What is content marketing? To put it in my own words; Content Marketing is all about creating an effective brand story. It attracts the target audience using a pull strategy. This strategy is utilized through owned media outlets such as a YouTube channel, E-books, social media accounts and many others. Content marketing is a combination of three important characteristics: (1) promotion without selling, (2) connecting with the audience and (3) consistency.
1) Promotion without Selling
This is where content marketing distinguishes itself from advertising: it promotes content without selling it. Content marketing presents the audience with content as a way to convey information, tell a story or provide a resource, all while nurturing the brand story. Advertising must provide payment to rent or occupy media space in order to convey the brand message.
For example: Coca-Cola sponsored American Idol for many years. The staple of their sponsorship was having Coca-Cola cups prominently featured in each camera shot of the celebrity judge panel. At first it might appear that the judge’s cups are content marketing, after all no sale is being requested. In reality it’s not content marketing, it is product placement, a form of advertising. Since Coca-Cola did not own the network they had to pay for their products to be displayed, thus excluding it from being content marketing.
Now for a stellar content marketing example: In 2014 Doritos decided to send fans to the Super Bowl with just one stipulation: they all had to wear orange shirts. The result was a strategic placing of seats that resembled a giant orange Dorito in the stands. (Check out the story Here) Not only did the story generate a ton of free publicity through television and news site visibility, pictures of the giant Dorito were shared all across social media for weeks on end. Doritos managed to create highly effective content without advertising the sale of any products. In addition they generated free brand awareness by connecting with the audience who then provided free brand promotion by generously spreading the Doritos brand message on social media.
2) Connecting with the Audience
This is probably the most important characteristic of content marketing. Connecting with the audience requires the marketer to focus on the aspects of the brand message that will resonate with people and associate positiveexperiences with the brand. In the example of Doritos sending fans to the 2014 Super Bowl it was as simple as providing sports enthusiasts with a fun, memorable and free event. Listening to the audience is also important. The marketer needs to discover what’s important to the audience rather than the brand. That information can then be used to make their brand message unique to the audience.
Chris Boyles at Digiday says to “think in terms of earned, not paid”. I think this quote put things into great perspective for two reasons: (1) earning the audience’s loyalty is worth much more than paying for it because they have independently made the choice to associate with the brand (2) reducing spending on marketing/advertising is always preferable, especially if it can lead to higher earnings through content marketing.
One of the biggest mistakes that brands and agencies make in content marketing is to be inconsistent. Usually failure results from trying to customize too many brand messages for too many different audiences. Ultimately the result is a mish-mash of conflicting brand messages that confuse and alienate audiences. Consistency helps establish a series of brand messages that mesh seamlessly into a unified brand story. Google is a perfect example of consistency:
There are a multitude of Google brand messages to choose from: Inspirational videos that demonstrate the Google spoon helping people with tremors eat, stories of Google technology enhancing education in third-world countries and even Google employees demonstrating their exceptional company culture. All of these messages incorporate Google technology and ideas with different brand messages, but all of them tie into the Google brand story of connecting people.
Consistency is about creating trust between a brand and their audience. Brands build trust with their audience by providing quality and establishing a track record. A series of unified brand messages that repeatedly support the same brand story over time will be recognized and appreciated for its consistency.
More than just a Social Media Tool
A common misconception about content marketing is that it’s only used in social media. Social media definitely represents one of the most valuable channels for content marketing, but it’s far from being the only option. Infographics, television, radio, webinars, podcasts and many other resources can be used just as effectively in content marketing. Any brand with a message to share can use content marketing to inform, entertain and educate their target audience.
As the Content Marketing Institute puts it:
“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.”