November 25, 2017

The ultimate introduction to Content Marketing

Ilja Postel

The way we do marketing has changed through digitalization. Although content marketing has existed for years, the rise of online marketing has made it a powerful and accessible tool for everybody trying to build a brand.

In this long-read, we’ll familiarize you with what content marketing is, why it matters and its recent developments.

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What is content marketing?

With the rise of digital marketing, focus is shifting towards so-called inbound marketing. Content marketing is a part of inbound marketing. In inbound marketing, the aim is to attract customers through creating awareness, rather than the more aggressive promotion that characterizes traditional marketing. Next to content marketing, social media marketing and search engine optimization (SEO) are also inbound marketing methods.

Content Marketing can be defined as an approach that focuses on creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract an audience, that, eventually, turn into customers.

OK – but what does this mean?

Content marketing, then, means creating, publishing and distributing content to potential customers. This can mean blog posts (yes – like the one you’re reading now), podcasts, videos, guides… the list is endless.

Whereas traditional marketing, like an advertisement in a magazine, usually promotes a specific product, content marketing focuses on fulfilling the need for information of potential customers. The philosophy behind content marketing is that as long as you produce quality content, you will build a stronger brand and eventually customers will find you.

Fulfilling a need for information

Have you ever traded your email address for a free tool, like an e-book or a checklist? That’s content marketing.

Content marketing relies on the power of sharing knowledge and insights. The idea is that when you share your wisdom with your target group, that they will return to you when they are ready to buy.

As Contently’s James O’Brien puts it:

“the idea central to content marketing is that a brand must give something valuable to get something valuable in return. Instead of the commercial, be the show. Instead of the banner ad, be the feature story”.

As we’ll explain later on, the notion of value is central to successful content marketing.

Although this all sounds very fresh and new, it has been around for years. For instance, in the 1930s Procter & Gamble produced a radio drama sponsored by their Oxydol soap powder, using the show as native advertising targeted towards their target group: women. As you may guess, this is where the term soap opera originates!

The rise of the internet, however, has made content marketing more accessible for those without immense advertising budgets. In theory, after all, you don’t need a big budget to create a viral blog post – you just need that one great idea and, maybe, some digital skills.

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Why content marketing?

Traditional marketing –like TV ads, billboards, or magazine spreads– has a completely different intention than digital inbound marketing. Its aim is to catch a potential consumer’s attention and promote a product or service as fast as possible. Content marketing is different. Although billboard or TV advertising are extremely expensive, publishing a blog, for instance, is virtually free. This, however, comes with a flipside: although publishing blog posts on your webpage barely costs anything, you are faced with another challenge. How do you get people to visit your website and read your blogs?

The answer is value.

You’ll need to earn your audience. If your blogs share something valuable, people will read them (and –if you’re lucky– share them!).

Why does this matter?

Nowadays, people spend twice as much time online as they used to ten years ago. Online marketing and its methods are becoming increasingly more important. If you’re looking to get into marketing, chances are that content marketing will be a fundamental part of your strategy (or your job description).

Understand your customers

For any type of marketing to be effective, you’ll need to understand your potential customers. Content marketing isn’t different. You need to understand what your potential customers are interested in.

Imagine that you want to learn how to speak Portuguese, and you’re considering subscribing to an online course that promises to teach you all the ins and outs of the Portuguese language and culture. Most likely you’ll want to know that your teachers have expertise and their courses are worth spending money on (rather than, say, installing an app that teaches you the fundamentals for free).

At this point, you’re in the middle of your so-called buyer journey, which has four stages:

  1. Awareness
    Before you feel the need to learn how to speak Portuguese, you’ll may come across a cool video that explains the meaning of some unique words of the Portuguese language (have you ever heard of saudade?). You may bookmark the page, and check out their other articles on Portuguese culture.
  2. Research
    By now, you have realized that you want to learn how to speak Portuguese. You type “Portuguese” into the search bar of your browser. Coincidentally, you come across the page that posted the saudade-video find out they have a huge blog filled with other articles about Portuguese and even some nice Portuguese recipes.
  3. Consideration
    Cooking courses are offered by many different schools both on- and offline. Which one do you pick? You compare courses, their content and their price. Do you want a course focusing solely on self-study, or do you want some guidance by a teacher or tutor?
  4. Buying
    By now you have decided for a course, and complete the transaction by booking a spot or buying the materials.

Traditional marketing focuses mostly on stage 3 and 4, when a consumer already has a clear need and is primarily interested in picking the best product to fill this need. If you have already decided that you want to learn how to speak Portuguese, an advert offering –for example—a semester of Portuguese classes for 250€ may catch your eye. However, if you only have a vague interest in the Portuguese language and culture, this type of marketing will be experienced as either irrelevant or, even worse, nuisance.

On the other hand, content marketing focuses on the first two stages: awareness and research. When a future consumer isn’t looking to buy something, he or she already becomes familiar with a business. The videos and articles you read about Portuguese will be experienced as fun pieces of trivia, but they familiarize you with the business and its expertise.

And let’s face it: would you rather buy from a brand you’re already familiarized with, or something you have never heard of before?

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Content Marketing Trends for 2018

Digital marketing is a dynamic discipline that continuously changes. Like most fields in the tech-world, it changes focus as new developments appear. What will be the focus of content marketing in 2018?

Originality & Transparency

The traditional way of approaching marketing is not as successful as it used to be. Content management is not about directly promoting products, rather the focus is on sharing value. Content management can be used to share insights and practices, and offer an honest view into the practices of the company. A good example is Lay’s, that included a tracking code on their chips that enabled the buyer to find out where the potatoes were grown.

Along these lines, millennials value originality and authenticity. A perfect image of a sustainable and overly friendly company is experienced as dishonest.

Video & Live video

Video is becoming more and more important each year. One of the reasons is that on Facebook –still a fundamental part of nearly all digital marketing strategies– content in video form has both higher reach and more engagement. In other words, it pays off to produce videos as content. Even more so, live videos have higher engagement: users are three times more likely to watch a video when it’s live, and even ten times more likely to comment on a video when it’s live!

This serves as a great example for how dynamic content marketing, and digital marketing in general, is. As Facebook implemented its ‘live’ function, it granted those users and pages using it with more visibility. As a result, live video has become increasingly more popular in marketing strategies.

Moral of the story? Stay on top of developments in the digital world, and be ready to jump on the bandwagon!

Media lines blur

Traditionally, we differentiated between owned, earned and paid content. Owned content –as you may suspect– refers to channels you own. This can be your Facebook page, or your blog, and so on. Earned content is content is content about you published by other pages. Paid content, in turn, is content you produce and then advertise, like for instance Google’s AdWords or promoted content on Facebook. The lines between the three are becoming vaguer. At Academy Cube, for instance, we sometimes promote our blogs on Facebook – which means that our owned content has now become paid content, too.

New technologies

The internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR), or augmented reality (AR)… They offer new ways to distribute content and leave their mark on how marketing is done. For instance, through AI businesses can engage in conversations on the individual level, without having to employ countless people to answer every question individually. Along these lines, content can be delivered interactively and in spoken form to, for instance, Amazon’s voice service Alexa. In turn, VR offers a new way to shop online as businesses can distribute content beyond 2D.

Interested in a career in digital marketing?
Register with Academy Cube and start working on your digital marketing certificate today.

Topics: Digitalization, Digital Career, digital marketing, content marketing
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