It’s gone from niche to mainstream in about 5 years, and Content Marketing is here to stay. Over 80% of companies do it to some degree. It increases customer loyalty, sky-rockets online traffic, and can be customized to tell any business story. It also costs around 60% less than traditional, interruption based marketing while garnering 3X the leads.

But what is it? The official definition, from the Content Marketing Institute, is:

“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.”

That’s a mouthful. Content marketing is about telling your story in a way that people want to engage with, and delivering it to the right person, in the right place, and at the right time.

Traditional advertising is based on interrupting people with your message. Content is the science of help over hype, as Jay Baer puts it, so that instead of yelling at everyone, you whisper to just the right people.

Customer Service in Overdrive

My definition is that Content Marketing is customer service in overdrive. It’s more than answering questions. It’s finding the themes that link the questions together and answering those questions in a way that reminds people of what makes your business special.

Your target customers’ questions + the experience you offer = Content (consistent+engaging)= Content Marketing. It’s taking customer service to a whole new level, and creating a culture wherein helping customers is not just answering questions, it’s finding what they are and will be and reaching out to answer in entertaining and awesome ways.

Content Marketing is the anti-sales pitch. Instead of boring people with your features and benefits (which we tune out now at an instinctual level), you’re talking about them and addressing their concerns. Whether it’s a blog, video, seminar, workshop, or countless other media, you’re creating entertaining, engaging, and though-provoking ways to enhance your reputation with them as an expert in your industry.

Does it Work?

That depends on if you have a strategy or not. If your outlook is, “everyone has a blog so I need one too and we’ll send it out in an email or something,” then no, it probably won’t work.

While over 80% of businesses use content marketing, only a third say it’s working for them. But within that, almost 70% of businesses with a documented content strategy say it’s working. You can’t expect content marketing to be effective if you don’t take time to strategize.

Not many agencies will say this, because they want to start writing blogs and filling up Facebook feeds. Lots of owners don’t want to hear it, either, because they want to get started right away.

If you take the time to strategize, invest in high quality content and commit to delivering it regularly, it absolutely works. It’s not immediate, and isn’t about writing a blog about Widget A so it flies off the shelves that weekend. It’s about building thought leadership for sustained, stable, and long term growth. It works if you’re playing the long game.

Is it a Fad?

Remember when having a website was optional? Now it’s not only mandatory, but it won’t do anything for you unless your website is better than your competition. That’s where Content Marketing is going.

Traditional, promotional based marketing is based on interrupting mass amounts of people in the hopes that some will engage. It’s an arms race against PVRs, ad-blockers, and general mass message apathy that marketing are losing quickly. The only ones seeing ROI in traditional marketing are the giants who saturate (think “Coke”).

Far from being a fad, content is becoming the new normal. So it’s not enough to chuck a blog on the website, anymore. To differentiate ourselves, we need to out-perform our competition. We need to answer the questions that our target customers’ may not have known they had but are important to them anyway.