What Is Content Marketing? A Guide to Content That Attracts, Engages, and Converts
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What Is Content Marketing? A Guide to Content That Attracts, Engages, and Converts

In 2014 I was in my element when I landed a brand new role as a content manager at a B2B marketing agency. I still remember bragging about my dream job to my family, friends, and peers, declaring with pride: “I’m a content manager!”

Responses included:

  • “You’re a what?”
  • “Gesundheit!”
  • “Wait, what are you managing?”
  • “What the hell is content?”
  • Crickets, followed by a swift and masterful change in the subject.

Content marketing was just taking off, so it was mysterious to the masses. And now? Content is being mass-produced. Websites, blogs, podcasts, emails, ebooks, social media posts, videos… the list goes on (in more detail way down below).

With content being everywhere, and content marketing becoming a go-to strategy for every operating business on the planet… there is a misconception that we all know what content marketing is and how to execute with a brilliant finish.

Pause and reflect before sharing that next piece of content that’s burning a hole in your pocket. Because creating content for the sake of creating content is one thing. Creating content that is educational and impactful is another story, and it’s the story your brand should be telling.

What is content marketing?

What is content marketing?

Content marketing is a conversation that leads to credibility. Through the exchange of information, your brand builds trust with another brand by enriching the conversation. You provide something of value in exchange for their attention. When you consistently create and share educational and meaningful content, over time you will attract, engage, and convert your intended audience.

Additional content marketing definitions to consider:

“Content marketing is the provision of educational or entertaining information by a business or organization for the purposes of shifting the mindset and/or behavior of one or more defined target audiences.” – Jay Baer, CPAE, Founder of Convince & Convert

“Content marketing is a way for businesses to educate and inspire their audiences to take action in solving a problem or moving toward a goal. How-to articles, instructional videos, helpful infographics, and authoritative ebooks all strive to improve a potential consumer’s experience with the brand and its offerings.” – Angela Tague, Content Marketing Writer and Founder of Web Writing Advice

“Content marketing is an informative detailed description of the attributes of your product or service.” – Susan Camean, Sales Director at NewAm Health

“Content marketing is about showcasing you or your company as an authentic subject matter expert who can help clients solve problems. Content marketing inspires people to takes steps forward that make a positive impact on short-term and long-term goals.” – Donna Lehmann, Senior Director of Marketing and Communications at First Insight

“Content marketing is active listening. The content you create reminds your ideal customer that their problem is valid and heard. Use their language to steer insight into a potential solution… your solution.” – Jenny Logullo, Founder of Workplace Worth Academy

“Content marketing is slow but durable. Advertising is fast but temporary. Publish a helpful article and it will be live on the web for as long as you’d like. But buy an ad and it only exists for as long as you keep paying for it. Advertising is temporary, content marketing is forever.” – Andy Crestodina, Co-Founder / Chief Marketing Officer at Orbit Media

What is content marketing? Learn #contentmarketing definitions from industry thought leaders, along with content tactics, do’s and don’ts, and motivational brand examples. Click To Tweet

Content marketing is not a long-form ad for your product or service.

What content marketing is not

Content marketing is not a long-form ad for your product or service. Advertising and sales happen much later in the buyer’s decision-making process. Content marketing is a way to encourage someone to consider your offering, build the relationship, and eventually help them arrive at a purchasing decision. Try to fast-track the purchase with self-serving content and you risk being ignored or sending prospects into the arms of your competitors.

Additional non-content marketing definitions to consider:

“Content marketing is not writing about your brand constantly — ‘look at us, look at what we can do, we’re the best.’ It is creating helpful, valuable content that solves your target audience’s problems and otherwise adds value to their lives. Aim to follow the 80/20 rule. Talk about yourself and your solution 20% of the time. And the other 80%, provide users with high-quality content that serves their needs.” – Megan Krause, Director of Content at Investis Digital

“Content marketing is not something that is so obviously a marketing tactic that it turns off your audience to the point of annoyance. If that’s the case, forget about ROI. You’ll be happy if you can get people to ‘return’… period. Reward your audience’s interest and attention with something of value — be it entertaining, engaging, or educational. If you can do all three, even better.” – Gregg Rosenzweig, Writer/Creative Director at GR ink

