So What Is Content Marketing?

My feeling is that content marketing is what social was four years, what video was eight years ago when YouTube came in, or display advertising 12 years ago. It’s now content marketing’s time to own the conversation, and it affects us in the video world as well.

So again, what is it?  Here are two ways of looking at content marketing:

Advertisers become publishers

Let’s say Nike wants to sell its new light shoes online. Traditionally, Nike would decide on the budget and targeting, and eventually users would see something such as a banner on a page with an image of Nike’s ad. What’s the goal? Click the banner and buy a shoe. Today, advertisers are becoming far more sophisticated. Seriously, when was the last time you clicked on a banner? Yeah, that’s right.

Instead, how about if Nike strategists were to write about things they believe in as a company, share their vision, or better -- the values of their products -- versus actually showing  the product.  Imagine a video interview about an ordinary runner, like you or me, talking about how cool it is to have “light shoes, ” purposely never mentioning Nike even once. Amazing. If you could educate people that light shoes matter, people would check to see if a well-known brand like Nike has the product. I never clicked on a banner, but I would absolutely watch that video interview, and perhaps over time buy a light shoe. That’s content marketing.



Publishers become advertisers

Publishers historically used to sell real estate on their site to advertisers, and had marketing budget to promote their brand socially, on YouTube, banners, etc. However, imagine a world where publishers could show their vast huge catalog of content in a personalized way not only on their own site, but on other sites around the Web, thus “advertising” themselves.

Publishers have one thing that nobody else has – unique content that they produce. They’re the king -- a la “content is king.” Imagine that I could go to the Fox NY site (I live in NY) and see a recommended video from The Hollywood Reporter that I might like. Yet again – while I would never click on a banner  I would totally click on one of’s interesting videos if I happened to be on Fox NY site and the video was relevant to me. In that way, THR would send out its #1 ambassador to appear on other sites around the Web and draw engaged users back to its content.  That’s content marketing as well.

9 comments about "So What Is Content Marketing? ".
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  1. Grant Crowell from, October 19, 2012 at 11:10 a.m.

    Adam, it's my belief that content marketing has actually been around a long time, well before what we consider to be "social media" today. How we understand it in it's present for is, everyone can be their own media publisher. The problem that presents is understanding the proper disclosure of business relationships behind any content that's meant to influence others, and isn't clearly understood to be an advertisement. I know we've often heard the line, "content is king;" but in our Social Age where content is so voluminous and people are more cynical about the media, it's now TRUST that is king.

  2. Ron Stitt from Fox Television Stations, October 19, 2012 at 11:15 a.m.

    Thanks for the shout-out for Thanks also for this post... clarity of definitions in online marketing is important given the speed of evolution in this space, which is ever-increasing. I'd add a third...and I think ultimately maybe the most important type of content marketing: Advertisers identifying and driving traffic to independent, 3rd party content that talks favorably of their brand/product/service - that's already out there. That's right. You don't have to create it, it's already there (assuming you have a decent brand/product/service - if not, marketing is not the answer to your ills). Why most important? Because truly independently-generated content..."recommendations"...are authentic. And in the brave new age of digital/interactive/social marketing, authenticity & credibility matter. More than matter - they're critical and will become moreso. Sure it's fun to dabble in publishing, and hire creative talent, etc., but it's costly, a lot harder to do in a systematic, sustainable way than non-publishers really understand - and in the end, this content is not going to be really, truly authentic. I'm not saying "don't create your own relevant content"...just saying, don't bet the ranch on that as your "content marketing strategy".

  3. Henry Blaufox from Dragon360, October 19, 2012 at 11:26 a.m.

    Regarding Mr. Singolda's comment about publishers, Fox is just one example. In general, established publishers have an advantage in the content marketing realm. It is an offshoot of long form journalism. Publishers and media companies have that expertise built-in, hard wired after all these years. Brands and many agencies just aren't organized to do a consistently good job at this - creating compelling, engaging content in different forms that bonds with the audience. So publishers can go beyond their own content and offer the "long form" services to brand advertisers and other partners.

  4. Adam Singolda from Taboola, October 19, 2012 at 1:04 p.m.

    Ron, thanks for the comment, and I agree. This is somewhat similar to what Twitter is trying to do by allowing advertisers to sponsor other people's tweet if they help them convey values they believe in. I also agree it has higher degree of credibility and trust (re Grant's point which is also true) as the content being created by someone else.

