What is content marketing?

Well, content marketing is a lot of things. The only thing it is not is clear-cut.

If you have a little bit of time, google “content marketing”. What you’ll find are either lots of contradictory definitions or heated discussions about the term itself.

I am a peaceful Bear. That’s why I don’t want to add another definition, and thereby add fuel to fire.

I want you to fully understand the concept of content marketing, and why it can be an awesome way to grow your business.

So, let’s go!

Changed rules

Over the last years, content marketing has been getting tons of attention.

Marketing and strategy guru Seth Godin even says,

[bq]“Content marketing is the only marketing left.”[/bq]


But why has content marketing become such a big thing over the last years?

Chichi hairstyles, raw meat outfits and crazy fans in Japan are only some of the reasons … oh wait, that’s Lady Gaga.

Bear in Lady Gaga costume

The reasons for content marketing being so popular are:

  1. the emancipated customer and
  2. the lack of differentiation.

Not as interesting as raw meat outfits, I know…

However, understanding the reasons for its popularity is crucial to get content marketing right, so let’s dive right in.

The awakening of the emancipated customer

For decades, customers have been pretty stupid.

They were walking purses, completely dependent on sales reps and commercials.

Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t their fault. Customers didn’t have much of a choice. The information they could get to decide what to buy – or even what to want – were rather limited. Businesses had the information monopoly, and decided what customers should know and what not.

Those were great times for smart sales reps and big advertisement agencies. They could sell almost everything – leaking lava lamps, just-rub-your-fat-away slimness lotions or flavored lickable wallpaper… Really? I mean reeeeaaally?

But then the internet came. *Insert fanfare here!* And, it radically changed the relationship between businesses and consumers.


Let’s have a look at some numbers:

  • 81% of shoppers research online before buying (Retailingtoday)
  • 69% seek out advice and opinions on goods and services before purchasing (Mintel)

What does that mean?

It means that businesses have to deal now with a new kind of customer, which I call the “emancipated customer”. This new species of customer doesn’t depend anymore on the information businesses provide to make a purchase decision.

Do you think this applies only to B2C consumers? Not really: 90% of B2B buyers research online before making purchase decisions (Accenture)

And that’s only the beginning. Gartner Research “predicts by 2020, [that] customers will manage 85% of their relationships directly with companies without human interaction.” (Gartner Research)

Another characteristic of emancipated customers – which should send shivers down every business owner’s and marketer’s spine – is that they don’t have any patience or sympathy with common marketing techniques and that they don’t trust brands in general.

And if you’re now thinking “I don’t care! I’ll throw ads at their heads until they’re so annoyed that they’ll buy my stuff just to make me stop” … Well, then I am just saying ad blocking software!

Boo! Modern technology can be such a game spoiler for marketers. He he 😀

So, what does that all mean for businesses?

Well, it means that if you’re confronted with emancipated customers you can pretty much forget about the old way of selling, including uninspiring ugly advertisements, egocentric sales pitches and all the other pushy, salesy tactics. Bye bye old hats!

… But what works then?

Well, if you want to market to emancipated customers who have their phones pretty much glued to their hands, you need to do three things:

  • Pick up your customers where they are (which is mainly online)
  • Build the trust necessary to make people buy from you without being pushy or salesy
  • Make people buy from you

And viola, here’s where the superpowers of content marketing come into play!

The power of content marketing

The concept of content marketing is rather simple: Be nice to people who are likely to be interested in the solution you offer. Establish and retain a relationship with them, in order to make them eventually buy from you.

The way Content Marketing Institute puts it is a little bit more sophisticated:

[bq]Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.[/bq]

Does reading definitions make you want sweet hot chocolate? Or is it just me?

Anyways, let’s have a look at how content marketing works in practice.

Content marketing in practice – a random example with senior dogs

(Elderly dogs also deserve to be addressed in a political correct way!)

1. Getting found

To better understand how content marketing works in practice, let’s assume you’re in the dog food business. Specifically, you’re selling health food for senior dogs, so you’re in the silver dog food market. (Is that a thing? If not, don’t you dare steal my idea!)

Grey welsh corgi

Your target group – the people who are most likely interested in your solution – would be owners of an older dog, right?

Most dog owners will recognize sooner or later that their doggy experiences health issues like knee and hip pain, and that he becomes less agile and maybe also gains some extra weight. That’s concerning, isn’t it? I don’t have a dog (I have an allergic husband), but I think I would be concerned.

So, what these concerned dog owners will most likely do, is search – mainly online – for solutions that help them keep their loyal friend healthy and agile.

This is your chance to get found and show them what a nice and helpful fellow you are!

One idea would be to provide them with lots of tips and tricks around “how to keep your doggy healthy”, like exercise recommendations, nutrition facts and what not. That would be relevant and valuable information for them, don’t you think?

