Content marketing has been a buzzword in media for a while now. But that doesn't mean that everyone knows what it is, how it works, or how it differs from traditional marketing. Much like social media, many marketers have attempted to use content as another vehicle for one-way blasting of marketing messages.
Content marketing, however, is quite different from traditional advertising, and the same rules don't apply.
Saying vs. Showing
Advertising is all about making claims. United's tagline, "Fly the Friendly Skies," sounds nice, but the skies don't sound as friendly when you know that United has the industry's lowest satisfaction ratings from customers.
There are tons of brands claiming to be "The Most Trusted Name" or "America's Favorite." Advertising is all about talking the talk. Content marketing is about walking the walk.
Subway backs up their "Eat Fresh" tagline with content that supports the brand's healthy image. Brands like Lowe's and Colgate provide useful, relevant content that shows their expertise. This content is relevant to their customers (DIYers/contractors and people with teeth respectively) and is more about helping than selling. The content is authentic and pertinent to the brands.
When content is not authentic, it's easy to tell. However, that hasn't stopped marketers from trying to hijack the content train. McDonald's Moms Quality Correspondents content reads like it was written by the company's PR department. I question whether these moms are real people, because I've never heard anyone talk like this.
I groaned to myself when I read one "mom's" assertion that "the family dining concept where the time spent eating with the family is deemed to be an important part of the experience. The PlayPlace and the toy are all designed to help to enrich that experience." I've had a lot of family dinner experiences, and none of them were enhanced by me playing with a plastic Batman toy.
McDonald's is attempting to apply the old advertising tricks to content marketing. They think, "If we say we are great, they will believe it." Unfortunately for them, this is not the case.
One-Night Stand vs. Relationship
Advertising is about the quick sale. That's why so many traditional advertisers have trouble adjusting to social media and attempt to apply the same broadcast/quick sale model.
Social media and content marketing are intertwined, because both are about building relationships. While advertising is front-loaded, brands can use content to address the customer's concerns at every stage of their purchase journey. While an ad can help inspire a purchase, content can keep the customer in touch with the brand before, during and after the purchase.
Mass Market vs. Individualized
Advertising is expensive. When buying a TV or radio ad, it has to appeal to as general an audience as possible. It's the reason why so many Budweiser commercials feature pretty girls and cute dogs-it's all aimed at the lowest common denominator.
With content, you can craft pieces to reach the needs of all of the different segments of your audience. This can be in both tone and medium. The lower cost of content when compared to traditional advertising can allow you to create a piece of content in multiple forms-infographics, video, press releases. By distributing this content to social sites, such as YouTube and Facebook, you can let users consume your content where and how they want, rather than hoping they are watching TV when your ad runs.
Because it can be tailored to specific customer groups, another great feature of content is that it is sharable. When you create useful, non-advertorial content it is much more likely to be shared by bloggers or on social media. Think about it this way: lots of people send you funny or interesting articles to read (think Buzzfeed), but very few people send you a commercial to watch.
Not the End of Traditional Ads
There is still a place for traditional advertising. Companies will still need to launch new products, announce special offers, and drive general awareness. However, content marketing has allowed brands to be more useful to customers when they aren't looking to buy; to become a useful part of their lives at every stage.
It's more than marketing, it's building relationships. It requires a bit of restraint and patience, but the rewards can be much greater in the end.