What Is Content Marketing?
There are so many ways we could start to define what Content Marketing is. However, of all the definitions I’ve come across I like the one by Content Marketing Institute (CMI) the most".
According to CMI...
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
Let’s break this down to help you get a full understanding of what this means.
A Strategic Marketing Approach
Let’s start with this first piece. You may have noticed that I bolded the word ‘strategic’. This is because from what I have observed most marketing aren’t very strategic. They are very ad hoc and erratic, and has no real intentionality behind it.
A strategy implies that there is purpose behind every single step of the marketing process beyond simply brand awareness that is leading to an end goal.
Every marketer and person with a Facebook and Instagram account knows how to create and distribute content. However, successful Content Marketing focuses on content that is valuable and relevant.
This means it focuses on content that either educates, entertains, or encourages and inspires the audience, and provides something helpful and useful TO THEM.
This value and relevance isn’t determined by the person, company or its Marketing team however, which is a mistake a lot of Marketers make. This value and relevance is determined by the audience or customer.
In other words, it’s not about what us as Marketers or as the brand finds valuable and relevant, which usually is how amazing our products are, but about the audience or customer.
I also highlighted the word consistent, because without consistency in your Content Marketing execution, then failure of the program is inevitable. This is so important and significant that I will need to create an entire blog post just about this.
Focused on Creating & Distributing Valuable, Relevant, & Consistent Content
There are two things to pay attention to here: ‘attract’, and ‘clearly defined audience’. This means that the goal of Content Marketing is to attract your audience or customer to you by putting out valuable and relevant content, NOT for you to push your marketing message on them.
Furthermore, you must know your audience and be explicitly clear on who they are beyond simply demographics like age, location, or gender. You must also know their pain points, their buying behaviours, their goals and objectives what they struggle with daily that keeps them from achieving those goals and objectives.
Most importantly how your content can help them to overcome their struggle.
You must help them be the hero in their own story, through overcoming obstacles, providing solutions to their problems, and being triumphant.
It’s also important to note that the same content can’t be applicable to different audience groups, as each audience or customer segment has their own struggle. Though that can be broken down to the individual, what you want to look for are patterns and commonalities among the group you identify.
Attract & Retain a Clearly Defined Audience
The goal of Content Marketing is to drive profitable action, in other words to turn audiences into paying customers. However, the word ‘ultimately’ suggests that it should not be at the forefront of your Content Marketing strategy.
Your goal should be to build a loyal audience first, and then for those who have a need or use for your product or service get them to become customers. This is by them indicating that they choose to be a customer, not by the company pushing to convince them why they should buy from them.
The old mindset of ‘push marketing’ no longer works, as consumers have become more sophisticated in their buying behaviour. They know when they are being marketed and sold to, and flashy graphics and videos highlighting your products and services no longer work. It’s also why your ads, be it online of offline, are no longer as effective as they once were.
Furthermore, with Social Media the brand is no longer the one with the power. Ultimately the power falls now to the consumer as they have more access to information and international brands they can choose from.
Consumers no longer want to be sold or marketed to, they want a brand that provides value, relevance and meaning to their lives BEFORE they decide to buy.
As Joe Pulizzi of Content Marketing Institute so eloquently puts it
Ultimately, Drive Profitable Customer Action
“Your customers don’t care about you, your products, your services…they care about themselves, their wants and their needs. Content Marketing is about creating interesting information your customers are passionate about so they actually pay attention to you.”
Probably my most favourite example of Content Marketing that I come back to time and again is Blendtec’s Will It Blend YouTube video series.
Now think about this for a second, how many people do you think are lining up to buy blenders? I doubt very many. There’s nothing unique or special about a blender, more so trying to sell it. You don’t really spend much time thinking to yourself which brand of blender do you want to get.
All you really care about is that it’s useful enough and it won’t break after a week.
However, Blendtec has done something truly ingenuous. They have taken something as simple as a blender and made it interesting to their target audience. In their videos they ask the question “Will it blend?” Then they take every day items we use, put it in their blender, and you guessed it blend them.
The true purpose is really to show consumers how powerful their blenders are that they can blend almost anything. They aren’t trying to sell you on how powerful and amazing their blenders are, or try to convince you why you should buy theirs.
Their strategy is creating valuable and relevant content consistently to attract and retain their clearly defined audience. As a result, people enjoy their content and keep coming back for more. They ultimately see the value in said blenders and become customers of Blendtec.
As a result, the first video they released instantly got over six (6) Million views on YouTube within a matter of days. Sales grew over 1000% within a matter of months.
