Content marketing is still a new field … the term itself is younger than the internet.
So it’s no surprise that the term itself is subject to some debate.
I will never forget the rise and crash of “the social media revolutionaries” … marketers who claimed that social media would obliterate paid advertising. According to these “experts,” “The Buzz” and “The Conversation” would replace them.
Companies would talk to the people directly on social media, people would become enthusiastic about brands, and a new era would dawn.
Pepsi abandoned its old-fashioned way of doing things and lost millions.
It turns out that people get on social media to talk to each other – not brands.
The moral of the story – “new” forms of marketing are not new and they will not revolutionize the way humans market, sell, or behave.
So let’s find out what some big industry names have to say about content marketing:
A Few Definitions of Content Marketing
Below are a few definitions of content marketing.
The Content Marketing Institute currently holds the top-ranking search results around content marketing-related search terms. Here’s their definition:
Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.
Content marketing is the process of creating high-quality, valuable content to attract, inform, and engage an audience, while also promoting the brand itself.
Neil Patel clarifies the Content Marketing Institute’s definition:
It means that content marketing is a long-term strategy that focuses on building a strong relationship with your target audience by giving them high-quality content that is very relevant to them on a consistent basis.
I find these definitions a bit windy and they imply that content marketing is almost exclusively about relationship-building and brand awareness.
But is that true?
What Really Matters to a Business: Revenue and Costs
In Digital Marketer’s Content Marketing Mastery certification course, Russ Henneberry doesn’t beat around the bush.
He correctly points out that business owners mainly care about revenue and costs … not “soft” metrics like engagement or tweets.
Here is Henneberry’s definition of content marketing:
Content marketing is the intersection of advertising and publishing.
This definition is simple, but accomplishes much more than other definitions I’ve seen – it includes the purpose, benefits and also adds accountability, responsibility, and “marketing” to content marketing.
Henneberry’s approach is to map out content types to a 3-stage marketing funnel, with extremely clear objectives tied to each stage of the funnel, such as:
- Building awareness
- Growing web traffic
- Customer acquisition
- Lead nurturing
- Growing retargeting lists
In Lead Nurturing for Dummies, Marketo’s Dayna Rothman also uses a 3-stage marketing funnel and goes into detail about content types, goals, metrics, and ROI.
Regardless of the definition of content marketing, there’s one question that’s on every business owner’s mind:
What Will Content Marketing Do for My Business?
I’m pretty sure that it was Dan Kennedy who said, “If it can’t be measured, it’s not marketing.”
So it’s important to set up a marketing program that can be tied directly back to your core revenue goals.
As Ryan Deiss astutely points out in one of his lectures, many marketers never get out of the “friend zone” with their customers.
One reason for that tendency, in my opinion, is the fear of failure.
The closer you get to direct-response marketing, the more accountable you become … you must prove your bottom-line results through cold, hard metrics.
If you hear a content marketer subtly arguing for “soft metrics” or for content marketing that can’t be measured via bottom-line results … well … just think where that will lead.
In my opinion, content marketing should:
- Have specific, measurable marketing goals, such as building awareness, acquiring customers, upselling, and increasing customer retention
- Be measured by KPIs that are connected to these goals
- Generate tangible, measurable ROI
When you evaluate potential content marketers, commercial writers, and copywriters, you should make sure they are developing a content strategy that is directly tied to your marketing funnel.
Why Are there Different Definitions for Content Marketing?
I believe it comes down to the fact that different marketers subscribe to different marketing philosophies.
- Direct-response marketers, for instance, subscribe to the idea that responses and results are paramount. Since businesses are driven by bottom-line results, ROI, and revenue, I believe this approach is paramount.
- Advertisers that focus on branding put relationships first. It’s true that customer relationships are absolutely critical and fundamental to any business. However, I’ve also noticed a strong tendency for “branders” to downplay ROI, sales, and hard metrics.
- Then there are other approaches to marketing – such as the “social media revolutionaries” mentioned above. Social media, which was supposed to revolutionize the way brands interacted with customers, ended up becoming another vehicle for paid advertising, as Bob Hoffman pointed out.
There have always been different schools of thought in the marketing world, and there always will be.
Which Definition Is Right for Your Business?
By now you probably know where I stand.
Hard metrics, ROI, and results are what matter.
Marketing that doesn’t support those goals isn’t really marketing.
If you spend money on soft metrics, you won’t know whether you’re aiding business growth … or simply throwing money away.