What Exactly is Content Marketing and How Does It Benefit Your Business?

May 10, 2012

Editor's note: With this post, we begin a series of articles about content marketing by guest author Joseph Putnam. Please share your thoughts in a comment below - we appreciate your feedback.

Content marketing is a relatively new marketing concept where businesses trade content that customers want in exchange for attention.

Traditionally, businesses only used advertising to attract customers’ attention and to market their products and services, but now, with the widely available distribution methods of the internet, businesses can now provide content in exchange for attention.

So what exactly is content marketing, and how can it benefit your business?

A Review of Traditional Advertising
In order to provide a contrast with content marketing, let’s first do a review of traditional advertising.

With traditional methods, advertisements are used to gain attention from customers. In order to get the word out about their products and services, businesses use advertisements to attract attention to their business.

But the problem with traditional advertising is that it interrupts customers. It interrupts them as they’re watching their favorite show, and it interrupts them as they’re walking down the street or driving their car. These interruptions often don’t create the best interactions for brands. Instead of helping customers, businesses interrupt one of their favorite activities.

Not only do ads interrupt customers, but they also rely on brief moments of time to capture attention and deliver a message that will hopefully lead to a sale. Billboards have only a few seconds to convey an important message to customers before they zoom by, and television commercials hope to capture customers’ attention before they decide to leave and heat up dinner during a commercial break.

Regardless, commercials must take advantage of a brief moment in time to convey an important message for businesses. Good advertising is both an art and a science where businesses do their best to maximize the brief amount of attention they receive from customers.

Last but not least, traditional ads are expensive. Billboards, print ads, and commercials cost a lot of money, and even Google advertisements add up as businesses pay per click for people to visit their site.

So what should businesses do? Is there an alternative? Is there another way to get attention from customers besides traditional advertising?

The answer is yes, and it’s called content marketing.

An Introduction to Content Marketing
Content marketing provides an excellent alternative to traditional advertising.

With content marketing, instead of interrupting customers, businesses provide content that their customers want or need, in exchange for their attention.

This content can be in the form of blog posts, e-mail newsletters, Youtube videos, SlideShare presentations, or something else. No matter what the format, the point of content marketing is to provide content that customers want, in exchange for attention, and this is what separates content marketing from traditional advertising.

As mentioned above, traditional ads rely on interrupting customers to capture attention for a brief amount of time. With content marketing, businesses can capture customers’ attention for as long as the customer is willing to use the content. If a blog post is super helpful, they may save it and come back to read it later. Instead of glancing at an ad and then moving on, customers may spend five minutes reading a post, and they may come back later that year to read it again. Each time they interact with the content, it becomes a positive interaction with the business.

Not only is it a positive interaction, but there’s also a high return on investment (ROI) with content marketing. With an ad such as a Google ad, businesses pay each time a visitor comes to their site. Each click becomes an expense on the balance sheet. With content such as a blog post, businesses invest time or money to produce the content, but each additional view is divided from the time or money they paid to produce the post. If a post goes viral and gets shared 2,000 times over the course of a year, businesses only pay the original amount to publish the post, and each visitor after that becomes less and less expensive, compared with costing per click.

In addition, content takes advantage of social sharing to create free advertising. People don’t share Google ads or billboards with their friends, but they do share blog posts and Youtube videos. In short, people share content, not advertisements, so content marketing takes advantage of people’s digital social networks and the social sharing phenomena of the internet.

To review, content marketing is the act of creating content in the form of blog posts, presentations, free reports, Youtube videos, etc., and offering this content to customers for free in exchange for attention. The benefit of this type of content is that it creates:

  1. A positive brand interaction with customers by giving them something they want or need for free.
  2. Content that people want to consume and spend time reading and watching, compared with content that only grabs attention for brief periods of time.
  3. Content that people not only consume but also share with their digital social networks, creating even more attention for businesses.
  4. An asset on the balance sheet in the form of content that attracts customers’ attention over a long period of time.

Even with all of these benefits, it doesn’t mean that companies will never need to do any traditional advertising. As always, every business needs the right marketing mix to generate more attention, but producing content adds one more component to this mix. And not only does it add another component, but it also decreases businesses’ dependence on traditional ads. Instead of only using something like Google ads to create awareness, businesses can spend less on advertisements and invest in producing content as a way to become less dependent on expensive traditional advertisement.

So if you’re business is looking for ways to create more awareness without breaking the bank, content creation is the way to go. Spend some time to learn more about content marketing, and before long, you’ll know how to use blog posts, e-mail newsletters, free reports, Youtube videos, and SlideShare reports that will provide your business with long-term, attention-generating content. This content will take some time or money to produce in the beginning, but in the end, it will become an attention-generating asset on your balance sheet.

Joseph PutnamAbout the author: Joseph Putnam is a freelance copywriter and digital marketing consultant from Orange County. He helps businesses create effective content marketing strategies. He also writes highly shareable and compelling blog content. You can follow him on Twitter and keep up with him on Google+.