Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock over the last year, you’ve been hearing the phrase “content marketing” everywhere. In fact, a recent a survey of client side marketers worldwide by Econsultancy and Adobe showed one area of digital marketing jumping dramatically in the last year to become the top priority for 2013, and it was–you guessed it– content marketing. And as Digiday recently wrote describing the shift happening in the ad landscape: “Advertisers are no longer content to relegation in the boxes along the periphery of the page. Talk to any major brand, and the word ‘content’ will come up within the first five minutes.”
Yet, like many concepts today that reach the level of marketing buzzword ubiquity, there’s a lot of fuzziness about what exactly the term means. Which is why it might be helpful to first define exactly what it is, then understand the fundamental shift in consumer behavior that is underlying its rapid growth.
So here is an excellent definition of content marketing from Wikipedia as a starting point:
Content marketing is any marketing format that involves the creation and sharing of media and publishing content in order to acquire customers. Content Marketing’s basic premise is to “provide some valuable information or entertainment – ‘content’– that stops short of a direct sales pitch or call to action, but which seeks to positively influence a customer in some way. This information can be presented in a variety of media, including news, video, white papers, ebooks, infographics, case studies, how-to’s, Q&A’s, photos, etc.
As many of the pioneering content marketing leaders have pointed out– from David Meerman Scott, to Joe Pulizzi to Ann Handley (and I recommend reading each of their books on the subject)- content marketing also provides an alternative to “push” advertising like broadcast TV and telemarketer calls, by inviting the consumer in with information.
As Joe Pulizzi puts it in his blog post “What is Content Marketing?“:
Basically, content marketing is the art of communicating with your customers and prospects without selling. It is non-interruption marketing. Instead of pitching your products or services, you are delivering information that makes your buyer more intelligent. The essence of this content strategy is the belief that if we, as businesses, deliver consistent, ongoing valuable information to buyers, they ultimately reward us with their business and loyalty.
Clearly, Content Marketing is booming today, but that begs the question- why? Content Marketing has been around in some form since John Deere launched a magazine in 1895 to educate farmers on becoming more profitable, and Michelin started their guides for travelers in 1900. Yet today, the practice is taking off to the degree it never has during its roughly 118 year history.
The reason is the dramatic shift in consumer buying behavior that has happened since the birth of the web. As Google points out in their “Zero Moment of Truth” research series, in a digitally powered world buyers absorb an enormous amount of information prior to making a purchase decision. And this mountain of information is far greater then it was 5, 10 or 15 years ago. Underlying this shift– obviously– is the democratization of content creation via the plummeting cost of “publishing” in a digital world. But the end result is that today– as the ZMOT Study points out, “88% of consumers research before they buy, consulting an average of 10.4 sources”. And given the explosion of always connected devices from smartphones to laptops to tablets– which are dramatically increasing the amount of time we spend connected to the web– this information hoovering habit is growing fast. As the ZMOT study pointed out: “shoppers today are able to process an enormous amount of information…. (they) use twice as many sources to arrive at a decision and use each source almost twice as heavily as in the past.”
This is definitely not your dad’s shopping world. As Saatchi & Saatchi CEO Dina Howell describes:
….today’s consumers know so much more before
they reach the shelf. They find incredible
detail online, from every possible source,
about the brands and products that matter
to them. They browse, dig, explore, dream
and master, and then they’re ready to buy
with confidence. And what they learn, they
share with others.
So in this world, it’s the business that not only creates useful content– but optimizes that content to be highly visible online– that wins. Given that everyone is getting in on the content creation game today, it’s the second part of that success equation that is becoming increasingly critical. And it’s why the experts at search and social optimization are the ones you want to turn to in order to make content marketing work. Something to think about as you come up with strategies to take advantage of the modern information hoovering habit.