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What is Content Marketing and Why is it Hot?

Mike Sweeney | February 10, 2010

For those of you reading this in a location outside of the Mid-Atlantic, here’s a news flash: the Washington DC/Baltimore area is buried under 30 – 40 inches of snow and blizzard conditions right now. This leaves a lot of time for shoveling, family time, movies, sleep, and….doing business?

Joe Mechlinski, President of EntreQuest and a good friend to the Right Source Marketing team, wrote an interesting post today that describes why this type of time period is an excellent time to push your business forward, even when face-to-face meetings aren’t possible. I loved Joe’s post as I think that most people “throw away” weeks like this, but Joe forgot to include the one item that he was already engaged in – producing and distributing valuable content.

Much like the EntreQuest team, Right Source Marketing has had a busy week even with the nasty weather conditions. Much of our time in between shoveling has been spent developing proposals for existing and new clients who want to pursue aggressive content marketing programs. Of course, before we get to the point of putting together a proposal, the client needs to first understand what content marketing is, and why it’s become a very hot category.

So what is content marketing?

Let’s quickly address what content marketing is NOT in order to get to our definition.

Content marketing is not new. Some of the most sophisticated marketing organizations in the world have been using content marketing for years.

Content marketing is not advertising. Advertising still has its place, but most advertising is still designed to interrupt the consumer or businessperson and ask them to pay attention to a particular product, service, or offer.

Content marketing is not about just creating compelling pieces of content. The phrase “If you build it, they will come” does not apply here.

Content marketing is a marketing technique that stands on three pillars:

  • Creating unique, valuable and relevant content for a particular target audience
  • Distributing that content to that target audience in an organized and systematic manner, in order to…
  • Encourage members of the target audience to read, think about and act on the content

In essence, a content marketing strategy requires your organization to become a custom publisher. You can publish blog posts like this one. You can publish ebooks. You can publish videos. You can publish white papers. The possibilities really are endless, which is why most organizations require a content marketing strategy for creation and distribution.

Why is content marketing so hot right now?

Joe Pulizzi of Junta42, one of the foremost experts on content marketing and a fellow judge of the B2B Twitter of the Year Awards, recently published the 2010 Content Marketing Spending Survey. Based on a survey of 259 marketing professionals, Junta42 found that content marketing spending will comprise 33% of the average marketing budget, up from 29% in 2008.

While I can likely come up with 20-25 reasons why content marketing is growing in popularity and sophistication, you don’t need to know 20-25. These five reasons should be enough to push organizations to pay more attention to content marketing:

1) “Traditional” advertising – the type that interrupts the audience – is not as efficient as it once was.

Consumers and businesspeople get hit with thousands of marketing messages every day. Most come from some form of advertising. That means we’re tuning most forms of advertising out. It also means that businesses can count on most forms of advertising to deliver less efficiency. Content marketing is one alternative.

2) Well-organized, flexible content is reusable for many different formats, vehicles and tactics.

I will publish this blog post on the Marketing Trenches blog. It will also get linked to and republished on at least a couple of other blogs. I can drop it in a PDF and turn it into an article. I will include it in our email newsletter. I will use it when we compile an ebook. It will be distributed on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. I can make a video clip or podcast that includes segments of this post.

You get the point.  Content is reusable over a long period of time and in lots of different places.

Content marketing can also be used by a variety of different departments and for a variety of business goals.  Marketing can use the content to establish the company’s management team as thought leaders.  The sales team can use content as a form of “air cover” to help nurture leads and accelerate sales cycles.  The human resources department might use content as a way of training new employees on the company’s core business philosophy.  The list goes on and on…

3) Content can address a specific problem or situation for the prospective customer, or even particular facets of the problem or situation.

I can make an argument that I should have listed this as the #1 reason to embrace a content marketing strategy. Most pieces of software don’t solve broad-reaching problems for an organization. Most professional services firms aren’t initially hired to audit and reorganize the entire organization.

People – consumers and businesspeople – are looking for specific solutions or advice on specific problems. Content marketing allows you – the marketer – to give consumers and businesspeople that specific solution or advice and build a real relationship.

4) Great content lives forever.

The print ad you designed and produced 7 years ago will likely never take center stage again. It may not even be saved in an archive.

Produce a great video or write an informative article and it lives forever. Just ask anyone who maintains an active blog, and they will tell you that they see site traffic, consumer engagement and lead generation from blog posts that were originally created as far back as 2-3 years ago.

5) Without a content marketing strategy, you’re not making the most of your social media and SEO efforts.

There’s no disputing this one. Produce and distribute relevant and valuable content, and you will be rewarded with rankings on very important long-tail search terms, and eventually even on broader search terms.

Produce and distribute relevant and valuable content within social media properties, and you will be rewarded with relationships that go beyond the typical measures of follower, friend, and connection counts.

Where are the misunderstandings regarding content marketing? What other facets of content marketing do businesspeople need to be educated on? What are the other benefits that others have experienced from an organized content marketing strategy? I’d love to hear your comments and will respond to all.

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