Thursday, November 12th, 2015 | 6 min read
What is content marketing, exactly? There’s no shortage of people taking a stab at the answer. Just Google “the definition of content marketing” and you’ll get a long list of articles by respected publications like Forbes, Content Marketing Institute, and Copyblogger.
The common thread running through each of these definitions, and the thing that sets content marketing apart from other types of marketing, is this: a customer-first mindset. Above all else, content marketing is designed to provide value for the customer. Its ultimate goal is to boost brand recognition and influence purchasing decisions, but that’s achieved by sharing insights that genuinely appeal to someone’s interest—not in-your-face product promotion.
With the rise of digital and the emergence of content marketing as a buzzword, it’s easy to mistake this phenomenon as something new. But it’s not.
Launched in 1895, many cite John Deere’s The Furrow—a magazine that taught farmers about technology and managing their business—as one of the first examples of corporate storytelling. The famous Michelin Guides, which continue to crown the best chefs around the globe, came out just a few years later. Others followed suit throughout the 20th century, as brands produced print publications, educational radio shows, comics, and more.
The first Michelin Guide, published in 1900 by tire manufacturer Michelin, provided ratings for hotels and restaurants with the goal of compelling drivers to travel more (and burn out their tires more quickly).
Fast forward to 2015: it has never been easier to design effective content marketing around what customers really want. Whereas brands used to have to guess about their customers’ pain points, or conduct extensive manual research to understand what people were interested in, they now have access to a massive trove of data about customer behavior and preferences.
With every action a consumer takes online—whether it’s sending a tweet, visiting a website, hearting an Instagram photo, or filling out a section of their Facebook profile—they leave a digital footprint that helps brands paint a picture about their habits, interests, likes, and dislikes.
But access to all this data comes with a caveat: people now expect brands to deliver increasingly relevant, personalized, timely, and useful information. As the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility.
A number of brands handle that responsibility incredibly well, especially those that have invested in the creation of standalone digital content hubs.
The American Express Open Forum, for example, offers practical advice and inspiration for growing small businesses and is known for being the top source of leads for new card members. GE Reports educates readers on innovation in science and technology, SAP’s Digitalist publishes business thought leadership, and the Red Bull Media House dishes out news on sports, culture, and lifestyle.
Beyond brand publishing, stand-out content marketing can be found in social media, mobile apps like Sephora’s Pocket Contour Class, and fun digital tools like this Out of Office Generator by Westin. The ability to deliver ads to hyper-targeted audience segments further enhances the potential for brands to share the right content with the right people at the right time.
But for all the progress brands have made in delivering amazing content marketing experiences, many still face challenges around scale, strategy, collaboration, and reporting.
They battle decentralized planning with information scattered throughout spreadsheets, tools, and email; incomplete analytics; and sporadic governance. They struggle to organize content across teams, departments, time zones, languages, and continents while maintaining brand consistency. They want to source compelling user-generated content, but there’s no tracking and approval system in place. They want to leverage stock image libraries, but the process is clunky and disconnected. They want to measure campaign performance and make decisions in real-time, but their metrics aren’t robust enough to generate deep, actionable insights. And they need to find stock images and video to support the enormous volume of content they produce, but the process is cumbersome.
Many of these problems stem from the lack of an integrated solution that allows brands to manage all of their content marketing under one roof. In order to support their ambitious content marketing strategy, brands deploy point solutions for each type of content they create. They may have social media management software for Facebook and Twitter, a content management system for blogging, a subscription to a stock image site for media, and so on. Getting all of these tools to talk to one another is a nightmare, and the result is a tangled web of software that reinforces internal organizational silos.
Going forward, the success of a brand’s content marketing strategy will hinge on the infrastructure used to deploy it. Brands need an integrated platform that allows them to manage all their content marketing efforts in one place; from campaign planning to reporting, paid, governance, and image sourcing. Only then can content management be transformed from a simple repository for managing assets to a core element of the brand’s content marketing and customer engagement infrastructure.
This will enable brands to get the most out of their content marketing initiatives, engage customers more effectively, and create more meaningful customer experiences.
About the Author: Chloe Mason Gray is the Blog Content Manager at Sprinklr. Her writing on marketing, travel, and career development has been published by Mashable, Forbes, KISSmetrics, Entrepreneur, The Daily Muse, the Human Parts Medium collection, and other sites across the web.