“Content marketing is not a glorified list of company news or ego-enriching opinion pieces, ranging from ‘Welcome Person X to the Team’ to product updates to attempts at being brilliant or clever rather than helpful.” – Hans van Gent, Founder and Chief Strategist at User Growth

“Content marketing is not a short-term strategy nor a quick sales fix. SEO-optimized content takes 6+ weeks to rank — and even the most optimized content doesn’t immediately lead to conversions. Content marketing done right, however, will build trust and authority, paving the path for brand advocacy, referral marketing, and higher customer retention rates.” – Bex Shapiro, Senior Editorial Manager at Intrepid Travel

“Content marketing is not sales. Too many companies treat their content marketing program as another outlet to sell their product, with blogs titled ‘5 Reasons You Need to Start Using <insert product name here>.’ Nobody is going to spend their time reading a sales pitch. But people do spend their time searching for solutions — and that is where content marketing steps in.” – Madeleine Work, Senior Content Strategist at RFPIO

To help you align your content with the buyer journey stages, this list of content types is organized into four stages.

Common types of content marketing

Now that you have a firm grasp on the “what” of content marketing, it’s time to dig into the “how” with common types of content you’ll see in the marketing wild.

Every piece of content is the start of a conversation that builds your brand’s credibility. What you bring to the conversation matters, so you need to put your best foot forward with relevant and useful content. How will you use a mixture of content to reach your future customer, lend support, and leave a lasting impression?

As you work through the massive content marketing types list that’s coming up shortly, think about which types of content align best with your customer’s needs wherever they are in their buying journey.

To help you align your content with the buyer journey stages, this list of content types is organized into four stages:

  1. Educate/Top-of-Funnel (ToFu)
  2. Consider/Middle-of-Funnel (MoFu)
  3. Decide/Bottom-of-Funnel (BoFu)
  4. Delight/Beyond the Funnel

Best content types for educate/top-of-funnel (ToFu)

During these early conversations with your potential buyer or customer, your content helps them understand the problem that’s been festering for some time. Your job is to tastefully present the options and possibilities through content. By providing educational content, your prospects will see you as the resource to turn to when they’re ready to consider a solution.

  • Blog post
  • Social media post
  • Event
  • Checklist
  • Press release
  • Infographic
  • Interactive quiz
  • Explainer video
  • 101 webinar
  • 101 podcast
  • 101 ebook
  • Email (newsletter or nurture campaign with educational content)

Best content types for consider/middle-of-funnel (MoFu)

Here in the middle of the sales funnel, your buyer knows all about their problem and they are seeking solutions. Curiosity sends this buyer on an endless hunt to find the best product or service to fulfill their needs. This in-depth content presents your brand as the problem-solver and why you’re the partner to strongly consider.

  • Case study
  • Customer video
  • Testimonial
  • Product review
  • Expert guide
  • Solution comparison
  • In-depth webinar
  • In-depth podcast
  • In-depth video
  • Email (nurture campaign with testimonial or product/service content)

Best content types for decide/bottom-of-funnel (BoFu)

At this critical point in the buyer’s journey, it’s purchasing decision time — the buyer has decided on the best solution for their problem, but they want to make sure this decision is the right one. Decision stage content should reduce friction and support the purchase process. Your goal is to do what it takes to avoid buyer’s remorse, and instead, validate their decision.

  • Demo
  • Trial
  • ROI calculator
  • Implementation guide
  • Pricing sheet
  • Product info
  • FAQs
  • Email (email nurture campaign with decision content + demo)

Best content types for delight/beyond the funnel

Beyond the funnel is that delightful time when your buyer is your customer. But, guess what? Your content must keep reinforcing their decision long after the contract is signed because your competitors are just a quick contact form submission away. When you show that you care about ongoing customer success, your content has the power to turn customers into champions.

  • Onboarding trainings
  • Feature-focused webinar
  • Customer success webinar
  • Support community
  • Customer satisfaction survey
  • Customer thought leadership blog
  • Social listening

The list is overwhelming, and by no means do you need to tackle all (or even half) of these content ideas. It’s important to focus on the types of content that work best for your audience, your resources, and your budget.

For example, video content can be incredibly engaging and effective — if you have the means to hire these resources as they will likely not be on your internal team, and if you come up with a strategy that gets you the most mileage out of this investment versus spending your annual budget on a one-off video that may or may not work out.

