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Content Marketing: What Exactly is It?

  • Post category:Marketing
  • Reading time:9 mins read

Any digital marketer should be familiar with the concept of content marketing. Right? Well, most have a pretty good idea of what it is, but they lack a wholesome understanding. The following is a semi-deep dive into the world of content marketing for just about everyone. Whether you’re brand new to the concept or if you’re a seasoned veteran of the craft, this post will help you better wrap your head around the art of content marketing.

The Content Marketing Institute, which is the holy grail for anything and everything related to content marketing, defines the concept as follows:

“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.”

In case you didn’t catch the bold text, the key term in the definition of content marketing is valuable. This singular term is what separates content marketing from most any other form of advertising or marketing. You can quickly determine if a piece of content is valuable based on whether, or not, people actively seek it out. People are hungry for good content marketing – they want to consume it. On the contrary, people typically avoid other forms of marketing and advertising. The goal is to provide as much value to as much of your target audience as possible. At this point, even with the industry-accepted definition and an extended definition, you’re likely still wonder what the heck content marketing really is…what makes content marketing, content marketing.

content is king written on chalkboard
Adobe Stock

Three Examples of Content Marketing

1.) Infographics

Infographics are typically long, vertical graphics that feature statistics, charts, graphs, and other key information. Here are a few examples to help flesh out your understanding. Infographics are an effective means to convey information in a quick and concise fashion. They are also extremely friendly when it comes to social sharing and can be posted on websites for years on end. Promoting an infographic via bloggers and the media is essential. You can also set up a board on Pinterest and curate infographics on a topic related to your business. This is a great way to share valuable content marketing pieces and it costs you nothing besides your time.

2.) Webpages

Do you know the difference between a standard web page and a web page that is content marketing? If you’re shaking your head ‘no’, then check out The Beginner’s Guide to SEO from Moz. Moz is a huge player in the world of SEO and they provide an assortment of great SEO tool s for free. Moz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO has been viewed millions of times and has reeled in countless customers who may have never discovered Moz. You can also take a look at this case study from the design firm Teehan+Lax. Face it – the majority of case studies are dry and boring. There’s no getting around this fact…in most cases. However, this case study is flat out fascinating. That is the key difference between simply posting content on your website and effective content marketing.

3.) Books

Believe it, or not, but good old-fashioned books (whether print or digital) are a prime example of content marketing. Many people often think of books as a product that sells itself. However, slick marketers don’t sell books just for the sake of selling books. They sell their bound volumes as a stealthy form of marketing. Take Simon Sinek for instance. Yes, his book is amazing and thought provoking on many levels. However, the end goal of his written work is to drive readers to purchase his leadership development services and programs. Publishing a book is easier than ever these days with the ability to self-publish. Even if people don’t read it, your publication is still a great form of content marketing. Think about it, people can introduce you as “Jill Jack, author of…”

These are just three examples of content marketing. However, content marketing comes in many other forms. I could have included white papers, apps, public speaking engagements, presentations (TED talks!!) and blogs (you should definitely check out this one). There are literally entire books dedicated to each of these above-mentioned forms of content marketing.

Liberal Arts Library

Why Content Marketing

While it is important to understand what content marketing is, it is vastly more important to truly grasp why it is important to your business. Before we dive headfirst into this rabbit hole, it is necessary to understand the four steps of the buying cycle.

Buying Cycle

  1. Awareness: Prior to awareness, a customer may have a need. However, they are likely not aware that there is a solution.
  2. Research: Once a customer is aware that there is a solution, they will then perform research to better educate themselves. For instance, a car buyer will research what different types of cars exist and which one will best fit their individual needs.
  3. Consideration: At this point in the cycle, customers begin to compare different products from different vendors. They want to make sure they’re getting the best bang for their buck.
  4. Buy: Lastly, customers make their decision and move forward with the transaction.

Why Content Marketing (cont.)

