It would be easy to dismiss Content Marketing as the latest buzzword in an industry that is notorious for relabeling ideas with the trendiest of words and calling them new. Sorry all you Growth Hackers out there, I'm referring to you. But I truly believe Content Marketing is different, because of what lies at it's foundation. It's essence, so to speak.
Before I dive into it though, let's take a quick step back to talk about a more textbook definition. There are lots available, but I prefer that of the Content Marketing Institute because it covers the a lot in a concise form:
"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."
The Key Points:
"Strategic" - Content Marketing isn't a single tactic and definitely isn't a Marketing-only initiative. It's a long-term commitment that requires buy-in from the top of the organization and can encompass all your customer experience touchpoints.
"Valuable" - If you aren't producing content that's of value, you aren't practicing Content Marketing. Consumers have taken control of the purchasing process through technology, so if you aren't offering them something of value then they likely aren't going to pay attention.
"Drive Action" - It can be extremely easy to overlook the goal of Content Marketing is actually to create profit through desired consumer actions. However, it might be the single most important selling point when your business is considering whether or not to make the commitment.
Advertising vs. Content Marketing
One more quick clarification: Advertising. You're probably doing it already in some form. Isn't that Content Marketing? The short answer is, no. Advertising is standing on the street and shouting to passersby all the benefits of your brand. Even if you "target" the right street (Rodeo Drive for a luxury brand, for example), interrupting someone's day to tell them about why they should buy your product is going to yield limited results. That's Advertising.
A Helping Hand
So what's different about Content Marketing? Let me explain. I'm going to assume that you are a generally good person. Maybe you grab an extra coffee in the morning for a co-worker. Or pickup a relative from the airport. And if you're really a good person, you might even help a friend move! And I bet that kindness extends to strangers as well. You might hold the door, help an elderly man load his car with groceries, or help a stranded motorist change a flat tire. That Helping Hand mentality is what I consider the Essence of Content Marketing.
Stop to consider your expectations for these actions. Do you expect the person you held the door for to call all their friends and tell them how great you are? The elderly man to give you a tip, or the motorist to start inviting you over for dinner? Of course not! So why as marketers do we expect consumers who don't know who we are to buy our products or enroll in our services the first time we interact with them?
As mentioned, Content Marketing is a long-term strategy that requires commitment. Creating, growing and maintaining relationships with potential customers takes time. No, you aren't going to establish relationships with EVERYONE. Some people will be too busy, skeptical, uninterested or without a need. But you're no worse off in that situation, and you gave it an honest effort. But the more value you offer, the faster and stronger the relationship is going to be.
How many times would you have to open the door for the same person before they inquired about business? Probably more than the number of times helping the same elderly man load his groceries. And that stranded motorist? By the 2nd or 3rd time helping him out you probably would start getting dinner party invites!
So how does your business start holding door or changing tires? Through content! Every brand is different, but start to think about the process your potential customers go through before selecting a product or service to purchase. How do they determine what kind is right for them? Evaluate competitors? Determine feature sets? Sales outlets? The questions will vary, but if you approach each with the Helping Hand mentality, I assure you that those potential customers will appreciate the help, kick-starting a brand relationship that leads them towards a sale.