Laptop on a wooden desk with text overlay that reads "What is Content Marketing?"

To the uninitiated, the term “content marketing” sounds a bit wishy-washy. Like one of these fly-by-night digital marketing trends that will be completely forgotten about in a few weeks. But don’t let this fool you – content marketing is an absolutely invaluable online marketing tool that should hold pride of place in any organisation’s promotional toolbox.

No matter what you do, how, and for whom, you’ll probably be able to harness the power of content marketing somehow. So what exactly is it?

What is Content Marketing?

Content marketing is the practice of producing and distributing online editorial media that’s relevant to your company’s offering, industry, and – most importantly – audience. Content can take many different forms, including blogs, videos, podcasts, and more. Rather than being salesy, content should seek to educate, inspire, or entertain around a fitting, related subject.

Content can be used to prop up a number of strategic, online promotional goals, including boosting search presence; enriching your relationship with your audience; getting in front of new, interested buyers at the right time; and turning cold, less brand-aware leads into well-informed sales prospects.

There are secondary benefits to content marketing too. Publishing regular content gives you an ever-growing library of branded collateral to share around online, for example through email marketing or on social media. We’ll go into more detail about the benefits of content marketing shortly.

What is Content?

Content can comprise any kind of shareable, informative online media, and can comprise of blog posts, podcasts, videos, infographics, and more. Content can be used to support a number of online promotional aims, including raising brand awareness, answering in-demand questions from your audience, enhancing search visibility, and supporting a social media presence.

The magic of content marketing is that it is rarely salesy. Instead, it seeks to share useful, insightful information that people are likely to actively seek out in search, or click on in their social feeds. That helpful insight becomes inextricably linked to your brand, increasing the chance that you’ll be top of mind when the reader needs your services.

Think about it this way: which mechanic are you more likely to go to for your MOT? The one who is always trying to up-sell and cross-sell things you aren’t sure you need? Or the one who happily gives you bits of useful advice for free? Chances are, it’s the latter!

Popular Content Formats

Here are a few popular content formats:

Blog Posts

Online, informative articles… like this one!

Podcasts

Online audio broadcasts that take the form of talks, interviews, discussions, and presentations, Podcasts are a real rising star in the 2020s!

Videos

Full motion digital video in the form of “talking head” videos, animations, demonstrations, and more.

Email Marketing

Direct email mailout campaigns sent directly to subscribers’ inboxes – as long as they’ve properly opted in of course.

Whitepapers & E-books

Longer downloadable documents for readers to browse offline at their leisure.

Data & Research

Unique data and research that has been carried out and presented in a digestible way, making the creator a primary source of highly searchable and linkable statistics.

Images

Graphics that convey useful, shareable information; industry data and insights; or images that contain relevant entertainment value, such as memes.

Infographics

Graphical representations of data. Because sometimes text just doesn’t get the point across.

Slide Deck Presentations

Forget “death by PowerPoint!” Thanks to platforms like Slideshare slide decks are more shareable than ever.

This is in no way an exhaustive list of all the content out there, especially as online techy industries continue to progress at a mile a minute, but it does reflect some of the more common formats you may see out in the wild.

Choosing the Right Content Formats

If you’re just embarking on your content marketing journey, you may be wondering which of these formats you should choose. But the magic of content marketing is that you can publish as many or as few content formats as you like.

So let’s take a look at a few benefits and drawbacks of the above content types:

