a photo of a content marketer working on their laptop

What is content marketing?

Hi, I’m Polina! Formerly, I worked as a senior digital marketing manager and now I am the marketing mentor at Pathrise. I help job-seekers prepare for their future in digital marketing through technical workshops and 1-on-1s. Check out my article to learn everything you need to know about content marketing.

Content marketing is a marketing strategy that employs targeted content to attract potential customers. Instead of pitching a product, content marketers create “content” like an article or a podcast aimed at prospective customers. While content can range from highly technical blog posts to artistic podcasts, it should solve a problem for the prospective customer and overlap with the company’s own product. Using tools like Google Analytics, content marketers determine what types of content their prospective customers want, personalize their content to this niche, and then optimize their content so prospective customers can find it in search engines. Many content marketers will use pay-per-click (PPC) social media ads to promote their content as well. While content is primarily informative and by no means spammy, content markers will often include subtle pitches or at least references to the company’s paid services.

Since content marketing has exploded in popularity, it seems everyone with an internet connection has “content” on their lips. Does the word still have meaning to anyone besides overdressed millennials on YouTube? Sure, top companies like Hubspot and Spotify rely on content marketing. But with dozens of radically different content marketing styles and strategies, it can be difficult to identify how content marketing can help your company or your personal career. Is any small creator a content marketer? What is a content marketer’s role in a company? To help you better understand content marketing, we’ve broken down the benefits of content marketing as well as the most common content marketing strategies that can actually acquire customers.

What is content marketing and how does it help a company grow?

Content marketing not only attracts prospective customers, but also builds a relationship with those customers. If people like a company’s “content” (loyal blog readers for example), then they will come back for more. Over time, prospective customers are exposed to more of the company’s products and sales pitches without ever being shown a single intrusive advertisement.

Forget what you heard in Economics 101: people don’t make buying decisions based solely on logic. Buying choices depend largely on emotions, like trust or gratitude. Sure, buyers know logically they should buy from an expert company that offers the best value. But emotions also play a major role in this analysis. Loyal readers of a company blog probably appreciate the company for giving them so many free blog posts on some level. At the very least, the reader trusts that the company is the expert since they are regularly learning from their content. This trust will make the prospective customer more likely to not only buy, but become a loyal customer. It’s the same effect of visiting a Mom & Pop store every day and chatting up the cashier–the business itself grows on the patron until they find themselves buying more, sometimes only because they appreciate the business for improving their life. Engaging content cultivates engaged customers who support their favorite company, often just for their witty blog or informative videos.

The “halo effect” also comes into play. Expertly crafted content can make the entire company be perceived as an expert in the field. Even if a company is far from a market leader, volume and quality of content may be all prospective customers have to determine which company is the most competent. Prospective customers tend to overlook a product’s price or popularity if the company’s content is among the best on the market.

Lastly, content marketing is shown to be one of the most effective, lowest barrier marketing strategies today. Anyone can make a blog post or a YouTube video. It’s true that content marketing is more time consuming and less quantifiable than pay-per-click (PPC) ads as it relies on cultivating a relationship with prospective customers over a fairly long period of time. It’s also true that content marketers usually have to create a fairly steady stream of content to keep their audience engaged. However, a content campaign doesn’t end abruptly like a typical PPC campaign or drain the marketing budget to acquire leads. Blog posts stay online for as long as the company site. If content is search engine optimized, it can continue to attract new leads daily without any promotion money. If a content marketer does choose to supplement their content with PPC, their paid campaign will be far more effective with content that prospective customers actually want to read.

a photo of a content marketer looking at a Google Analytics report

Why have so many companies switched to content marketing?

While tech companies have quietly been using content marketing for decades, its popularity is new. Thomas Edison electrocuted elephants on camera to interest the public in electricity. But that was electricity. A simple billboard ad was enough to sell less revolutionary products. Fifty years ago, catchy TV commercial jingles were groundbreaking. Now they’re annoying. Today’s consumers usually skip video advertisements, no matter how entertaining. Worse, people need to see the same ad more times before they consider buying, often in many different mediums. We’d probably have to see an elephant ad on our phone, a subway wall, and our laptop before we got curious enough to Google what product Edison sells. Consumers have been desensitized to traditional marketing.