You could also show them some cute puppy videos to make them forget their worries for a moment. Awww puppies! (Did I already mention that I am a cat person? Anyways…)

There are many different forms you can wrap your niceness in. Here are some popular ones:

  • blog posts
  • ebooks
  • social media posts
  • videos
  • webinars
  • magazines (I love the smell of freshly printed niceness!)

These formats are the “content” of content marketing. Simple, isn’t it?!

Be careful not to mix them up with the channels you can use to make your content available, which are:

  • your website
  • your blog
  • social media
  • face-to-face (yes, it doesn’t always need to be online!)

The channels you use depend of course on your target group. The rule of thumb for your choice of channels is: be where your target group is!

2. Building your audience

Now that you’ve been found by the people who are likely to be interested in your off er, you have to work on building a relationship with them. The CMI calls this process “audience building”.

Your audience are people who are listening to what you say. They are regular receivers of your content and the value you’re providing with your content – very much like the audience of a newspaper, a TV show or even a rock star… You see, content marketing can make your childhood dream come true! Rock it, baby!

Back to our example. How could audience building look like for our healthy-food-for-senior-dogs business?

After making first contact with dog owners through your content, you need to consistently provide them with further related, valuable content. This can happen via the channel the first contact happened on, e.g. your blog. Or, you can invite them to other channels and content programs, like an email newsletter around the topic they’re interested in.

The magic words here are “consistently” and “value”.

Consistency in this context means two things:

  1. Delivering content consistently to keep their attention
  2. Delivering consistent content to not confuse or irritate them. So, no cat videos for your dog owners!

“Value” means value for your audience.

Hey, why are you rolling your eyes? This is not as obvious as it sounds!

Many companies make the mistake of confusing content that’s valuable for the company, like promotions, product features or company news, with content that’s valuable for their audience. I believe this is still a bad habit from “the good old times” of corporate self-centrism.

To be successful with content marketing, you should refrain from being (overly) promotional. Instead, you should make everything you do about your audience, their needs and pain points.

A short stopover

Before we finish the content marketing process, let’s take a short break here and see if we can put together the things we’ve learned so far.

Do you remember what you need to do in order to sell your products or services?

The first point was picking up the people you’re targeting where they are. We’ve done that. We’ve provided them with helpful content at the place and time where they were searching for it. So, check!

The second one was establishing trust, right? Check that too!


Because, audience building means exactly that! By providing valuable and relevant content consistently, the receivers of this content will establish trust with your expertise, your story and your purpose.

3. Driving profitable (customer) actions

So, you’ve provided valuable content and built your audience.

Up to this point, content marketing sounds pretty much like a charity. But, trust me, it’s not.

Remember what we’ve said? By constantly providing value to your audience, you’re building strong relationships and trust – the relationships and the trust that’s necessary to encourage your audience to do whatever it is you want them to. For example: purchasing.

Let’s have a look at the dog food example again:

You’ve written lots of great articles about how to keep a senior dog healthy, and through that you’ve answered the questions of many masters worried about their doggy’s health – your audience (the masters, not the doggies). They also love your funny puppy videos. Awwww puppies. They see you as an expert. They are very thankful for all of your helpful tips. They trust you.

So what do you think, what do they do when they need to buy food for their senior dog?

A. Buy random dog food from your competitor
B. Buy your dog food with all the good ingredients that they learned (from you) will keep their dog healthy?

Of course, they are very likely to buy from you!

Maybe you also sell some of the goodies necessary to do the exercises you’ve recommended. Great! They will buy those as well. Because they trust you, the teacher, entertainer and hero of all healthy senior dogs.

And that’s the power of content marketing.

But what if I don’t sell health food for senior dogs?

Well, then I guess you could sell something different…

Oh, that was not the question?

Ah, you want to know if content marketing works for different products and services as well! The answer is YES!

It doesn’t matter if you sell logistics solutions, heavy machinery or jogging shoes. The needs of your audience – finding answers and solutions to their problems, connecting and building trust – are essentially the same.

The truth is, because of it’s educational and trust-building character, content marketing can be especially valuable, if you need to market complex or innovative products and services.

Ok, I admit it…

Content marketing in reality looks a little bit more complex then my healthy-dog-food example suggested.

However, the concept is always the same:

Offer value, and build your audience. You will see you’ll get lots in return!

Before we get to the second reason why content marketing is so popular, and it’s second superpower (I’ll give you a hint: bananas), let’s take a break for now. Let’s grab some coffee (or a milk tea… mmm milk tea), watch a puppy (or cat) video, and sleep on what we’ve learned so far….

Have any questions about content marketing or marketing in general?

Don’t be shy! Let me have it.

I’ll be delighted to answer them 🙂