Content marketing is not advertising: here’s why

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’d like to ask you some questions: namely, what is your intention? Why are you here? What do you want to do?

It’s the answer to these questions that will ultimately lead you down one of two paths: the well-trodden path of traditional advertising, or the sparkly new freeway of content marketing.

I came across a great, simple way of differentiating between the two on, of all places, Quora. Stephen Keith says of the conundrum: one is a bet, the other is an investment. And I love that way of differentiating between advertising and content marketing.

Advertising in the traditional sense is a solicitation. The focus is firmly on the brand with the intention to either drive brand awareness or create a sale.

With content marketing, on the other hand, a brand deliberately places assets of value in the marketplace, absent of solicitation, and with no brand interrupting the message. Its intention is to become an authority, to naturally attract potential buyers by providing valuable material. To better understand potential customers, and tailor the message to them in the right place, at the right time, via the right medium, and pertinent to their stage of the sales funnel.

But why has content marketing grown when advertising has been with us for eons?

Advertising has been trying to adapt with technology. The days of Mad Men are gone, but the industry survives. Agencies have gone bigger and better, but they’ve also tried new mediums: viral videos, native advertising.

But they’re still competing with the 5000 brand messages consumers are faced with each day.

According to AdWeek, Fractl and Moz analysed survey responses from more than 30 content marketing agencies and cost data from more than 600 digital publishers; they found content marketing has a better overall return on investment than native advertising. So it’s no surprise that budgets for display ads are now being slashed in favour of a content marketing programme. One is a bet, the other an investment

In AdWeek, Kelsey Libert, partner and VP of marketing at Fractl, says the pay-to-play nature of native advertising means that native ads must be “branded,” which can result in lower editorial syndication and be a real turn-off for social media audiences:

“Readers are necessarily less engaged with advertising vs. editorial content, and metrics show lower share rates, lower engagement rates, lower view counts, etc. in most cases. You can’t simply push through a mediocre, thinly-veiled advertorial. Content marketing puts the brand and the consumer on equal footing, and in the process necessitates the brand elevate the content they are creating.  When done correctly, the result is a true match between brand and content consumer, where the content created has true value, and spreads based on the merit of the content.”

What it comes down to is owned media vs rented land.

With advertising – be it broadcast, native, press, or something else altogether – you’re paying someone else to gain access to their audience. With content marketing, you’re creating content to build an audience of your own.

It might be a long game – eschewing the proverbial one night stand for the relationship – but content marketing ultimately proves most cost, time and resource effective. You build the relationship even when customers aren’t looking to buy, so you are front of mind when they are ready to spend.

And that is a relationship worth investment.