One of the most interesting aspects of being involved in marketing and communications is its ever-changing landscape. What worked yesterday may not work today and most certainly won’t work tomorrow.

The rapid introduction of new technologies and communications channels, combined with consumers’ growing demand for hearing about new products and being able to get them faster and more effortlessly than ever, make up a set of very compelling drivers for changing up how products and services are marketed these days.

So what exactly is content marketing? And why is it increasingly being embraced as one of the most important tools in any company’s marketing toolbox? Basically, it can be defined as a strategic marketing approach that is focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive this target audience toward a purchase decision.

Another word critical in thinking about an effective content marketing strategy is non-self-serving. Think of content marketing as the opposite of traditional, self-promotional advertising. Its purpose is not to persuade you to buy a product on the spot, but rather to inform and educate you regarding a product’s purpose and attributes, and through consistent, believable communications, create understanding and alignment of your target audiences with your company. In other words, you are creating believers, allies and followers, not one-off sales. The ultimate goal — as with any marketing strategy — is to drive profitable customer action, but it is a completely different approach.

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So what makes it work? First and foremost, the actual content has to be of genuine interest to the reader or viewer. It has to provide new information, a new angle on a subject and/or a different and more interesting way of viewing an issue. Instead of an overt sales message, it is a compelling story or fascinating data that plays into areas of interest within a particular demographic or targeted audience. Instead of pitching your products or services, you are providing truly relevant and useful content to help your customers solve their challenges.

Content marketing can take many forms — social media outreach, blogs, webpages, infographics, podcasts, videos, even books. A benefit of a good content marketing program is that it can dramatically increase search engine optimization, as search engines reward businesses that publish quality, consistent content.

In order to further understand why content marketing works, it is important to examine the basic steps of the typical buying cycle: awareness, research, consideration and purchase. Content marketing directly impacts the first two stages of this cycle by raising awareness of a product’s ability to provide viable solutions and then by educating customers about the benefits of a product they may never have considered before. This strategy helps businesses identify and build new audiences who are receptive to new information that makes them become smarter consumers.

Here are some additional interesting statistics that reinforce the value of content marketing:

It costs 62 percent less than traditional marketing and advertising.

Sixty-five percent of corporate marketers say their content marketing programs are more successful in driving customer interest and engagement than more traditional strategies.

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The top five ways that content marketing is moving the needle for corporations (in a recent survey) are brand awareness, audience engagement, lead generation, customer retention/loyalty and, yes, sales.

Cathy Ackermann, founder and president of Ackermann PR, may be reached at [email protected]


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