What Is Content Marketing? And 9 More Content Marketing Questions Answered

 In Content Marketing

In the course of working with brands across the business landscape, a few questions come up time and time again. What is content marketing? Why is it important? Who should care? What should they do about it.

It reminds me of the classic journalism approach of answering the who?, what?, when?, where?, why? and how? questions to get to the bottom of every good story.

So here is my attempt at answering those basic questions.

Who needs to worry about content marketing?

Strategic digital marketers all need to understand the importance of content marketing. They should be able to define it. They should be able to talk about why it’s important in today’s digital + social + mobile world. They should be able to point to good examples of it. They should be able to discuss how to get it done in their organizations.

This starts with the CMO and his or her role in building a culture of content that connects with the target audience. And it falls all the way down to the person building websites, creating social content and building editorial calendars.

What is content marketing?

I don’t believe in getting caught up in the words here. But to me Content marketing is the process of continuously publishing content that people want (vs. advertising that attempts to interrupt the content people want) to help connect your brand to its audience. The key words are highlighted: continuous, publishing, customer-focused content that leads to quantifiable brand value.

Content marketing is such a buzzword because so few brands do this today. It is a buzzword because it represents the gap between what we produce as brands and what our audience is looking for.

Content marketing is partly the result of our digital, social, mobile world where we now control the content we consume and share. And while it has been around for a long time, content marketing is becoming an effective way for brands to reach their audiences to get customers to know, like and trust you enough to buy from you. Content marketing looks more like publishing than advertising. And requires a new way of thinking.

Why is content marketing important?

Content marketing is important because the world has changed dramatically since we started carrying around all the information on the internet. Add this to our the ability to connect with anyone in the world at any time, with social networks and our mobile phones.

Traditional marketing is broken. 86% of TV ads are skipped. 99.99% of banner ads are ignored. US Newspapers have lost $40 Billion in the last 10 years. Advertising isn’t working for publishers or brands because we have been taught to tune it out.

Brands need a new way to connect with their audience. The approach that is working is the continuous creation of content people want. That’s content marketing.

What are the biggest mistake marketers make with content marketing?

The biggest mistake marketers make is thinking that this is just another tactic where you can promote yourself. We did that with social. As Linkedin and Facebook and Twitter emerged, brands started pushing out the same old ads they used on more traditional channels. But social networks are just the plumbing. It’s content that fuels social connections. Content that people want to consume and share.

So many marketers think in terms of campaigns and promotions. When their audience is looking for stories – entertainment that makes them smarter, makes them laugh or inspires them in some way. Effective brands are taking themselves out of the story. They make it all about the audience. They don’t talk about themselves or their product but they talk about what they do for their customers. They talk about how we can make the world a better place.

As the mother of content marketing Ann Handley likes to say, they make the customer the hero of the stories they tell.

How can a brand get started with content marketing?

Brands typically get started with because they are seeing their marketing efforts suffer and they are seeing their competitors take leadership positions as publishers in their markets.

Brands should begin by trying to understand who they are trying to reach and how their brand can help that target audience. You should then start to identify the questions your customers are asking, the content they consume and the places where they hang out online. Then, begin to craft a strategy to help the client meet those customers’ needs with content – delivered regularly, across many channels and types.

What are some examples of content marketing in practice?

At SAP, we looked at Amex’s Open Forum as a model for what we did with the SAP Business Innovation site. I also love what GE is doing with GE Reports and Target with ABullsEyeView. And Red Bull is everyone’s favorite example in B2C.

At NewsCred, we are powering great examples with The Hartford, Small Biz Ahead and Capgemini’s ContentLoopWhen our team got involved, we helped them to deliver more consistent content, some of it original to the customer, some of it licensed from leading publishers like Forbes and Fast Company. But all delivered in their brand experience. And we are helping them to deliver some amazing results.

When should a brand get started with content marketing?

Every brand needs to get started today. Or they risk losing market share as they lose mind share to their competitors.

