Understanding (and Explaining) Content Marketing: A Guide

Outside of safe havens like Content Marketing World and Ann Handley books, content marketing has a problem. Those who aren’t already evangelizing it…just don’t get it. Worse, since they don’t get it, they don’t believe in its impact.

It’s one thing if Neighbor Bob at the Fourth of July BBQ doesn’t understand your day job, but it’s downright dangerous when your boss doesn’t.

I’d posit that content marketers shouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel each time they need to present the basics and the business case to a newbie or a skeptic, and said newbies shouldn’t have to scour the internet or buy a book to find answers to their questions.

Today I’m beginning a series to answer content marketing FAQs. Comment or tweet me @ContentCharisma with questions you’d like to see addressed in the next post in this series, and use these explanations to spread the good word!


What is content marketing?

Content marketing is a strategy for the development and deployment of high-value material to target audiences in order to create goodwill and drive sales. The offering of material that informs, empowers, and entertains is seen as a mutually-beneficial exchange that can have the effect of creating customer pull for a vendor, its products, and even its marketing. The use of content marketing is widespread — it’s been adopted by 93% of B2B marketers and 90% of B2C marketers. It’s risen to such prominence that some believe that the discipline might come to represent modern marketing itself.

What exactly is “content”?

In the context of content marketing, “content” refers to mostly digital assets including email, blog posts, white papers, research reports, infographics, how-to guides, case studies, eBooks, webinars, podcasts, and videos.

How does social media relate to content marketing?

The two aren’t the same thing, but they are interrelated. Social media is one of the drivers for content marketing and is a powerful distribution channel. In turn, good content marketing makes social media better. Social media is also an opportunity for an active, real-time extension of the spirit of great content marketing: charismatic communication that puts the customer first. Symbiotic as they are, content marketing and social media can be thought of as natural allies.

How is content marketing different from traditional marketing, and why is it needed?

First, it’s important to note that of the four Ps in the traditional marketing mix (product, place, price, and promotion), content marketing seeks mainly to affect promotion, so it’s not a wholesale overhaul. For promotion, traditional marketing relied heavily on direct mail, cold calling, and advertising to raise awareness about products and offerings. Today, the internet has changed the landscape and the old methods aren’t working as well anymore. Consumers are doing their own research, and for much of the process they’re avoiding both salespeople and sales content. A CEB study of more than 1,400 B2B customers across industries revealed that today, 57% of a typical purchase decision is made before a customer even talks to a supplier. Since a lot of brands are competing for very limited customer attention, it’s only the charismatic brands — the ones that understand their customers completely and make them want to raise their hand and engage — that are really successful.

How does content marketing differ between B2B and B2C?

As a recent article discussed, business-to-business brands typically use content marketing to show that they’re experts who know what they’re talking about — the idea behind the concept of “thought leadership.” They want prospects to feel confident that they have the know-how to help them through a complex implementation process. Business-to-consumer companies, on the other hand, are more likely to use content marketing to entertain and build a community that gets people interacting with their brand. There are similarities, however: B2B and B2C brands alike strive to deliver content that is relevant and value-add.

Hope you found this first round of FAQs helpful. I’m considering these living definitions and will come back and improve them as I run across new and better arguments and explanations. Stay tuned for more, and good luck out there!

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