If you search “content marketing” on Google, you get about 560 million results.

There are events dedicated to content marketing, and folks like Brian Clark, Joe Pulizzi, Marcus Sheridan and others are huge proponents of the term.

So, big business then. And yet…

Is there really such a thing as content marketing? Or is it just marketing, plain and simple, and a facet of a bigger picture?

According to Wikipedia:

…content is information and experiences that may provide value for an end-user/audience in specific contexts.

So, by definition, content is information that may help in the decision-making process.

Marketing, on the other hand, is a different beast altogether. The core reason for marketing to exist, in no uncertain terms, is to make a buyer fall in love with something enough to purchase it.

This “something” can usually be categorized into three clear sections: product, service, expertise.

The Product and Service Angle

Product and service is straightforward. You make something, or provide something, and charge people for that. This could be footwear, a meal, cleaning services, or a million other things.

But it’s still the product or service that’s being marketed.

Sure, you might write a blog post about your industry and why your offering is better than anyone else’s.

Or you might create a video to showcase a design and embed on your website.

But that creation of content is simply a tactic in the bigger picture of marketing. The content is created to market the end product – you’re not marketing the actual content.

If you were, the message would be something like “See how cool this video / blog post is – buy the content now!”. Which wouldn’t make any kind of sense.

Switch to a marketing message, though – “The X1Z Thingymajig – Order Yours Today!” – and it’s back to using the content to drive sales of the product or service.

The Expertise Angle

One area where content marketing could be seen as a standalone solution is that of expertise (particularly on business blogs).

To show you’re someone a potential customer should do business with, you share your expertise and knowledge with your audience. You might provide white papers, or ebooks, or webinars, to help propagate that expertise and separate you as a thought leader (if that’s your goal).

The thinking here is, if the audience sees you know your stuff, they’re more likely to do business with you than your competitor.

But then, there’s that “do business with” phrase again. Because, as much as a business or consultant can say they’re offering expertise for the good of their readers, there’s always another end goal in sight – attracting business for your offering.

Sure, you’re offering free content as opposed to charging for it – but it’s with the goal of marketing your businesses through less in-your-face means. The end goal is still dollars in the cash register for whatever it is you’re selling (product, service, consultancy expertise).

Content is Still a Key Tactic

Now, I don’t want this post to come across as dismissing the importance of content when it comes to marketing your business. As someone who’s consulted clients over the years on the benefits of content, I know the value content brings to the table.

A successful blogger outreach, for example, can reap rewards at a far reduced cost to a business than traditional print or media ad buy can offer. A timely video can capture the hearts of your customers more than a radio ad ever could. And all the other pieces of content that get discussed when talking about content marketing all offer value too.

The thing is, though, it’s still just another tactic. The content is part of the overall strategy to get a customer to buy into your offering, and a solid part at that. But a standalone? I can’t see it.

Besides, when was the last time you ever saw a major news release and promotion for your latest blog post..? ;-)

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83 comments
Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR

I use it to describe my area of service, what I do a ton of and to inform folks that I'm a writer and strategist about content and where it should go. 

Should we continually label ourselves so others seeking our services know our niche, or should we just be "a marketer?" 

For sure, I'm not going to use the "context" thing!!

Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR

I use it to describe my area of service, what I do a ton of and to inform folks that I'm a writer and strategist about content and where it should go.  Should we continually label ourselves so others seeking our services know our niche, or should we just be "a marketer?"  For sure, I'm not going to use the "context" thing!!

TrishJones
TrishJones

Danny, to me, your explanation helps the solo-entrepreneur and small business owner understand that there is nothing magical about "content marketing." it's just as you say, a tactic which is part of an overall marketing strategy. To me, it's what was before direct response took the stage and proclaimed, "if you want people to buy, you've gotta sell, sell and sell it again!"

TrishJones
TrishJones

Danny, to me, your explanation helps the solo-entrepreneur and small business owner understand that there is nothing magical about "content marketing." it's just as you say, a tactic which is part of an overall marketing strategy. To me, it's what was before direct response took the stage and proclaimed, "if you want people to buy, you've gotta sell, sell and sell it again!"

