By Joe Pulizzi published May 14, 2014

Where Content Marketing Fits in Your Marketing Plan

man-writing-blackboardWhile content marketing certainly isn’t new, there continues to be a lot of confusion over what it is and what it isn’t.

To help you understand how content marketing should fit into your business’ other marketing efforts, the Content Marketing Institute team took a fresh look at the discipline — and examined how it relates to other common techniques. 

Though CMI’s definition of content marketing has subtly evolved over the years, the following is the clearest description we can offer for this space as it exists today:

Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.

A few things to take away from this definition:

  • Content marketing is strategic — it requires a plan: As our research shows, having a documented content marketing strategy is one of the key things that distinguishes effective content marketers from their less-effective peers.
  • Content marketing involves both the creation and the distribution of content: Your job is not done when your content has been created. You need marketing for your content marketing.
  • At the very minimum, the content you create must be relevant and valuable: Not “just any” content will do (and there’s absolutely no room for spammy, farm-generated content). Think of genuinely useful content that does not pitch but, rather, informs.
  • Content marketing is consistently delivered: One-off pieces of content don’t count; nor do campaigns that have a finite duration. Content marketing needs to be executed on an ongoing basis. Honestly, this isn’t always easy to accomplish, and success won’t necessarily come overnight. But the results you are able to achieve can be staggering in terms of audience engagement and value.
  • Your content needs to attract and retain an audience, with the ultimate goal of driving profitable customer action: Said another way, don’t create content just for the sake of having content. It needs to do something that will help you reach your key business goal(s).
  • You must have a clearly defined audience in mind for everything you create. Even if you think anyone and everyone can benefit from your product or service, it’s always better to focus your content on reaching a particular audience target or niche.

Content marketing is marketing 

Now that we’re on the same page on what content marketing is, it’s important to understand how it fits into your business’ marketing strategy. Content marketing is not a standalone marketing technique that can thrive in a vacuum. Rather, it’s something that needs to be integrated into your overarching marketing plan, as its principles will strengthen all your other marketing efforts.

How? Here is a look at the various functions content marketing can serve within your organization — and how it fits in with other standard marketing techniques.
1. Use content marketing as a first-line technique to drive other types of marketing: 

  • SEO: There is no downside to optimizing your content for SEO, but it should not be your primary focus. In light of what your customers want (and Google’s ever-changing algorithms), focus on this even more basic rule: Write compelling content that your target audience wants.
  • Social media marketing: While social media is all about sharing things from others (consider Andrew Davis’s 4-1-1 approach), it also needs to support business goals. Successful organizations develop a content hub (e.g., a blog or website) that they can direct their social media followers to, in order to forge a deeper relationship. And, as we have recently discussed, you want to avoid building your content on rented land.
  • Demand generation: You need a consistent and logical stream of content to feed all marketing automation and demand generation programs.

2. Use content marketing in conjunction with complementary and/or overlapping disciplines to amplify your success:

  • Content strategy: While content marketing is focused on changing or enhancing a consumer behavior through content, content strategy involves managing content (marketing, or otherwise) as a strategic asset across an organization. You need both.
  • PR: Ideally, PR and content marketing should work hand-in-hand, as they are based on the same principles: figuring out what your ideal audience members want and telling a story in a way that is relevant to them.

3. Content marketing can be used interchangeably with several other content creation techniques (though in essence, they are all really subsets of content marketing):

  • Brand storytelling: Brand storytelling is using great stories to compel people to create an emotional connection with an organization. Understanding these principles benefits content marketers as stories lead to more — and more-loyal — customers.
  • Brand journalism: Brand journalism involves reporting on news, trends, research, organizations, and people in a way that frames the story in a brand’s perspective or point of view. This approach, based on traditional journalism, is a great way to spark interest in an organization, product, or service without directly promoting it.
  • Branded content: Branded content aligns with the voice and essence of a brand (and usually includes an explicit disclosure of its relationship to the brand), but doesn’t directly discuss the brand’s offerings.
  • Inbound marketing: Inbound and content marketing overlap in that they both convert prospects to buyers. But, content marketing takes this a step further, as it can be used for customer retention and up-selling. It’s also great for converting customers to evangelists.

4. Use the key principles of content marketing to get the best results from paid approaches:

  • Promoted content: Promoted content is when a brand pays a publisher to have its name or message associated with a piece of content within the user experience of a website or social network. This includes sponsored content, native advertising and content discovery.
  • Paid search units: Google and Bing serve ads that are related to users’ search queries. To get the most from your investment in a technique like this, it’s essential that the content that you present to consumers who click through your ads be specific and relevant to the term they were searching for.

Want to learn more? The infographic below provides a visual breakdown of all these terms, and their distinctions. Special thanks to Seth Price (@sethstuff) from Placester for his help with this.

What is your take? Where do you think content fits in a marketing strategy? What else would you add?

