By Michael Brenner published April 17, 2016

What Is the Difference Between Content and Content Marketing?


What is the difference between content and content marketing? The answer is the destination you will use to attract and build an audience.

Content marketing is about attracting an audience to an experience (or “destination”) that you own, build, and optimize to achieve your marketing objectives.

Content is everywhere. There’s product content, sales content, customer-service content, event content, employee-generated content, marketing and campaign content. Even advertising is content.

With content marketing you are attracting an audience to a brand-owned destination versus interrupting or buying an audience on someone else’s platform.

Native Advertising Is Not Content Marketing

Think American Express’ OPEN forum:

American Express-OPEN forum

Or Red Bull’s RedBulletin:

Red Bull-RedBulletin

Or my latest favorite content marketing destination, Casper’s VanWinkle’s:


These are three great examples of content marketing destinations (content marketing hubs) that are owned by brands, look and act like publisher sites, and in different ways, drive business value for the brands that own them.

The problem with content

I talk to people every day on the subject of content marketing. And I find the concept of having a content marketing destination, owned by the brand, to serve as the property for its content efforts, is too often lost.

Most marketing teams are focused on creating content that supports the brand or its products. We create this content mainly because someone asked us to. Not because it meets a customer need.

The problem with content is the same as the problem with campaigns. The average half-life of content on Twitter is less than three hours. On Facebook, five hours will give you 75% of all the views you will get. An average article reaches just about everyone it’s going to reach in 37 days.

Thanks to social media, our attention spans are now around 8 seconds. That’s 4 seconds less than a goldfish.

Like content, campaigns run for a short period and then they die. And if you’re like most organizations, 60 to 70% of the content your company creates goes unused.

The problem with most content is that it is created for the boss. It isn’t created for the audience you are trying to reach, engage, and convert. So stop creating content that sells. Stop creating content no one will ever see. Stop creating campaigns that have a short shelf life.

Create #content for the audience you are trying to reach, engage, & convert says @BrennerMichael Click To Tweet

Stop creating content. Create a content brand.

Promise of a content brand

As Seth Godin once said, content marketing “is all the marketing that’s left.

Many people easily confuse content with content marketing. Content marketing is a strategic solution to a strategic problem. To reach, engage, and convert new customers for your business, you have to create content people actually want.

And you need to attract them to a content marketing destination. According to author and speaker Andrew Davis, “developing a content brand takes an audience-first approach to business storytelling that builds a loyal audience.”

Joe Pulizzi wrote Content Inc., a whole book to help brands and entrepreneurs attract an audience BEFORE developing products and services.

Joe’s work has been an inspiration to me for years. I used the steps Joe recommends in his latest book to drive the approach I’m using on my own content marketing destination, Marketing Insider Group. I’ve been blogging as a marketing insider for over five years, posting one to two times per week, to build an audience of engaged readers.

But only last year did I take the step of branching out to offer services to brands looking to figure out how to build an effective content marketing strategy.

The difference is the destination

OK, so now you’ve got the message. You’re committed to moving beyond just creating better content to acting like a publisher. But how do you go about building an effective content marketing destination? Follow these eight steps:

  1. Determine your content marketing mission statement. It should support your brand mission and put your customers at the center. Define who your target audience is, what topic or topics you support, and what value you provide for your audience.

2. Pick a URL. Consider whether your content marketing destination should be your company’s brand domain ( or on an unbranded site.


  1. Determine how branded your site will be. This is a similar but different question than No. 2. An on-domain content site should contain at least some elements of your corporate brand.


On an off-domain content site, your creative direction should support whatever topic you want to become an authority in.


