What is Content Marketing? Is it just more hype?

What is content marketing, and why should businesses embrace it? A leading practitioner and true believer shares her view. 

By Andrea Edwards


There is a frenzy going on right now, one that’s centred on content marketing. Have you noticed it? It’s very noisy, so you couldn’t have missed it. However, one of my greatest concerns right now is that the din is causing utter confusion.


I recently hosted discussions at a content marketing event in Singapore, and all the people I met said they had one priority: “creating more content.” I reeled back from this because the focus shouldn’t be on more content; it should be on great content. Alas, I believe we are all about to be inundated, and we need to fix this before the deluge starts.


Why content marketing?


When deciding whether your business needs to embrace content marketing— and it does!—it’s imperative to understand why it exists in the first place. If you can understand this, you will knock it out of the park with content. Content marketing exists because how your customer researches and buys has changed, and this is inclusive of B2C and B2B.


In fact, your potential customers are likely to be 90% of the way through your sales cycle before they even come to you. Where are they? Consulting peers, searching the Internet for options, being interrupted by amazing content, and—most fundamentally— getting advice through their social media connections. This is the fundamental shift that has occurred, and it is precisely why businesses must market themselves in a new way. Customers have moved beyond brands, so you need to be where they are. But it’s not just that.


While your potential customers are making decisions and being influenced beyond your brand, they are also being entertained. From the antics of the Kardashians, One Direction, Justin Bieber or Miley Cyrus to the latest K-Pop, J-Pop and Korean soap operas to that cute baby/puppy/kitten video their friend has just posted, people are online for many reasons.


The goal of content marketing is to earn the right to your customer’s time within the mix of how they are consuming information online. Being awesome at this is the game changer for businesses today.


What is content marketing?


Content marketing is about creating amazing information that helps your customers to:

•       improve skills

•       be better informed

•       do something different

•       understand professional opportunities

•       align new ideas to their business

•       be healthier

•       be more effective at work

•       be more aware of issues

•       be empowered, and more


Today you need to focus on creating this type of information, but it must still be aligned to your brand.


Businesses must think of themselves as publishing houses for their customers. By that, I mean you need to understand who your customer is, what they care about, their priorities and their fears, then align the content you create and curate to the whole customer profile. This is about being truly customer-obsessed.


As an example, if you provide enterprise cloud services, you wouldn’t be creating content on holiday destinations or fashion, would you? What you would do is create information that helps your customers make sense of the cloud: tips and tricks to migrate your business to the cloud; how to integrate legacy applications with new applications in the cloud; how to get buy-in across the enterprise to migrate to the cloud; public, private or hybrid cloud—the good, the bad, the ugly; top 10 benefits of cloud; and so on. You are not talking about your business; instead, you are answering questions your customers are asking, or should be asking, about enterprise cloud services.


Some examples of brands doing awesome content marketing that I admire include:

  • IQ by Intel
  • Starbucks
  • SAP Digital Magazine, Digitalist
  • Microsoft Stories
  • L’Oreal Makeup.com
  • GoPro
  • Redbull
  • American Express for Small Business
  • The Big Four Consulting firms and McKinsey
  • General Electric


It’s important to note that content marketing is not talking about your business, products or services. That is marketing—still critical, but a different thing.





Why would you do it?


If you share knowledge with your customers, they will—in return for providing high-value information—show their appreciation and buy from you. That is how it works; the ROI is real. But it requires commitment, patience and a completely different mind-set across your business to truly embrace it.


That is the next challenge businesses face today. Because content marketing is more of a philosophy than a tactic, it’s not something the marketing team can do in isolation. Marketing is obviously critical to drive a change in mind-set across the organisation.


But to truly succeed, content marketing needs everyone on board, from the entire C-suite to the rank-and-file workers across all functions.


Breaking it down


A recent article, Quick Quiz: Where are you in the Content Marketing Journey?, featured on OPEN for BUSINESS!, defines the phases of content marketing:


  • Phase 0 – Content Marketing? What’s that?
  • Phase 1 – We have a corporate blog and branded social accounts
  • Phase 2 – We have a company branded blog, with a good mix of outside contributors
  • Phase 3 – We leverage employees by using software to pass targeted marketing content to their social networks
  • Phase 4 – We help nearly all our employees create content in their own voice and then feature their insights on our site, demonstrating their expertise as a way to incorporate their personal brands with our corporate brand


I believe there is a fifth phase:


  • Phase 5 – The entire business ecosystem—customers, partners, influencers, associations, employee connections, and so on—come together to create a content platform of power for the entire community.


This platform embraces all, promotes all, and creates a powerhouse storytelling platform that builds the success and credibility of everyone in this ecosystem.


