Content Marketing 101: Defining Content Marketing

The 7 questions every marketer should know the answer to before launching a Content Marketing campaign.

This post is the first in our Content Marketing 101 series. Make sure to subscribe to our blog for regular updates on this series.

Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google and soon-to-be former Executive Chairman of Alphabet, once said: “the internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn’t understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had.”

An “experiment in anarchy” may seem like a brazen way to describe the internet, but Schmidt knows what he’s talking about. He’s spent the better part of the last two decades helping run a company whose mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

Consider these unruly numbers: there are more than 3.5 billion internet users around the world. Every minute, on average, these users publish 1,440 blog posts, share 3.3 million pieces of content on Facebook, upload 500 hours of video on YouTube, send 448,000 new tweets on Twitter and post almost 65,972 new photos on Instagram.

Content fatigue - The amount of content shared online in one minute.

That’s a lot of information for Google to organize.

And, for brands looking to reach internet audiences, that’s a lot of noise to compete with. Breaking through the clutter of that anarchy requires messages that really resonate with audiences.

Enter Content Marketing.

Content Marketing is a popular strategy for brands to connect with target audiences and guide those consumers through their buying journeys. According to the Content Marketing Institute, 86 percent of B2C brands use Content Marketing. However, despite Content Marketing’s growing popularity, there’s a lot of misunderstanding around what it is… and what it’s not.

To define Content Marketing and provide some context for how you can leverage this practice for your brand, here are the answers to some commonly asked questions.

No. 1: What is content marketing?

Like a lot of marketing solutions, Content Marketing is constantly evolving making it tough to pin down a set definition. For now, let’s use the standard definition from the Content Marketing Institute:

“Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience – and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

Let’s unpack that definition a bit to help us differentiate Content Marketing from content creation. A lot of brands create content and some might even consider what they’re doing to be Content Marketing. But, Content Marketing involves a lot more than writing a few blogs each month and sending out a few tweets. It’s a process that involves developing a cohesive strategy, implementing a process to create and publish content, promoting content across media channels and monitoring the performance of that content.

Another key part of that definition is to “drive profitable customer action.” This is also a significant difference between Content Marketing and content creation. Content Marketing implies that the content is created to help brands achieve business goals.

To inspire profitable consumer actions, brands need to create content that resonates with audiences at a deeper level. Here’s how Rob Candelino, General Manager and Vice President of Marketing at Unilever, summed up how he approaches creating content that resonates with target audiences in an interview with eMarketer:

“The principle rule we follow is that content has to be powerful and emotionally led. It has to strike both the head and the heart in a simple, crisp, succinct way.”

Effective content that connects with target audiences at a deeper level doesn’t just happen. It requires a comprehensive Content Marketing strategy.

No. 2: How can a Content Marketing strategy help develop effective content?

There’s plenty of tools and templates to help you plan and track your Content Marketing efforts. But, even with all that planning, developing that content can be the toughest step. That’s why you need to start your Content Marketing campaigns by understanding your brand’s unique value, business goals and target audiences.

To get to know your target audiences, start by building buyer personas – generalized representations of your ideal customers. Buyer personas help you understand consumers needs and wants, the challenges they face at each stage of the buying journey and the content you need to provide to help guide them through the journey. To help you get this process started, complete our Buyer Persona Template.

Armed with that information, all you need to do is connect the dots by sharing your brand’s story – why you do what you do, how you help your customers and what you offer – in a way that resonates with the right audiences at the right times. To tell your brand’s story effectively, make sure to leverage these foundational storytelling elements:

  1. Characters – Get to know your ideal customers so you can use them as the main characters in your Content Marketing campaigns. It’s important to get to know these audiences and focus stories around their needs, wants and problems.
  2. Conflict – Conflict is essential to any great story. Understand the challenges faced by your ideal customers at each stage of the buying journey and incorporate those conflicts into your Content Marketing campaigns.
  3. Resolution –The resolution should bring everything together by showing how your products and services solve the conflict faced by the characters in your story. It’s also important to give audiences a powerful call to action.

No. 3: Is Content Marketing the same as advertising?