­­­­­4. Think about the components of an effective content marketing destination. Your site should include all the components typically included on any publisher site such as:

  • Categories across the top to show what topics you cover
  • Articles published frequently with visible authors and publication dates
  • Heavy use of images to support the topic and break up the text
  • A strong focus on growing your owned audience by including calls to subscribe in your updates
  • Highlights of top-performing content so readers can easily discover your best content
  • A call to action, an offer, or a contact-us page for those who want to reach you directly
  • Social-sharing options so your readers can easily help promote your best content


  1. Build the site to focus on subscriptions. I know I am repeating this step. But this is so important it is worth repeating. Subscribers are a measure of reach, engagement, and conversion. They represent the audience of readers who invite you into their overflowing email inbox. Optimize for them. Build your list. Then build trust by consistently producing great content.


  1. Publish consistently. If you cover one topic, publish at least once a week. If you cover two topics, publish at least twice a week. If possible, publish every day on the categories of content that will attract the right audience.


  1. Define your measurement plan. You do not need to pick 65 metrics to track. Just look at traffic (visitors and page views), engagement (social shares, comments, time on site) and conversion (subscribers, contact-form submissions).
  1. Create a plan to support visual content. Getting all of the above done is hard enough. But once you do, you will find that visual content is a challenge. You don’t need to break the bank to incorporate visuals. You can cover and embed other people’s visual content. You can create SlideShare decks for little or no budget.


By following these steps, you can build a content marketing destination to reach, engage, and convert new customers for your business.

Join Michael Brenner as he shares more tips for successful content marketing during his presentation at Content Marketing World 2016. Register today and use code BLOG100 to save $100.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner is a globally-recognized keynote speaker on leadership, culture, and marketing. Co-author of the bestselling book The Content Formula, Michael's work has been featured by The Economist, The Guardian, and Entrepreneur Magazine. In 2017, Michael was named a Top Business Speaker by The Huffington Post and a top CMO Influencer by Forbes. Follow Michael on Twitter @BrennerMichael.

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  • Asma Akther

    nice article ..

    • Michael Brenner

      Thanks Asma! Happy Sunday

  • Carla Johnson

    Great post Michael, and a distinction that I think a lot of marketers aren’t sure about.

    • Michael Brenner

      Thanks Carla, always great to get support from an expert like you!

  • rogercparker

    Dear Michael:
    Great post! You cleared up some ambiguities/distinctions I have been thinking about.

    Your 8-step list for creating a content destination, was very helpful. Especially Point 4, “Think about the components of an effective content marketing destination.”

    Your list provides content marketers with a handy checklist for building, and evaluating, their destination. Evergreen writing at its best. destination.

    • Michael Brenner

      Thanks so much Roger. I always try to make everything I write as practical as can be. It all comes down to the questions I hear, the challenges marketers are facing, etc. And this is a big one. Content marketing is so much more than just random acts of content!

      • rogercparker

        What an amazing last line, i.e. , “Content marketing is so much more than just random acts of content!”

        Wow! That’s a keeper. I could see creating a line of t-shirts or posters, etc. it says it all. Maybe a Pinterest invitation inviting CM’s to visually interpret it?

  • SmackMacDougal

    Heed my dictum: If a product is not on offer and lacks a price, there can be no marketing.

    The purpose of marketing is to gain sales, whether from new customers or from past customers. There are only four ways to gain sales and thus do marketing — selling, advertising, business development, promotion.

    There simply is no such thing as “content marketing.” What hucksters, con men and charlatans call content marketing is merely the digital equivalent of marketing collateral — brochures, sell sheets, spec sheets, white papers, promo photos, newsletters, guides — being included in direct marketing (e.g., call, write or come in) efforts as well as advertising efforts.

    Those who believe content marketing exists are wrong and thus do not understand practical business.

    The holy grail of marketing is personalization — super-intelligence virtual face-to-face selling that lets sellers make unique offers to each would-be customer, instantaneously. Along with that future is content optimization — offering marketing collateral customized to the would-be customer’s expressed preferences. True personalization will combine custom-fit products, which includes everything from physical attributes like size, shape, color, as well as delivery attributes and even financing attributes, all tailored to any individual’s needs and situation profile.

  • Alex Lopes

    Great post Michael. I really appreciate you taking the time to write this.

    I liked the 8-step process, though I think a few of those points are focused specifically on inbound marketing and not all of content marketing such as points 5 and 7.

