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Unless you’ve been in a cave for the past year or two, you’ve heard about artificial intelligence, or AI. Sometimes it seems like AI is all anybody is talking about, whether it’s how computers are going to take over the world a la HAL 9000 in classic 1968 sci-fi film 2001: A Space Odyssey, or how AI is going to take everyone’s jobs away from them.

Discussions about AI are especially heated in the marketing and content creation world. So you might be surprised, as I was, with the results of a recent study to determine the number one marketing priority of high-growth businesses.

No, it’s not AI. The top marketing priority of these businesses in 2024 is … content marketing. This was listed by more than a third (37%) of the marketers who responded to the survey. Number two was brand differentiation (27%) followed by social media marketing (26%), search engine optimization (19%), and marketing technology and automation (19%).

Notice that AI didn’t even rank in the top five of marketers’ priorities right now.

Why Content is Essential

I was also surprised to see what kinds of content marketers are creating. Case studies (25%) were at the top of the list, which isn’t too surprising. But blogs (13%) came in at number five, which is really surprising to me. I’d have expected blogs to be number one. Webinars (22%) were number two, thought leadership on social media (14%) was number three and video content (14%) was number four.

The report’s authors attribute the high priority given to content marketing to today’s internet-search-driven marketplace, and I agree. Almost every purchase decision starts with an online search, so having well-written and informative content online is no longer optional — it’s essential.

Defining Content Marketing

There are lots of different definitions for content marketing (Google it yourself and see) but here’s one I like: Content marketing is the practice of giving away free information to build brand awareness, increase marketing response, convert online traffic, and educate prospects about your company, products or services.

As I explained in a previous blog, while the term “content marketing” is relatively new, the concept has been around for a long time. Back in the early 1900s, Campbells offered free booklets with recipes that used Campbells soup. Sounds like content marketing to me!

Content marketing is especially effective in the B2B area because most business buyers look for value-added, unbiased information that will help them make better decisions.

Using free, non-promotional content in your B2B lead generation campaign can double your response, states Robert W. Bly in his book, The Content Marketing Handbook. According to Bly, the vast majority of B2B buyers prefer a series of articles over an ad and say that content marketing has helped them make better buying decisions.

How Content Marketing Boosts Sales

There are lots of different ways that an effective content marketing program can help you boost sales and revenue. Here are my top five:

  1. Content marketing educates your prospects. An emphasis on education, instead of selling, is the thing that sets content marketing apart from any other type of marketing. Good content educates prospects about the features and functions they should look for when buying products and services while keeping them informed about news and developments in your industry.
  2. Content marketing positions you as a subject matter expert. This is the holy grail of content marketing, especially in the B2B world. Companies want to know that the vendors they hire are knowledgeable about their industry. Publishing articles, blogs, whitepapers and case studies is a great way to demonstrate your industry expertise and position yourself as an SME.
  3. Content marketing improves SEO and drives website traffic. Almost nobody understands everything that goes into search engine rankings, but everybody agrees that publishing fresh, relevant content is critical to boosting search results. The higher your website ranks in the search engines, the more organic traffic you’ll get.
  4. Content marketing helps generate qualified leads. I’m talking about the marketing tactic of offering free (or “gated”) content in exchange for a prospect’s name and contact information. For example, I’ve written lots of whitepapers and e-books for clients that offer them to prospects who fill out a form with their name, email address and phone number so they can be contacted by a salesperson.
  5. Content marketing takes advantage of the principle of reciprocity.It’s human nature that when people receive something they perceive to be of value, they feel some obligation to give something back in return. This doesn’t necessarily mean that prospects will feel obligated to hire you just because you gave them free content. But they may be more inclined to accept your phone call or return your email.