What Is Content Marketing? A Definition and Guide

content marketing

Consumers today are inundated with ads. In 2007, marketing researchers estimated that Americans were exposed to about 5,000 ads per day. Our eyes and ears are so oversaturated with ads that we generally dislike them.

Marketers seek to solve this problem by engaging with their customers directly and more organically. Content marketing is based on the premise that trust is a more powerful sales tool than the hard sell that is traditional advertising. 

To earn trust, a brand must provide something of value to a consumer—material that fulfills a need, a desire to learn, or simply a desire to laugh. That material is content, and how brands create and deliver it is called content marketing.

What is content marketing?

Content marketing uses content as a vehicle to market your products or services in implicit ways by providing value in various forms of media. The aim of content marketing is to reach people where they are and offer them something of value, without any hard selling. 

Whereas ads are transactional, content marketing is a long game of building relationships with leads and buyers at every stage of their journey. Here’s how it works:

To reach people where they are, a brand might:

  • Distribute content on social media platforms, like Instagram and Facebook
  • Distribute videos on platforms where people watch videos, like YouTube
  • Optimize content to be discovered via a search engine and to appear on the first page of search results

To offer value, a brand might:

  • Create high quality content that educates people about something they want to learn
  • Create content that delights people

This differs from traditional marketing, which can feel overtly in your face. Content marketing is about serving the customer needs to serve the needs of the business in the long run (e.g., increasing revenue). This can be done through blog posts or articles, videos, podcasts, or other forms of media to answer consumers’ FAQs and pain points.

Types of content marketing

The word “content” has become ubiquitous in digital marketing—but what does it mean? As it relates to content marketing, online content is anything that shares information via a written, audio, or visual medium. That can include:

Blog posts/articles

Using the power of the written word, you can create blogs or articles that answer FAQs relating to a topic. For example, “Ways to prevent a headache.” A piece of content can rank for different phrases people search for in Google, or be used by sales teams to assist the sales journey. 

Content creation falls under the inbound marketing methodology and is a key part of a larger strategy to attract customers to your website and business. After video and ebooks, blogging is the third most common content marketing strategy. Not only does relevant content help people find your business, it also helps you build trust and credibility with potential and current customers.

White papers, reports, and ebooks

If you have proprietary research to share or expert interviews around a topic, white papers, reports, and ebooks are long-form vehicles for showcasing that information. 

For example, a whitepaper or ebook might explore the results of a focus group or the science behind headache remedies. Brands usually require people to share their contact information to access this content. Other media outlets or businesses may link to the data if the data is compelling enough.

Case studies

Case studies are a format for sharing relevant data about how other customers use your product or service and its impact. 

For example, a case study on how customers used your products to relieve their headaches and how effective they found them to be. You could pull quotes from these case studies to show on your website in the form of customer testimonials.

Interactive materials

You can create interactive landing pages or downloadable materials for consumers to fill out that are useful and relevant to the brand. 

For example, a headache tracker might monitor food intake, water intake, stress levels, areas of tension, etc. As with white papers, you might require a customer to give their email address in exchange for access to this content.

Infographics

Infographics are a visual medium for breaking down complex information. They’re meant to be enlightening and shareable. For example, an infographic sharing the top reasons why people get headaches can be disseminated across different media outlets, further cementing your brand as one people trust for headache-related solutions.

Podcast episodes

Some brands make podcasts part of their content strategy to reach people who prefer to listen to content, rather than reading or watching it. Podcasts can allow for free conversation between company leaders or feature interesting guests who are relevant to the industry.

Video content

Video content can take many forms: live or prerecorded, short or long. Video often aims to engage customers with more personality or with a view of your product in the wild.

Content marketing and the buyer’s journey

Like in any relationship, building trust with consumers can take time. A customer’s journey from the moment when they first learn about your brand to the moment they buy can be divided into three stages.

Awareness stage

The beginning of the buyer’s journey starts at the awareness stage, where prospective customers identify their pain points and concerns. The kinds of content that works best at this stage are explainers and how-to articles that address what consumers at this stage are going through.

Let’s say you get recurring headaches and use search engines like Google to ask, “What causes headaches?” As a customer, you’re trying to figure out a solution to a problem but haven’t landed on exactly that solution or if there is one.

Consideration stage

In the consideration stage, a consumer considers ways to solve the issue. They’re interested in learning more and looking for remedies to solve the issue. Content in this stage should be informative and lightly touch on ways your products or services can be the ideal solution, without it being too in the face of your customer.

In this stage, someone might be looking for blog posts or case studies that answer the question, “What are natural ways to treat headaches?” The customer in this stage knows there is a solution for their problem, they’re just looking for the right one.

Decision stage

In the decision stage, the buyer is ready to decide what solution will help them with their problem. The consumer may be comparison shopping and looking for the best options. Content marketing campaigns at this stage can convert leads to buyers and cover the unique value proposition—what makes your business stand out in a sea of competition.

Given the theoretical example, a company focused on pain relief or supplements that relieve headaches could create blog posts, videos, and testimonials about why their option is superior. The content would be persuasive and informative, and address any fears or objections a consumer may have to overcome before deciding to buy.

Content marketing strategies

There are different ways to approach content marketing. Some businesses will focus on one strategy, others will mix several strategies. The right approach depends on who your audience is and what your goals are.

Here are three different great content marketing strategies you may consider:

1. Thought leadership

Thought leadership is a type of content provided by leaders within a certain field or space and communicates big ideas or perspectives unique to the brand. This type of content aims to establish expertise and knowledge and be known as a go-to figure, or “thought leader,” within a particular field. This might look like bylined opinion pieces posted on a company blog and shared on LinkedIn or Medium, or it might look like a leadership-driven podcast.

2. Search engine optimization (SEO)

This content marketing strategy focuses on creating keyword-driven articles that answer an existing need for information. What are your customers potentially searching for online? An SEO content strategy aims to provide helpful information that answers those search questions in the form of a blog post, which a customer could discover naturally when they use a search engine.

3. Product marketing

Product marketing is much like it sounds—it’s focused on selling your product. This type of content marketing might include customer testimonials or case studies about your product’s impact on their lives. It might also include comparisons between your product and a competitor’s. Webinars that educate customers on how your product works are forms of content marketing.

Popular content marketing channels

Creating content is the first part of content marketing—but it’s not the only part. Even if you have the best content in the world, you can’t assume customers will find it. That’s where distribution comes into play.

Some channels allow distribution within the platform—such as social media or email marketing—whereas others, like blog posts or podcasts, do not. You’ll have to determine a dedicated strategy to circulate your content to your audiences.

Distribution channels for content include:

  • Social media platforms. These include Tik Tok, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest. Content can be distributed on social platforms organically (meaning you don’t pay anything) or via paid advertising.
  • Video platforms. TikTok and Instagram are made for short-form videos, whereas YouTube is great for longer-form videos. These platforms also sell advertising to brands who want to pay to circulate their video content.
  • Podcasts. You can use many platforms to distribute a podcast, such as Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, and Buzzsprout. Getting it heard by listeners is another thing entirely. You can leverage your other platforms, like social media, to get the word out about your podcast or by advertising on other podcasts that reach the listeners you want.
  • Email newsletters. Email marketing is one of the most direct ways to reach people on the buying journey. To use email effectively, you must build a subscriber list—which you can do by collecting email addresses at various points on your website. You want to invest in copywriting and design to ensure your email newsletters are compelling and easy to consume. 

Distribution isn’t a one-and-done exercise. You can also repurpose your content and share it multiple times to get the most impact for your efforts. So for example, a TikTok posting can be put on Instagram Reels, part of your email newsletter or quotes from your podcast can be posted to Twitter, and blog articles can be cross-promoted via email.

How to create a successful content marketing strategy

Content marketing efforts can elevate your company’s visibility and reach your target audience. To get started with online content marketing:

Set goals

As part of your content market strategy, set measurable and specific goals that help you move the business forward, such as: 

  • Increasing revenue by a certain dollar amount or percentage
  • Increasing brand awareness by increasing organic traffic to your website
  • Building your email list with new email signups
  • Growing your follower base on social media platforms

Figure out your content mix

What kind of content will build trust with your audience? If you’re selling consulting services to executives, thought leadership might be a big part of your mix. 

If you’re selling workshops or courses, you might want to focus on SEO-optimized educational articles. Product marketing content might help potential customers understand how your shoes beat the competition’s if you sell specialized footwear.

Gather your content marketing tools

Tools like Google Analytics can help track how much traffic your content is getting, where it’s coming from, and what kind of engagement it’s receiving. This information can be used to tweak your content strategy and ensure your content reaches your target audience and resonates with them.

Apps and tools to explore: 

  • Content Marketing Institute, for access to courses and resources on content marketing.
  • Hootsuite, for planning, analyzing, and optimization content marketing strategies.
  • CoSchedule, for blog post topic ideation, content calendar planning, and content marketing performance measurement.
  • Buffer, for social media management and content distribution.
  • HubSpot, for courses on content marketing and Inbound marketing.
  • Google Trends, for research on what people are searching for online.
  • Keyword Planner, for keyword research for your content.
  • Answer the Public, for research on questions people are asking about your content topic.
  • Free content on blogs like Copyblogger and Contently

Create content for your audience

Consumers expect content from brands to be high quality. Invest in good writing, beautiful imagery, and great production if you’re doing multimedia content.

Distribute that content to your audience

Where does your target audience spend time online? If you’re trying to reach Gen Z, you might find them on TikTok. If you’re trying to reach millennials, you might find them on Instagram. Design a distribution strategy for your specific audience.

Review and adjust

Track your progress against the goals you set. If something isn’t working, try to figure out why, and then adjust your inbound marketing strategies in the future. You can use tools such as Google Analytics, Buffer, Mailchimp, and more to track important analytics and metrics.

Final thoughts

You can reach your target audience through effective content marketing campaigns at each step of the sales journey. You’re nurturing prospective customers through the buyer’s journey and constantly generating new interest in your ecommerce brand. 

A solid content strategy can ensure that you’re creating valuable content for your audience and that you’re getting it in front of them effectively.


Content marketing FAQ

What are examples of content marketing?

An example of content marketing is blogging to attract new customers to your website. By providing valuable content on your blog, you can attract readers who may eventually become customers.

What does a content marketer do?

A content marketer is responsible for developing, managing, and executing a content marketing plan. They aim to attract and retain customers by creating and distributing relevant and valuable content. You can hire a freelancer or in-house marketer to run your content programs.

What are the 7 steps of content marketing?

  1. Planning: Develop a content marketing strategy and plan.
  2. Creation: Create content that is high quality and appeals to your target audience.
  3. Curation: Find and select content from other sources to share with your audience.
  4. Promotion: Share your content through various channels such as social media marketing, email marketing, and paid advertising.
  5. Engagement: Encourage your audience to interact with your content and provide feedback.
  6. Conversion: Convert your audience into customers or leads.
  7. Analysis: Analyze your results and adjust your content marketing strategy accordingly.

What are the 4 pillars of successful content marketing?

  • Understand your audience
  • Map the content to your sales cycle
  • Invest in content distribution
  • Measure and analyze
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