Friday, April 21, 2017

What is Content Marketing?

In a recent survey of senior UK marketers, 92% admitted to not knowing how to run a content marketing campaign. Only 6% felt "definitely clear" about content marketing practices. The grandly titled "The State of Content Marketing Survey," which Moz cited earlier this month, nevertheless noted that 70% of the same respondents plan to increase content marketing spending in 2017.

These varying numbers obviously reveal a colossal disconnect between content marketing knowledge and spending. The rest of the survey substantiates this view, which is mind-boggling considering the recent popularity of content marketing.

"Incredible, isn't it?" asks Simon Penson on Moz, who called the numbers "eye-popping."

Content Marketing has been a hot trend since 2015, at least judging by the press (here, here, and here, too). This recent popularity, however, smacks of The Emperor's New Clothes: So many believe in the importance of content marketing yet so few understand what content marketing means.

This misunderstanding is likely due, in part, to jargon; too often so-called experts confuse new marketing tools, whether content marketing or long-tail keyword research, with esoteric explanations. Moz is a prime culprit of jargon, though Penson's article is articulate and straightforward.

So what is content marketing? In reality, content marketing is as old as marketing itself. What is marketing if not the marketing of some form of content? In traditional marketing, the product itself--its packaging, its suggested use, its name--is the content. What makes content marketing new, if anything, is an emphasis on content that is independent from the product.

Andy Warhol understood that product is content. [Source]
Content marketing is most readily seen today in brands who write blogs. Penson points to Scotts Menswear as "one of the best blog strategies." Recently, we've enjoyed the blog of the direct-to-consumer clothing brand, Grana, which writes thoughtful posts about fabrics, style, and even the gender pay gap, an important issue for Grana's core customers, who value fair wages.

Another post attempts to explain why most brands t-shirts are a "Lying Sack of Price Tags": "Sometimes, you can find t-shirts for less than a slice of pizza and in other times you can find t-shirts that cost more than your monthly car loan."
For us, Grana's content marketing was convincing: We purchased a few t-shirts for a modest sum, $15, and we love them!

From fabric to pricing, Grana attempts to tell the story of its t-shirts with strategic content marketing.
Looking to brands like Scotts and Grana offers a perfect view of how to perform content marketing. Grana, especially, follows the advice of Penson to offer constant content: "No content plan is complete unless it's based around delivering content consistently."

Really, it's that simple. This is why the stats from "The State of Content Marketing Survey" seem so eye-popping. What's not to understand?

Content Marketing: A Brief History

Despite its recent popularity, Content Marketing has a lineage (according to Wikipedia), dating back at least to 1996:

"The phrase 'content marketing' was used as early as 1996, when John F. Oppedahl led a roundtable for journalists at the American Society for Newspaper Editors. In 1998, Jerrell Jimerson held the title of 'director of online and content marketing' at Netscape. In 1999, author Jeff Cannon wrote, 'In content marketing, content is created to provide consumers with the information they seek.'"

Today, if you Google the definition, you'll likely see the term defined by the lofty-sounding Content Marketing Institute: "Content marketing is the marketing and business process for creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action."

Content Marketing & SEO

With all the talk of content marketing, not to mention the social media admonitions so familiar to small business owners--"You're not on Facebook? You have to get on Facebook!"--you can't blame a small business owner for thinking content marketing is the key to success. In fact, many brands do create constant content.

The problem, however, is that too many brands focus exclusively on "content" to the detriment of "marketing."

As Jayson DeMers wrote at Forbes:

"If you’re a savvy marketer, you’re already actively engaging in content marketing. Unfortunately, many business owners are so focused on the creation of their content that they’re forgetting the marketing component of the equation. After all, what good is amazing content if nobody knows about it?"

We applaud the recent emphasis on content, yet like Mr. DeMers, we worry too much content is created and shared in a vacuum. What good is your website's content, for example, if the site itself has not been optimized for search engines?

When ranking a site, Google evaluates many elements--from content to design. In fact, some speculate that Google uses over 200 signals to rank a website. Yet despite the increasing relevance of content marketing, many small business owners view search engine optimization as an incidental process--one that, by nature, comes gift-wrapped with each piece of content.

"Oh," we've heard countless times, "my website designer is taking care of that." In fact, that "that" is not necessarily "taken care of" by your website designer. A website designer should be literate in SEO, but this is not always the case.

It's not, in fact, as simple as James Earl Jones would have it in his famous line from Field of Dreams.

If you build it, he will come.
Put another way, the content marketing proselytizers might say: "If you create it, he will come."

Not so fast. Not all website developers build search engine-friendly sites, and if a site cannot be easily discovered by search engines, it is invisible, a high-priced business card.

Before content marketing, then, think organic SEO. Make sure your site is optimized for the major search engines. And then optimize each new piece of content to match.

Content Marketing with Stepman's PC 

If you're looking for an SEO company that understands how to effectively build and promote websites, we suggest contacting our sponsor, Stepman's PC: 215-900-9398 Stepmans PC combines traditional marketing methods and organic SEO--with an emphasis on natural website optimization--to design thoughtful, inspiring, and effective content marketing campaigns.