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Content Is NOT the Same as Content Marketing

Editor’s note: Confusion still exists about how content and content marketing differ. It isn’t about the definition, but the difference between creating content and practicing content marketing. This post is updated to provide you with a better understanding and to be shared with your teams and executives. 

An e-book, a webinar, and a white paper are not content marketing. Ads are not content marketing. Social media posts are not content marketing. Marketing with content is not the same thing as content marketing.

But what is the difference between content and content marketing? The answer is the publisher-like destination and the regular frequency of quality content that you use to attract and build an audience. You don’t own the audience on social platforms. And one e-book is not consistent enough to build the trust that audiences today are expecting.

One e-book is not #contentmarketing, says @BrennerMichael. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

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.

Think American Express’s Business Trends and Insights:

Or Red Bull’s The Red Bulletin:

Or one of my favorite thought leadership marketing destinations,

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.

The problem with content

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

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

The problem with content is the same as the problem with campaigns – they are visible only to a small piece of your audience for a short period. Up to now, a major problem with most content was that it was created for the boss. That is changing. Successful marketers prioritize the audience’s needs over promotional messaging as CMI’s 2019 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends study found:

The results easily illustrate the benefits of this approach. If your content isn’t created for the audience you are trying to reach, engage, and convert, it will have a negligible shelf life. Stop creating content to sell. Stop creating content no one will ever see.

Stop creating content – create a content brand.

Stop creating #content. Create a content brand, says @BrennerMichael. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Promise of a content brand

Seth Godin’s proclamation in 2008: “Content marketing is all the marketing that’s left” continues to ring true.

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 must create content people 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.”

An audience-first approach to business storytelling = a loyal audience for your #content brand. @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 this book to drive the approach I’m using on my company 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. Consequently, I took 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, 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.

For example, e-commerce solutions provider BigCommerce shows small retailers the basics in online shopping functionality, conversion optimization, digital marketing, and customer experience through a simple blog URL on the same domain:

On the other hand, is a domain independent of its owner, Adobe. 

3. Determine how branded your site will be

Similar to the earlier point, this is different in terms of branding. An on-domain content site should contain at least some elements of your corporate brand. A good example is HP’s Enterprise Community:

An on-domain #content site should contain at least some elements of your corporate brand. @BrennerMichael Click To Tweet

On an off-domain content site, your creative direction should support whatever topic you want to become an authority in. Here’s how SAP is doing it with the site I started for them more than seven years ago, Digitalist Mag:

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.
  • Visuals to support the topic and break up the text.
  • 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.
  • Calls to action, an offer, or 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. Create a plan to support visual content

Getting all 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. Best, you can tell stories with visuals. Data visualization blog Information is Beautiful tells a story with numbers with each of its posts.

You don’t need to break the bank to incorporate visuals, says @BrennerMichael. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

6. Build the site to focus on subscriptions

I know I am repeating this step because it’s important. 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 giving them great content that they can find only in their inbox. This is a critical step in educating your customers, especially if you’re a professional service provider or B2B company.

7. 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. Our research shows that increases in frequency of quality content deliver a predictable and in some cases exponential return on investment.

Increases in frequency of quality #content deliver a predictable & exponential ROI via @MKTGInsiders. #research Click To Tweet

8. 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).

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 the fundamentals of creating, documenting, and implementing a successful content strategy at Content Marketing World 2019. Register today to reserve your place for the Sept. 3 workshop. And stick around for the full conference Sept. 3-6. 

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute