What Exactly Is Content Marketing?

The headline of this post may seem a bit odd since everyone knows what content marketing is. I mean, it’s all we’ve been talking about for the last few years. It started with rallying cries like “content is king” and more recently it’s even evolved into its very own form of marketing known as “content marketing.”

what is content marketing

photo credit: eyesore9 via photopin cc

But think about it for a minute – what is it really?

Is content marketing a blog post, an eBook, an infographic?

Is it a thing? Or is it, as I would like to suggest, a behavior? More frame of mind than set of tactics. More what it does than what it is.

For today’s post I would like to suggest a somewhat different way of defining the expanding role of content in marketing in whatever shape and form it ultimately takes.

If we begin to think about our use of content not so much for what it looks like but for what purpose it serves, perhaps the strategic aspect of content in marketing won’t seem so vague and unformed.

The following six applications of content may help anyone doubting the fact that content marketing isn’t just a thing – it’s THE thing – to realize how deeply content has moved into the DNA of every business and every buying decision.

Content marketing is an expectation

Today’s prospect fully expects to be able to turn to a search engine or social network and dig up the answers, or at least a data set, to every challenge, problem or need they encounter.

In turn, they then fully expect to find a rich fountain of content specific to the organizations and products they begin to consider as the solution to these challenges. They’ve grown to expect the company itself as well as customers, networks, partners and the media to be the source of this content.

Content marketing creates awareness

In many cases a prospect’s first exposure to an organization comes not from a slick :60 second ad but from an obscure blog post on a very specific topic of interest turned up in a series of search engine inquiries.

Building a library of content that reaches into these very corners of search is the essence of inbound marketing.

Content in this form starts the a prospect on their journey of discovery.

Content marketing builds trust

In the inbound world, trust is pretty much everything. Obviously, the end game is that they ultimately trust the product, service, organization or solution they seek will address their needs, but the first line of trust is often formed based on the content they find or don’t find.

How an organization make the complex simple through content. How an organization demonstrates their expertise? How an organization maintains their reputation online?

These are the questions that content from both marketing and sales can address on the way to either building or eroding trust.

Content marketing provides proof

Ever since prospects learned that just about any claim an organization makes can be supported or contested with a simple search, the need to build content that offers proof of results blossomed.

Getting at customer success stories in ways that describe the heart of what really matters is an all important form of necessary content.

Content marketing is a customer service tool

Twitter has become a public facing customer service tool for good or bad and with it comes an entirely new level of service based content.

Content that teaches customers how to get more, how you really care for your customers, how to fix problems and how to find the answers to common challenges and functions has become a utility that must be planned and executed with great care.

Content marketing is a referral tool

Once of the greatest stumbling blocks to referrals is the lack of a tangible referral tool to point to other than a website or brochure.

With the right mindset marketers can use a popular education based eBook or seminar as a way to get introduced to a strategic partner’s entire customer base.

With this somewhat expanded view of content marketing in mind, how might might think about creating a content system that serves every fundamental use mentioned above?

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John Jantsch

John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author of Duct Tape Marketing, Duct Tape Selling, The Commitment Engine and The Referral Engine and the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.
  • robwatson

    Nice post John – the point I always make to people about Content/Inbound Marketing is that it lets them drive referrals right the way through the funnel, not just from their customers.

    Traditionally, recommendations have come when someone has bought and been satisified by your product or service. Now, you get the chance to distribute your free content assets and showcase your knowledge and skills – probably at no marginal cost – so that even people in the ‘consideration’ stage are warm to you and would recommend people to you.

    I’ve even done it myself, where I’ve said words to the effect of “try these guys – I don’t use them myself, but I follow their blog and I know enough to know that they know what they’re talking about”. This is a big – and often overlooked – benefit of content marketing.

    • http://www.ducttapemarketing.com/blog ducttape

      Such a great point Rob and one I need to emphasize more – thanks for sharing – there’s not question that the entire universe of subscribers, users, community members – whatever we call them – have more impact when taken down this kind of logical path.

  • Caleb

    Excellent post John – I have been looking for a neat and concise way to define content marketing and you did it perfectly here!

    • http://www.ducttapemarketing.com/blog ducttape

      Thanks Caleb – go forth and define to others please!

  • Leap Graphics

    This is a great post. Not really realizing it, i do judge sites based on their content, in combination with their design. Without strong content, you get lost in the noise… thanks for posting!

  • http://www.saturnsocial.com/ Greg Bardwell

    Well said. Content marketing makes sales easier!

  • George Baily

    Great introduction and props for taking this cliched term and redefining it in this more holistic sense. Also, this thing of discovering companies / software / individuals from “an obscure blog post” is becoming more and more routine, so even companies not really set up for blogging, sharing knowledge etc,… are just going to have to learn! (Or hire someone and just trust that it is pointful!)

    • http://www.ducttapemarketing.com/blog ducttape

      Thanks George – that’s why I’m pushing for this to move out to the sales staff too!

  • http://www.petersimoons.com/ Peter Simoons

    I thought I knew what Content Marketing was…. thanks for the useful refresher!

  • http://callboxinc.com.au/ MaeganA

    This is another informative post John. Basically, content marketing is the art of communicating with your customers and prospects without selling. The essence of this content strategy is the belief that if we, as businesses, deliver consistent, ongoing valuable information to buyers, they ultimately reward us with their business and loyalty. :)