Content marketing seems to offer a solution. Consumers still enjoy interesting articles and quizzes. While people skip video ads for a product, they search for videos that have valuable information. So long as they get the desired information, consumers won’t mind if a company’s marketing team made the video or even if the video includes a brief sales pitch at the end. Since customers enjoy and actively seek out content, content marketing is a highly effective way to reach customers. Content marketing also builds trust in a brand. As people loyally consume good content, they become loyal to the brand that gave them the content. Engaging content starts a relationship between consumers and a company that often leads to sales.

Content marketing is not a genius innovation that saves time and money like electricity–it’s an arms race. Companies pay a small fortune for free content that will only convince a tiny fraction of readers to look into the company’s full services. But they have no choice. As more companies create free content, rival companies do the same to compete. Content marketing is now so ubiquitous that companies who don’t have a free blog or mailing list are seen as unusual. Pandora’s box has been opened. Like whale oil lamps in an age of lightbulbs, paid banner ads can’t compete with free downloads that only require an email address. Companies aren’t switching to content marketing because it’s cheaper or cleverer–they’re switching to content marketing because older marketing strategies don’t work anymore.

What types of content fall under the content marketing umbrella?

While content marketers follow the same core principles, especially when it comes to optimizing content for an audience, their job duties vary based on the content medium. Different content roles and mediums are right for different backgrounds and skill sets–very few content marketers can do it all. Content marketing roles tend to be specialized, usually based on the medium of the content.

If you are looking for content marketing roles, keep an eye out for postings with the following titles:

  • Content Marketing Specialist
  • Content Marketing Manager
  • Content Writer
  • Content Marketing Director
  • Video Marketing Specialist
  • Email Marketing Specialist
  • SEO Specialist
  • Content Promotion Specialist
  • Social Media Specialist
  • Social Media Manager

While content can take on all kinds of different forms, content marketing generally deals with 4 mediums: writing, podcasts, video, and social media. To give you a better sense of how content marketers work with each medium, we have broken down the strategies and responsibilities for different content marketing mediums. Read the sections below to find out which medium and corresponding role fits your career goals best.

Content Writing & Infographics

Writing blog posts, extensive newsletters, or anything in print falls under the content writing umbrella. It’s important for content writers to develop a compelling voice to connect with readers, but every article should still have carefully placed SEO keywords so that the article is discoverable. Strike a balance between unique prose and keywords/topics that will resonate both with the audience and Google’s algorithm. Check search keyword phrases popular among your audience using tools like Google Analytics. Popular search phrases make great keywords to use in your article’s title, meta description, and body. Don’t be afraid to include a pitch or call-to-action in the body of your post as well.

Video production

Video is an extremely popular and versatile medium. Demo videos, interviews, educational videos, live streams, and customer testimonials are all effective. Consider writing a script or at least an outline so that you can optimize the video to connect with viewers and video sharing platform algorithms. While YouTube is a bit saturated, videos can be hosted directly on company websites, social media, and blogs, making discovery much easier. PPC is also an option as videos can be mixed into paid social media ad campaigns.

Podcasts

Recording a weekly audio podcast on relevant topics can be a terrific way to build an audience. Consider reaching out to influencers to invite for interviews to help expand both your audiences. Today, Spotify still relies on podcasts to grow their audience and split customers off from YouTube, which formerly relied on a similar model.

Social media

Social media accounts can be a great way to directly engage with followers and post video, written, and photo content. Top tech companies excel on social media platforms due to their high follower counts, which comes with being household names. However, it can be difficult to connect on a deep level or hold users’ attention for a longer period of time. Braver tech companies rely on short jokes and (sometimes) clever memes to leave a good taste in their audience’s mouths. Social media may have no technical barrier to entry, but it may be difficult to acquire leads if you have little to no followers. While posting engaging content can help you acquire followers, it can be slow going and may not be effective without PPC. Luckily, PPC ads are still quite cheap on Facebook and Twitter relative to traditional advertisements. A modest $200 Facebook ad campaign can be a great starting option for small businesses with a very targeted audience.

With the above information, you should be able to answer the question, “What is content marketing?” as well as get a good sense of the in-demand skills and techniques content marketers use. For help launching a content marketing career, Pathrise is a career accelerator that works with students and professionals 1-on-1 to help them land their dream job. If you are interested in optimizing your content marketing job search by working 1-on-1 with a mentor, become a Pathrise fellow.

Apply today.

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