Lisa Gerber
Lisa Gerber

I finally made it over. As I mentioned on our call yesterday, I think it's semantics and I see now I'm not the only one! To me, it's good marketing of the concept of content. Completely agree that it is one tactic in the overall strategy. Someone coined the term to help those who are not immersed in marketing like we are to understand, and, well, to hire them to content market them. Some marketers like to do that: Package things up and put a put pretty bow on it.

Doug Kessler
Doug Kessler

What a great discussion you've launched here. I think you're challenging some of the hype around content marketing rather than the discipline itself. A lot of silly things are said about content marketing and it's good to challenge them. But, for me, the power of the discipline -- when practiced properly – is pretty hard to dispute. It isn't 'just marketing' and it isn't synonymous with marketing -- it's a specific approach to marketing and is a valuable part of the mix. What's most telling is that you chose a blog post to make your argument -- a shining example of content marketing in action. It works!

Ryan Skinner
Ryan Skinner

I don't get this. I dropped a big comment here yesterday and it was on the livefyre platform. Now today it's Disqus and my comment is gone. What's up?

rskin11
rskin11

Someone asks if you're suggesting anyone should use content marketing exclusively, and you counter that there are agencies dedicated to it. There are agencies dedicated to many things, but seldom will they claim universal application ("give us your entire budget and fuhget about it").   Content marketing exploded (is exploding) on to the scene for one big reason: the scaling effect of the Internet on high-quality information - the kind you've seen from your blog, for example.   The new information economy of the Internet made costs related to the distribution of information (be it stock quotes, emails or brochures) practically costless. That means that marketing could scale in a way previously unimaginable (or pretty close).   Where custom publishing required a hefty investment in content production AND a hefty investment in content distribution (mailing lists, postage and the physical "send"), content marketing distributes itself - provided the content is compelling.   It is that distinction - "provided the content is compelling" - that sets content marketing apart from traditional marketing. The ability to scale marketing messages through (practically) free distribution demands that the information possess a level of virtue we used to see only in trade journals or high-quality research. The kind of content you mention that markets only a product or service seldom scales, for example.   So, no, content marketing isn't the end-all be-all. But it is a pretty revolutionary thing, when you consider it. I would, in fact, argue that it's changed/is changing marketing as we know it. Marketing ten years from now will look very different from marketing ten years ago, and it's the scaling power of information (rendered for promotional purposes as content marketing) that will be largely responsible for the transformation.

JoePulizzi
JoePulizzi

Hi Danny...again, an interesting and thought provoking post.  I certainly appreciate the shout out, especially on the event.

 

I agree with a lot of what you are saying, and respect the areas where I don't.  I've been in this industry (the content marketing industry, formerly known as custom publishing, which has been going on for hundreds of years) for over 12 years now.  We've had to fight the battles against what it is and what it isn't.  Honestly, it doesn't matter...much of it is semantics.  Here's what I know.

1.  You CAN market a company using just content marketing (our company is proof of that, so is Brian Clark's).  That said, content marketing is like butter...it makes all the traditional stuff you are doing that much better. Hubspot is a great example of a company that has used content as a key part of the whole of marketing, but still leverages much of the traditional process.

2.  It is like marketing, but it isn't.  How do I know?  Never have I seen marketers struggle with the concepts of how to attract and retain customers with valuable information WITHOUT talking about themselves.  It's a huge pain point in most organizations.  Everyone in the organization feels they own content, so it's everywhere and nowhere at the same time.  Often, to develop integrated content processes within organizations, a culture change needs to happen.

3.  But yes, it is marketing.  Hopefully the content you create has a goal, from acquisition to conversion to loyalty to passionate subscribers...and there is the biggest difference with what we are seeing with content marketing.  More companies are focusing on creating passionate subscribers.  This is new.  Most companies never worried about their own channels.  We always borrowed the channels.  Today, brands (like AMEX, P&G, RedBull, Coca-Cola, etc.) are developing programs so they can have direct connections and relationships with customers - just like media companies have been doing for years.  That means we need great storytellers that understand how to work multiple channels.  Most brands are great at placement, but the majority are horrible at creating, developing and marketing their own channels.

