You cannot talk about digital advertising in this day and age without content marketing coming up early and often in the conversation. It is clear by how much the subject hangs in the ether that it is a vital piece of the marketing puzzle, but it is not always apparent just what content marketing means.
What is Content?
To understand content marketing, you have to understand that content is not just the written word.
Content is just about anything that displays on the page. Content is the stuff that packs the internet and what the entire social media world is built on. The main element that makes content - well, content - is that it is not explicitly designed to be marketing.
It's informational; it's entertaining, it's even sometimes shareable. But it is not always what we think of as traditional marketing.
Where marketing aims to sell an item by promoting it directly - with in-depth discussions of just how fantastic the Widget 3.0 really is and how it will change your life entirely - content marketing often aims to educate or entertain a potential customer into brand loyalty.
It is no secret that potential customers who use your website for information will also come back later to buy things related to your business if they trust you know what you are talking about.
What Makes Good Content Marketing?
The best content marketing is genuinely selfless. It does not overtly sell anything or promote a product. It simply delivers helpful information in an easy to understand format for an audience hungry for knowledge. It comes in many shapes and sizes, including:
Blogs are by and large one of the most popular forms of content marketing. Not only do they allow you to truly connect to your customer and demonstrate your knowledge on a given subject, but blogs live on SERPs for a long time (if you play your cards right). Blogs give you several ways to keep your business visible, including collecting inbound links and being excellent fodder for social media platforms.
Both paper and digital newsletters serve as regular reminders that your company still exists and that you are not just a well of knowledge, but the well of knowledge. After all, why would someone go out of their way to do a lot of research on a subject when they know they can trust you to deliver everything they need in a tidy package? Whether you offer a service or a product, well-designed and executed newsletters are a highly effective way to stay top of mind (and inbox).
Videos can grab a lot of attention in a short time, but their usefulness will depend mainly on your audience and the topic. Some people detest video content, either because they tend to surf the internet from work, or because they just hate the noise coming from their phones. Other people love video content and seek it out. In other words, you can think of it as a medium of extremes. If your brand is well-served by video, use it liberally, but make sure to provide captions and a summary so people can fully appreciate the glory that is your video content no matter where they are. Transcripts can help some users, too.
Apps are not talked about as content marketing nearly enough, but they should. Although they can be a mixed bag for search, they have the potential to create significant brand recognition. Imagine that your widget factory has decided to put out an app that contains lots of plans for building amazing projects with Widget-brand widgets. Widget fans everywhere would rejoice; they would look to your app for new and exciting ways to use their favorite product, and you would see an increase in sales as people challenged themselves to be better and more inventive with the product.
Almost anything can be content - as long as you are not forcing a sale on someone immediately. Content marketing is the subtle sale that gradually warms a visitor. It is a ninja marketing technique that politely asks them if they would like to know more about your product/service.
Pro Tip: Add to the Conversation
When you are considering content marketing, understand that you are not doing yourself any favors by merely regurgitating thinly-veiled content that someone else created. It is not enough to just create content; you need to create something useful and new.
There are a thousand plumbers out there writing about fixing leaky faucets, so your content has to be special to stand up against those kinds of odds.
The real trick to content marketing, the big secret, the Golden Ticket to your market's pocketbook, is to do something different. It does not have to be huge; it can merely be writing in a way that is more entertaining and thorough, going out of your way to thoroughly research your topic before writing on it so that what you have to say has real power for your reader or viewer.
The trick, in short, is to be exciting and fresh. It is all about adding to the conversation. No one is going to knock themselves out to share content with a friend that they have seen from ten different brands already.
… But Have a Strategy
Despite the open nature of content marketing, you cannot just go about it haphazardly. There is a particular order to things, or there should be. You need to have a plan.
Just like with any sort of marketing campaign, you have to deliver content in a way that makes sense and is consistent with the other content you have created in the past and will create in the future. Your content has to make sense and be a part of something more substantial.
If, for example, you are selling widgets using Rube Goldberg-esque style building challenges, you will need to make sure that each project is unique and that they do not overlap each other significantly. This goes doubly for blog or other web content since too much similar content does very little for you in the SERPs (and it bores the faces off of your potential audience).