An Introduction to Content Marketing

22 Jul 2016
Alan Martin

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An Introduction to content marketing

What is content marketing?

Why is it important for your business?

In this article I’ll explain what content marketing is at both a strategic and practical level, and why it should be a vital ingredient of your social media marketing. It is a mistake to think of these as two different marketing disciplines and it’s vital that you understand the interrelationship between them.

NOTE: This article contains affiliate links for recommended books, which means that I would earn a small commission at no extra cost to you if you made a purchase after clicking on a link. I only ever recommend books that I have personally read and that have made a huge impact on my understanding of the subject matter. Thank you for your support!

What is Content Marketing?

From time-to-time when I’m delivering workshops, I’ll ask the delegates if they have heard of content marketing. Normally only about 20% of the room have heard of this, so even although the phrase has been bandied about for some time now, it is still far from main-stream (which is good news for you if you are an early adopter).

If you search Google for the phrase “what is content marketing?”, you will find a range of definitions, but for me one of the most appropriate definitions comes from the Content Marketing Institute:

“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.”

If you are still scratching your head, this quote from Joe Pulizzi, author of what is, in my humble opinion anyway, the definitive guide to content marketing – ‘Epic Content Marketing‘ gets into a bit more detail.

“The art of communicating with your customers and prospects without selling. It is non interruption marketing. Instead of pitching your products or services, you are delivering information that makes your buyers more intelligent or perhaps entertaining them to build an emotional connection.”

So from these two definitions you can hopefully see that content marketing is a planned approach to increasing sales by providing valuable content up-front, before ever asking for the sale. It’s about establishing ‘know’, ‘like’ and ‘trust’ with your target market. It’s about making your marketing useful, rather than leading with “buy my stuff” type ads to people who don’t even know who you are.

I am not saying that advertising is bad, it certainly has it’s place within the communications mix, but advertising to a warm audience who already know who you are is much more effective, and that is where content marketing can help.

Here are two excellent books that you should read to give you a more practical insight for how content marketing can be used in a variety of business situations.

Youtility by Jay Baer

Launch by Michael Stelzner

Content Marketing Vs Social Media Marketing

Content marketing and social media marketing are not radically different approaches to promoting your business, but for best results it is important that you understand the interrelationship between the two.

Content marketing and social media could in fact be said to be two sides of the same coin! Social media marketing is about building ‘know’, ‘like’ and ‘trust’ with your community by providing value and encouraging a two-way dialogue through engagement. Part of this is the technology (the social media platforms you are using) but the other side of it is the content that you are sharing.

You could think of it like ‘social media’ is the engine that distributes the ‘content’. When you view it this way, you can see that the two have a symbiotic relationship.

Why is Content Marketing Important?

Now that you know what content marketing is, the next thing I want to talk to you about is why it’s becoming increasingly important in today’s business environment. I could write a whole article just on this topic but for me it boils down to two things. The first thing is called “The Zero Moment of Truth” and the second is to do with trust.

The Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT) was a term coined by Google back in 2011 to describe the point in the buying cycle when the consumer begins researching a product or service, often well before the organisation knows anything about it. What Google discovered is that in virtually every business sector, the amount of content that prospects consume before they ever get in touch with you is increasing with time. That content could be found on your website, your blog or on your social media channels. Wherever it is, if you don’t have sufficient content out there, you are just not visible and if you are not visible, how can anyone buy from you?

Your job as a business owner is to make Google your friend.  If you want to be found when people are searching for your products or services online, you need to make sure you have rich content that goes well beyond the usual transactional information that’s sadly all to common.

The second reason content marketing is important comes down to trust! People have become a lot more cynical about the commercial marketing messages that they are exposed to on a daily basis. Eric Qualman in his famous socialnomics video series on YouTube often quotes the stat that 90% of consumers trust peer recommendations, compared to only 14% who trust adverts (sorry, guys)!

I’ve certainly noticed that in my years as a marketer (that makes me sound really old!) with quite a healthy marketing budget, that advertising has become less and less effective. It can still work but you do need to be prepared to invest money over an extended period of time and become more creative in the content that you share in your ads. For some businesses, this is just not a viable proposition any more.

By providing ‘free’ content you are helping people in advance and establishing that ‘know’, ‘like’ and ‘trust that I talked about earlier. You will be recommended by your community, some of whom may never have used your products or services personally, but feel comfortable recommending you to their friends and colleagues based on the content that you have produced and/or the engagement that they have had with your company via social media. This peer recommendation is very powerful and should not be underestimated.

My friend Chris Marr sold 66 tickets to next year’s Content Marketing Academy conference in 10 days, following the huge volume of online buzz after the last event (30% of the tickets sold were to people who have never been before).


This was a whistle-stop tour of the basics of content marketing. Hopefully you should now have an insight into what it is and why it is important for your business. I really think that a lot of marketers are missing the vital relationship that exists between content marketing and social media and wonder why they are not getting the results that they expected from their Facebook page, Twitter account or whatever platform they are spending their time on. Please, please, please don’t make this mistake!

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