 

I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the smartest traditional marketers on the planet…but many don’t know where to start when you talk content marketing.  It often doesn’t make sense to them (you mean, I don't talk about our own products?)…and that’s okay…we still have a long way to go.  Robert Rose and I wrote a book about managing the process, and most of it sounds like perfect strategy for TV producers, radio personalities, book authors and film producers.  And that’s exactly where we need to go today.  Our customers don’t care about us or our services…they care about themselves.  How do we get them to care about us at all?  By developing the most amazing content, either entertainment or utility, that is so good they actually engage in it like (gasp) it was real content.  They sign up for your marketing, because it's that good.  They don't even care that it is marketing.

 

Thanks again Danny…I appreciate you keeping the conversation going.

Joe Pulizzi

 

juntajoe
juntajoe

Hi Danny...again, an interesting and thought provoking post.  I certainly appreciate the shout out, especially on the event.   I agree with a lot of what you are saying, and respect the areas where I don't.  I've been in this industry (the content marketing industry, formerly known as custom publishing, which has been going on for hundreds of years) for over 12 years now.  We've had to fight the battles against what it is and what it isn't.  Honestly, it doesn't matter...much of it is semantics.  Here's what I know. 1.  You CAN market a company using just content marketing (our company is proof of that, so is Brian Clark's).  That said, content marketing is like butter...it makes all the traditional stuff you are doing that much better. Hubspot is a great example of a company that has used content as a key part of the whole of marketing, but still leverages much of the traditional process. 2.  It is like marketing, but it isn't.  How do I know?  Never have I seen marketers struggle with the concepts of how to attract and retain customers with valuable information WITHOUT talking about themselves.  It's a huge pain point in most organizations.  Everyone in the organization feels they own content, so it's everywhere and nowhere at the same time.  Often, to develop integrated content processes within organizations, a culture change needs to happen. 3.  But yes, it is marketing.  Hopefully the content you create has a goal, from acquisition to conversion to loyalty to passionate subscribers...and there is the biggest difference with what we are seeing with content marketing.  More companies are focusing on creating passionate subscribers.  This is new.  Most companies never worried about their own channels.  We always borrowed the channels.  Today, brands (like AMEX, P&G, RedBull, Coca-Cola, etc.) are developing programs so they can have direct connections and relationships with customers - just like media companies have been doing for years.  That means we need great storytellers that understand how to work multiple channels.  Most brands are great at placement, but the majority are horrible at creating, developing and marketing their own channels.   I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the smartest traditional marketers on the planet…but many don’t know where to start when you talk content marketing.  It often doesn’t make sense to them (you mean, I don't talk about our own products?)…and that’s okay…we still have a long way to go.  Robert Rose and I wrote a book about managing the process, and most of it sounds like perfect strategy for TV producers, radio personalities, book authors and film producers.  And that’s exactly where we need to go today.  Our customers don’t care about us or our services…they care about themselves.  How do we get them to care about us at all?  By developing the most amazing content, either entertainment or utility, that is so good they actually engage in it like (gasp) it was real content.  They sign up for your marketing, because it's that good.  They don't even care that it is marketing.   Thanks again Danny…I appreciate you keeping the conversation going. Joe Pulizzi  

Charles H. Green
Charles H. Green

Love your direct approach, but in the same spirit, I think you're wrong. You say: "The content is created to market the end product – you’re not marketing the actual content. If you were, the message would be something like “See how cool this video / blog post is – buy the content now!”. Which wouldn’t make any kind of sense." But oh yes, it does make sense. Remember "samples selling?" We've gotten away from it. But it works for perfume, it works for selling pies (ask Simple Simon's pieman), and it works for professional services, for example. I suggest to you content marketing has a lot in common with samples selling; and in a day and age when we are bombarded with me-too-isms, it is one of the best ways to let the buyer actually compare. Is that new? No, samples selling is as old as the hills. But it went out of vogue. Now it's back, and for good reason. I don't think it's "just" a semantic difference, I think it's real and substantive; and very meaningful.

