Have you ever picked up a company's brochure or flyer? Watched an infomercial or a shopping channel on TV? Ordered a DVD explaining the benefits of a new mattress or a vacation destination? Leafed through a company newsletter? Read the comic in a pack of Bazooka bubble gum? All are ways companies use content to market their products and services to customers and prospective buyers.
Companies have been creating and distributing content for years, both to attract new business and to retain existing customers. Content isn't sales-ey. It isn't advertising. It isn't push marketing (in which interruptive messages are sprayed out at groups of consumers). Content is a pull strategy; it's the marketing of attraction. It's about being there when they need you for relevant, educational, helpful, compelling, engaging, and sometimes entertaining information.
When customers and prospects come to you, rather than the other way around, the advantages are obvious. They're interested, open, and receptive. There's really no debate over the benefits of tune-in versus tune-out (of pull versus push). Content marketing aids in brand recognition, trust, authority, credibility, loyalty, and authenticity.
Content creates value. It answers questions and provides foundational information. It educates and informs. Some marketers use content to augment traditional advertising campaigns. Others leverage content to completely replace more traditional forms of advertising and marketing. Content can spark customer engagement at all stages of the buying cycle. Content can reinforce relationships and inspire up- and cross-selling, renewals, upgrades, and referrals.
Low costs do not equal low barriers to entry
While content marketing is hardly new, the rise of digital channels, particularly social media, has significantly lowered the bar (and the costs) of leveraging content to profitably attract clients and prospects.
Even when many of the physical and logistical hurdles to creating and disseminating great content are gone, content still isn't easy. A plethora of channels adds complexity to the choices you must make about what content to create, what forms it should take, and how to disseminate it -- not to mention how to measure its effectiveness. Few enterprises have any type of formal organizational structure for content -- much less one that's strategically integrated with paid or social media initiatives, despite the fact that these types of media are demonstrably converging into new forms, such as native advertising. Tools, meanwhile, are complex, unintegrated, and nascent.
While content marketing is nothing new, content marketing in digital channels is very much an emerging discipline.
Rebecca Lieb is an analyst in digital advertising/media for Altimeter Group.
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