It seems counterintuitive to launch an advertising campaign that does not specifically promote a brand or product; but, that is exactly what content marketing is all about. Content marketing involves the creation and sharing of online material (e.g., videos, blogs, and tweets) intended to stimulate interest in products or services without specifically promoting them. Many analysts believe content marketing is the next big thing in advertising because millennials and Gen Zers want to be informed rather than being pitched to. Toby Nwazor (@TobyNwazor), a consumer-goods entrepreneur, writes, “From a buzzword to a mainstay, content marketing has risen to stake its claim as one of the best advertising and marketing strategies, rivaling almost all traditional advertising ones.” Tobi Elkin (@TobiElkin) reports, “Content advertising is projected to grow into a $50 billion market by 2021 — up from $12.8 billion in 2016, according to projections from Polar, a content marketing platform for publishers. That’s a growth rate of 32% year-over-year, and more than 2x the growth rate of digital advertising as a whole.”
Breaking Through the Clutter with Content Marketing
The dawn of the information age brought with it information overload. We are bombarded with advertising no matter where we go or what we are doing. Marketers understand it is difficult for their messages to stand out in this forest of advertising. How thick is the forest? Jon Simpson (@CanonballCEO), CEO of Canonball, explains, “Our digital landscape consists of seemingly unending shared content.” This content includes:
- 1.3 million pieces of content shared on Facebook every minute;
- 500 million tweets sent per day on Twitter;
- 300 hours of new video content uploaded every minute on YouTube;
- 85 million videos and photos uploaded every day on Instagram; and
- Nearly 70 million blogs posts published just through WordPress each month.
As a result, Simpson observes, marketers are now “challenged to prove our content strategy works.” According to Raconteur, “Emotion is the key to improving consumer engagement and inspiring action. Now, thanks to cognitive content, in other words ‘smart’ or machine-intelligent content, scaling the production of the right words, phrases and images to elicit emotional connection is easier than ever.” Simpson agrees. “While ‘content intelligence’ has been around for a long time,” he writes, “the application of it is what’s changing. Our digital world is supplemented with big data and new technologies. Now, we’re finding that content intelligence is defined by the tools that give us access to new marketing insights.” If content marketing is the best way for brands to stand out in today’s marketing environment, why aren’t more of them using it? According to Nwazor, “Business owners aren’t ignoring content marketing; they just don’t know what it is.” He claims, “At its heart, great content marketing is simply good storytelling.”
Tips for Successful Content Marketing
Alicianne Rand (@aliciannerand), former Vice-president of Marketing at NewsCred and now with Estée Lauder Companies, offers four suggestions for creating a good content marketing strategy.
1. Consistency and cadence trump volume. In her former job, Rand “found that publishing consistently is the No. 1 factor determining content marketing success. … It turns out that the volume of content you publish doesn’t necessarily translate to content marketing success. Rather, it’s all about consistency and delivering a regular cadence of content.”
2. Remove the guesswork: Create content you know will perform. “You need to become obsessed with your customer’s data and transform your editorial planning process based on that data.” That data includes:
- SEO analysis: What content receives the highest search traffic?
- Pageviews vs. engagement time: What articles are driving the most pageviews with the highest engagement rate (more than 30 seconds)?
- Content formats: What formats work best? Infographics, video, long form articles…?
- Audience analysis: What content do our VIP prospects and customers find the most valuable? What are they reading and sharing?
“Through a data-driven editorial process,” Rand explains, “you’ll learn how much content your prospects are engaging with before becoming customers. More important, you’ll discover exactly what content they’re engaging with at different stages of the purchase journey — from whitepapers and webinars to newsletters and nurturing emails.”
3. Don’t reinvent the wheel: Optimize your highest-performing posts. “Rather than always writing new posts around the topics that are performing best, just beef up the old ones. Make them longer, add more data, add more links, and add a stronger point of view. And, since they’ve proven to do well in the past, double-down on your distribution strategy, adding a boost of paid media and continuing to share these posts across social and email.”
4. Your best-performing channels may surprise you. Rand indicates she was surprised that newsletters turned out to be her former employer’s highest-performing distribution channel. She recommends using the following tactics:
- Offer easily digestible content: For example, infographics.
- Harness the BuzzFeed effect: Use words such as “top,” “best,” “most.”
- Know your audience: Use words with direct interest to your customers.
- Stats and numbers matter: Rand notes that most of Newscred’s top articles had numbers in the headline. This highlights the notion that people want to be informed.
- Stay with the familiar: She also noted that brand names used in headlines attracted attention.
“In the end,” she concludes, “one of the most important things to remember is to make the best use of the resources you have: Your data, your content, your team, your customers, etc.”
Types of Content Marketing
Amanda Patterson (@amandaonwriting), founder of Writers Write, offers a dozen types of content marketing available to brands.
1. Blog posts – are many things. Your customers should prioritize the topics.
2. Editorials – are articles where the editor or publisher expresses his or her opinion. Letters to the editor can also provide content.
3. Webinars – are live online presentations where viewers submit questions and comments.
4. How-to guides – tell your audience how to do something.
5. Surveys – are questionnaires that your target audience completes over the Internet.
6. Infographics – are used to share information in an easy-to-read format.
7. Ebooks – as giveaways, are unique because they don’t seem like marketing at all.
8. Interviews – can be written or provided as videos.
9. Videos – are an engaging storytelling platform to connect with your followers.
10. Podcasts – are digital audio files for downloading to a computer or portable media player.
11. White Papers – are persuasive documents that describe problems and ways to solve them.
12. Quizzes – can be created on platforms like playbuzz and quzzr.
Patterson concludes, “Great content encourages people to want to find out more about you. It should encourage your followers to click through to your website.” She should have added, “Or read your posts, listen to your webinars, take your survey, etc.”
Timothy Carter concludes, “Content marketing can be as complex or as simple as you want it to be. You may base your strategy on the basic idea of producing valuable material for your users, or dig deep into data that dictates a complex process of creating content for the entirety of the customer journey.” Valuable material is material that informs your readers. It is material about subjects about which consumers want to know more. Advanced data analysis can help you determine what valuable material is. Simpson adds, “Simply put, content intelligence is more than big data. It’s about intelligent data. Marketers will turn towards technological advances, AI and automation to stand out. As this becomes more prevalent, the options are endless.”
 Toby Nwazor, “5 Reasons Businesses Shouldn’t Keep Ignoring Content Marketing,” Entrepreneur, 12 December 2016.
 Tobi Elkin, “Content Advertising Projected To Be $50 Billion Market By 2021,” Real-Time Daily, 13 February 2017.
 Jon Simpson, “The Power Of Content Intelligence In Marketing,” Forbes, 10 January 2017.
 Staff, “A marketer’s best bet: cognitive content that inspires action,” Raconteur, 26 July 2016.
 Alicianne Rand, “Top 4 Things You Should Know on Your Journey to Content Marketing Success,” MarketingProfs, 16 November 2016.
 Amanda Patterson, “Five things to know about content marketing,” The Media Online, 8 November 2016.
 Timothy Carter, “Six Content Marketing Principles You Shouldn’t Be Ignoring (but Probably Are),” MarketingProfs, 18 October 2016.