DannyBrown
DannyBrown

@davemhuffman I don't know what you mean... ;-)

DannyBrown
DannyBrown

@davemhuffman I don't know what you mean... ;-)

Christopher Wilson
Christopher Wilson

Danny, are you suggesting that some marketers are relying solely on content marketing as their standalone marketing strategy?

Marcus Sheridan
Marcus Sheridan

Hey Danny, thanks for putting your thoughts out there on this as it's something you've mentioned before and I certainly respect your take. I really just want to make two points. 1. Whenever I teach content marketing, my message is simple-- Be the best teacher in your industry. Answer every single consumer/prospect question you can. And when I explain this approach, and how content works in the sales process, many people say to me, "Finally, there is a word for what my company has been doing!" This, in my opinion, is a good thing. 2. I get annoyed that anytime a new phrase comes out people automatically say it has unauthentic intentions. On my blog, I make up phrases often to describe stuff I do or see. But that doesn't make me a fake or money-grubber. It just makes me a conversationalist with my unique way of seeing the world. Finally, the argument that it's "just marketing" can be pretty much made about everything...including social media. Notwithstanding, I think it's nice to have subsets of this stuff. For example, I'm really good at teaching principles of content marketing. But I'm not good at teaching how to use LinkedIn. Or Twitter. Or Facebook. Heck, I'm really not very good at teaching email marketing. Yet all of these things fall under the umbrella that is "marketing"....

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

Ha, actually what I'm railing against is those who say it's a standalone discipline, mate. I value the strength of content in the bigger marketing picture - but you buy a tomato, not a blog post about a tomato. :)

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

Exactly, mate. People can talk about semantics but at the end of the day, marketing is there to sell. If you're not selling, technically you're not marketing.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

Hi Mark, I think it can depend on who you talk to. There are many valid marketers that use it as another piece of the marketing puzzle; then there are the money-grabbers that will use peoples' lack of knowledge to shill services and charge higher consultancy fees. And I definitely agree that using content is a subset - as per the second last paragraph in the post: "The thing is, though, it’s still just another tactic. The content is part of the overall strategy to get a customer to buy into your offering, and a solid part at that. But a standalone? I can’t see it." I'm arguing against the term from the point of view of the end goal. Ask a customer if they'd like to buy the content or the product/service, and it's the latter that will win every time. Content educates; marketing is the closer of the deal.

Mark Sherbin
Mark Sherbin

Nice post, Danny, but I'm not sure you're seeing the forest for the trees here. Of course it's all marketing. But the term "content marketing" isn't attempting to silo the tactic. It's making sense of all the working parts. These days, one marketer can't wear every hat and expect to establish a strong digital presence for the brand. In other words, "content marketing" is a subset of marketing that helps us understand how building useful, informative and entertaining content helps drive leads and build brands.

toddrazor
toddrazor

@jkcallas @dannybrown If content is king, distribution is the crown prince.

toddrazor
toddrazor

@jkcallas @dannybrown If content is king, distribution is the crown prince.

steveseager
steveseager

Hey Danny, Always admire your straight talking attempts to cut the BS. Of course content marketing is marketing. But the usefulness of the term 'content' is that it puts the accent on relevant, meaningful and valuable (to the audience) content that takes a product or service to market, rather than the trad shouting about how great you are, why you are the best etc - in fact, all the things you use as examples above. IMHO none of that is content marketing. Sure, it uses content (as opposed to what?) but it's completely different type of messaging. And that's what makes the difference between trad marketing and content marketing.

Leon Noone
Leon Noone

G'Day Danny, At the risk of repeating myself; "marketing isn't everything but everything is marketing." I suspect that one of the issues is that not enough people really grasp what marketing's all about. But that's another story. Make sure you have fun Best Wishes Leon

Danny
Danny

Completely agree, Doug, and thanks for seeing the "side" I was trying to take. And yes, I can see the irony of the platform of the discussion... ;-)

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

Hi Ryan, having some sync issues. Your comment is in the dashboard, trying to sort out.

