It feels right to say that content marketing is a strategy because it seems to have all of the right answers for organization-wide challenges.
For example, questions like:
- How do we attract the right prospects?
- How do we establish ourselves as an authority that can command premium pricing and fees?
- How do we explain our value proposition in a relevant way to our target market?
The answer? Content marketing.
We run into problems however when we interrogate content marketing directly:
- How does content marketing build trust?
- How does content marketing stay relevant to our target audience?
- How should we prioritize our content marketing investment?
- What is the “guiding policy” (remember this phrase. We’ll talk more about it later) for deciding which content to develop and where to distribute it?
At this point, content marketing begins to stutter a bit. The answers to these questions point to a more fundamental strategy. At this point, it feels like content marketing, while robust, still lacks the versatility of a true strategic level choice.
Back to the Future
I started my marketing career as a junior account executive working on an automotive account. These days were filled with grunt work combined with relentless instruction on the the proper use of branding.
Like content marketing, the definition of branding depends on who you talk to. My working definition is:
Branding is process of building recognition, familiarity and trust in a way that is relevant to your ideal customer.
Branding masters create an almost cult-like following for their products.
If I want to feel cool, elegant, and smart I buy an Apple device
If I want to feel safe, responsible, and successful I buy a Volvo
If I want to feel rebellious, independent, and provocative I buy a Harley.
This is branding at its finest.
Branding has one drawback. It’s expensive as hell. Creating a commercial, radio spot, or magazine ad requires the assistance of the creative elite ensconced in agencies. Like runway models, you pay a king’s ransom to get access to them.
One more issue – unfortunately you can’t show your commercial once and call it quits. You need to show one commercial hundreds of times to the same person. This takes hundreds of millions of dollars every year to pull off.
This is why most business owners head for the exits when someone starts talking about branding. They don’t have the stomach or the wallet for traditional branding tools like TV, radio, magazine spreads, or PR.
But that doesn’t mean you should abandon branding. For the time being, branding is the single best way to build a respected and valuable business.
Branding is foundational strategy that every business, nonprofit, even governmental entities must adopt and embrace.
It’s comprehensive and versatile enough to guide your decision-making on a wide range of decisions…even content marketing.
Content Marketing as a Branding Tactic
In the illustration below, we’ve mapped out what a brand does and how it’s communicated to the public. This is a simplified view but still helpful for visually pinpointing where content marketing plays a role.
Branding is a powerful concept because it builds recognition, familiarity, trust, and day-to-day relevance. It concretely embeds your product into the life of the customer.
However, branding has always been a better at building recognition, familiarity and in some cases trust. Relevance was build because most advertising was too short, untargeted, and sporadic to make the case for why the product mattered in a specific way.
Content marketing changes that since content marketing uses tools that enable for rich storytelling and infotainment. Now, with content marketing we can craft experiences that connect a products benefits with the customer’s needs in a specific way. Blogging, podcasting, and video creates a multi-platform connection that surrounds the customer in an in-depth 360 degree experience.
The kicker is that content marketing can forge tight relevant connections with audiences for far less outbound and online marketing tactics.
But content marketing is only as effective as the brand its built on. Content without branding lacks the emotional ingredient required to make a relevant connection. This is why it’s always a mistake to invest in social media and content marketing without a branding strategy.
The answer to the headline is…content marketing is a powerful and profitable branding tactic.
Are You Making This Content Marketing Mistake?
One quick note about the brand building illustration we discussed earlier. I may have led you to believe that content marketing is solely an online endeavor. It isn’t.
Content marketing is a multi platform tactic that works online and offline. We’ll talk about that more in our next post.
What do you think? Is content marketing a strategy or tactic? Share your opinion here.