Traditional marketing and advertising rocks when it comes to the last two stages of the cycle. However, it lacks in terms of the first half of the cycle. That’s where content marketing really shines. Content marketing is king when it comes to raising awareness of solutions and educating customers about a product they may have not considered before.

Effective content marketing can quite literally help your business grown by 1,000% if done correctly. Potential clients find your content, find value in it, and by the time they contact you, they are already convinced that they want to work with you. Gone are the days of high-pressure sales tactics. It’s purely a matter of fine-tuning the details, signing an agreement, and getting started. The trust that is typically built during an extensive sales cycle has already been created before the firm and client ever connect.

Content Marketing

The return on investment for content marketing is straight up phenomenal. You don’t have to spend a penny on content marketing if you don’t want to – the vast majority of the success content marketers experience can be traced to a handful of articles, which amount to few hours of work…okay, let’s say 2-5 hours per article.

Content marketing also rocks because it provides additional benefits, such that it supports other digital marketing channels. For instance, it supports social media marketing and it contributes to SEO efforts by creating natural inbound links. It also builds up great content on your website that search engines flat out love. In fact, many companies should focus their efforts on content marketing if they wish to improve their SEO presence.

How to Get Started

There are countless firms that provide content marketing services. These services are often paired with SEO or public relations support. These are great if you’re simply too busy to do it yourself and aren’t quite ready to handle it in-house. However, if you want to jump right in and do your own content marketing, then the easiest way to get started is blogging. It will be anything but easy at first, however, like most things, it gets easier with time. The more you do it, the easier it becomes, and the easier it becomes, the more you do it!

Check out sites like Copyblogger for tips. Sites like Copyblogger will help you pick up the craft with a little effort. More important, these sites will help you learn how to generate content for your website or blog that will engage readers and convert them into customers or clients. While technically sound writing and the right headlines are great, it’s not the key to creating content that is the ideal form of content marketing.

Great Content

Have you ever forced yourself to read a piece of marketing from start to finish simply because you had to read it in full? Well, that’s an example of bad content marketing. Remember, good content marketing is all about creating content that people genuinely want to read it. Content is superb if they’re willing to pay to read it. If you need a few examples of great content, check out the publications that you pay to read. Seriously, it’s that simple.

If you’ve seen The Lego Movie, then you’ve experienced one of the greatest examples of content marketing in the history of marketing. Yes, it was a movie. However, on a more subliminal level, it was a 100-minute toy commercial. Rather than skipping over it, you paid good money to watch it. Not quite sold? Well consider this, Lego recently overtook Mattel – yes, the creators of Barbie – to become the largest toy company in the world. You may not have the funds to make a feature-length film to promote your company, but you can still provide potential customers with valuable information nonetheless.

The Most Coveted Secret of Content Marketing

ADD VALUE! That it. Actually, it’s not really a secret since I’ve told you this multiple times throughout this post. However, when you look at some of the marketing companies and the material they publish, you’re probably wondering if they’re purposefully avoiding the obvious. Think about it. We skip advertising when it provides little to no value. If you want to learn about advertising that doesn’t get skipped, find a lacrosse player and ask if you can watch them read through a lacrosse magazine. You’ll notice that they spend just as much time looking at the ads as they do reading the articles and looking at the photos. Much of the content is advertisements, but lacrosse players don’t skip over videos.


They watch them just like they watch other videos. Why? Because they’re getting the value that they want…good lacrosse content. As an avid lacrosse player, coach and official, I’d love to say that lacrosse pioneered content marketing decades ago. However, I know they were only doing what came naturally and selling more product was secondary to the fun of creating videos and magazines. If you want to hire someone else onto your marketing team, consider hiring a lacrosse player.

If you’re not sure hot you can add value through your content marketing, ask your existing customers what kind of content you can produce that would be helpful to them now…or would have been helpful when they were looking for your product or service. Why? Because they’ll be honest and tell you straight up.

Andrew Roche

Andrew Roche is a Digital Consultant at Shift Digital. He is also pursuing an MBA in Marketing & Finance through the Mike Ilitch School of Business at Wayne State University