Content marketing has often been misused and mislabelled since it took off as a mainstream practice. Its basic principle, giving away knowledge and expertise at no cost to build authority and customer loyalty, buried beneath a seller-centric agenda more focused on self-promotion than educating the audience.
We are increasingly seeing a either-or mindset when it comes to applying the two – but it doesn’t have to be that way. When you clear up the confusion between them and nail down what each is good for, the potential to complement each other becomes evident.
First, a recap of what differentiates the two.
Interactivity. Content marketing can be two-way; we can set up conversations with our subscribers, while ads are there to be consumed rather than responded to. Also, consistency. How regular and reliable ads are aren’t that big a concern – they grab attention. But content marketing has to be both to be taken seriously.
Then there’s their very methods. Content marketing is about helping the customer out; advertising is about getting them to buy. And finally, everybody’s favorite race analogy. Content marketing is one long, slow burn, while advertising tends to be measured in individual, high-intensity spurts.
To start with, content marketing has to be, properly, that.
Look at Volvo’s now-famous “Epic Split” video. An ad showing off the precision of Volvo trucks. A key selling point, yes, but did it educate buyers on the practical importance of that? Do a lot of truck drivers face outrageous balancing acts atop their vehicles on a regular basis?
That wasn’t content marketing. It was leveraging celebrity fame to get the Volvo name on millions of lips – which attracts a lot of attention, but not much encouragement to action. (Volvo did report a 31% rise in truck sales afterwards, but that was far more likely in response to new industry regulations.)
That’s why it’s important to distinguish one-shots like these from proper content marketing efforts. The old way of using wit and inventiveness alone to grab eyeballs and be memorable doesn’t really work in an increasingly desensitized consumer environment. What’s needed is honest, down-to-earth discussion and advice that can be acted on.
Having said that, when does content marketing come in?
It’s an ongoing thing. A Never-Ending Story. So the answer to that is: at the beginning.
But, always remember: this is the delicate first step in any relationship. Especially for those who’ve never heard of you: they’ll want to see how they can benefit first. This is the part where the slightest sign of self-promotion can turn a potential customer off.
At this point, yes, keep the advertising element seperate from your content. Because mixing them before the time comes is a surefire way to lose trust that hasn’t even been earned yet.
Ideally, your content should
- Be talking about real, practical issues they face.
- Cover ways to address those issues, both familiar and theoretical.
- Incorporate feedback from buyers – and responses to that.
- Be a constant flow of information.
It should not
- Mention your offering.
- Lead them into scenarios clearly tailored for it.
- Come off like you’re giving a speech to an empty room.
- Be sporadic.
Those, along with the advertising, can come in later.
Unless your intention is simply to announce yourself and trust your offering’s good enough to reel in leads by itself, self-promotion has no place at the start of the buying process. It’s for once you’ve already established yourself as a potential source.
Human nature. People are far more inclined to listen to your pitches after they’ve been benefiting from – and hopefully, entertained by – your knowledge sharing for some time. So use content marketing as a buildup, and save the product talk and “that key to your lock we’ve been going on about? We have it right here” business for when rapport’s already there.
And another thing: all this while, the sharing has to go on. Content marketing efforts are not underperforming athletes to be pulled from the field and substituted at half-time. Replacing them entirely with an advertising campaign, even temporarily, carries the same risks as not sending them out at all. Maintain your audience’s trust.
It’s all about when they come into play.
What all this boils down to is, basically, there’s a time to be clever, and a time to be helpful.
Advertising and content marketing may be mutually exclusive in theory, but they don’t have to be in application. Got any examples on how you align the two? Tell us here!
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