By Michael Brenner published April 3, 2017

What Is the Difference Between Content and Content Marketing?


Editor’s note: There continue to be a lot of questions about how content and content marketing differ. This post shares an insightful answer that resonates with marketers, so we are bringing it back. 

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 Van Winkle’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.

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.”

Audience-first approach to business storytelling = a loyal audience for your content brand says @DrewDavisHere Click To Tweet

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 seven 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.


3. 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

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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).

8. 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 presentations at Content Marketing World 2017. 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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    Thanks for sharpening the edges on this topic, Michael. It’s also a common misunderstanding on this side of the pond.

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      Thanks Joakim, I’m currently on your side trying to sort it out 😉

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    Yes, there has been a lot of misunderstanding regarding content and content marketing…good to see it clarified like this! I would just love to add that when it comes to no.2 – choice of URL, whatever you choose, make it as memorable as possible!

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      Great point Anja, it’s difficult these days with some many easy-to-remember urls taken. But many companies have been quite creative.

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    This is so on point, thank you! But what if the brand already has a website? Should this existing website be the home of the content brand or should a new website be created anyway?

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      Hi Dafna, it depends, of course. For most companies the existing website should be the home of your content marketing (typically a blog section). The reasons for this include already having domain authority on google (helps to rank for search keywords) as well as existing traffic. However some brands decide to create separate sites for a number of reasons such as trying to reach new audiences, because of legacy website technical reasons, or because of a desire to change the perception of the brand. A complicated topic for sure but hopefully this gives you some sense of direction.

      • Dafna Ben-Yehoshua

        Yes, indeed 🙂 Thanks for your thorough reply!

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    Dear Michael: Thanks for your clarification and the 8 steps. I’m a little confused about “unbranded” site. Are you referring to a “topic-focused” site? How “visible” should the firm hosting/sponsoring the site be?

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