What Is Content Marketing?

I’m a content marketer so it’s befitting that the very first article I write here be my definition of content marketing. I first came across the term “content marketing” around three years back. I was a freelance writer, or a content developer, as I liked to call myself, and I was very interested in the role content played in the marketing matrix. So when I heard the term, I went looking for definitions and I read as much as I could on the topic. Unfortunately, back then, it was all hype and no substance because most people were touting content marketing as the new snake oil to fix all your digital marketing woes.

I dislike hype, and especially the type that is used to take advantage of people. Businesses flocked to this new magic pill and many fell by the wayside when content marketing did not deliver the immediate and astronomical results the hype masters were peddling. But over the last two years, as the idea behind content marketing has matured and more and more industry giants have adopted it, it’s now possible to see the true power behind content marketing.

Defining Content Marketing

The definition I love most of content marketing comes from a story that unfolds in the late 1800’s, to be precise, in 1895. John Deere, then a fledgling company selling farming equipment decided to publish a periodical that would provide farmers with some useful information. You see, the magazine, called rather aptly, The Furrow, providing information to farmers on how to become more profitable. It was an instant hit.

Farmers needed this critical information and by providing useful information to them, John Deere became a valuable partner, not only in the farming equipment arena but in the high stakes that the farmers played in, their businesses. This is a beautiful story to me because it shows that the real function of any business is to be helpful to their customers, not sell them a bunch of stuff. That is the change that businesses need to make and content marketing just happens to be the vehicle to carry out this transformation.

With this in mind, content marketing to me is the process of humanizing a business. Turning it from a mechanical, indifferent selling machine to a friendly, personal and empathetic entity that we can allow into any area of our lives. It’s saying, people don’t need more sales messages and marketing gimmicks to get them to buy.

Do you get me?

They need to know instead that you “get” them and they are not to you just another receipt but they are people with feelings, hopes and fears. Content marketing opens up this bidirectional conversation and sets you on a new footing with your customers. Content marketing turns your customers into a community, which rallies around your brand, value systems or even just the ideas you all share in common.

If this is content marketing, how do you make it work for your business? I know many people give very technical definitions of content marketing and supply a ten point plan on how to make it work. I, instead, have just two words: “Be Helpful”. Your business may have the best products in the market, or you may even just be starting off but the fact is, people buy with their emotions and emotions are hardly ever rational. So if this is the case, then being helpful goes beyond just trying to trick them into buying. It reaches right into them and touches their heart and feelings, and they know you are the one they’ll buy from. To bring this closer to home, let’s assume you’re a web design company.

How can you be helpful to your customers?

Step into their shoes, understand the challenges they go through with their websites and address those challenges through content. That is the primary reason I’m writing this blog post, because I know my clients struggle in trying to wrap their heads around the concept of content marketing. So I want them to know not to get caught up in the hype. I want them to know content marketing is just them doing what they do best: being helpful to their customers. I also want them to know there’s no magical snake oil in content marketing. It’s hard work, just like anything else, but it pays, and pays, and pays, over the long term.

Finally, as I bring in this definition to a landing, I want to encourage you to take a moment to think of all the ways other businesses you patronize can be helpful to you. If it’s the local deli, how can they be more helpful to you? If it’s the gym down the road, how can they be more helpful to you? Once you begin to understand your needs as a customers and what you wish other businesses did better, you’ll find it’s easier to understand the needs of your customers and how to be more helpful to them.

So remember, there’s nothing more to content marketing than this: “Be Helpful”.