Not exactly. Content Marketing is like advertising in that it’s messaging designed to promote your brand, product or service. But, with Content Marketing, the goal is to do this in a way that’s not overtly trying to sell people. Content Marketing focuses more on addressing consumer needs than promoting product features.
Content Marketing Venn Diagram
A subtler approach can be effective as consumers face an onslaught of ads every day. Some studies say the average number of branded messages consumers see every day could be as high as 10,000 ads. There’s no way anyone can consume 10,000 messages a day and preserve their sanity so audiences have developed a screening process to block out most ads. The messages that stick tend to be the ones that address specific consumers’ needs and wants.

No. 4: Is Content Marketing the same as Inbound Marketing?

Nope, they’re close but they’re two different strategies. In fact, Content Marketing is a type of Inbound Marketing. Think of Inbound Marketing as a superset of marketing strategies that also includes search engine optimization (SEO), web design, email marketing, social media and lead nurturing.

No. 5: What’s the difference between Content Marketing and SEO?

SEO is a set of rules and tactics you can apply to your website to make it easier for search engines to crawl, read and index as many pages as possible from your website while also making your site easy for users to navigate and understand.

Content Marketing and SEO have a lot of common goals like improving your site’s rankings for relevant search terms, improving the quantity and quality of website traffic and increasing the number conversions from your site. The two also work very well together – Content Marketing can support SEO efforts by providing the content necessary to populate webpages, SEO can support Content Marketing by optimizing content to rank better on search engine result pages (SERPs).

No. 6: OK, how about Native Advertising?

These two practices are also similar and brands can even turn their Content Marketing pieces into native ads. Like Content Marketing, Native Advertising content doesn’t normally promote a product or service directly. Usually, they both focus on creating related content that’s informative and entertaining to target audiences. What makes Native Advertising different though, is it follows a “pay to play” model where brands buy space to publish content on external media platforms. The paid promotion allows brands to serve native ads to targeted audience groups on major media sites.

Here’s how it works: brands pay a platform like Outbrain to distribute content pieces across their network of publishers. These content pieces are usually featured below articles that are relevant to the advertising brands’ products and services and can be bought with direct media buys or via programmatic technologies. Depending on the publisher site, the pieces are earmarked with labels like “sponsored stories” to let readers know it’s advertising content.

No. 7: What types of content does Content Marketing include?

There’s no shortage of content types that fall under the umbrella of Content Marketing. Really, content is anything that can be published online or print including:

  • Website content/microsite content
  • Blog/blog posts
  • Social media posts
  • Infographics
  • E-books/white papers/research reports
  • Case studies
  • Email newsletters
  • Online presentations (SlideShare)
  • Webinars
  • Video/streaming video
  • Podcasts
  • Branding guides
  • Documentaries
  • Interactive content
  • Digital and print publications

Wrapping it all up

Content Marketing is an amazing tool for brands looking to rise above the clutter of internet ads and connect with target audiences on a more personal level. It’s important to remember that Content Marketing is a lot more than just writing blogs or website content; it’s a holistic process that encompasses all the steps necessary to produce effective content that inspires your target consumers to take action.

If you’re interested in implementing or improving your brand’s Content Marketing strategy, make sure to subscribe to our blog for regular updates.

Download our guide to learn everything you need to know to launch effective Content Marketing campaigns.

The Ultimate Guide to Launching Content Marketing Campaigns

The iPhone Turns 11 – How it’s Changed the way Advertisers Connect with Consumers

It’s the week of the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show, and yesterday a tweet reminded me that it’s also the 11-year anniversary of Apple’s unveiling of the first iPhone during CES 2007. That got me thinking about how quickly smartphone usage grew in the last decade. In 2006, the year before the iPhone was introduced, smartphone penetration was at 3 percent. By the end of 2016, more than 81 percent of U.S. adults owned a smartphone.

Prior to the iPhone, there were (technically) already smartphones on the market. Smartphones had actually been around for 15 years. The first personal digital assistant combined with a cell phone was released 1992 by Simon.

