the reader. Write it for the enjoyment of the person on the other side of the screen, and not to immediately drive sales. And, unbranded content is just more appealing. “Tips from the experts on crafting bakery-quality cakes at home” will get more organic traffic than “How Acme Brand Cake Pans will help you bake like a pro.” And, we should stress, that Acme Brand Cake Pans blog can otherwise be festooned with branding and calls to action, but write that article without mentioning Acme at all.
You are still providing value to your brand. You’re providing it with exposure, the same benefit that drives most traditional advertising. You’re defining your brand as one managed by trustworthy experts who care about their customers (which we presume is true anyway). And, on the tactical side, you’ll have the opportunity to get the reader’s attention again via remarketing ads.
Not every advertising or promotional platform is right for every business. But, we believe that content marketing can benefit any business, even if you’re a one-person operation. You started that business because you have a passion for something. This is your opportunity to write about what you know. If you find a reader out there who enjoyed reading your words, you’ve made the world a slightly better place, and you’ve introduced one more person to your brand.