I have worked in the content field for (gulp) almost 40 years. It started in 1985 when, as a 22-year-old with a freshly minted Journalism degree, I started working for a newsletter publishing company. This was supposed to be a brief stop on the way to fame and fortune as an advertising agency copywriter.
It didn’t quite turn out that way. After two-plus decades working for custom publishers, I decided to hang out my shingle as a full-time freelance writer in 2009. Although I didn’t know it then, my timing couldn’t have been better because that’s about when the whole concept of content marketing really started to take off.
“Content marketing” has been around a lot longer than this, though. The term may have first been coined in 1996 by a man named John F. Oppedahl at a journalist roundtable. But the practice of content marketing goes back a century or longer. For example, in 1916 Campbells started offering free booklets with recipes that used Campbells soup. That sounds like content marketing to me.
So What is Content Marketing, Anyway?
Ask 10 marketers for a definition of content marketing and you’ll get 10 different answers. But here’s one definition that I like: Content marketing is the practice of giving away free information to build brand awareness, increase marketing campaign response, convert online traffic and educate prospects about your company, products or services.
One marketing expert came up with the term “edutainment” to describe content marketing — because the content should be educational and entertaining.
The explosion of content marketing around 2010 coincided with the takeoff of social media and blogging, soon followed by podcasting. These digital platforms offered marketers unlimited opportunities to get their content in front of customers and prospects easily and inexpensively.
Today, Americans spend an average of nine hours every day engaging with digital content — this goes up to 11 hours for Millennials. In other words, people are spending more than an average workday reading stuff online. Let that sink in for a minute.
Business-to-Business Content Marketing
I work mainly in the business-to-business — or B2B, using fancy lingo — area, creating content that businesses use to market to other businesses. Content marketing is an especially effective B2B marketing tool because most business buyers are hungry for information that will help them make better purchasing decisions.
In The Content Marketing Handbook, Robert W. Bly states that using free, value-added content as part of a B2B lead generation campaign can at least double the number of inquiries received compared to a campaign without a content offer. Bly says B2B buyers today don’t want to be “sold” anything — they want how-to information that will be useful to them in their job. For example:
- 80% prefer a series of articles over an ad.
- 70% say content marketing makes them feel closer to a product or business.
- 60% say content marketing has helped them make better purchase decisions.
As a result, 90% of the most successful B2B content marketers prioritize their audience’s desires for useful information over sending them sales and promotional content, according to Bly.
Biggest Challenges Faced by Content Marketers
In his book, Bly lists the following top challenges for B2B content marketers today:
- Producing engaging content
- Measuring content effectiveness
- Producing content consistently
- Measuring content marketing ROI
- Producing a variety of content
- Having a limited content marketing budget
Notice that three of these top six challenges have to do with content production: producing a variety of content that’s engaging on a consistent basis. As a content creator, this doesn’t surprise me at all. It’s what I see my clients dealing with almost every day.
So this is what I’ll be focusing on in a new series of blogs on content marketing. I’d love to hear your feedback on the content marketing challenges you’re facing, as well as your content marketing success stories and any tips you’d like to share. Leave your feedback in the comments section below.