By the time the iPhone came out, Blackberries and Palms were already commonplace in large companies, but few members of the public saw a use for them. The release of the iPhone brought about a wave of change and made smartphone ownership common outside of the workplace. The consumer mobile revolution began.

Related – [Guide]: 3 Ways to Boost your Online Advertising with Geo-fencing

The adoption rate of smartphones triggered major changes in the way consumers find and consume information for professional and business use. For advertisers, this has lead to a significant transformation in the methods you use to connect with consumers.

One of the most significant ways smartphones have changed consumer behavior is they allow users to stay connected 24/7. Consumers use their phones for everything – getting directions, conducting searches, checking the weather and communicating with people through a variety of apps.

To celebrate the iPhone’s recent birthday, let’s talk about the relationship between the role smartphones play in consumers’ daily lives and what that means for advertisers like you who are trying to connect with those users.

Optimizing for mobile traffic

For the past few years, more web traffic has come from mobile devices than computers. For brands, it’s no longer an option, websites need to be mobile-friendly or responsive. It’s a primary factor in Google rankings and can greatly influence where your business shows up in search results. Plus, consumers conduct most of their searches from mobile phones or tablets, so it’s important that your site is designed to provide the information they’re looking for with the least amount of frustration possible.

Reaching consumers in-app

A decade ago, you probably weren’t thinking about the best ways to advertise in an app. But, thanks to the iPhone and the evolution of smartphones in general, that’s all changed. In 2018, smartphone users will spend more than three hours a day in-app, according to eMarketer. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram ads are now at the forefront of mobile advertising and there’s an entirely separate market which revolves around those little banners and pop-ups in weather, gaming and shopping apps.

Finding consumers trying to find local businesses

Three-fourths of smartphone users turn to search first to address immediate needs, according to Google. Often, these searchers are looking for important local business information. For local brands, this makes optimized online business listings more important than ever. A decade ago, businesses’ online listings were an afterthought. Now, they mean the difference between being found and a potential customer going to your competitor.

If a customer is two blocks from you and searches for your product on their phone, you don’t want them turning to a competitor because they can’t find your address on your business listings or website.

Connecting with consumers via video

For consumers, smartphones are so intertwined in everyday life that the devices are used for a variety of purposes – both business and leisure, sometimes within the same channel. An example of this is digital video. In 2017, about 160 million people in the United States watched videos on their smartphones, according to eMarketer.

And, consumers aren’t just watching cute animal videos or clips of their favorite shows, they’re also watching informational videos to help them research and make purchases.

Product review videos are an especially great way for advertisers to reach interested audiences. In the past 2 years, videos with the word “review” in the title had more than 50,000 years of watch time on mobile alone.

Related – [Guide]: Digital Video Advertising Campaigns

It’s been 11 years since the release of the iPhone, and the way we search, live and advertise has changed in ways many would never have imagined. Change is inevitable. Sometimes it’s slow, like with the introduction of the television, and sometimes it’s fast, like with smartphones. Consumers crave innovations that will make their lives easier. As advertisers, we should be watching for the same things so we can keep up with where our consumers are. You never know when the next game changer is going to hit the market.


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[2017 Recap] Top 10 Digital Marketing and Advertising Trends for Local Brands

Even by digital media’s standards, 2017 was an eventful year. Buzzwords like “artificial intelligence,” “machine learning,” “internet of things” and “predictive analytics” were further cemented into the lexicon of digital advertising. The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) voted to repeal net neutrality regulations. Google and Facebook weathered a string of controversies while still retaining their duopoly status in the industry. And, up-and-coming players like Amazon and Snapchat further diversified the media landscape.

Now that 2017 is behind us, we wanted to look back at the hectic year that was. You might be thinking “great, another obligatory recap of annual trends.” Which is fair. This time of the year there’s no shortage of these articles. But, we also wanted to do something more than just swap out a few bullet points from last year’s list (which is definitely worth the read if you have a few minutes).

For this year’s edition, we decided to look at the trends that have had the most impact on local advertisers like you – those working with SMBs and multi-location brands. Along with an overview of each trend, we’ve also provided some tips on how you can use the information to improve your marketing efforts in 2018. So, without further ado, let’s dive into the list.