It’s important to note that Content Marketing isn’t solely for the purpose of driving customer behaviour to buy. It can and should also be used as a retention and brand loyalty building strategy for customers, long after they have purchased.
The most effect type of Content Marketing strategy is one that integrates your entire marketing mix, sales process, and customer support into one holistic and seamless whole.
In its truest form it should be used to delight, please, and in some cases educate a specific target audience, not to sell, at least not how we view selling today. If you can do that consistently, overtime success is pretty much guaranteed.
The History of Content Marketing
The History of Content Marketing isn’t anything new, we just call it a different name now. What is new is the way we look at it from a more strategic, planned, and integrated view that drives business results.
It can be traced back as far as the 15th century (1439 to be exact) with the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg. This innovation of its time led to the capabilities that allowed us to to print books, and later gave birth to the newsprint, press, and mass communication.
We can take a different angle, going back even further to 700 B.C. when the ‘Theatre of Ancient Greece’, also known as the theatre, and see Content Marketing at work. As Wikipedia puts it “The classical Greeks valued the power of spoken word, and it was their main method of communication and storytelling”.
Now you may wonder what does the printing press or the theatre have to do with Content Marketing?
If we are defining Content Marketing as “…creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience…”, then we can break it down to see the nature of Content Marketing.
If we take the invention of the printing press. The printing press would be considered the medium that is used to create the content, like a Content Management System (CMS) such as Wordpress.
The books printed in those early days would be consider the content. Writers would be considered Content Writers. Each writer had their audience they wrote books for that spoke of literature, philosophy, or science.
These writers produced content that was relevant in written book form to their clearly defined audience, which attracted said audience to become loyal readers of the writer’s content.
Looking at the theatre, in this case the stage would be considered the CMS that facilitated the creation of the content. The plays would be considered the content, and the actors would the Content Creators.
Each actor had their specific content they created, be it comedy, tragedy, or drama. They created and distributed that content on a platform, which was the stage, that was relevant to a defined audience. That is those who preferred comedy over tragedy, or drama over comedy.
In both instances valuable and relevant content was created and distributed to a clearly defined audience. In both instances content was used to attract an audience so the Content Creators could tell their story.
In essence Content Marketing is really about creating value for audiences through storytelling.
I want to change your concept and perspective of how you look at Content Marketing, for the benefit of your audience and your business. Think of it as “Content that attracts and pulls customers through storytelling” rather than content that is pushed to your audience and customers to convince them to buy your product or service.
Take a look at this brief video from Content Marketing Institute
Of course these aren’t the only evidence of Content Marketing in the earlier centuries, but it will give you a good idea of what true Content Marketing really looks like. You have to know the history and foundational principles of it to be able to use it in your own business or organization and create your own success.
Content Marketing and Its Different Purposes
By now you should have a basic understanding of what Content Marketing is, and even a brief history about how it originated. Next I want to explore the different uses of it, so you can know how to apply it to your business to get results.
Most businesses primarily use Content Marketing for Demand Generation. If you're unfamiliar Demand Generation simply means creating brand awareness and interest for a particular product or service, in other words creating a 'demand'.
Below shows results from a 2018 survey by Content Marketing Institute on the top reasons companies use Demand Generation.
There are other reasons I go into below as to what other purposes Content Marketing can be used for.
As you develop your Content Marketing plan and Core Content this will be very important in helping you figure out what form its creation and execution will take.
11 Purposes of Content Marketing
Brand Awareness (letting your audience become aware of who you are and the pain points you solve for them)
Brand Identity/Authority (positioning yourself as being an expert in your industry and marketplace)
Brand Equity (the emotional clout you have built up with your audience and customers)
Lead Generation (identifying who has an interest or need for what you offer and is willing to pay for it)
Lead Nurturing (answering sales questions and overcoming objections through content)
Sales Conversion/Customer Acquisition (converting qualified sales leads to paying customers)
Customer Retention (upsell and cross-sell opportunities)
Customer & Brand Loyalty (Advocacy)
1. Brand Awareness
This is a no-brainer considering every marketer and business seeks to create awareness for the product and service they offer. Typically, brand awareness is always the first thing any brand, business, or Marketer thinks about in executing any type of marketing, Content or otherwise.
Content Marketing can be used to create brand awareness through creating and publishing content around your products and service, or through your expertise in your industry, to the group you are trying to convert to customers.
2. Brand Identity
Brand Identity goes one step further than brand awareness. Here people not only know you exist, but they know why you exist. Here you can position yourself and/or your business to be known for being the experts, or go-to source for a particular thing.
How to do this using Content Marketing is by creating and publishing content that talks about common interests or challenges within your specific industry relative to the solutions your customers are searching for.