Danny
Danny

Hi Ryan, With regards content being pretty revolutionary in the way it can add to a campaign, no arguments from me there whatsoever. I've helped clients in the past and we use content at Jugnoo to meet certain audience needs. Where the distinction isn't made is that content doesn't simply market on its own. As you mention yourself, it needs to be compelling - and that's a completely different skill set altogether. Having said that, even crap content can soon find itself in front of a million eyeballs, due to some canny marketing campaigns behind it. That's where I'm coming from - I'm not diluting the power of content per se, but it is still just another facet in a multifaceted practice. Thanks for the thoughts!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

 @juntajoe And I would add...to do it in a creative and unique way. We work with a B2B manufacturer who has an awesome story to tell, but to get content developed for them is like pulling teeth. We started with simple, "What are the top five questions you're asked in sales meetings?" and were met with crickets. It's taken a looooong time to get them to the point that not only can they answer that question, they're bringing us new questions after sales calls. Now, two years later, we're doing almost solely content marketing for them....and it's generating millions of dollars in revenues for them. It certainly didn't start that way. We started with traditional buyer's guides and 1/4 page ads in the trades. But we've replaced all of that with stuff that actually makes the phone ring - and it's about 90 percent content (some traditional media relations still remains). 

Danny
Danny

Hey there Joe, Thanks for dropping by and such a thoughtful response (no surprise there!). See, I totally get your definition and distinction, because you're not silo'ing content marketing into its own bucket, but showing that it's a strong part of an overall marketing strategy. With the example you use of Brian and his Copyblogger media, it's till expertise or products that are being marketed. In your case, for instance, it's (partly) connecting vendors with clients, as well as educating on content's role. So, you're marketing the product (people and jobs) as well as expertise, by using content. Same for Brian - people buy Genesis, or ScribeSEO, or Premise, etc. All hard products, sold by a combination of great educational content and technical build. Perhaps there'd be less confusion if we just umbrella'd it all as Marketing, and then we have various resources at hand to help any campaign succeed, based on the audience and vendor needs? Thanks again, mate, appreciated.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

 @juntajoe And I would add...to do it in a creative and unique way. We work with a B2B manufacturer who has an awesome story to tell, but to get content developed for them is like pulling teeth. We started with simple, "What are the top five questions you're asked in sales meetings?" and were met with crickets. It's taken a looooong time to get them to the point that not only can they answer that question, they're bringing us new questions after sales calls. Now, two years later, we're doing almost solely content marketing for them....and it's generating millions of dollars in revenues for them. It certainly didn't start that way. We started with traditional buyer's guides and 1/4 page ads in the trades. But we've replaced all of that with stuff that actually makes the phone ring - and it's about 90 percent content (some traditional media relations still remains). 

Charles H. Green
Charles H. Green

I could have been more clear. When I put out a video clip, I am exactly saying, "see how cool this video is, buy the content now." Because it is a sample, a taste; the implied message is, "there's plenty more where that came from, but here's a feel of what it is." No different from when we used to give away free consulting in a sales call, or sell a cut-rate analysis & design project before the big project. The more difficult it is for the client to grasp what it is they're buying, the more useful it is for them to get a true 'feel' of what it would be like to own it. And the best way to do that is to give out samples. Which I call content marketing.

davemhuffman
davemhuffman

@DannyBrown Oh, sure ;) Great discussion though. That's missing from a lot of posts these days it seems.

davemhuffman
davemhuffman

@DannyBrown Oh, sure ;) Great discussion though. That's missing from a lot of posts these days it seems.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

Hi there mate, I don't think people automatically say a new phrase has "unauthentic intentions". I think people are smarter than that, and look at who's using the phrase and who's abusing it. For every smart person mentioned in the post, there are probably ten more who do see content marketing as another ka'ching on the cash register. And completely agree "just marketing" can be used for pretty much everything, because that's all it is at the end of the day. The umbrella is marketing - the facets underneath that umbrella are the tactics to make the overall marketing plan succeed.

