What is content marketing?


Content marketing is the creation and distribution of digital marketing collateral with the goal of increasing brand awareness, improving search engine rankings and generating audience interest. Businesses use content marketing to nurture leads and enable sales by using site analytics, keyword research and targeted strategy recommendations.

Why is a content marketing strategy important?

Creating a strategy that’s suited to your specific business and target audience is how you stay true to your brand and make marketing materials as effective as possible. It’s important to evaluate every asset for the value it adds to the strategy as a whole, and
then make adjustments as needed. A 360-degree content marketing strategy educates customers, nurtures prospects and closes sales.

How does SEO fit in?

In a practical sense, search engine optimization (SEO) and content marketing are one in the same.

To rank highly in search engine results pages (SERPs), you need high-quality organic content. To know which keywords to target in your copy, you need SEO.

SEO is a foundational component of content marketing in that it is often the centerpiece of all strategies and campaigns. Optimizing your content allows you the opportunity to update your brand messaging for a modern audience, outrank competitors for high-value keywords and keep your web pages aligned with Google’s sitemap preferences.

To achieve your content marketing goals, SEO is often the best tactic to start with.

Ranking factors

Within the practice of SEO, there are specific ranking factors to consider. According to Google, there are more than 200 criteria the search engine weighs when it crawls and indexes your web pages. Based on how your site and your content fares in these assessments, an algorithm will serve your pages to searchers.

Some ranking signals are stronger than others, and Google doesn’t often reveal the exact weight of each one. What we do know is that the top factors include:

    1. Links.
    2. Content.
    3. RankBrain.
    4. Direct web traffc.
    5. Mobile responsive design.
    6. HTTPS.
    7. Anchor text keywords.
    8. User behavior signals

In layman’s terms, everything you publish on the web needs to 1) generate reputable backlinks, 2) be useful to readers and 3) have a strong click-through rate and dwell time.

You can’t do content without SEO, and you can’t do SEO without content – they are inseparable.

Benefits of content marketing

Some of the most prominent benefits include:

Cheaper conversions.

Faster sales.

Reduced marketing and sales overhead.

Low barrier to market entry.

Stronger lead generation and qualification.

Measurable, actionable results.

More traffic.

Higher search engine rankings.

Thought leadership.

Mind share.

Reputation management.

Email list building.

Unifying the sales and marketing teams is a prized goal of every company, but one that’s rarely achieved. With content marketing, both departments’ efforts feed into the same funnel, making scalable alignment as easy as ever.

For example, the marketing team can leverage insights gleaned from sales calls and customer feedback, while the sales department can complement their prospecting by distributing marketing collateral.

A clear way to look at the benefits of content marketing is to take a step back: What does your organization want to achieve? From there, you can tie your commercial objectives to specific content marketing goals and actions.

If your goal is improved lead quality, a targeted lead nurturing campaign would prove invaluable. Similarly, if your goal is thought leadership, investments in social media and organic content creation would be a worthwhile attack strategy.

Running content marketing campaigns empowers you to achieve any objective you need to, without wasting resources on short-term strategies or costly advertising.

B2C v B2B content marketing

Content marketing applications are industry-agnostic. Regardless of target market, geography, language or product, companies have to publicize their message and form a connection with customers.

In general, B2C is characterized by a heavier reliance on consumer-centric social media platforms, ecommerce websites, mobile-friendliness and shorter-form assets. Sales cycles are shorter and user expectations are extremely high.

Conversely, B2B content marketers typically make greater use of LinkedIn, long-form collateral, account-based strategies and niche audience development. Sales cycles can take months or years, and customers may have million-dollar RFPs.

Brief history of content marketing

Content marketing has been around for centuries; it just wasn’t referred to as “content marketing.”

If you take a broad view of the term, Benjamin Franklin’s publication of Poor Richard’s Almanack in 1732 is commonly credited with being the first example of content marketing. Franklin created and promoted content that his audience wanted to read as a way to increase awareness of his local printing business.

Fast forward to the 20th century and Michelin began publishing guides to Parisian attractions for an audience of 3,000 automobile owners – this was in 1900! Four years later, Jell-O created and distributed recipe pamphlets door to door to generate interest in just how versatile Jell-O mix was for the average homeowner.

Pre-internet, Proctor and Gamble perfected branded radio by broadcasting soap operas with strategic product placements aimed at stay-at-home moms. In the ’50s, Kellogg’s tailored their graphic design and brand messaging toward children, allowing them to sell more cereal.

