What is Content Marketing?

An earlier version of this article was originally published Aug 9, 2018 in NerdyMind.com.

What is Content Marketing, And Does It Work?

Content marketing, in many ways, flies in the face of conventional wisdom. You’re giving away intellectual capital free of charge, and much of your audience will never become customers. You dedicate time and money to helping people solve problems and answer questions and may go months without seeing a return on your investment. 

Yet content marketing is not just profitable—it’s indispensable to establishing trust and remaining relevant, regardless of your industry. 

What is content marketing?

The Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as “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.” 

So what does that mean? Above all, it means creating TRUST. Content marketing is about helping people find answers to real-life issues they face, free of charge, so paying customers eventually come to you.  

Content marketing takes many forms, including: 

  • Podcasts 
  • Blogs 
  • Infographics 
  • Webinars 
  • White papers 
  • Online certification courses 
  • … any targeted online or offline content that’s value-driven rather than promotion-driven. 

Why is this a thing all of a sudden?

Content marketing has actually been used for generations. For instance, John Deere has been publishing The Furrowan agricultural magazine, since 1895. Only recently, however, has content risen to the forefront of marketing strategy. Why?


“For farmers, it’s the agrarian version of Rolling Stone.”
– Contently.com, Oct 2013


The ad industry has been turned on its head by the ease of sharing information online, which we enjoy and sometimes revile. Customers have access to resources that allow them to do their own research and make informed choices among competitors. They’re less tolerant of interruptions, mute or fast-forward through TV ads, and tune out in one way or another when they feel like they’re being pitched to. (This is particularly true of millennials.)  

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Traditional advertising has become less relevant (though not irrelevant) and social media has had a huge impact on how people make buying decisions. If you doubt this, think of the last time you used a customer review site like Yelp or OpenTable to decide where to eat. Think of a company that has a great podcast or blog and how it has shaped your perception of the business. 

Example: Content marketing in action

  • Kaitlin runs a small retail business that she’s extremely proud of. She has a problem and turns to the place everyone turns when they have a problem: Google. The problem could be anything that relates to your business. For this example, say you provide point of sale (POS) support to retailers. (Yes, “POS” is the shorthand people actually use in the retail industry.)
  • Kaitlin’s POS system is being a bit of a p.o.s.. Fortunately for both you and Kaitlin, you’ve written a helpful, entertaining blog post that provides insights into how retailers can select the best POS system for their needs, which include data security, credit card processing, and inventory management. It’s good, objective information, and after reading it she feels prepared to make an informed decision. With that, you’ve earned her trust.
  • There are two calls to action in the blog. The first invites Kaitlin to book a free consult (she defers, for now); the second offers a free downloadable guide or webinar. She happily provides her email in exchange for the free resource. This allows you to keep in touch, providing additional resources and special offers.
  • You continue publishing content and emailing insights to qualified leads like Kaitlin who have provided their information. 20 percent of the time, your content is explicitly self-promotional, but you mainly focus on quality education and entertainment.
  • Your consistency strengthens trust and familiarity. Though you’ve never met, you’ve practically closed the deal by the time Kaitlin schedules a consult with you three weeks after her first contact.

Why does she choose you? You may not be the cheapest or most experienced among your competitors, but your content communicates how invested you are in your work. It’s authoritative enough to make you trustworthy and credible, which de-risks things from the client’s standpoint.

Parting thoughts and word to the wise

Content marketing is about positioning yourself as a trusted resource, staying top of mind, and helping people rather than going for the hard sell. This admittedly takes time. Rarely is it explicitly self-promoting, flashy or loud. The process of attracting clients with content may begin with idle curiosity about something you happen to do well, or it may begin with someone who has a sense of urgency.  

It’s a slow drip, but like a life-saving therapy, content can pay for itself many times over. 

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Posted on: October 8, 2018