Aside from “SEO is dead”, there’s one digital marketing catchphrase that gets used and abused more than any other:
“Content is king”.
And when we talk about content, “content marketing” invariably gets brought up. This is great – content marketing is a wonderful approach that many brands have found great success with.
But at the same time, content marketing is often misunderstood and wrongly defined, and this has caused a lot of myths and misconceptions about it to propagate through the digital marketing community.
I decided to write this post to help outline the definitions around this growing discipline, and to dispel some of the more common myths I encounter.
Let’s begin by clarifying what exactly we’re talking about.
What is content marketing?
“Content” simply means the material we read, view, listen to, or otherwise experience (usually online).
Content marketing, on the other hand, refers to the sustained and strategic approach of using content to build audiences and elicit positive business outcomes from doing so, over time.
A lot of people get these two things mixed up – even Moz – and that’s fine. It’s confusing stuff, and even as a content marketer myself I sometimes find it hard to nail down where the “content” stops and the “content marketing” starts.
Nevertheless, definitions are important. So in the spirit of sharing, here are the five most common misconceptions I come across in the line of duty.
Hopefully they’ll come in handy next time you’re discussing something content-related in your role.
Myth 1: Content Strategy = Content Marketing
This first myth can be tough to grasp, considering how heavily the fields of Content Strategy and Content Marketing overlap.
In simple terms, your content strategy is your logistics, while your content marketing strategy is the guiding vision.
If you think of it like a healthy-eating program, your overall aim might be “to improve health and lose weight by eating better”, which is not the same thing as your daily meal plan or the ingredients that go into your recipes.
A content marketing strategy is what it says it is: a marketing strategy – an overall approach. It’s about broad, high-level brushstrokes. Conversely, your content strategy is the execution, and the operational side of things.
Myth 2: Advertising Campaigns & One-Off Ads = Content Marketing
As a copywriter at heart, I have a real soft spot for well-executed creative advertising.
There’s nothing like the gut-wrenching emotion of a good Thai insurance ad or the power and tension of a masterful Guinness ad – but while these are excellent creative executions, they aren’t content marketing.
Let’s go back to our definition: content marketing is about building positive business results over time, via the creation and delivery of targeted content to clearly defined audiences.
A viral video might be an awesome piece of content, but if it exists as a standalone piece of creative and isn’t a part of a larger strategic approach, it’s not fair to anyone to call it content marketing.
Here are a couple of ways to distinguish straight-up advertising from content marketing:
- It’s a campaign or one-off piece of content
- It’s product-focused, not audience-focused
- It’s not part of a long-term editorial initiative
- It’s primarily delivered via paid (not owned) media
Myth 3: Content Marketing = The “New SEO”
This one is a real corker.
You can run an e-commerce site and have no content marketing strategy, and yet still be very successful. And you can most certainly benefit greatly from having SEO performed on your site… sans content marketing.
Content marketing does not replace SEO. And nor should it.
Of course, Google reads words in order to index and rank sites, and having well-optimised on-page copy is a must (especially for user experience).
This has everything to do with content, but nothing to do with content marketing – unless you’re also building an audience through a multifaceted editorial approach.
SEO will help your content marketing efforts become visible, and content marketing can most definitely benefit your SEO efforts, but that’s as far as the crossover goes.
Perhaps if we all said “well-optimised on-page content is king”, there’d be a lot less confusion.
Myth 4: Having A Blog = Content Marketing
Another tough one. A great blog is often a central component of a solid content marketing setup, but having a blog on your site doesn’t mean you’re doing content marketing.
I can’t think of many companies that don’t have a blog. There must be hundreds of millions of corporate blogs out there – but in no way are they all doing content marketing, just by virtue of having a blog.
If your blog isn’t geared towards strategically nurturing your audience but instead talks only about your product offering, you’re not doing content marketing (see Myth 2).
Building your blog into a bona-fide media destination that informs or educates before selling, and that delivers value to your readers without expecting a purchase in return – that’s content marketing.
A quick and easy way of working this out is by asking yourself, “Would anyone visit this blog purely to learn or be entertained, regardless of what we’re selling?”
Myth 5: Branded Content / Native Advertising = Content Marketing
Advertorial, branded content, native advertising… whatever you want to call it, if your strategy consists of buying space on someone else’s media property in exchange for impressions, then you’re advertising, not doing content marketing.
The tricky part here is that you could very well be creating content for these publications (or they could be creating it for you), and you could be trying to build an audience by doing so.
However, if you’re not owning the audience, and if you’re mainly spending your budget on buying media, this content is defined by its media expense, not by its profit-building capabilities.
Paid distribution and amplification of the content you create is a valid (and likely necessary) part of any content marketing initiative, however this spend should be seen as advertising your content, rather than advertising your business.
Content Marketing As A Profit Centre
The golden opportunity with content marketing, when done just right, is to be able to reach a net profit with it.
An owned content/media brand has the ability to pull in measurable value, whether that means email subscribers, increased purchase value, lower customer attrition, or whatever your objective might be.
The important thing is to have a clear vision of what value you want to give to your audience, and to work out how to align that value with a positive business goal. If we go back to Myth 1, it’s the content marketing strategy that will define your approach. It’s then up to your content strategy to execute against that goal.
And the better you understand what is and isn’t content marketing, the better placed you’ll be to stay on target.