3. Brand Equity
Brand Equity is the leveraging purchasing power your business has. What this means is the more you solidify your brand within the minds (and most importantly hearts) of your target audience, the more likely they will buy from you versus your competitor.
By increasing Brand Equity you no longer compete on price; price becomes irrelevant to your customers. They buy simply because it’s you, and the relationship you have developed with them.
Content Marketing does this by helping you to connect with your audience on an emotional level. Here it’s not about how amazing your product or service is. It’s about how connected your customers feel about your brand based on their interaction with it.
Accomplish this by using content to continuously be helpful to your customers, to always be their help them overcome their challenges, pain points, and needs through content.
4. Lead Generation
Lead Generation is all about identifying who has a need or interest in your solutions beyond simply content, and converting those audiences into potential customers for your products and services. The difference here is someone who consumes your content only versus someone who consumes it, and sees they have a potential need for what you offer.
Use Content Marketing here to generate leads by creating content that answers questions relevant to your potential customers, and use lead capture methods such as a form to collect their data.
The answers provided should be related to how your products and services can help them solve the pain point they have. It should also make them want to know more about the solutions you offer.
5. Lead Nurturing
Lead Nurturing goes one step beyond Lead Generation. It’s one thing for your potential customers to believe your products and services can provide the solution to their needs, it’s another thing for them to decide to choose your solution over your competitors’.
Content Marketing can be very useful where lead nurturing is concerned. Use it here to answer questions that your potential customers brought up in sales meetings. Additionally, use it to answer objections that they have.
So if their objection is price, you can create content that explains why they should choose a solution based on value and quality rather than price. This will help them move closer to a decision of choosing your solution over your competitor, who may have a lower price point than you.
6. Sales Conversion/Customer Acquisition
The final step in the sales process is being able to convert potential customers into paying customers. This may be the hardest step in any sales process, as there are many factors that influences buying decisions.
The best way to use Content Marketing in this instance is to create content that talks about the success stories existing customers had as a result of using your solution. Some call it testimonials or case studies.
How it differs here is you want to create the content that tells a story. It tells of what life was like before finding your solution, the challenges that the customer had, their experience using your solution, and how it made their life better as a result.
7. Customer Retention
This is an aspect of business most don’t think about. Typically, as marketers and business owners we tend to be more focused on getting new and more customers as a means to increase revenue and garner greater market share.
Yet, it costs five (5) times more to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one. Also, the success rate of selling to an existing customer is 60-70%, while the success rate of selling to a new customer is 5-20%.
Content Marketing can help in customer retention by predicting potential future challenges your customers may have, and creating content that focuses on ways to mitigate those future challenges.
Additionally, it can be used to describe how they can further use your solution that purchased to address pain points in a way that they may not have thought of before.
This builds greater trust with your customers as they no longer see you as someone who sold them a product or service, but someone who genuinely has their best interest at heart. Once you can do that the upsell and cross-sell opportunities to increase revenue become easier and limitless.
8. Customer & Brand Loyalty
Customer loyalty is usually the results of doing many other things right, such as great customer service, building deep meaningful relationships with your customers, and continuing to serve them long after the sale has been completed.
How you can use Content Marketing to create customer and brand loyalty is by going beyond simply providing content you typically would. What this means is finding new ways to engage with your audience through live interactions such as online webinars or offline interactions such as training workshops.
In other words, loyalty is built through trust, and trust is established when your customers see and feel you will go beyond the necessary to see them satisfied.
9. Market Research
Content Marketing is one of the ways I love to use to do market and consumer research. It’s an effective way to get feedback from your customers in its truest form without asking.
How Content Marketing can be used for market research is by brainstorming ideas for content you believe your target audience may have an interest in. Next create content around those topics and distribute them.
Over a 3-6 month period observe careful which pieces of content do they seem to interact and engagement with the most. Be it Likes, Shares, Comments, or Page Views.
Once you have identified which topics they have an interest in, you can create more of that content and further refine your testing.
Many times your customer, through content engagement, will tell you what they like or don’t like, or what they want to see, and you can use that knowledge not only to develop better content, but better products and services as well.
10. Employee Loyalty
Employee loyalty is no different than customer loyalty. Your employees have to see that you have their best interest at heart, and that you are willing to go beyond the ordinary for them.
When using Content Marketing to drive employee loyalty you want to consider two groups: external stakeholders (potential employees) and internal stakeholders (current employees).
Create content for potential employees that demonstrates why they should want to work for your company, this way you can attract the best talent. Show them how by working at your company it provides greater opportunity for them to grow and build a successful career.
