16 Nov 2017
An introduction to content marketing

An introduction to content marketing

Content marketing: the basics

Ready yourselves for some geeky marketing stats: content marketing is expected to be a $300 billion industry by 2019.

Over 60% of marketers say they are extremely or very committed to content marketing, and almost 90% say they are already employing content marketing in some form or another. Of those that don’t, the majority are planning to start using it soon.

Clearly, content is marketing’s darling. But what about startups, smaller in-house teams, and those left holding the ‘marketing baby’? For the time-strapped or ‘accidental’ marketers out there, the whole concept of “content marketing” can seem like yet another unaffordable luxury. Besides, just 9% of B2B marketers already employing content marketing consider their content to be “very effective”.

Clearly, there’s a bit of a disconnect somewhere. Maybe it’s time we all took content marketing back to basics.


What is content? 

We’ve all heard the phrase “content is king”, but many marketers are guilty of assuming it’s just another comms catchphrase (us included).

In fact, “content is king” is the title of an essay published by Microsoft’s Bill Gates back in 1996. You can read the full essay over on Medium, but the gist is that the internet is a vehicle for content. People go there to find, read, and share content, and anyone can upload their own content online.

Content, by the way, just refers to information or material presented for easy ‘consumption’. Anything we watch, read, listen to, or look at is a type of content.


So what’s content marketing? 

Content marketing is an approach that employs the creation and distribution of original content to attract, win, and keep customers.

The Content Marketing Institute shares this helpful definition on its website:

“Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

To be successful, content marketing requires the creation of helpful and engaging material that customers already want to read – for example, because it helps solve a problem they face. It’s essential that the content be free to the reader – it’s the feeling of gaining something for nothing that helps customers trust the brand providing the content.

Any of the following may be used in content marketing:

  • Blog posts
  • Videos
  • Graphics
  • Infographics
  • Guides
  • Slides
  • Whitepapers
  • Podcasts
  • Templates
  • Interactive tools or digital experiences
  • E-books

Whichever you choose should be the right way of sharing information with your target audience. It’s not about “making a podcast”, but rather “solving client problems through content” – in whichever format works best.


What are the benefits of content marketing? 

According to the Content Marketing Institute, there are three main benefits to content marketing:

  1. Increased sales
  2. Cost savings
  3. More loyal customers

With media bombarding us from all angles, customers are becoming increasingly aware of advertising and its techniques. Data from Marketing Week suggests that 70% of consumers distrust advertising. More worryingly, 42% of customers distrust brands in general.

Advertising can no longer be solely relied upon, as more and more customers are now going out of their way to avoid it: up to 90% of viewers will skip ads on digital TV if they can. What makes content marketing so effective is that – unlike advertising – customers actively want to consume it. Research from CMI shows that 70% of customers prefer getting to know brands through content rather than advertising.

Not only is content marketing less aggressive than traditional advertising, it’s also (if done right) genuinely helpful and beneficial to the customer you’re trying to target. It’s actually incredibly difficult to get customers to remember an advert, but they’re much more likely to remember a brand that helped them – a win-win for everyone.

Content marketing is also much cheaper than traditional advertising. It can cost thousands of pounds to produce a decent ad, and just as much to place it somewhere people will see it. While content marketing does take time and energy to produce – which of course equates to money – it is completely scalable to your budget. In fact, the basics are free – it costs nothing to set up a WordPress or social media account and tools like Canva allow you to create visual content for free. Once you’ve got started, there’s nothing to stop a piece of free content going viral. While content needs to be captivating and well-produced, a great idea costs nothing.


How do I get started with content marketing?

This content marketing malarky might sound a bit complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. Breaking it down into small steps not only makes the process more achievable but more successful too.

Content marketing only works if you’re creating content that your target customers already want to read. Your first step, then, is a whole lot of research. Find out where your customers go for information and the problems they are trying to solve. Don’t be afraid to ask your customers directly what sort of branded content they are most likely to consume. A Twitter poll is a quick and easy way of collecting this kind of information. You should also check out what your competitors are doing – download their whitepapers, read their blog, and definitely keep an eye on their social media.

As well as researching themes and topics to use in your content, you should think about the forms of media and content favoured by your target audience. What we mean is, if you know your customers read a lot of blogs or listen to a lot of podcasts, it would be smart to pick a format like this rather than, say, a lengthy whitepaper. Remember a type of ‘content’ is just a method of conveying the information – you should pick whichever method best works with what you’re trying to say.

Of course, clever content marketing doesn’t happen by accident – thorough planning is essential. Research from the CMI on the content marketing habits of businesses shows that 66% of ‘successful’ content marketers have a documented strategy. Of the less successful marketers, just 11% had a content strategy in place.

As we mentioned last month, one of our stand-out sessions from this year’s Festival of Marketing was Michael Scantlebury’s presentation on branded content. Michael is founder and director at creative agency, Impero, and he knows his sh*t.

There are a couple of key takeaways from Michael’s presentation that we’d like to leave you with:

  • 5% of all content generates 95% of all engagement online
  • The brands obtaining the most success from content marketing are putting the customer first – not their own narrative

You can download Michael’s FOM presentation here (and we recommend you do) for more insight on creating customer-centric content.

Remember: digital content needn’t cost a bomb to be successful. With the right idea and the right insight into what your customers want, your brand’s content could be in the 5% that goes viral!


Want to talk more about content marketing and how to get started? We’d love to hear from you – get in touch!