Type Advantages Disadvantages
Blog Posts Share lots of information and prove your expertise in one sweep! Arguably the most commonly accepted form of B2B content marketing. It’s easily outsourced, too (hint hint!). Poorly written blogs can put readers off. If you don’t explain concepts clearly or take too long to get to the point, you may send readers running for the hills.
Podcasts Fairly easy and low cost to produce. Great for listeners to tune in while commuting or doing other things. Need a good quality microphone and some level of audio editing skill to create a professional sound, as well as a clear speaking voice.
Videos Both eye-catching AND engaging. A great way of creatively presenting data and dry, complex topics. The barrier to entry is lower than you may think given the quality of cameras on modern smartphones. You need the right hardware and skills to give a truly polished look, and the price of video production tools/services can be pricey.
Email Marketing Delivers your message directly to a subscriber’s inbox. Can be presented as a piece of content in its own right or can direct the reader to other content. Spam and phishing are huge problems, so email deliverability checks can sometimes stop genuine mass emails from getting through. You also need to carefully navigate the data privacy responsibilities associated with collecting contact information.
Whitepapers & Ebooks Can share much more than in your average blog post. Downloadables like these can also be used as a gated “lead magnet” resource to grow your email subscriber list. The longer you make your content, the less snappy digestibility it has. Also, it’s all too easy to sign up for a free lead magnet and totally forget about it – just ask my inbox!
Data & Research Great way to be seen as a source of relevant industry information and paint your company as a thought leader in your niche. Collecting your own data and carrying out research can be a lot of work. Requires good promotional tactics to get the most return from that investment.
Images Relatively easy to produce; punchier and more eye-catching than text; easy to share on your website or on social media; great for visual learners. Can easily look tacky or unprofessional without an eye for graphic design or without access to decent design software.
Infographics Very popular way of presenting facts and figures without eliciting snores. Can require a lot of research; graphics need to be professionally designed to make the best impression.
Slide Deck Presentations Allows you to present things visually and clearly explain points of data and rationale. Can be made into a talk to raise your profile at events. Not quite as popular as other media as they’re considered quite formal. It therefore won’t suit all industries and brands.

Content Marketing’s Secret Ingredient: Strategy

Content isn’t just something you should do because all of the cool marketing kids are doing it. Neither is it something you should approach without proper planning and strategy. The complete ins and outs of content strategy is a little beyond this blog post, but before you take the plunge into content marketing, it pays to have some idea of:

6 Reasons Why You Should Consider Content Marketing

All of this might seem like a lot of effort. If you’re completely new to the concept, you may be thinking “Why bother! It sounds like a right faff.” And it can be, I’m not gonna lie. But content marketing does come with a number of very unique features and advantages:

Content Marketing Can Be Great for SEO

When content is featured on your own website (like the blog function on this website for example), it can benefit your website’s search visibility. Regularly updating your site with keyword-rich, on-topic textual content gives search engines more material to appropriately index and rank your website. If the Google gorgons deem you worthy, this can potentially boost your search presence.

And besides, upsizing your corner of the internet is never a bad thing.

Content Marketing is Relatively Inexpensive

Though there may be an initial outlay and a bit of a learning curve, content marketing is often cheaper than other kinds of marketing. It can also provide a positive return on investment in multiple ways, including positive brand exposure; creating an engaged and informed customer base; attracting interested leads; SEO advantages; and all of the other benefits on this list.

Content Marketing is Versatile

With a bit of imagination, content marketing can work for practically any industry, B2B or B2C. It doesn’t clash with other, existing marketing efforts, either – the more ways you can be visible, the better!

Content Marketing Doesn’t Rely on Hard-Sell Tactics

Nowadays, wherever we go (online or offline) we’re bombarded with ads, offers, and finely honed calls to action. We generally have our ad-dodging defences up ready for even the most casual of web browsing sessions. Though high-visibility digital marketing methods like pay-per-click ads can be great for a bit of quick exposure, there will be a certain percentage of your audience who tune them out.

However, content marketing attracts an audience without getting under people’s noses. People make an effort to actively seek out relevant, informative content that’s relevant to their needs. We generally don’t do that for ads! Admittedly content marketing is a “slow burn” when compared to more “in your face” marketing methods, but the potential is there to make a much stronger, interpersonal connection.

Content Marketing Provides Proof of Your Expertise

You’re an expert in your field. So, prove it. When you produce insightful content about genuinely helpful topics related to your niche, you show that you’re an authority on the subject. This paints you as a knowledgeable and gregarious provider – an open book who is less of a gamble than competitors who don’t share the same kind of insights so openly.

Our jaded, ad-fatigued minds can sometimes perceive sales-driven copy as nothing but hollow promises, but content gives you the opportunity to be helpful, rather than salesy.

It gives you ample opportunity to discuss your specialist subjects in meaningful, natural, contextually relevant ways – all things that Google loves!

Content Marketing Makes You More Competitive Online

Content marketing is great – that’s why it’s remarkably commonplace nowadays. Even if you’re not using content marketing, chances are you have a competitor who is. They’re reaping all of the SEO-boosting, exposure-garnering, relationship building benefits of content marketing – and you’re not!

However, there are many more advantages to content marketing than just this 6. If you’d like to learn more about the benefits of business blogging (my particular specialist subject) then check out 14 Reasons Why Your Small Business Needs to Blog.

Or if you’d like some 1-on-1 help with content writing or strategy – drop me a line!

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Note: This post was first published on the 2nd November 2015 and has since been edited.