What Is Content Marketing?

Everything Advertisers Want to Know About Content Marketing (But Are Afraid to Ask)

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Rebecca Lieb
Content marketing differs from advertising in two fundamental ways. First, content resides on owned or earned media. If there's a media buy involved, it's advertising, not content marketing. Second, content marketing is a pull, rather than a push, strategy. Content doesn't interrupt, it attracts. And it is attracting advertisers in droves. I've just interviewed close to 60 senior advertising and marketing executives for a research report on content marketing. Every single one says they're significantly upping their commitment to and investment in it. And they're asking hard questions.

Here are some of the most frequent ones, with answers based on our research:

Blogs have receded in significance as more social channels, such as Pinterest, have risen.
Blogs have receded in significance as more social channels, such as Pinterest, have risen.
Isn't content marketing just a glorified way to say social media?
Social media can account for most or (rarely) all of an organization's content-marketing activities. When you're not paying for media, Facebook, YouTube and blogs are obvious channel choices. But content encompasses other channels as well: white papers, e-books, podcasts, webinars, bylined articles and visual information are all forms of content that can reside on social channels or on your own website.

Isn't content marketing popular because it's free?
Content marketing can indeed significantly reduce the media spend associated with advertising. But the more mature a company's content marketing efforts, the better it's understood that effective content initiatives require significant investment in staff, production and distribution resources, and often in new sources of external support ranging from new agencies to technology partners with skills in fields ranging from mobile app development to video production.

How do you get to earned media when audiences are creating content for you? Earned media increases in importance and in volume once an organization's content-marketing efforts have existed long enough to sustain a constant flow of earned media that helps extend reach. Coca-Cola's Jonathan Mildenhall said some 80% of Coke's content is earned. But this certainly doesn't happen right out of the gate -- it's the result of momentum. Achieving earned content is often an expressed goal of a company's paid advertising (Super Bowl, anyone?). Owned content is frequently created with a view toward sparking conversation and other forms of earned media.

Content won't replace advertising, will it? Of course not. For optimal impact and maximum success, content and advertising should be integrated -- or at least interrelated. In tandem, the two can more fully express a brand story. As marketers become more ambitious about creating content for more technologically sophisticated channels, their need to ramp up skills, hire and budget effectively, and plan for the future becomes more complex. Consumer preferences and trends put increased pressure on this area. Blogs have receded in significance as more social channels and video have come to the fore. Today it's Pinterest. Tomorrow, who knows? As marketers become less reliant on advertising, they must keep a close eye on channel effectiveness and emerging trends in content-marketing channels and technologies.

Whose job is content? Everyone's. In the next few years, content marketing will permeate the organization. Content initiatives will be led by the marketing department. But finding, producing, and disseminating content requires cross-departmental support, primarily in the form of input and creation from senior management, sales and product teams. Stories, trends, questions and other "raw materials" don't reside in marketing. Like beat reporters, those charged with creating content must continually travel throughout their companies and indeed, their industries, to keep a finger on their pulse and to find the stories and ideas that can be turned into content.

Rebecca Lieb is the digital-advertising and media analyst at Altimeter Group, a research-based advisory firm. She's the author of two books on digital marketing, most recently "Content Marketing."
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