I’ve always explained the definition of content marketing in chunks. I usually lead in with a quick definition like “editorial-style content delivered from organizations to customers through all types of media channels”, or something like that. Sounds too textbook, doesn’t it? Then I’d give a few examples. Then, if they still don’t get it, I say “have you seen the airline magazines?” That usually does it.
Well, over the last few weeks, I’ve started using a new definition, “Content marketing is direct marketing with a higher purpose”. People seem get that right away. I just got off the phone with someone who works in the direct marketing industry and they immediately got it. “Oh yeah, more than the offer, you are trying to build a relationship”. Yes!!!
Let’s take this a step further. Here is the definition of direct marketing on Wikipedia:
“Direct marketing is a sub-discipline and type of marketing. There are two main definitional characteristics which distinguish it from other types of marketing or advertising. The first is that it attempts to send its messages directly to consumers, without the use of intervening media. This involves unsolicited commercial communication with consumers or businesses. The second characteristic is that it is focused on driving purchases that can be attributed to a specific “call-to-action.” This aspect of direct marketing involves an emphasis on trackable, measurable results (known as “response” in the industry) regardless of medium.”
- Messages are sent directly to consumers. Content marketing is targeted.
- Content marketing, performed correctly, always involves some sort of call-to-action.
- Direct marketing is measured through response, and is really the only way to determine if a direct marketing activity was successful. Response is easy to determine in direct marketing (clicks, downloads, calls, purchases, etc.). Response for content marketing could be anything under the sun depending on the marketing objectives of the program (time spent or engagement, downloads, sign-ups, click-throughs…even more challenging measurements such as brand preference).
- The definition of “call-to-action” is significantly different. Direct marketing has a specific call-to-action to measure that is usually a direct driver of a purchase decision. In content marketing, your overall goal is to deliver valuable and relevant content that match their informational needs. By doing so, the customer is more loyal, less prone to competitive products, spends more time with your content. Also, your goal with a content initiative may be to access another data point, so that you can refine your content plans to deliver even better content to them on a consistent basis. In business-to-business, where you may have to garner relationships with six or seven titles within an organization, content marketing addresses each of their needs individually to build your products overall case. Direct mail wouldn’t immediately work here because their are too many buying influences.
I think the biggest challenge to understanding content marketing is that it’s easy to get outside the boundaries of what exactly a content marketing product is. A custom magazine is a very easy indicator of content marketing. It’s valuable content, it’s precisely targeted, and it usually has multiple calls-to-action (unlike direct which usually has one). A content web-portal is a little harder to peg. You create the content portal for a very specific group of people, and probably sent them direct mail and email to drive them to the site, but there are aspects that fall outside of the direct marketing equation. Examples may be a news release program that increases SEO (search engine optimization) to drive more relevant searchers to your site. Or a linking strategy that does the same. Does the fact that you don’t “know” EXACTLY who you are targeting hurt the definition?
Get to the Point
Although you could argue many differences, although some inconsequential, the basic premise of content marketing being direct marketing with a higher purpose is sound. As a content marketer, I want to employ all the same tactics of direct mail except the call-to-action should reinforce a long-term customer relationship. That is done, not through an offer, but through great content that meets or exceeds their informational needs.
What say you?
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