What the hell is content marketing?

content marketing

In the sometimes befuddling and jargon-filled world of marketing it seems a new buzz phrase pops up weekly. In the last year the term “content marketing” has been all over the place and seems to be gathering steam.

I have to admit, I’m pretty jaded about these things and have been known to reply to tweets about content marketing with questions like “how is this different from marketing communications?” and “isn’t all marketing content?”

The term “content marketing” implies that it is somehow new and separate from other marketing – although I’m pretty sure that no one really thought about what specifically might make it different when they started using the term.

In reality, other than adding the dynamic of the internet that gives almost instant and virtually free global distribution, there really isn’t that much new in marketing. Sure some of the things we use to do it have changed. But to answer one of my questions above – content has been the basis of marketing since the first flyers were printed up, handed out and stuck on posts telling people about everything from the latest elixir, the best place to get a plough and the most wanted.

So why do we need (another) new term?

I’m pretty sure we don’t. But I recently had a conversation about the topic with friend and collaborator @getnance (aka Nancy Hellmrich). In addition to encouraging me to not be such a marketing fuddy duddy, she made the point that this was potentially driven by the kinds of content creators coming into the marketplace and seeking to differentiate themselves.

Content creation is now a much broader landscape than ever before. With the rise of a more journalistic style of storytelling, the greater role of video and information graphics to name just a few, all crossing over from other domains and taking a slice of the marketing pie. So perhaps there is a new marketing discipline emerging.

A few days after our conversation, Nance sent over a great analogy that might just help make a bit of sense of the whole thing:

There’s a party in Suite 1505. The music that draws you in is content marketing. The good looking/stylish guests are image advertising.The hosts’ conversations with each other are communications. Their conversations with you are direct response/relationship marketing. The spin in the news the next day to brush over any ugliness from the night before is public relationsSocial is the Instagram of the model throwing up that goes viral anyway.

I think that’s a pretty good description of the interconnectedness of marketing terms and disciplines. And for all those companies out there trying to make heads or tails of this stuff, here’s my advice.

In the end, marketing broadly and communications more specifically are how you connect what you care about with others who care about it too. Call it whatever you like. Just do it consciously, deliberately, consistently and in alignment with your values and purpose and you’ll be on the right track.

See you next week.

Michel is an independent brand analyst dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make – with a strong, resilient organisation as the result. She also publishes a blog at michelhogan.com. You can follow Michel on Twitter @michelhogan.


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