Consumers expect search results to be customized for their location

Consumers used to rely on geo-modifiers when searching for local businesses (e.g., “restaurants in [city]” or “restaurants near me”). However, this practice has fallen out of favor over the past couple of years.


local searches without "near me" are increasing as users expect Google to know when a search has local intent

While some searchers still add modifiers, the declining use of qualifiers like ZIP codes, neighborhoods and “near me” indicates that users now expect Google to understand when a search has local intent and automatically deliver localized results.

Related: “Near me” Searches on Google are Declining

What this means for local advertisers:

If consumers are expecting local information, brands need to deliver. This means your brand should focus on distributing location-specific information with a holistic marketing strategy that includes local listings, paid search campaigns, display ads, social media campaigns (paid and organic), content marketing and other localized efforts.

Consumers prefer nearby businesses

A recent study from Access found that the proximity of a business is a significant factor for consumers. More than 90 percent of consumers typically travel less than 20 minutes for everyday purchases. For certain purchases, the distance consumers are willing to travel is even less.

What this means for local advertisers:

Leverage targeting methods that prioritize nearby consumers and deliver customized messaging. For example, Google AdWords allows you to set location bid adjustments to show ads more or less frequently depending on the searcher’s location.

Proximity is becoming more important for Google

In a related shift, Google is prioritizing businesses closest to the searcher when determining rankings in search results. The 2017 Local Search Ranking Factors Survey from Moz found that the proximity of a business’ address to the point of the search was the most important ranking signal for Google’s local pack results.

ranking factors for Google's map results

But, proximity isn’t necessarily a good thing for brands or search results. As Darren Shaw, the founder of Whitespark and author of the Moz study, noted, “this leads to poor results in most categories. I’m looking for the best lawyer in town, not the closest one. Hopefully, we see the dial get turned down on this in the near future.”

What this means for local advertisers:

The bad news: it’s tough to control how close your business is to a searcher. The good news: there are plenty of other ranking factors your brand can influence. According to Shaw, “businesses with higher relevancy and prominence will rank in a wider radius around their business and take a larger percentage of the local search pie. There’s still plenty to be gained from investing in local search strategies.”

There’s more customer data available than ever before

Data is the fuel that powers marketing campaigns and local advertisers have traditionally been at a disadvantage compared to larger brands in terms of collecting and using it. But, thanks to the ever-increasing number of connected devices, there’s more data available than ever before and it’s becoming easier for any brand to collect it.

Source: Cisco

What this means for local advertisers:

This could be huge for local advertisers. “Better data resulting in better targeting means that local businesses experience lower costs, higher conversion rates and greater ROI. And while targeting is not a new strategy, what’s new is the access to and quality of data,” Wesley Young of the Local Search Association said in a recent article for Search Engine Land.

Advertisers are taking online-to-offline attribution models to the next level

Beyond targeting, data plays a critical role in connecting consumers’ online and offline actions. Here’s what eMarketer had to say about the evolution of how local advertisers have used online-to-offline data:

In its early days, location data was used to target ads in real time for people in a specific place – for instance, in a competitor’s store. More sophisticated mobile advertisers soon discovered that the real gold in location data was in patterns of movement over time, which could help them better understand their customers. Better behavioral data enriched with location data led to richer audience segmentation. That is, if you go to a golf course every Saturday, odds are you’re someone who might be interested in golf clubs.

What this means for local advertisers:

If you’re not already, go beyond targeting and tracking offline actions by using data to help you understand your target consumers’ behavior, predict their needs/wants and deliver customized ads at the right times.

Voice search is here to stay

Voice-enabled assistants like Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home have experienced a rapid ascent over the past few years. eMarketer estimates the number of voice-enabled digital assistant users will reach 69 million next year (a 14 percent increase), while the number of voice-enabled speaker users will hit 45 million (a 28 percent increase). These devices, along with smartphones, have been a major driver in the overall popularity of voice search.

This transition from text to voice search has had a significant impact on local businesses. A poll from the J. Walter Thompson Innovation Group and Mindshare Futures looked at how smartphone owners used voice-enabled technology. The study found that 58 percent used the technology to find local businesses and 52 percent used it to find information on local businesses.

