What is Content Marketing?

Despite the prevalence of content marketing, not a lot of people outside marketing circles actually have a good grasp of what it is.

I started to touch on the concept of what content marketing was in my longer guide to content marketing strategy, but in this article I wanted to address a few more elements of what content marketing is, and what it isn't.

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What is Content Marketing? The Short Version

I'm a lawyer, so I like to break things down into tiny pieces to figure out what they really mean. In this case though, we've only got two words to deal with.

Using the lawyer's approach then, content marketing is…

  • marketing;
  • with content.

Hmm – not that complicated.

But, once again we need to then turn our nifty (but unhelpful) definition into something more meaningful.

To do that we need to ask two more questions to figure out what content marketing really is:

  1. what is marketing?
  2. what is content?

That wasn't a surprise, wasn't it?

What is Marketing (for the purposes of content marketing)?

As you can imagine, there aren't many definitions of marketing out there…

So having attempted to gather some sensible ideas and wisdom from the 140million results that Google delivered me, here are my thoughts on what marketing really is – at least, within the context of content marketing.

First – marketing is an activity. It is something that you DO, not simply something that happens around you. Contrast this to personal brand, which is something that you have to build, but ultimately results in stuff happening.

Second – marketing is either strategic or tactical. At a strategic level, marketing involves actually deciding what to do and why to do it. At a tactical level you need to decide how to implement what you've decided to do (colours, images, phrases, mediums and methods).

Third – marketing must be ultimately directed towards profit. From a strategic level, all marketing activities have to be pointed towards this in some way, even at a very big picture level.

Fourth – marketing involves customers or potential customers. It's the process of taking the thing you've decided to profit with and getting customers connected with it in some way.

So let's put those things together in some kind of nifty phrase:

marketing is a strategic and tactical activity that is targeted towards getting customers to take profitable action

That sounds fine to be getting on with.

So… What is Content? (again – for content marketing purposes)

I could get really lazy about now and just tell you what you already know: content is the stuff you make.

But we can do better than that. Let's define content in a way that's actually going to help you implement a content marketing strategy, rather than just killing it dead.

First – content is the asset that you are using to deliver your marketing. It is a tangible, thing.

Second – content must be for someone. Content (at least – good content) cannot simply exist in a contextual vacuum. The best content for a content marketing strategy involves a deep understanding of who you are writing for, what they want to know about, and how you can help them. If you want to produce things that don't do this then that's cool – but it's not content marketing.

Third – content should cause a response from the audience. It might be a new behaviour, an idea, a laugh, a cry or a feeling of inspiration. It might be a feeling of confidence about being better informed about the topic of their interest. Whatever it is, if your content doesn't result in a response of some kind then it's not part of a content marketing strategy.

Fourth – content must be valuable. There's enough dross on the internet already, so if you're going to engage in content marketing then you're going to need to produce valuable content. Exactly what valuable means is going to depend on your answer to the second content definition – who it's for. That means if your audience is full of people who prefer to read, and you insist on makings videos without transcripts, then you're not producing valuable content. If you write in a wall of text that nobody can read without going blind – it's not valuable. If you record a podcast in Spanish and release it to an English speaking audience – it's not valuable. You get the idea.

OK so let's put our content definition together:

content is an asset that you create which is targeted at a well-known audience to provide value to them in order to drive them towards a specified response

Back to the Start – What Is Content Marketing?

We've probably fleshed this out enough now since I've taken two words and turned them into 750.

As you can see, both marketing and content have different meanings within the context of content marketing. Those nuances might not otherwise be useful or accurate in other contexts.

But for today, let's put it together like this (which I acknowledge bears a striking resemblance to the definition used in this article from CMI):

Content Marketing is the strategic and tactical activity by which you create assets targeted at well-known audiences in order to provide them value and drive them towards taking profitable action

What do you think? Yes, no, maybe?

What would you do differently if you needed to explain to someone what content marketing is?

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