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How to Explain Content Marketing to Anyone [Fresh Examples]

explain-content-marketingEditor’s note: Explaining content marketing is a never-ending challenge. That’s why we’re bringing back this post from last year with some updated examples.

The concept of content marketing has been around for hundreds of years (see an example from 1672), and the discipline has gained incredible popularity since 2010, according to Google Trends.

But, when CMI launched its e-book that answers common content marketing questions, it learned many readers are just getting started. For those in that category – or those who encounter misperceptions or misunderstanding about what content marketing is – I offer a quick rundown for easy reference.

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Content marketing as your family would understand

When people ask what you do, does your response receive a quizzical look? “So, what is it exactly that you do,” they ask after you explain your job.

My husband was in this camp until he told me about a  that covers trends affecting financial markets. He looks forward to receiving it each day. He explained that the newsletters didn’t have anything to do with the funds the broker was selling, but the information was solid and valuable – and it was useful research for the investments he makes.

“That’s content marketing,” I explained. It was an aha moment for my husband’s understanding of content marketing – content marketing is educational but is not about the products the company sells. The vendor offers such good information that you become loyal to the brand.

I can share another example that is close to my daughter’s heart. American Girl uses content to transform something that is a commodity – a doll.

American Girl has so much content – and so many content experiences – for its audience that it’s truly staggering. For instance, it offers:

    While all the ways American Girl connects to its audience are too numerous to cover in this one post, I’m particularly amazed by its print publications. For instance, The Care and Keeping of You is a book all about growing up for girls. It ranks second in its category (and 71st most popular among all books on Amazon). It’s from a brand selling dolls – but the subject has nothing to do with the dolls.

    In short, American Girl’s content marketing focuses on how a child can interact with the doll or things that are important to this demographic.

    For parents, think about BabyCenter. When I was pregnant and then raising my older daughter, I considered BabyCenter to be required reading. It’s a perfect example of content marketing. According to its website, it is the No. 1 pregnancy and parenting digital destination, and eight in 10 new and expectant moms online use BabyCenter each month. The site is owned by Johnson & Johnson, which sells products for babies.

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    Content marketing explained to marketers

    Hopefully, those examples make it clear that content marketing isn’t about the brand, your products, or your services. It’s about your audience. What do they care about?

    And, more importantly, how can you be the one to provide something no one else is, which in turn elevates your brand from a commodity to something people embrace?

    Pull-A-Part, a U.S. chain of DIY auto-recycling yards, has created a one-of-a-kind video series, including this one on how to convert an undrivable vehicle into a pickup worthy of a tailgate.

    Content marketing is different than traditional product-marketing efforts like sales collateral and other product-specific info. Content marketing includes things like educational articles, e-books, videos, entertainment, and webinars that answer specific questions people have and provide them with something they can’t get elsewhere. It’s the best way to turn your product, no matter how common, into something that is not like everyone else’s.

    By becoming a credible, authoritative resource on topics that matter to potential customers, your business is more likely to get discovered by the right audience and earn their loyalty and trust – which, in turn, enables your brand to strengthen its customer relationships, grow an active and engaged subscriber base, and even increase its profits.

    How marketers find success with content marketing

    While you may be nodding your head at this point and thinking, “Yeah, this is something I want to do,” you certainly shouldn’t adopt content marketing because it’s the “in” thing to do.

    Content marketing takes a lot of work, persistence, and patience – it’s not for everyone. But, it can be an ideal approach if you truly want to provide a better experience for your customers while making a positive impact on the business in terms of its perception and its bottom line.

    Here are the main reasons why marketers choose to put in the effort for content marketing.

    To be found by the right people (potential customers)

    People are asking questions and looking for information via search engines like Google, and you want your business to be at the top of the search results. Answering people’s questions via blog posts, e-books, videos, and other content assets is a key way to make this happen. Of course, showing up is only the first step, but it’s essential if you want to reap the benefits of content marketing.

    EXAMPLE: Outdoor retailer REI does a great job of answering questions and assisting its audience through content. On its YouTube channel, it offers dozens of videos depending on its audience’s interests and needs, often answering common questions. Whether it’s a backpacker who wants to know how to use a compass or a cyclist who needs to know how to fix a bicycle chain, REI provides the answers.

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    To build an interested and engaged audience

    Your content is only as valuable as its ability to attract audience members and compel them to engage with your business on an ongoing basis — as subscribers, customers, evangelists, or, ideally, all three. Once you have an addressable audience, your content efforts will help increase sales, gather valuable customer insights, and activate your most ardent followers as brand advocates.

    EXAMPLE: Insurance company Liberty Mutual built a content platform – Master This – dedicated to helping people solve home and life challenges – to build skills and worry less, as the brand describes it. While Liberty Mutual’s ultimate purpose is to drive insurance sales, the content focuses not on insurance products but on information the audience will find educational and helpful. It also has expanded access to the educational content by partnering with HowStuffWorks and Amazon’s Alexa to provide educational content through the voice-activated device.

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    To acquire new customers

    Of course, generating revenue is a key goal for many marketers, and content marketing can be a powerful driver. When you build an audience that trusts you and wants to hear from you, they are more likely to purchase your products. For instance, CMI subscribers are more likely to take advantage of CMI paid offerings such as attending Content Marketing World than non-subscribers.

    EXAMPLE: TD Ameritrade produces its print and digital magazine, thinkMoney, for active customers – those who can make trades as often as hundreds of times in a day. In its early days, TDA put the program under review to determine whether it was worth continuing to spend money on the magazine. The leaders persevered and, after approximately two years, received confirmation of its value: Subscribers and readers of the magazine traded five times more than non-subscribers. Simply put, those who subscribed to this magazine became better customers for TD Ameritrade.

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    To build increased revenue with existing customers

    Another reason organizations use content marketing is to create more loyal customers, which has the potential to increase sales through cross-selling or up-selling. In some cases, the brand can monetize content itself.

    EXAMPLE: Sainsbury magazine is the top cooking magazine in the United Kingdom, with 3 million paid subscribers — a content marketing effort that pays for itself. But, what’s even more remarkable is that, according to a 2015 survey conducted by the company, eight of 10 readers have bought a product from Sainsbury’s after reading about it in the magazine.

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    To reallocate or reduce marketing costs

    Organizations also use content marketing because they can see similar — or better — results when compared to a “traditional” marketing program.

    EXAMPLE: Jyske Bank is a large Danish bank that now also functions as a media company. The company started using content marketing to get better results than its high-cost sponsorship marketing. It created Jyskebank.tv, which produces amazing financial programming, as well as compelling stories the bank believes are relevant to its core audience of younger consumers and small enterprises.

    Today, Jyske works with businesses interested in leveraging its media expertise: Instead of laying out cash to support outside opportunities, Jyske receives media partnership proposals from other organizations — an attractive option made possible by the credibility and reach the bank’s content program has helped it to build.

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    Stay on top of content marketing definitions, strategy, and tactics with our weekday posts. for our weekday (or weekly) newsletter and you’ll never miss a tip.

    Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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