Right now, to stand out from the crowd, businesses must look at Phase 4. Phase 5 is coming, but it’s more complex and may take longer to embed, although there are some easy ways to start moving into it. Today, Phase 4 is a great place to start, and it’s so much better for your business than Phase 3, which is the act of distributing pre-packaged marketing content to your employees to share on their social media profiles.


The issue is that Phase 3 content doesn’t enable employees to shine—it’s not content marketing; it’s marketing. To help your employees embrace your brand, you must share amazing stories that allows them to look  remarkable. These stories ideas can include:


  • The good your business/employees are doing in the world
  • Your diversity programmes and successes
  • What you’re doing for the environment
  • The charities you're involved in
  • How you’re changing the lives of your customers (case studies with real meaning)
  • ‘How to’ content that’s aligned to your brand


Share more than your company’s content


To start moving into Phase 5, share great stories from your customers, partners, the media and influencers. If you can make this information accessible to your employees, they will be empowered to share a well rounded perspective of their industry, thus they can present an intelligent face to their communities.


You must focus on empowering your employees to be advocates for themselves first; by default, they will be advocates for your business.


Delivering a diverse mix of great stories not only shows that we respect the dignity of the people who work for us, it helps them build their personal brands and empowers them to represent themselves in the best possible light on their social platforms. At the same time, our businesses benefit. This is a big shift and a fundamental cultural change, which is why it has to start at the top— the CEO must lead this transformation.


If CEOs embrace this concept, they are demonstrating a commitment to it, which inspires everyone else to join. However, to be truly powerful, every level of employee must buy into the idea. That’s when the magic happens. Companies that only focus on the senior leadership are missing the point. Consider these numbers:


The majority of people on social media have more than 500 connections each on average. If you have 1,000 employees sharing great information on social media beyond your brand assets, this increases your opportunity of exposure to 500,000 potential customers. If you have 10,000 employees, that number is five million! This is vital because


  • 15% of people trust recommendations from brands
  • 84% trust recommendations from people they know


Reference: We Are Social Media (http://wersm.com/5-stats-that-prove-employeeadvocacy-is-crucial/)


Therefore, your employees are a more powerful force of influence than any other marketing or lead generation activity you do. It is a resource you must harness today.


Quality, not quantity


For any of this to succeed, the most important part is the content. In an article, Content That Drives Decisions, featured on CMO.com, Tim Riesterer says: “Sixty-five percent: that’s the amount of sales content going unused by salespeople, according to Sirius Decisions. Is that a problem? You bet it is. But it may not be the biggest content-related challenge you, as marketers, are up against. While much of the focus centres on that 65% figure— and on the notion that companies are wasting major resources producing unfindable or unusable content— the bigger problem may actually lie in the 35% of content that actually is being used.”


I believe Tim is correct. While the 65% is a major problem (and waste of money), the 35% is much more of an issue to me as a content marketing professional. If the content isn’t good, it’s not going to add value to your business, and your employees will not get behind you. Quite simply, if the content is about your business, products or services, you stand a very real chance of boring your audience. Get it wrong once, they may forgive you. Keep getting it wrong and your customers will not come back.


Competing with the Kardashians


If you are not creating awe-inspiring content intended to get your customers’ attention, then you’re don’t get the most important fact of all: all businesses are competing for attention with the Kardashians today!


Seriously, are your stories strong enough to pull your customers away from whatever is distracting them right now? Examine your own online behaviour and this question will not sound so farfetched. How do you spend your time online? What do you consume? What turns you off?


What about the community around you? How are they consuming information? Are they visual? Do they prefer to read, watch videos, or listen to podcasts? What about business information, the sort that helps you make decisions? What does that look like? You need to apply this same learning to your customers.


Brand advocacy a la Amazon


In the recent media furore surrounding The New York Times’ exposé of the work culture at Amazon, the most powerful voices came from the staff. Amazon boss Jeff Bezos tried to calm things down, but it was his employees taking a stand to deny the allegations and accusations that had the most power.


Their actions were not endorsed by management, yet they did it because it was the right thing to do. It was a fascinating example of employee brand advocacy for our time.


So it’s not only your customers who are outside your brand’s sphere of influence—your employees have a voice beyond your business as well. This must be encouraged, and businesses should loosen the reins on that voice.


Employees want to speak. They want to have a profile. They want to represent the brand they work for. Therefore, support the people you are proud to have employed by giving them a role in your content ecosystem. Train and inspire them to be awesome on social media, and supply them with amazing content to share with their contacts. If you do, you will elevate your business to new heights.


So, to answer the question asked at the very beginning of this article, content marketing is not hype. There is definitely a lot of hype around content marketing, but if you get it right, understand that it’s a deep philosophical and cultural change your business needs to make, and embrace your entire business ecosystem into your storytelling platform, then you will outshine your competition and fundamentally transform your business from its core.