    Grant, re: trust -- this is what I think. If you promote content nobody cares to engage with, or if you deceive users to click on it via funky creative and then they bounce out quickly on the other side -- it's just a matter of time until you will discourage your clients, users and struggle. I think you're absolutely right that trust is key. I'm not sure that what we're seeing today really existed at the scale we're looking at it now 10 years ago, even though of course publishers exchanged links way before "Content Marketing" came up. I think that today advertisers or publishers that want a million people to watch or read something they created by in the following 48 have more tools to do it, some tools are better than others like every market. I think that doing a really (really) good job and build trust is not easy, but possible. I also think that “Social” way of discovering content is nice, but to me I think it's not so exciting as the universe of people I know that can recommend stuff to me is too limited. I’m not sure I know most of my Facebook friends as well. I think I would want to discover things I never knew existed that could reside outside of the universe I currently live in. My 2 cents…

  5. Grant Crowell from, October 19, 2012 at 1:34 p.m.

    To Ron's point, I would also qualify that traditional publishers and news-rooted media agencies typically understand these issues of disclosure better than publishers starting in online media (and that's especially true with the FTC's own disclosure guidelines). That doesn't mean that they are as ethical as they should be about it; rather, they find new ways to take creative risks.

    Adam – thank you very much for your thoughtful response and your insight. I'd highly recommend checking out my interview on that same subject with the CEO of Blogworld/New Media Expo:

  6. Adam Singolda from Taboola, October 19, 2012 at 2:04 p.m.

    Grant, thanks for comment and for sharing the interview -- and I will definitely check it out.

  7. Andrew Boer from MovableMedia, October 22, 2012 at 12:08 p.m.

    This is going to be a semantic comment, but one I hope is worth making, since I have heard Grant's quote ("This isn't new") quite often -- typically, from premium publishers, SEO shops, and PR firms who are now rebranding as "content marketers".

    While we can all agree that marketers have used content for a long time -- including custom publishing, marketing collateral, white-papers, and catalogs. All of these are content acting as marketing at some basic level.

    And this broad "Marketing with content" version of Content Marketing has recently grown into a broad subject area that may include and encompass corporate blogs, SEO, PR, Social Media, Sales collateral, and marketing communications, all of which run on content.

    But then there is also this new, burgeoning thing that Adam is describing - which we HAVE occasionally seen it before (nothing is truly new) but it has been pretty rare -- where truly, "brands become publishers".

    This new "Content Marketing" is what Red Bull, Amex Open, and Nike, in Adam's example, are doing. This new thing, which for clarity I'll call "Branded Publishing", fits a two part test:

    1) Is the brand now holding itself out as a trusted, neutral resource, in direct competition with the publishers in its sector?

    2) Does the brand's content target an audience who may not be existing customers, without an implicit or explicit sales message?

    In other words, does it look like a Publisher? This version of "Branded Publishing" is what some folks call Content Marketing -- it is a new trend that appears to be growing.

    Interestingly, when you go to places like the CMI (Joe Pulizzi coined or at least popularized the term "Content Marketing'), it seems to me that they have some cognitive dissonance about all of this. My view is that they started out thinking about this little niche area of Branded Publishing, but they are expanding the definition to this much larger tent.

    Finally, there have been a few examples of this narrow-casted version of "Branded Publishing" like the soap opera or the sponsored newsreels of early television. Nothing is truly new. But this model of brands truly acting as the Media was widely supplanted by advertising -- but just now it is making a big comeback.

    What makes the shift interesting is that it implies the trust we have had in the press/media has eroded to an extent that it seems we are willing to put our trust in brands. We only require that content is free to consume, that the brands vouchsafe for quality and accuracy, and finally they make an effort to avoid the appearance of bias.

  8. John Ivory from Razorfish, October 23, 2012 at 12:58 p.m.

    Thanks for an insightful article. I would contend, though, that for most brands, publishing content and "purposely never mentioning [their brand] even once" would be an unproductive investment. Unless you are the leader in a category, your investment would benefit brands with higher market share & awareness in the category more than your brand. For example, if I were Puma, had a new light shoe in the U.S., and developed content for it without mentioning the Puma brand, it would more likely help Nike than my brand. If I wrote only about the differentiating features of my brand, then it would be obvious who created the content.

  9. Adam Singolda from Taboola, October 25, 2012 at 4:38 p.m.

    Hi John: and thanks for the great note.

    I do agree that unless you're at the top of the category it will be hard(er) if there is absolutely nothing of your brand in the article. I don't know Puma that well (I need to find more time to run :-)), but if they were to find a value that is not a "me too" to Nike, and that could resonate with their brand or products they could provoke/educate consumers in a very powerful power, in my opinion. This is not to say it's easy, but the power of content marketing is to organically grow long-term value with consumers by educating them on what you think matters w/o pushing them banners they need to click on.
    There is also a lot of in-between the two corners you and are are speaking about I believe (no brand mention .. to.. all about the brand) -- for example, Forbes has a unique and innovative program called Brand Voice where companies can produce content. Funny enough, while there is a little logo at the top, I found myself reading a ton of stuff there before realizing that well written content is produced by Brands directly. What is the content about? well, it will vary per brand. Here is an example
    A good question would be, why would SAP write about CIO and CMO? perhaps because they want to relate with those people in the organization, or a different reason but for whatever reason they write about them -- they don't mention SAP in the article. I love it.

    Hope this makes sense.

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