The basics of content marketing

Aug 29, 2017

What is content marketing?

Here’s how we define it: the creation of inherently valuable media in order to attract audiences to a cause or company.

By “inherently valuable media” we mean anything you can read, view, hear or experience that is educational, entertaining or useful in and of itself. That’s the “content” part.

By “attract audiences to your company,” we mean that you create this content to make it easier for people to find, understand, like, trust and remember your company.  That’s the “marketing” part.

That sounds pretty broad. Can you be more specific?

You’re right – the idea of content marketing sounds pretty vague in a vacuum, but it’s actually a very simple concept if you understand the larger context.

For the past century, advertising has been the predominant way companies have brought their products to market. It became so pervasive that, even today, many businesses act as if it’s the only way to market.

But advertising is essentially just packaging promotional messages with content. Ads primarily run alongside and in between TV shows, radio programs, online videos, podcasts, print and digital articles, etc., in order to be seen and heard. It’s the content that attracts the attention, and the ads are add-ons.

Content marketing is simply a strategy to make the content rather than a promotion to be put in someone else’s content. It’s deciding to create the piece of media people want in the first place, not waiting for someone else to do it and then tagging along.

This isn’t a revolutionary idea. In fact, there’s a whole content marketing podcast called This Old Marketing, and in each episode there’s a case study of a content marketing campaign from as far back as the 1700s. (As of this writing, they had about 200 episodes.)

The only things that are new are a) the name content marketing, which serves as a unifying way to talk about this approach, and b) the increasing popularity of digital technologies, which have dramatically expanded the opportunities for companies to create and distribute content directly to their audiences.

Interesting. Does it work?

Well, any marketing approach “works” given the right goals, situation and execution, but content marketing is pretty much essential for a number of standard marketing goals, including:

  • Search engine optimization. Search engines tend to favor websites with more content rather than less, so more content will help your site rank higher. If your content’s really good, it will rise to the top of search ranks itself, providing a clear pathway for people to stumble upon your business. For instance, you may have stumbled upon our site by googling content marketing and finding this article.
  • Reducing long-term marketing costs. By creating great content, you can potentially build your own audience of subscribers, and it will be a lot cheaper to reach them on a regular basis than constantly paying for advertising. For instance, we don’t spend any money on advertising, but reach thousands of people through our blog and newsletter.
  • Staying in the consideration set. Creating content creates a reason for audiences to think about you on a regular basis. This is important if you’re hoping to generate more recurring business, as well as if you offer a product or service that people only purchase once in a while and it’s important to stay top-of-mind for when that decision comes around. For instance, companies don’t hire marketing agencies every day, so we send out a weekly marketing newsletter to non-clients so that they’ll hopefully consider us when they need a firm.
  • Closing sales. The most basic rule of writing is show, don’t tell. That’s exactly what content marketing does. If all your competitors are saying they are experts, but you can send them a 2,000-word, well-written article on the subject, you’re going to be far more believable. For instance, we’ll send this article to any potential clients looking for Philadelphia marketing agencies with content marketing expertise.

There are many more advantages to creating valuable content rather than purely promotional messages, such as making social media marketing more effective, and helping you respond in a crisis situation, but those are some of the big ones.

Very cool. So I can just start writing about how great my company is then, right?

Is your company so interesting that people are clamoring for information about it? (Be honest.) If not, then maybe you should think of a different topic that will attract attention, demonstrate expertise and strengthen connections.

In fact, the paradox of content marketing is that great content marketing doesn’t look like marketing at all. The term was created because it was targeted at marketers, but if done well, the content you create should feel like the same content you’d normally only get sandwiched between ads.

Exactly what topic you cover depends on your goals, capabilities and competitive environment. But, suffice it to say, content that’s purely self-promotional generally defeats the purpose of the whole approach.

Makes sense. Can you show me some good content marketing examples?

Besides our own lovely blog and our awesome newsletter, here are some of our favorite examples:

  • AARP The Magazine. Did you know that the AARP publishes the magazine with the highest circulation in the entire U.S.?
  • GE Reports. GE has a number of incredible content marketing efforts, and here’s one of their best.
  • MEL Magazine by Dollar Shave Club. It feels like Vice or Maxim, but it was created by a razor company.
  • The Michelin Guide, by Michelin. How did a tire company become known for being the definitive guide on high-end cuisine? This maybe the best example of successful content marketing out there.
  • Real Life magazine by Snapchat. Few people realize Snapchat created this thought-provoking website with daily essays on life in the digital age.
  • The Red Bulletin by Red Bull. This has been the envy of content marketers for years. It’s a sports and culture magazine by Red Bull that’s actually sold at newsstands worldwide.
  • Wealthsimple’s Magazine. Their interviews with huge stars about money are shockingly candid – a great example that financial services doesn’t have to be so serious.

If you want to learn more, you can also check out our other articles about content marketingIf you still have questions, contact us at We’d be happy to explain in even more depth.


This article was written by Lee ProcidaIt is part of our B On The Basics series, in which we explain marketing fundamentals using Braithwaite best practices. Read more in this series.

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