Content marketing is the strategic use of written or multimedia assets to drive conversion.

The fundamental premise of content marketing is that engaging, informative, or entertaining content can accelerate awareness and ultimately drive the desired outcomes more effectively than advertising the product or service directly.


Example

For example, a company may be offering a new type of software tool. Using conventional marketing tactics like advertising or “direct response” marketing may net a few new customers, but most prospective users are unlikely to be compelled by these tactics because they have no context for why the tool is necessary or the types of problems it might solve.

Imagine instead, the company starts a podcast on which it discusses a wide variety of topics relevant to the type of developers who might eventually buy their tool. They host guests who are well known by their target audience and who they consider to be credible experts.

Viewed in isolation, the podcast is interesting and informative. However, it can also develop an awareness of a set of challenges and problems and discuss possible solutions. Through this process, listeners of the podcast are significantly more likely to seek out this company’s tool or to respond to advertising.

In this example, the objective of the content (the podcast) was to build a market for a new solution. Later in this post, we explore several other reasons companies may consider using content marketing instead of or in addition to other marketing techniques.


What is “content”?

Content marketing is the strategic use of written or multimedia assets to drive conversion.

From the definition above, any externally-facing content your marketing team generates with a specific objective could be considered “content marketing.” This could range from a single tweet all the way to a well-researched, heavily-produced video series.

Consider these two criteria for determining whether something is or isn’t content marketing:

  1. Would someone find the content useful or interesting even if they don’t use your product or service?
  2. By consuming the content, would someone be more likely to engage further with your company?

If the answer is “yes” to both of these questions, the content in question is likely part of a larger content marketing strategy.


Why do content marketing?

There are several instances where content marketing may be an effective strategy:

  • Your product or service is in a new or developing market or category
  • Your company doesn’t currently have the ability to directly address your target audience through traditional marketing
  • Your product or service requires a higher degree of enablement or education to use successfully

When does content marketing fail?


In contrast to the above scenarios, there are occasions when the time and resources required to develop content outweigh the content’s ability to drive the desired behaviors:

  • Highly commoditized products or products sold primarily through third-party marketplaces are unlikely to see strong returns on investment as the cost to acquire new customers (CAC) are already low.
  • Products sold by brands with large followings or strong name recognition benefit less from concerted content marketing efforts as loyal fans generate much of this content organically.

Additionally, content marketing can fail if no mechanism exists to capitalize on the increased awareness or intent the content drives.

For example:

  • a B2B company with a hugely popular blog may struggle to see return on their content marketing if curious readers cannot get in touch with the sales team (either directly or indirectly via gated content, for example).
  • a B2C brand may create engaging videos but neglects to optimize them for potential viewers searching for similar content on Google and YouTube.


Examples and additional reading

Here are a few notable examples of content marketing.

  • Drift: Seeking Wisdom. Drift is a hugely popular suite of marketing tools best known for their chatbots. Just 2 years after creating Drift, the founders started a podcast called Seeking Wisdom. Topics discussed on the show ranged from leadership to starting a company and more. While the podcast unlikely resulted in immediate sales of Drift, it built a huge following of listeners who were now familiar with the Drift brand.
  • Blendtec: Will it blend? If you have ever gone down a YouTube rabbit hole, you may have come across a spirited man in a lab coat destroying everyday items in a blender. What you discovered was the Will it blend? series from Blendtec. At the time of writing, Blendtec's YouTube channel had over 289 million views. By creating short, entertaining videos, Blendtec is able to demonstrate the power of its blenders to millions of people who would almost certainly never proactively sought out blender-related content intentionally. Many companies have built similar followings through sharing entertaining or enjoyable content on platforms like Instagram and Pinterest.
  • Clearbit: Logo API. Proving that content marketing doesn't need to be confined to written blog posts, tutorials, and videos, Clearbit takes a developer-first approach to their content marketing. By providing free, useful APIs (the most popular of which is their logo API which returns a logo for a given company domain), Clearbit is able to build an audience of technical buyers.

For more on content marketing, check out these other resources: