By Hendrik Baird

It doesn’t matter if you’re a sole proprietor running a small business or the CEO of a large conglomerate — if there is one thing you need to do, it’s to market your business. There are many ways to do so and in this article we will look at a method that is becoming increasingly important. It’s called content marketing.

The Rise of Advertising

Since time immemorial, people who have had something to sell had to let those who had the money to buy it, know where they could find them. It may perhaps have been a vendor shouting out the products they had to sell to whoever walked past their stall at the market, but advertising only became a major force in capitalist societies somewhere during the 19th century.

Advertising grew rapidly during the 20th century, when new technologies such as newspapers, direct mail, radio, and television became part of society. It has changed much since ancient Egyptians posted sales messages written on papyrus. Advertising has become something of an art form since the Industrial revolution and today it seems all-pervasive. We can thank the tobacco industry for this, as modern advertising was in large part shaped by those who wanted to sell these kinds of products, so much so that by 1969, tobacco companies were the single largest product advertisers on television.

The first advert for tobacco is believed to date from 1789, selling snuff in a New York newspaper. By the late 19th century, cards featuring famous athletes and celebrities made their appearance in cigarette packs. Soldiers in the two World Wars received free cigarettes, creating a market for those who were hooked on smoking after the wars were over. It was tobacco companies who used clever slogans, sponsored radio and television programs, and convinced doctors, dentists, and sports stars to promote their products.

While tobacco has become a taboo product with almost no advertising allowed, these days the advertising industry as a whole is worth billions of dollars and one cannot escape the messages they convey.

How is Advertising Different to Marketing?

Advertising is the method used by a company to promote its services or products. They pay for the channels they use to get these messages to their prospective clients. These could be print ads, or commercials on radio and television stations. In modern times, internet search engines such as Google and social media platforms such as Facebook have taken a big bite of the advertising revenue, obliterating once popular methods such as classified ads in newspapers.

For most people, advertising and marketing seem to be one and the same thing. Both have as their primary aim to alert the general public to the products and services that are on offer. They are not the same thing, however. One can safely say that advertising is only a slice of the complete marketing pie.

What is Marketing?

Marketing refers to all the activities that a company can undertake to promote their business, of which advertising is but one part. One can lump other activities under the broad marketing umbrella, including activities such as selling, delivering products, creating interesting content, and brand recognition.

Marketing aims to get the attention of potential clients or customers by the way the company logo and slogan is designed, how the products are packaged and branded, through the design of graphics, and the coining of catchy phrases or slogans. In short, marketing is the full package, while advertising is but one of the activities a company can use to promote itself and what it has to offer the buying public. 

Marketing is seen as a discipline that consists of all the actions that a company can undertake to draw in new customers or clients and keep existing ones, building and maintaining a relationship with them. It includes networking, which is how the relationship is strengthened and made more personal.

Marketing has at its core the idea that it needs to match the products or services on offer to the customers who are in most need of them. It is when the ideal customer makes a purchase and comes back for more, that profitability ensues. 

There are four Ps of marketing, coined by Neil Borden in the 1950s. These four Ps are product, price, place, and promotion.

Product

Product refers to the services or products that a business or company offers to clients or customers. Products aim to fulfill an absence in the market or greater demand for an already available product. To market a product, the marketer must understand what the product is and how it differs from similar products offered by competitors. This product can perhaps be paired with another product, such as socks that go with shoes. The marketer must also know of any and all substitute products that exist in the market.

Price

The price of a product is how much the company is willing to sell it for. There are many factors that determine the price, such as the cost price per unit, the costs of marketing and distribution, as well as the profit that the company wants to make. The price needs to be measured against that of competing products.

Place

Place refers to where the product is available and how it is distributed. The product may perhaps only be available in a physical store, or it can be sold online or through agents. Place also refers to where in the store the product can be found or where it is placed digitally when sold online.

Promotion

The last P refers to promotion, which is the integrated marketing communications campaign. There are many activities that make up promotion, including advertising, direct marketing, sponsorship, public relations, and content marketing.

What is Content Marketing?

According to the Content Marketing Institute, “content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

It is no secret that people are generally sick and tired of advertising, which pushes products and services on you at every available opportunity. Traditional marketing methods have lost their effectiveness and content marketing is seen as a much more potent way to engage potential and existing customers.

The key to why content marketing has become so much more prominent in recent years, is the fact that it is valuable in and of itself. You can judge whether any marketing effort is valuable or not by whether people want to avoid it or engage with it. When a television commercial airs during the Super Bowl halftime, chances are that it won’t be seen, as those watching the game rush to refill drinks, take toilet breaks, and chat enthusiastically about how their team is faring. Marketers will pay millions of dollars for the chance to show their advertisements during this valuable slot, but if it has no real value for the people watching it, it will be money wasted.

Enter, stage left, content marketing, which has the potential to add value to people’s lives. Let’s look at some examples of content marketing to give you an idea of how it adds value.

Examples of Content Marketing

There are many types of content that can be considered marketing tools and here we will look at just a few examples.

Podcasts

Podcasting has become increasingly popular in the last 20 years. There are a few million podcasts available today, many with hundreds or even thousands of episodes. Audio-on-demand is an offshoot of radio, with the advantage that it can be listened to at the time and place of your choosing. Podcasts are distributed free of charge and mostly provide information that is valuable. It can lead to book sales, signups for online courses, and even invitations to public speaking events.

Videos

Just head on over to YouTube to experience the power of video. Whether you want to learn yoga, cook something for dinner, learn a new skill or language, or just be entertained, there are literally millions of videos available that will add a tremendous amount of value to your life. The quality of the videos range from the simple and cheap-to-make, to complex, produced using big budgets. 

Books

More and more people are writing books as a way to market their products or services. A book such as Purposefully Repurposed for Profit was written to explain a content marketing system, while at the same time offering the services of a company to produce the content outlined in the book. A well-written book can increase the reputation of a company and is a useful form of marketing when the author is introduced as “Author of…”

Infographics

Infographics are those long, vertical graphics that display statistics, graphs, or charts, detailing information that is potentially valuable to the reader. They are usually shared by the people who see them on social media. They are referred to as ‘snackable’, as they can be easily consumed, mainly because they are easy to read and usually convey a lot of information in a way that is easy to understand.

Website Pages

There are ordinary website pages and then there are website pages that are considered to be content marketing. These are free pages that are a valuable resource, which search engines will show up in their results when a user is looking to answer a specific question. They could be case studies, long-form blog articles, or Q & A pages. 

These are just a few examples, there are of course many more.

Why Use Content as a Marketing Tool?

In order to understand the importance that content can have as part of your marketing mix, we need to understand the four steps a potential customer goes through before buying anything. These are awareness, research, consideration, and buying.

Awareness

It all starts with a need. A customer becomes aware that they have a need, yet at this stage they do not yet know that there is a solution to their need.

Research

I have a need to get to and from work every day. I am going to need some sort of transport. Finding out what type of transport will be best suited to my needs will require some level of research on my part. Will I take a train, bus, or car? If a car seems the best option, which car will best suit my needs and budget?

Consideration

Now that I have decided to buy a car so that I can get to work and back every day, and perhaps take trips over weekends or when I go on holiday, I have to look at the different models of cars available on the market. I will look at various brands and different suppliers, making sure I get the best possible car at a fair price.

Buy

After weighing up all the options, I finally decide which car I will buy. I go to the dealership which I believe offers the best price and service and I buy the car, driving it home feeling satisfied that I made the right choice.

Traditional advertising methods are more than adequate to satisfy the first two steps of this process, but imagine how much more I can learn when I read articles about the different types of cars available or watch some videos that show me somebody test driving the ones I am most interested in. My research will benefit from any content that can educate me about a model I may not even have considered before.

This is a big ticket item and I don’t want to be pressured and overwhelmed by a pushy salesman. I want to take my time to weigh up all the pros and cons before making a decision. I will read extensively about the different cars I am interested in, perhaps even talking to a few people whom I know have bought the ones on my shortlist. 

By the time I approach the buying stage, I have already built up trust and when I finally make the purchase, I am confident that I have made the right choice, based on all my research and careful consideration of all the content I have consumed that have steered me in the right direction.

As you can see, content marketing has the potential to do much of the work for you before you even meet the customer in the sales office and have them sign the sales contract for the car of their dreams. You have already won their trust and built a certain level of rapport, simply by producing content that was valuable to the customer and which helped them reach their final decision.

Content marketing works well, no matter what industry you’re in.

The Value of Content Marketing

There are four key benefits to providing valuable content as part of your marketing campaign. 

It leads to an increase in sales, as customers already have a relationship with you through the content you have made available. 

It saves you tons of money, as your content is much more affordable to produce than paying for expensive advertising campaigns, billboards, and other traditional marketing approaches.

Once a customer starts to trust your product, they become more loyal, which leads to a better quality customer. They will keep on coming back and so you profit from their commitment to your brand. 

Finally, your content becomes a profit center.

There are many people trying to sell you stuff. We get sent information about this all the time. Most of it is not relevant or even that valuable, it becomes spam to be deleted or ignored.

Instead, consider creating great content as a way to engage potential and existing customers. The secret is to add value, which is not really a secret at all. Stop trying to push your product onto others, rather pull them towards what you have to offer. Give them something that is helpful and they will come back again and again. In the process, your sales will start ticking over.

Most companies are still stuck in the old traditional ways of marketing and have not yet woken up to the value of content. You will have an advantage if you jump in right now.

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