Why do we all spend so much time tapping smart phone screens, browsing the web when we should probably be working, or indeed leafing through free magazines that we’ve happened to pick up on the way into or out of a station?

The answer, of course, is content. Since the launch of the first browsers heralded the dawn of the internet era more than two decades ago, the maxim “content is king” has probably been bandied about on far too many occasions. And yet the journey of this expression from buzzword to cliché can’t really disguise the fact that the underlying message is absolutely true. Content, in all its shapes and forms, is the not-so-secret sauce that drives activity online.    

So it’s not surprising that content is increasingly becoming one of the key pillars of online marketing. It’s not hard to see why. As internet users, we all tend to ignore display ads. Meanwhile in the offline world, a great many of us vacate the sofa to makes cups of tea and coffee during the ad breaks. In contrast, we engage with content that we find useful, entertaining or stimulating.   

Hence the importance of “content marketing.”  But here’s the rub. True content marketing is not simply about posting content online – or on the channel of your choice. In essence, content marketing is a strategy which leverages aspects of a company’s brand, its expertise and its story to create material that is not only engaging but also demonstrably serves a commercial purpose. 

But what does that mean in practice?    

The Clue is in the Word

The clue is in the word “strategy.” Let’s take it as read for a moment that the content you produce genuinely interests your target customer.   

That is half the battle. Without engaging content, you won’t attract readers or viewers. However, it’s important to remember that content on its own is not necessarily a marketing tool.    

The added extra ingredient is a strategy that marries the content you produce to set of commercial objectives. Or to put it another way, the role of your lovingly produced  videos or blogs is not simply to entertain or engage the reader. It is to improve performance.   

A Fine Balance  

And here’s the trick. Content marketing is not about direct selling. What you are not doing – for the most part – is saying here is a great product buy it. What you are doing is using the knowledge and expertise that you have at your disposal to provide information that your audience will find useful. And while there won’t necessarily be a direct sales pitch, you will be enhancing the reputation and brand of your business. This in turn will make it more likely that the customer will think of you when a purchasing decision is made. 

It’s a fine balance. If it’s a sales pitch, it’s an ad. If the collateral simply informs but doesn’t drive behaviour it’s simply content. Good content marketing engages and affects behaviour. 

Get With The System

You shouldn’t expect even the most scintillating blog or Facebook post to change behaviour on the first outing. The real value of content led marketing is that the relationship with the customer is cumulative. It builds over time, along with trust in the source.

So as is the case with any publishing programme a content marketing initiative requires an editorial schedule, a content plan and a commitment to producing useful material for a defined audience. In an ideal world, you’ll build an audience who will either look forward to updates on a certain date or “dip in” occasionally, while expecting new material every time they point their browsers or smart phones in your direction.   

In other words, a content marketing programme requires material that is not only consistently good but that also meets the expectations of the audience in terms of schedule as well as quality. 

Content marketing definition

So what is content marketing? Essentially it is programme of communications that addresses and engages an audience according to a well-defined schedule. The key to success is useful information, but always married with the goal of affecting the customer’s behaviour.

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