You’re sitting in a meeting, a couple of coffees deep, and you’re half-listening to your colleague’s buzzword-laden monologue about… something. But then, he refers to content marketing and your eyes widen. You’ve heard the term before, but each time you do, you find yourself blushing because you don’t actually know what it means.

You’re not alone. The term ‘content marketing’ is vague enough for people to assume a definition, which means it’s often misinterpreted and regularly misunderstood. The Content Marketing Institute, one of the interweb’s most trusted content marketing resources, defines content marketing as follows:

“Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”

Ultimately, content marketing isn’t about your brand, your products or your services, it’s about your audience. What do they care about? Aside from your product or service, what information do they want or need?

A blog post about an award you’ve just won is not content marketing. A video that demonstrates the features of your product is not content marketing. A chart that shows the growth of your company over time is not content marketing.

A hiker’s guide to New Zealand from an outdoor sports company is content marketing.  A commentary on the state of the economy from an asset manager is content marketing. A recipe for date scones from a baking brand is content marketing. The common thread here is that the content is genuinely valuable for the brands’ audience.

It’s also often wrongly assumed that content marketing is a new phenomenon – a product of the saturated digital advertising landscape. However, content marketing techniques have been applied since as early as the 19th century. Back then, novels were used to promote printing businesses and recipe books were used to promote grocery products. What’s changed is the medium – now when we refer to content marketing, we’re generally talking about digital content.

What does content marketing look like?

As the Content Marketing Institute points out, content marketing is a technique – it doesn’t have one form. People often confuse marketing for a blog post, but that is just one of many forms content marketing might take.

When deciphering what your content marketing efforts might look like, ask yourself how your audience is consuming media. Consider videos, podcasts, news articles, interactive tools, imagery, or even a content platform which combines all these media forms and more.

For example, Aberdeen Standard Investments is a global asset management company, well respected around the world. It launched its Thinking Aloud content platform more than 10 years ago, sharing insights and commentary on economics. Today, it employs teams of writers, videographers and content creators all around the world who are dedicated to creating valuable, relevant and consistent Thinking Aloud content.

Why is it worth the bother?

1/ Draw in new potential customers

Content marketing doesn’t rely on audiences actively seeking your brand. Nor does it rely on users clicking on a product ad. When executed well, content marketing creates new, exciting avenues to your product or service, most significantly through Google search. Think about the questions and queries your audience might search for, and answer them. Yes, just like this very blog post, you caught us!For example, a user might search ‘things to do in New Zealand’. This user is likely planning a trip to New Zealand, and is likely going to need a rental car. By creating content that responds to this user’s query, before they’ve asked it, a rental car company would appear in this user’s search before they’ve even considered renting a car (there’s a bit more involved in getting a number 1 search ranking, but that’s a whole nother story). The rental car company behind the ‘things to do in New Zealand’ content will remain front-of-mind when they do come to need a car.

2/ Build a loyal following

Aside from Yeezy and Apple, few brands have an audience eagerly awaiting news of their product or service. However, clever content marketers have audiences eagerly awaiting their content. By serving up genuinely valuable and consistent articles, videos and more, you will build a loyal online community. And in turn, these audience members are more likely to convert to customers.

3/ Upsell existing customers

You may well have a pool of commited, loyal customers. If so, kudos to you. Now you can use content to increase revenue. Many brands have seen success in up-selling and cross-selling to existing customers, using content, and some are even generating revenue from content itself.

The Content Marketing Institute uses Sainsbury magazine as an example. In the UK, Sainsbury’s in-house magazine is well regarded, with 3 million paid subscribers – that’s right, the content marketing pays for itself. Perhaps even more impressively, according to a 2015 survey conducted by the company, “eight out of 10 readers have bought a product from Sainsbury’s after reading about it in the magazine”.

How does social media tie into content marketing?

Glad you asked. Creating exceptional content is all good and well, but you can’t just assume people will stumble across it. The most common distribution platforms for content marketing include email, paid search and most importantly for us, social media.

An organic social media programme that distributes your content will allow you to reach existing customers. You’ll never say ‘what can I post today?’ again. And amplifying that organic social media strategy with a paid ‘always on’ programme will allow this content to reach new, potential customers. Paid media will also allow you to do some market research: which content is resonating with my various target audience groups? As a tool for distributing your content marketing efforts far and wide, social media is a no-brainer.

Conclusion

Now we’ve established that content marketing is different from traditional product-marketing efforts. We’ve established that it can take several forms, such as video, interactive tools, podcasts, educational print collateral and online articles.

By becoming a thought-leader in your industry, you will gain credibility and authority. It will, in turn, lead to new customers, a loyal online community and help you generate more revenue from existing customers. If you’re not sold on the concept yet, let us know in the comments below – we’d love to hear your thoughts.

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