Today, big brands dominate the web, and social media platforms have supplanted traditional advertising vehicles. It’s virtually impossible to succeed as a B2C or B2B enterprise without leveraging content marketing in its modern form.

How content marketing relates to traditional marketing

Traditional marketing refers to older, more conventional tactics used both in the past and even today. By this we mean:

Direct mail (brochures, flyers, coupons, cards, etc.).

Print advertising (magazines, trade publications, billboards, etc.).

Radio or TV commercials.

Telemarketing (cold calls, etc.).

Outdoor sales.

The above channels were perfected decades ago. And while they were put to good use in their time-restricted formats, they don’t scale to a modern digital audience.

At their core, these techniques:

Disrupt user experience.

Exist only for a minimal amount of time.

Aren’t cost-efficient.

Generate low-quality leads.

Content marketing lets
consumers find quality on
their own time.

A traditional outbound marketing strategy means businesses must constantly gain the attention of an audience by interrupting other forms of content. For instance, viewers tune in to radio for the music and the commentary – not the annoying ads in between. Readers buy magazines for the thought leadership and research – not the giant ads that appear every other page.

As you can see, traditional marketing can leave a bad taste in the mouth of consumers, especially in relation to today’s enterprise-level marketing campaigns.

Content marketing adheres to an inbound model. Instead of pushing your messaging onto leads (via ads), you pull leads to your message (via organic content). In other words, let consumers find quality on their own time.

Web traffic from search engines, social media, email and online domains is more qualified and more useful to you as a business, than if you spent thousands on a 30-second radio ad or print mailer to a small radius of homes. Online content marketing puts you in touch with everyone around the world with an internet connection – forever.


Content marketing examples

Because content marketing can take so many forms and speak to so many audiences and buyer personas, there are endless possibilities for what a single piece of content might look like.

Here are 7 content marketing examples, spanning various formats and buyer stages you might consider when building out your campaigns:

1. Blog posts

Blog posts are a healthy base for your content marketing efforts. This is your platform to discuss popular industry subjects, position yourself as a thought leader, explain how your products can address common challenges and draw potential customers to your website.

Once you have blog content, you can repurpose it to create social media posts, long-form content on the same topic, eBooks using the same text but adding visuals and more. Here are some pointers on creating a content repurposing workflow.

2. Case studies

Case studies describe a real issue that a real customer had, and how your product alleviated that challenge. It’s bottom-of-funnel content that can be a huge help in converting customers; hearing a true story about a satisfied customer’s experience is incredibly convincing.

This example from Consero Global does a great job of:

  1. Explaining the problem clearly.
  2. Telling the story of how AppleCare found Consero Global.
  3. How Finance as a Service solutions from Consero helped solve the problem.
  4. Relaying the long-term benefits AppleCare realized from the solution.


3. Infographics

People love infographics: They’re fun to look at, easy to understand and are packed with information. For all of these reasons, including infographics in your content strategy is simply a smart idea. The best part: You have lots of leeway on how you want to design your infographic.


4. Explainer videos

Explainer videos complement your other marketing efforts by explaining the benefits of a particular solution, details about a product or the nuances of a difficult problem.

Here’s an explainer video example from MuleSoft. The video centers around a common problem for MuleSoft’s customers, but one that their typical buyer may not understand well: What an API is. Explaining this concept helps generate demand for their services.


5. Testimonials

Testimonials can give potential customers an inside look into what it’s like to work with a company or use a particular product or service.

Proactiv is one brand that has embraced the testimonial, taking quotes and photos from real users and displaying them on their site and throughout their advertising and marketing strategy.


7 types of webinars.

6. Webinars

Webinars are online seminars that you can create and host for your audience. They can be live or recorded (or both) and they’re your opportunity to share your perspective on an industry theme, a product of your own or something else altogether.

Collaborative webinars are a great way to team up with another brand. For example, many of the webinars hosted by Content Marketing Institute are done in collaboration with another brand, like Drift or Sitecore. This brings in multiple sources of expertise to make each webinar more valuable, and also draws in viewers from all brands’ audiences.

7. User-generated content

User-generated content is exactly what it sounds like: content created by people outside your organization. This strategy engages real people, is unique and creative, plus is very cost-effective.

Apple’s Shot on iPhone campaign is an example of UGC at its best – the company sourced photos and videos real people took using their personal iPhones, then included them in printed ads.

Companies of all sizes can create a UGC campaign using social media to generate interest and share creations from followers and fans. Or, they can find UGC where they naturally occur, like blog comments and product reviews.

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