Sales & Marketing

What is content marketing, and should you use it?

4 min read

23 September 2014

Content marketing is a controversial marketing format. It's seen as soft and indirect, while most marketing tactics actively promote a business or its products, content marketing talks about current affairs and wider opinions, and may even self-critique.

Olga Travlos, founder of marketing firm Travlos, defines it as: “Any branded content across various media channels and platforms, seeking to engage customers and deliver consumer value, while increasing brand awareness.” 

In other words: commercial content, which at once presents and/or discusses an important issue while drawing attention to the organisation which produced it.

For a lot of people, though not all, this makes intuitive marketing sense. Adverts have in the past never been about making someone happy: they were about educating consumers about a product. Today, however, no-one is forced to listen to an ad: they can fast-forward their videos; close the website-window, or simply look the other way. 

Acknowledging this, businesses are looking at ways to grip an audience. A recent infographic on Entrepreneur.com revealed that 80 percent of business decision makers in need of B2B and B2C marketing prefer content marketing to advertising. I’ve seen business leaders get uncomfortable thinking about their content strategy; recognising its importance to the brand and the consumer.

This indicates a change in how people are thinking about marketing – beside the reality that mass marketing is less effective then before. 

We recognise today that value – as opposed to merely knowledge (i.e. of the product) – is important to the consumer. Furthermore, consumers are cynical of ‘knowledge’ when it comes through typical marketing channels. 

But a key criteria of content marketing is that it has value, which makes it immediately more appealing to the curious consumer.

Travlos tells all her firm’s clients that they should adopt a content marketing strategy – even though they don’t offer the service themselves. She says it is “rapidly becoming a critical part of digital marketing for SMEs. It’s about building brand awareness and telling a story.”

As she says, it builds awareness. It also builds trust; a distinctive ‘voice’ for the organisation; and develops a captive audience. Furthermore, it isn’t ephemeral like other types of marketing: a good piece of content could persist for weeks, months – perhaps a year. The video of strangers kissing and the ASL challenge are both examples of content marketing which will probably stand the test of time.

That doesn’t mean it’s right for everybody. The point of content marketing is that it provides value – if a company can’t do that, it can’t produce good content. 

That might be because of a lack of money for PR full-stop; or because they exist in a industry which naturally doesn’t have a lot of appeal that it could build up a worthwhile audience (a lot of businesses, especially marketing firms, get around this by post and reposting low-value but fun content like listicles).

If you’re curious about trying a content strategy out, here are some tips to get you started:

  • Be true to your organisation’s voice. Don’t try to use funny language if you’re a funerals firm, for example;
  • Invest. It shows if you don’t care about your work, and it will only bring the organisation down;
  • What’s your USP? What makes you different from all the other content out there? Why should a consumer read your stuff?
  • Analytics: see what works and what doesn’t;
  • Outsource. A low rent operation has the advantages of being cheap, but you might be better going with a freelancer or agency. There are plenty of websites, like Contently, which offer bespoke content as well. However – don’t write off your employees, or yourself – who knows what skills you could uncover.

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