Highlighting other employees who have benefitted greatly from working at your organization would be a good way to do this.
Once you attract the best talent, you want to be able to keep them. Using Content Marketing you can do this by creating content that addresses the needs, concerns and challenges your employees may have.
Additionally, content can be created that shows your employees how they can be more productive using the internal systems available. Provide feedback systems that also allow employees to give feedback on challenges they may have, or even goals they may want to achieve, then create content that shows them how to overcome those challenges or achieve those goals.
11. Company Culture
Most organizations understand the importance of creating a positive and productive company culture. The challenge comes when a company culture was created that is counterproductive to the growth and sustainability of the company.
So how can you change or create a company culture you can be proud of using Content Marketing?
It’s understanding what you want your culture to be, then creating and distributing content consistent that constantly reinforces that company culture. The key here is identifying who the influencers are within your organization and using content to get buy-in from those individuals so they can do the heavy lifting of getting buy-in from the entire organization.
Furthermore, you want to create content that highlights and celebrates those publicly enforcing the company culture you are trying to create.
7 Examples of Brands Doing Content Marketing Right
Category: Beauty Products (Makeup)
Content Purpose: Increasing Customer Base
L’Oreal is a global beauty brand that sells makeup and other accessories catered to women. They have stated that their goal is to reach 1 Billion new customers by 2020.
How they intend to achieve this audacious goal through their Content Marketing strategy is by creating a separate website called Makeup.com.
The website offers useful beauty tips and advice for women in the form of written and video format. Though the website also advertises products that visitor to the site can purchase its main focus is providing value its audience will appreciate. 95% of the content on the website is customer focused and not sales focused.
By doing so while promoting their products on the home page (very subtly) on the site, audiences will feel they have gotten so much value from the content, that non-customers will decide to become new customers, and existing customers become loyal ones.
Category: Investment Services
Content Purpose: Increasing Revenues through Upselling and Customer Retention
TDAmeritrade is one of my favourite examples of Content Marketing in action. They are an online brokerage firm that specializes in long-term investing to help build up their clients’ financial portfolio.
They created a print (and now online) magazine called thinkMoney where they offer their customers tips and advice on how to trade more effectively using the TD Ameritrade online platform. This meant customers became better traders, which made them want to trade more with the company.
What they discovered is that their customers traded five (5) times more often in a week than before. As a result TD Ameritrade’s weekly transactions and revenues increased 500%, all because they focused on providing added value to their existing customers through relevant content.
Name: Johnson & Johnson
Category: Baby Products
Content Purpose: Market Research
Johnson & Johnson is the largest manufacturer and distributor of baby, toddler, and infant products worldwide. Their products ranges from baby wipes, diapers, lotion, shampoos, you name it and they have it for babies and kids alike.
How they approach their content strategy is through their independent online and mobile platform named Babycenter.com. The website provides useful tips and advice to parents who are expecting or already have children and how to care for them.
There are several things about their content marketing strategy that really impressed me (and I’m not easily impressed. One is the fact they have a pregnancy calculator than can predict you’re your due date will be…I’ll let that sink if for a minute.
However, what stood out the most to me was how their website is designed to take their target audience (parents) through their entire customer journey of being a parent.
It starts with advice on what to do if you are preparing to have a baby, through to pregnancy stage, to when the baby is born, to being a toddler, pre-schooler, and ‘big kid’.
What this means is they take into consideration every decision a parent could possibly make through the entire life cycle of a child. They also consider every piece of content a parent may need to help them navigate the uncertainties and overwhelming process of parenthood.
What this allows them to do is measure and analyze which pieces of content parents are most interested in during a specific stage of their child’s life cycle. Now the purpose isn’t only so they can create more relevant content, it’s also to know which products they should introduce at which specific moments during the life cycle.
By doing so it allows Johnson & Johnson to have laser-focused targeted marketing that guarantees to appeal to parents when they are most likely to buy. This allows J&J to maximize their marketing spend, R&D resources, and sustainably increase revenues continuously.
Name: Santander Group
Content Purpose: Market Development/New Customer Acquisition
Santander is a Spanish formed multinational bank with branches in the US and UK. They are like most banks that focus on financial products and services such as Savings and Checking accounts, different type of loans, investment options, and credit cards.
While searching for an example of a bank that truly represents what content marketing is in the banking world names such as JP Morgan, Chase, and Bank of America came to mind. Though their content strategy is good, I wanted a brand that wasn’t very popular outside the banking world, yet still remained customer-centric.
The purpose of their content strategy is to appeal to a demographic that is outside of their typical target audience…Millennials.