You can get going in as little as 30 days. (I’d be happy to help 😉 Within 90 days you could be a leader on certain topics. Within a year, you could begin to see a return on the investment. Or even sooner depending on how well you execute. Within 3-5 years, the content marketing efforts could become the largest source of value the marketing organization brings to the brand.

What are the common roadblocks to content marketing success?

The common roadblocks to success, besides the fear and lack of courage to change are leadership support from the top.

Content marketing needs to be a CMO-led initiative. He or she needs to put someone in charge and give them the budget and the resources to get it done.

The next thing is usually skills. Training and enablement are one of the key responsibilities of the content marketer because content is created all over the organization.

Finally, brands need the technology to manage the flow of content between their people, and all the channels they manage. This is the only way for content marketing to scale across the enterprise.

How do you overcome the roadblocks?

Strategies to help brands get unstuck include a competitive assessment or to do some social listening to determine if your brand is losing market share where it counts – on the digital, social and mobile web.

Additionally, brands should look at their content inventory and see if it is performing.

Finally, marketers need to shift investment away from the tactics that aren;t working. It’s not to say that advertising will ever go away, but we are seeing many brands shift investment away from their paid advertising and into content marketing.

What’s next for content marketing?

Brands need to plan for the future. In just 2 years 90% of the web will be video and images. My kids have already resorted to using only emojis to communicate.

So we need to be ready for entertaining, visual and fun content that can scale.

To set themselves apart, many brands are beginning to build production houses to create entertaining – even funny content. Imagine that for a B2B brand? But there are already examples at places like Cisco with my good friend Tim Washer, and GE and Red Bull and Netflix and Amazon.

Let me know what you think in the comments below. And please follow along on TwitterLinkedInFacebook and Google+ or Subscribe to the B2B Marketing Insider Blog for regular updates.

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Michael Brenner
Michael Brenner is the CEO of Marketing Insider Group, former Head of Strategy at NewsCred, and the former VP of Global Content Marketing at SAP. Michael is also the co-author of The Content Formula, a contributor to leading publications like The Economist, Inc Magazine, The Guardian, and Forbes and a frequent speaker at industry events covering topics such as marketing strategy, social business, content marketing, digital marketing, social media and personal branding.  Follow Michael on Twitter (@BrennerMichael)LinkedInFacebook and Google+ and Subscribe to the Marketing Insider.
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Showing 9 comments
  • Douglas Burdett

    Great reality check, Michael – thanks. And I’m relieved to know that my kids aren’t the only ones who communicate exclusively with emojis, not to mention that specific one pictured.

    • Michael Brenner

      Thanks Doug! That emoji is the subject of regular conversations and many giggles in my house.

  • Lewis LaLanne

    I love where you recommend people starting . . .

    “Brands should begin by trying to understand who they are trying to reach and how their brand can help that target audience.”

    I believe if you sincerely and meaningfully do your homework in these two areas, ideas for content will flow. If you have some other agenda like trying to impress peers or are focused primarily on entertaining yourself, you’re gonna have a hard time.

    Thank you Michael for reminding me how to express what content marketing is at it’s essence and how to most simply and effectively get the ball rolling.

    • Michael Brenner

      Thanks Lewis, I truly do believe that effective content marketing comes from a serious desire to help the customer. And I agree with you that the content flows from there.

  • George Guidotti

    You really make things clear, Mike. You are clearly amazing at what you do. We’ll have to chat sometime soon.

  • Jesper Laursen

    Really inspiring, Michael, thanks.

    About your definition of cm – it seems that a really funny, but classic, tv-commercial would fit into that. People likes to laugh…

  • Theo

    Well said and I had a good laugh at the examples you posted as well. Content has always has been the primary method for selling products and services online. It’s how you attract new potential leads, how you convince them that you are worth listening to.

  • Rodney Robinson

    Great post Michael. It is crazy that in just a few years, the web will be 90% video and images. It seems like many top companies will be unprepared for this shift. Love this article.

  • Nathan Cooper

    Thank you for the great post, Michael, you are right, content marketing is the new working way to connect the audience.