    However, I found a lot of value in your prescriptive approach. Point 6 gave me a good rule of thumb on how often to publish. I’ve been wresting with that issue.

    • Michael Brenner

      Thanks for your comment Alex,

      I think points 5 and 7 are really important to content marketing. The whole point of this article is that you have to start by building a content marketing destination. Part of the value of that destination can be found in the ability to track and measure the value, often in the form of subscribers (step 5). And then on to step 7, measurement, subscribers are also the best way to optimize content marketing. I hope that helped to clarify.

      • Alex Lopes

        Hi Michael, that makes sense now. Thanks for clarifying.

  • Robert Brown Farley

    Nice breakdown of the difference between the two. Thanks for taking the time to explain…
    Also I thought the stats are quite accurate as to social sharing…
    We here were just talking about the age of the 30 second TV commercials and how they have to be shorter and able to connect and convert sales.

    • Michael Brenner

      Thanks Robert. I think ads will start to look much more like content marketing. Sort of the ideal vision of what native was supposed to be (but hasn’t delivered really yet). Why? Because brands are too quick to jump to promotion. You have to introduce yourself to someone before asking for a date.

      • Robert Brown Farley

        Always started out with a smile, a handshake, and a brief bio just so the client has some knowledge of who I am and what they can expect experience wise.
        As Google points out… (E)xperience (A)uthority and (T)rust

      • Robert Brown Farley

        Have to agree! There was a movement to integrate the 30 second commercials on TV in the same way as though it, the commercials, belonged.
        But powerhouse marketing concepts are come out loud and proud.
        Coke is the real thing, Pepsi the next generation, and so on…

  • Lesley J. Vos

    “The problem with most content is that it is created for the boss.”(c)
    Smiling here 🙂 ‘Cause it’s 100% my thoughts, too.
    Thanks for the great article, Michael!


    Hi, congratulations! Ecxellent article. I have a question: for you, what determines if the content hub should be branded? What level of brand exposure should have the site and What are the main factors to consider when making the decision? Thanks for your answer!

    Matias Posada

  • Greg Verdino

    Great post, Michael — but it seems the contrast you’ve set up is “bad content” vs “good content marketing”. Yes, quite clearly, a lot of the content produced by companies is produced for the CEO instead of the customer — one-shots, vanity pieces, etc. But just like your solid examples of fantastic content (marketing) destinations, “plain old” content can transcend the bad practices and campaign-oriented approaches you’ve highlighted in your set-up.

    Functions across the organization often have needs (and tap into) useful, usable, evergreen, *strategic* content assets to deliver value to constituents. Think customer service, sales, human resources, investor relations, and so on. And yes, even content about the company and its products plays a valuable role at various points in the customer journey. I don’t think you’d disagree… even if maybe you’d argue that certain content use cases, even when drawn from outside the marketing function, are still marketing use cases (e.g., everything is marketing, just like everyone is in sales).

    They key to success in both content and content marketing is the same. It’s strategy. As you know, content strategy (as a practice separate from content marketing strategy) aims to make content a strategic asset of the business, and across the business. Done right, this can make even a sales-one sheet (or pitch presentation for that matter) a useful, usable tool that customers will value when employed at the right time for the right reason to answer the right questions. Right?

    So yes, content and content marketing are different, but that doesn’t mean they’re meant to be at odds. Bad content (or tactical content in search of a strategy) is at odds, regardless of whether you’re talking about content content or content marketing. That’s what really matters.

  • Katrina Chua

    Definitely! This is great Michael. You’ve had able to clearly differentiate a content to content marketing! Well because not all content are able to drive engagement. Content marketing should be planned which is dedicated for the audience experience and benefits and should not focus on the product or service itself. Thank you for this valuable info!

  • Mattducz

    Define your measurement plan. So important! So many companies seem to just throw content at a wall and see what sticks rather than approaching its creation strategically. It seems like a no-brainer, but I mean…you see haphazard content marketing everyday.