There’s a term gaining a lot of traction in the digital marketing space lately: "content marketing." If you haven’t yet heard of it, you will soon.

Content marketing means producing and leveraging one's own branded content for marketing purposes "rather than 'renting' advertising time and space" on someone else's media, to excerpt analyst Rebecca Lieb of the Altimeter Group. This content can take on many different forms, including some already familiar to you: white papers, seminars and webinars, blog posts, photos, videos, how-to guides, case studies, research study findings, Internet radio, and so on.

The difference here is that you're not buying eyeballs; with content marketing, you're earning them.

Much like social media, which many folks think of as a relatively new trend but isn't, content marketing has really been around for a while–it just has not had its own label before.

Why 'Content Marketing' Now?

In my view, the swelling interest in content marketing has evolved for several reasons:

  • Diminished efficacy of "old school" advertising. Almost any advertiser who has been around the block a while can be heard complaining about diminishing returns on their ad dollars spent. They're seeking better alternatives.
  • People crave good information. In the past, to reach a desired audience, marketers didn't have much of a choice other than to buy visibility within someone else's content that they felt attracted the right audience. Now, with the Internet, a company can create its own content–and that can sometimes far exceeds in quality what might otherwise exist for the same audience.
  • Hunger for control of the consumer experience. In this day and age, it's just too easy for people to turn off, tune out, or move onto a different channel/device/site/platform. When the marketer can instead attract, engage and sell to its audience, all from within its own content, the desire to do so can be intoxicating.
  • Social media. The sheer nature of social media places demands on businesses to constantly "feed the content beast." If the content stinks, no one will "like"/+1/tweet you, so why even bother?
  • Search. Search engines have long made it clear that they value fresh and relevant content. Now that search engines also integrate social sharing into their algorithms and query results, new share- and curation-worthy content plays an ever greater role than ever.

What You Need to Know Now

You need to keep one word in mind when you hear the word content: production.

Production means it can take time, and just as with social media, production of content does not come free. That said, if you're considering becoming a content marketer yourself, you need to take a few factors into account:

  • What is the purpose/objective? You will want to build a content strategy to guide your process–and it ought to be created with KPIs in mind like ones for branding, membership, lead generation, or ecommerce.
  • Resources: Who's going to actually do the production work, and how many different departments will need to be involved in the process? Who in your organization truly knows the subject matter? What kinds of content do you want to produce and do you have capabilities in-house to produce them all?
  • Tools: To produce this content, you're not going to only need people; you're going to also need tools: planning tools like an editorial calendar; production and creation tools like software and recording devices; distribution tools to help you get your content out there most effectively; and monitoring and reporting tools to measure how everything is working.
  • Ownership issues: Creating original content is one thing. But sharing someone else's content for your own marketing purposes can lead to problems if you're not careful–particularly about attribution.
  • What's already under your nose? As you enter the world of content marketing, make a point of looking at your pre-existing assets. Are there print ad campaigns you can turn into shareable slideshows? Research findings that can be turned into white papers? Blog posts that could become podcasts? Case studies that would make great webinars? Figure out what you've got, and fill in the blanks from there.

My parting words of advice regarding content marketing: If you're going to get involved, do your business justice by ensuring your content has real value for your consumer.

Inform your readers; educate them; tell a good story. If they get to the end of your content feeling no better off than before they started reading/listening/watching it, you not only did a disservice to your business with your weak effort–you've done the entire Web a disservice by cluttering it up with yet more junk.