What this means for local advertisers:

According to eMarketer:

With more internet users relying on voice to search – and often not relying on a screen to view results – marketers will have to adjust their search engine optimization (SEO) and content strategies to match. That will mean content that fits in with the conversational language used in voice queries. It may also mean that for many search users, only the first result will matter as search engines and e-commerce sites look to serve voice searchers with “the” answer rather than a set of options.

Facebook is becoming a major player in local search

Search engines still dominate the local search game, but consumers use a variety of other resources too. The Local Search Association (LSA) released a study looking at how consumers find local business information online. The study found that nearly half the respondents used social networks to find local business information.

Facebook seems set to improve that number and has taken major steps to compete with Google in local search. Check out this piece from Search Engine Land for more coverage on these changes.

What this means for local advertisers:

There are a variety of actions local advertisers can take right away to optimize their presence on Facebook:

  • Make sure to claim and optimize local profiles for each one of your locations
  • Stay active and post regular content to help you connect and engage with your followers
  • Test out Facebook ads to help grow your presence and drive conversions

There’s likely to be more changes in the future as well. Here’s some advice from the Search Engine Land article mentioned above:

Facebook is making significant strides in local search, particularly in melding social media data with local search results. This may be enough to start turning the tide toward making it a major local search player as users discover and enjoy the search experience. Keep an eye out for even more developments, as Facebook’s unique data set will continue to allow it to provide more targeted and customized results. Will we see Facebook AdWords or Facebook SEO any time soon? I wouldn’t bet against it.

Amazon is becoming a digital advertising powerhouse

Amazon was the second-fastest-growing major digital ad firm in 2017. eMarketer expects Amazon’s U.S. digital ad revenues to increase even more in 2018 – experiencing a 42 percent bump to reach $2.35 billion. Currently, Amazon is the fifth-largest digital ad firm in the country and owns 2.5 percent of the U.S. digital ad market.

According to eMarketer:

Amazon’s rising importance as an ad platform is a function of its strength in both search and display. On the search side, marketplace sellers and brands with an Amazon presence are pouring more money than ever into what they consider highly effective cost-per-click (CPC) placements that ensure products on the retail platform get consumers’ attention. On the display side, the Amazon Advertising Platform has quickly emerged as one of the top demand-side platforms (DSPs) in the US, thanks to targeting capabilities that allow marketers to zero in on internet users based on their Amazon searching, browsing and buying histories.

What this means for local advertisers:

Amazon’s wealth of data can help local advertisers hone in on the most relevant consumers. If you haven’t already, it may be time to consider adding Amazon’s ad platform to your marketing mix.

The popularity of digital video continued to rise… and rise… and rise some more

Digital video has been on the rise for years and it just kept on going in 2017. According to eMarketer, time spent with mobile video (which excludes time spent with video on social networks) has steadily increased year-over-year, while time spent with video on a desktop or laptop has remained consistent despite drops in other activities on those devices.

Average time spent per day with major media by U.S. adults

Another force behind the rise in digital video is over-the-top (OTT) services and connected TVs. These platforms already have substantial user bases and eMarketer expects both to continue growing.

U.S. OTT video service users and connected TV users

What this means for local advertisers:

Digital video campaigns are a powerful tool that any local advertiser can (and should) use to connect with nearby consumers. For multi-location advertisers, you can maximize digital video campaigns by running creative that’s customized for each location and drives viewers to specific landing pages.

Local assets matter more than brand assets

To extend on the last point about localized video creative, it’s becoming increasingly important for multi-location brands to develop customized advertising and marketing assets for each location. A recent study from LSA found that the majority of consumer engagement comes from local assets (e.g., local listings on Google, Facebook Local Pages, local landing pages, etc.) when both brand and location specific-assets exist.

What this means for local advertisers:

It’s important that local businesses and multi-location brands build out location-specific assets and launch scalable advertising campaigns customized for each branch. This type of scale isn’t always easy, but it provides consumers with the most direct path to conversion.

Need help building scalable local marketing campaigns, contact Mindstream Media Group.

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