How they approach this is by creating a sub-brand called Prosper and Thrive that is independent of their main brand and website that promotes their products and services. The idea behind their strategy, as the name suggests, is to help Millennials prosper and thrive by creating content that addresses their lifestyle questions and needs.
Articles such as “How Long Does It Take to Buy a House” or “How to Survive Real World Budgeting for the First Time” educates on how to save for life goals, overcoming and mastering debt, and living life to the fullest while being fiscally smart.
By targeting and appealing to a new market segment that typically wouldn’t purchase their products, they were able to grow the company’s revenues, as well as position themselves as the bank for Millennials.
Content Purpose: Brand Awareness and Engagement
The Marriott Hotel is a brand that needs no introduction. However, I believe the brilliance of their content marketing strategy does.
Unlike other brands that focus on articles or videos dedicated to educating their audience and offering helpful tips and advice, Marriott focuses on entertaining their audience in an effort to extend their brand’s awareness.
Their Content Marketing strategy focuses on creating a short film series named “Two Bellman” and distributes the content on the films own YouTube channel. There is no direct mention or connection to Marriott other than the videos are filmed using the hotel as the backdrop and set.
This is a brilliant strategy because it builds its brand through entertainment and not by marketing the hotel directly to their audience. However, on their YouTube channel there is a small icon that links back to the hotel’s main website.
Simply put Marriott’s strategy is:
1). Create and distribute entertaining content
2). Attract an audience who will consume and share this content
3). Generate enough buzz an interest that audiences will visit the website to learn more about the Marriott brand.
It not only increases brand awareness but visits to their website, and keeps Marriott top-of-mind when visitors are ready to book a hotel.
Content Purpose: Brand Loyalty
Ford has been known to be the pioneers of the automobile industry started by its founder Henry Ford in the late 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century. It is said to be the highest grossing American car company.
If there’s ever a content marketing strategy to fall in love with it’s this one.
I know I’ve said this before, but they really model the idea of a ‘customer-centric’ approach to doing business.
Developing the latest Ford model (EcoSport) rather than getting caught in the norm and boring of what every other car company does, they decided to take a different approach. They didn’t focus on the features of the automobile, how durable it was, how much gas mileage it has, or how spacious it is.
Instead Ford chose to focus on something their customers would truly be interested in and appreciate…your first-ever experience.
As the Ford website so perfectly puts it “First-ever experiences are the ones you’ll remember most. First kiss. First time driving. First airplane trip. Each first-ever opens a new chapter in your life.”
Their content strategy involves their customers visiting the website to submit their request of a ‘First-Ever’ experience they would want to have with the person closest to them. If chosen they get to experience their ‘First-Ever’ in the new EcoSport.
The brilliance behind this strategy is Ford isn’t trying to sell you on their SUV, but rather on an experience that is important to you. The vehicle is just the means to get you there, the ride to enjoy the journey.
Why I say this is brilliant is because the experience itself will create a deep emotional resonance, which will then be link to the EcoSport. Customers won’t “Hey, remember how amazing the EcoSport felt?” They are more going to say “Hey, remember when Ford made us experience our first trip vacation/kiss/trip?”
That emotional connection that Ford will create will be in the minds, and most importantly the hearts of every customer who has their ‘First-Ever’ experience.
Ford: First-Ever (Auto); they also have life hacks and creating their own community, but I like the First-Ever best, because it’s user-generated content
Name: Liberty Mutual
Content Purpose: Increased Customer Engagement
Liberty Mutual is an American formed insurance company, and one of its largest, most recognizable and profitable.
Throughout the years I’ve always thought Liberty fell behind their competitors such as Geico or Progressive where marketing was concerned. However, lately Liberty has been the one leading the charge and getting ahead of their competitors.
Their content strategy is a pretty simple yet effect one. Partnering with HowStuffWorks they create content through the brand series ‘MasterThis’. It seeks to educate their customers on anything relating to what you would pay insurance for, home repairs (home insurance), teaching your teen how to drive (car insurance), or preparing for a storm (disaster insurance).
What I like about this content strategy is they have found a way to create content that is valuable to their customers, while at the same time incorporating their brand and service offering, be it in a subtle way.
Through taking this approach they have found a way to provide value to their customers while increasing engagement.
Now I mentioned about Liberty leading the way in their marketing strategy, in my opinion, for the first time. How they have done this is by incorporating voice-command A.I. via Alexa into their customer experience.
By using the words “Open Liberty Mutual” it automatically gives customers access to the MasterThis series, thus making the direct association between Liberty Mutual and useful content.
Now that you know what Content Marketing is and the brands using it successful to grow their businesses, next we explore why you should be doing it, and how it helps you grow own business.