Ready to make content marketing an integral part of your business operations? Download our workbook to learn how to Launch Your Own Content Marketing Program

Author: Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi is the Founder of Content Marketing Institute, a UBM company, the leading education and training organization for content marketing, which includes the largest in-person content marketing event in the world, Content Marketing World. Joe is the winner of the 2014 John Caldwell Lifetime Achievement Award from the Content Council. Joe’s the author of five books, including his latest, Killing Marketing. His third book, Epic Content Marketing was named one of “Five Must Read Business Books of 2013” by Fortune Magazine. If you ever see Joe in person, he’ll be wearing orange. Follow him on Twitter @JoePulizzi.

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  • Kaloyan Banev

    No doubt it is a whole science, that require well documented plan and schedule. I think most small businesses doesn’t have content marketing plan, but we can learn a lot from “big boys”.

    • NenadSenic

      My experience is that small businesses are more agile when it comes to strategy and really following it than big companies. 🙂

  • Mike Myers

    Interesting post, Joe. As we continue to de-layer the onion (is that a word?) I would be curious about your take on how other elements, like ECM and marketing automation fit with Content Marketing. Our solution is to create what we call a Content Program that includes Content Marketing (story manufacturing, if you will) Enterprise Content Management (story warehousing) and Content Publishing (story distribution, also including automation). At the center, obviously, is the strategy. Please let me know if you have seen similar plans and can share any insights or thoughts you have.

    Thanks, as always, for all you do!

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Hi Mike…yes, we are working on more stories around those issues. ECM and MA are both critical to content marketing, depending on who has the ball. And this is why content marketing is not easy…in larger enterprises it can get very complicated and political. More to come…

      • Mike Myers

        Thanks, Joe. We’re all ears.

  • Valentine Smith

    A good post and good to see PR in there, but as Mike Myers says there are other elements we need to include. I really think marketing automation is essential, it just drives the whole thing, but good distribution is the key and this is where a good social media structure and profile is needed to get the message direct to those all important personas.

  • Matt Ramos

    Great post Joe. These are all things I’m thinking about in new ways now. Just recently finished reading Epic Content Marketing this week, going to be following the blog closely.

    I’m not too sure I agree with using paid search as a tactic in content marketing, or marketing at all. I’m down with promoted content (Facebook, Twitter, Outbrain/Taboola etc.) but I can’t see AdWords or Bing Ads being sustainable or scalable. Are you seeing good success with that?

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Hi Matt…sorry for the delay on responding here. Actually, we’ve worked with a number of clients who’ve seen great results in Adwords by switching to pure content offers. I don’t think it’s right for everyone, but it’s worth testing out.

  • Edwin Dearborn

    You always post amazing research and content. But this is by far one of your best. You are truly an ambassador for those like myself, obsessed in attempting to educate the SMB world on why they need to engage their audiences with content marketing and all that it can accomplish.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks so much Edwin. Really appreciate the shout out.

  • Jason Jue

    Agree with general premise. In the interest of completeness would add other marketing communications like events and other marketing functions like field and partner

    • Joe Pulizzi

      HI Jason…absolutely agree with you on this.

  • Barbara Mckinney

    Content is very important in any business. Knowing how to use it the right way for your marketing will surely bring you to success. Great article here Joe!

  • friv 3

    Thank you for sharing this, can help me learn more about content marketing, hope can most effectively be brought to.

  • Gianluca Bregoli

    Very interesting article. If we assume that the skeleton of the marketing plan is corporate strategy, PESTEL analysis, SWOT analysis, objectives, marketing strategy, implementation, control and forecasting, content marketing should sit in the marketing strategy session when you identify all the tools part of the marketing programme. Content marketing is one of the tools available to achieve the outlined objectives. Then content marketing should be broken down into its components, from the strategic one to measurement of results and reporting.

  • Seth Price

    Joe, you crushed it on the post, honored to participate in creating the visuals. Keep up the awesome work.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Fantastic stuff Seth…let’s do it again

  • Dadie Host

    Look, the CMI is the bees knees and it just got a hell of a lot better. … In other words, your CMI game just got elevated.

  • Jan Fulmer Luongo

    I still don’t think I understand the difference between content marketing and content strategy. Can you give me an example?

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Hi Jan…check out this article from Robert Rose. I think this might put it all together.

      • Jan Fulmer Luongo

        Joe, I was wondering if you could answer a question for me. My fiance keeps asking me: What is the difference between copy and content?” How would you answer that ?

        • Michele Linn

          Jan, content is pretty broad term and encompasses any way that you communicate with your audience. It can be anything from white papers to web content to videos to infographics, etc, etc. It goes beyond text. On the other hand, copy is specific to text. Personally, I equate copy with persuasive marketing, but, more broadly, it’s is the text with some content formats.

          Does that help?