A more practical approach might be cranking out amazing blog content instead because you have skilled writers on your team and/or you can afford to have your content managed fully externally. Some content types are more resource-intensive, time-consuming, and cost-heavy than others. Be hopeful and enthusiastic about producing content, but also be a realist.

Content marketing do’s and don’ts.

All high-level content marketing do’s and don’ts can be gleaned from the content marketing definitions mentioned already:

  • What content marketing is = Do this
  • What content marketing is not = Don’t do this

Next let’s explore the inner workings of content marketing, with more of what to do and what not to do.

5 content marketing do’s

1. Do align your content with the buyer stages.

You probably got the memo by now, but understanding how your content falls into the buyer’s journey is seriously important. If you push late-stage content when a buyer is still in the early stage, it will either be ignored or be a turn-off.

There are various preferred names for the buying stages — earlier during the content marketing types section we used: Educate, Consider, Decide, Delight. All buyer-stage name variations are interchangeable because the goal is identical. Prioritize your buyer’s needs from the first interaction with your brand until the moment they decide to become your customer… then keep empowering their success.

2. Do create content for each of your personas.

Personas are marketing code for “knowing your audience.” A buyer persona development exercise will help your content marketing team produce relevant content that resonates with each unique buyer.

Developing buyer personas is best done comprehensively, pooling together the wisdom, research, stories, and data you have at your fingertips.

  • Develop buyer personas with your team — include subject matter experts across departments and roles, especially those on the customer frontlines.
  • Bring substance to your persona research with data, whether you turn to Google Analytics or your CRM, surveys or customer reviews.
  • Keep personas simple, focusing on the buyer’s goals, challenges, and how your brand helps. Use this buyer personas template as a framework.
  • Know that personas are never one-and-done. As your brand evolves, so will your personas. Plan to revisit your buyer personas annually.

3. Do optimize everything.

There’s a reason you want that featured snippet (aka Position 0) that you see shining bright at the top of the SERP (Search Engine Results Pages). The higher your content ranks, the more traffic you get. Google rewards brands that create useful content. What is useful content? Content that answers questions people are searching for.

SEO used to be a nice-to-have and now it’s a non-negotiable for content marketers. This is a crowded content world we live in — to stand out, your content needs to rank well. From topic keyword research to on-page optimization, over time, following SEO best practices improves content relevance, increases performance, attracts and converts qualified leads.

Content marketing do's and don'ts: Do know what type of content writer you need.

4. Do know what type of content writer you need.

To fulfill your content vision, it takes content writers who specialize. Asking a social media rock star to write a long-form piece (like this ginormous pillar you’re reading) is not going to work out well for anyone.

You have various content needs and you need to work with the appropriate writer. Below are the most popular types of content writers — and you can find more details about each of these content creators here.

  1. Blog writer
  2. Brand journalist
  3. Copywriter
  4. Ghostwriter
  5. Technical writer
  6. Social media writer
  7. Email writer
  8. Scriptwriter
  9. Long-form content writer
  10. Ad and Promo writer

5. Do leverage all the data.

Eighty-six percent of B2B organizations use analytics tools, 85 percent use email marketing software, and 80 percent use social media analytics to support their content marketing efforts. There is so much we can learn from this data, so leverage it!

Create data-driven topics by learning from top blogs and keyword rankings. One-up your competitors by creating better versions of topics they’re ranking for. Improve your website UX (user experience) by paying attention to time on page, bounce rate, and conversions. Always analyze content marketing campaign performance so you can make the next campaign stronger.

5 content marketing don’ts

1. Don’t create self-serving content.

Do you want to read a 1,000-word advertisement? Neither does anyone else. If you follow the do’s we just covered, you’re going to be golden. You know who your buyers are and how to speak to them, so create something they want to see and hear. Depending on your brand, that content might lean more entertaining or educational. Ads have a time and a place… content marketing is not that place.

2. Don’t produce anything without a content strategy.

There are so many approaches to building a content strategy. The point is… have one! Without a plan, you will flounder — and eventually — fail. A big misconception is that an editorial calendar is a content strategy. It’s not the strategy, it’s the execution of that strategy.

Even if you are a small team or a startup on the verge of greatness, you need to align your team and your efforts around this big-picture strategy. Your buyer personas and buyer stages both play a part, as do your organizational objectives and value prop. This mega content strategy guide by SEMrush will get you moving in the right direction.

