The phrase “content marketing” gets thrown around a lot, typically without much in the way of context or explanation as to what, exactly, it means. It sounds relatively straightforward — after all, content is, in some form or another, the driving force behind the majority of marketing efforts. But understanding what constitutes content marketing, what sets it apart, and how it overlaps with other types of marketing is vital to using it effectively.
At its core, content marketing is about disseminating information with the intention of informing an audience in a way that serves a brand. Content marketing strategies may have goals that relate to sales, but content marketing efforts are typically designed to raise brand awareness, inform an audience, and build a relationship between an audience and a brand.
Let’s break the term down into two discrete (if obvious) parts, starting with “content.”
We’re inundated with content constantly. It comes in the form of social media posts, videos, television advertisements, billboards, podcasts, articles, and a hundred other formats designed to put information and messaging in front of us. Content is everywhere, sometimes written, sometimes spoken, sometimes visual, but always with a message.
Though it may vary in terms of effectiveness, content is, by and large, created to inform and engage. When we pair “content” with “marketing”, we start to demystify what is, at first glance, a pretty ambiguous term. With content marketing, we’re simply talking about content, in any of its many forms, that’s created to inform and engage an audience in a way that benefits a brand, whether it’s by driving sales, building brand awareness, or forging a relationship with an audience.
This isn’t to say that content marketing efforts are info dumps on a product or service, nor are they thinly veiled advertisements. Content is at its best when it’s engaging and valuable on its own, and the most successful instances of content marketing are those that audiences seek out and share independently.
Just like content itself, content marketing efforts exist across platforms, and the forms and shapes they take are constantly evolving. Content marketing can be found everywhere from videos and infographics to podcasts and articles. What’s more, content marketing isn’t entirely external to other forms of marketing.
There’s no clear delineation between content marketing and social media marketing, influencer marketing, or what might be considered traditional marketing. It’s something like an ever-changing Venn diagram. There are ways in which content marketing overlaps with other types of marketing, and it’s in those areas of overlap that one often finds opportunity.
Take, for example, the relationship between influencer marketing and content marketing. Influencer marketing is focused on partnering with influencers on a number of different platforms with the intention of engaging a highly targeted and responsive audience. Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and Facebook posts, YouTube videos, livestreams, and live events all fall under the purview of influencer marketing.
The vast majority of what an influencer does is content creation. They’re creating videos, taking photos, writing posts, and building their own content empires.
As such, a big part of influencer marketing is content. More specifically, it’s the intersection of an influencer’s created content and the message that a brand is trying to convey to an audience through that influencer. Ultimately, the content created by an influencer is what drives an audience to engage with a certain message or idea.
Influencer marketing isn’t the same as content marketing, but content marketing is often a major part of influencer marketing. The dynamic relationship between influencers, content, and brands creates a unique opportunity for brands to engage with audiences through the influencers that know them best.
The key difference between content and content marketing is ultimately the way in which the content created serves the brand, and that can happen in dozens of different ways.
For example, Birchbox’s guides and videos on things like grooming, hygiene and skin care don’t directly advertise particular products or even the Birchbox subscription service. Instead, they inform and create a branded space where an audience can engage with valuable information. Birchbox’s video below is the first organic result for users on YouTube seeking to find video content on “how to apply moisturizer.”
In another example, YouTubers Steph and Matilda (Primrose Makeup) partnered with thredUP for a video on college life hacks. thredUP makes an appearance in the video, but the video itself isn’t focused solely on selling thredUP. Steph and Matilda explain how thredUP works and include a coupon code, but the video isn’t centered around the brand’s message. Information on thredUP becomes a part of the content rather than the focus.
Content marketing isn’t something that exists on its own. Instead, it’s a part of the marketing ecosystem. It’s evolving as marketers find new mediums and platforms to engage with audiences, and ultimately, it has a place in many other types of marketing, too. Content marketing isn’t just a matter of creating articles or infographics designed to sell a product or idea—it’s about using interesting and engaging content to further a brand’s relationship with its audience.