Mark Sherbin
Mark Sherbin

Hi Danny, I definitely see what you're saying. I do, however, think that marketers (perhaps on their own at small businesses) and marketing departments (at mid to large enterprises) have to consider some help when it comes to content marketing. I can't be sure that I'm seeing things from your perspective, but perhaps the people who appear to be considering it "standalone" are actually just saying, "You have too much to do. There are people who specialize in this and can help you." Hopefully I'm interpreting your message more accurately this time. So, I guess what I'm saying is that those who act as content marketing evangelists (like Joe Pulizzi at CMI, where -- full disclosure -- I'm a freelance contributor) are really just specializing in that discipline because they believe in its importance. I think they're pushing it as a means to an end (the full marketing picture), rather than the end itself.

jkcallas
jkcallas

@toddrazor Hello U, are u still around? LOL:) How have u been ?

jkcallas
jkcallas

@toddrazor Hello U, are u still around? LOL:) How have u been ?

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

Hi Steve, Completely agree that content (when the context of its use and need for use is explained) can offer value add to the actual sale part of marketing's goal. But is that marketing? I'd say it's more education. Now, for sure, the content can paint a pretty picture and even create desire, which is what a marketer wants. But then it still boils back to what's been sexed up by the content, and that comes back to product and/or service. In which case, perhaps we should just be calling it product marketing with content as a sales tool. ;-)

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

Hey there Charles, thanks for such an awesome comment, sir. See, I know what you're saying and, to a degree, I agree. And yet... the samples example is still a hard product. You get a little sachet of a spray, or a magazine sniff sample of the latest aftershave. What makes you buy - the print ad (content) or the smell (product)? For me, that's where the difference lies.

DannyBrown
DannyBrown

@davemhuffman Thanks, mate, appreciated - that's definitely the goal, to encourage open discussion where everyone has equal voice.

DannyBrown
DannyBrown

@davemhuffman Thanks, mate, appreciated - that's definitely the goal, to encourage open discussion where everyone has equal voice.

toddrazor
toddrazor

@jkcallas Hey Jure. Yes, still here. Retrenching, reworking and ready to evolve. How are you?

toddrazor
toddrazor

@jkcallas Hey Jure. Yes, still here. Retrenching, reworking and ready to evolve. How are you?

steveseager
steveseager

Education isn't part of marketing? I thought that marketing markets and sales closes. Don't tell me I've been focusing on the wrong end of the funnel all these years ;-)

steveseager
steveseager

lol that's exactly why I call myself a strategic communicator - not a marketer :-) In my own (admittedly, odd) head, marketing falls under strategic comms. I develop programs for marketing, pr, sales, and any number of objectives like leads, thought leadership, customer satisfaction, engaged employees etc etc. Whatever. I'm not fussy. Why? I go back to basics. Strategy is simply a coherent and substantiated logic for making one choice over another, which leads to a specific outcome. That could be done by anyone - regardless of discipline. And communications (the stuff I love most) is the execution of strategy via good old fashioned content production: using all sorts of media that contain plots, stories, and narratives (and yes, they are all different) to communicate that logic so it best resonates with who I'm targeting. I drive myself crazy even trying to define what marketing is, let alone anything else. So I'd rather just call myself a strategic comms person, ride this whole thing out, and have some fun on the way :-)

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

Are we talking educational marketing now? ;-) Perhaps I could have worded better - I see education as another facet of marketing, just like content is. And I see content as key to the educational component (see my reply to @hessiejones:disqus for more thoughts on this). The "problem" is when we begin to silo. For sure, marketing markets and sales closes. But then, employees market and close the sale too - an awesome customer service rep can be the best sales and marketing guy you ever have. The same goes for company culture - given the choice, would you buy from a business that gives back to the community or one that keeps profits to buff up executive payrolls and shafts the employees?

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