Content marketing do's and don'ts: Don’t brainstorm topics alone or in silos.

3. Don’t brainstorm topics alone or in silos.

Two heads are better than one, so don’t approach content topics alone or in silos. Enlist subject matter experts within your organization and customers and thought leaders outside your organization.

From social listening to following blogs, from review data mining to repurposing case study sections, there are many ways you can keep your finger on the pulse and glean insights from other voices and stories. Also, people are busy but they can usually find the time to offer ideas and inspiration, especially if they are being featured as a contributor or even interviewed as an expert or thought leader.

4. Don’t forget to break up content visuals.

Too much text jumbled together is brutal. And, people have an insanely short attention span. Even if you do all the right things with optimizing and promoting your content, you still need to keep people engaged on the page. Visual content — whether images, infographics, or videos — are a great way to bring in some eye candy.

Visuals and text should work together harmoniously to put your messaging in the spotlight, not distract from it. In this blogging stats report from Orbit Media, it turns out that only 3 percent add 10+ images per article, even though they are 2.5x more likely to report “strong results” than the average blogger.

5. Don’t sabotage your content efforts.

They call it a “content machine” for a reason. You have to keep fuel in the engine or it will stop working. Content marketing will quickly overwhelm even the brightest, most capable marketing teams. Because you’re already facing endless challenges with your commitment to content, what you don’t want to do is sabotage your content efforts.

Some questions to ask yourself:

  • Am I publishing sporadically because I’m taking on more than I can handle?
  • Am I pushing forward and forgetting to celebrate the wins?
  • Am I doing one-and-done content pieces instead of repurposing?
  • Am I sharing content once and that’s it?
  • Am I choosing isolation over collaboration?
  • Am I chasing my tail instead of working ahead?
  • Am I in a feverish state of failure, instead of feeling accomplished?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you need some serious content marketing support. That way you can have some breathing room and do your best work.

Consider teamlancing as a content marketing solution. Teamlancers are a team of specialists who work as a true extension of your team, helping you work smarter and more effectively so you are able to focus on what’s next instead of what you didn’t or couldn’t do.

Brand examples of great content marketing:

Brand examples of great content marketing

For great content marketing examples, let’s take a look at several of the pros who graciously provided their content marketing definitions earlier… about 2,800 words ago, if anyone’s counting.

Educate: Video from Orbit Media

Andy Crestodina of Orbit Media is staying true to the slow and durable practice of content marketing. He gives informational gems away all the time, like this blog and video combo where he demystifies bounce rates.

Educate: Podcast from Convince & Convert

Jay Baer of Convince & Convert is shifting mindsets and behaviors with his educational/entertaining podcast, SocialPros, where he interviews brand experts on the effectiveness and hidden secrets of their social media programs.

Educate: Podcast from Convince & Convert

Consider: Social media post from Intrepid Travel

Bex Shapiro of Intrepid Travel knows that even the most brilliant social media content won’t immediately result in a conversion. But, over time, sharing engaging content through channels like Instagram will pave the way for brand advocacy and growth.

Consider: Social media post from Intrepid Travel

Consider: Blog post from Web Writing Advice

Angela Tague of Web Writing Advice users her blog to educate and inspire her audience, occasionally dropping in a consideration piece like this one.

Consider: Blog post from Web Writing Advice

Decision: Infosheet from Investis Digital

Megan Krause of Investis Digital is following through on the 80/20 rule with the resources and tools library. This info sheet is one of the only solution-focused guides, while the rest of the content educates their customers.

Decision: Infosheet from Investis Digital

Delight: Customer webinar from RFPIO

Madeleine Work of RFPIO is a big believer in using content marketing to show solutions, not sales pitches. This includes helping existing customers get the most out of RFPIO while improving team collaboration through customer webinars.

Delight: Customer webinar from RFPIO

There are so many layers when it comes to the definition of content marketing. But I always come back to one word. Conversation.

Content marketing is a conversation. The same way you converse with other humans is the same way you should converse with your customers. Why do you connect with some people and not others? Why do you talk to one person for hours and never make it past an awkward introduction with another?

Content marketing is the initial conversation, where you introduce yourself then bond through common interests — how you help solve their challenges or support their aspirations. Give them a reason to give you their attention. Give them great content.

More essential articles for content marketers:

Find a Team to Manage Your Content and Grow Your Vision

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