By Jodi Harris published September 2, 2019 Est Read Time: 7 min

Content Marketing Basics: What, Why, Where, and How

Editor’s note: Often, we go through the day-to-day activities of content marketing and lose sight of the big picture. Since you must never forget the fundamentals, we’re bringing back this guide with reminders and resources to ensure that your content marketing maintains a solid foundation.

No matter how far you’ve come in your content marketing career – and how much you continue to progress – there are always a few things you wish you were better at, understood more deeply, or had known about earlier.

On my career path, I traveled from print journalism to public relations to digital publishing before arriving at the content marketing crossroads. At that point, I needed to get up to speed on some fundamentals that hadn’t factored into my previous roles, so I turned to informational resources like CMI to power my journey of discovery. (Yep, I relied on content marketing to strengthen my ability to be a content marketer.)

There’s always more to learn, but my self-education has helped bridge knowledge gaps, develop new skills and techniques, and produce better results for my clients and content partners.

I thought I would return the favor by revisiting the fundamentals of successful content marketing from top to bottom. Think of this post as a guide to CMI’s best resources on topics where you or your team might benefit from a refresher course or an expanded view.

What is content marketing?

As with most things in life, you can’t reach your full potential for success with content marketing until you understand exactly what it is (and what it isn’t) – including how it’s defined, what business goals it can help you achieve, and what roles it should play in relation to your other marketing disciplines and techniques.

While some circles of the digital industry have yet to agree on a definitive characterization of the technique, the definition we use at CMI represents the consensus: 

Content marketing is the strategic marketing approach of creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.

In short, instead of pitching your products or services, content marketing works by capturing the attention of your target audience members and helping them address their informational and task-oriented needs. The belief is that your audience over time will come to trust and rely on your guidance, recognize your company’s unique value proposition, and ultimately reward you with business and loyalty.

Instead of pitching your products, #contentmarketing addresses your audience’s needs, says @joderama. Click To Tweet

Let’s unpack the definition further to hone our understanding of its three most essential components:

  • It is relevant to a target audience: To build and reinforce loyal, trusting relationships between your business and potential buyers, your content marketing efforts need to communicate with audience members on their terms and appeal to them based on their interests – not just the perspectives and priorities your business wants to further.
  • It provides them with tangible value: Content marketing is most likely to succeed when it serves a specific and largely unmet need, like delivering critical information buyers are likely searching for, providing a tool or technique to make their lives easier, or guiding them through the steps of a complicated process they might have difficulty navigating.
  • It is consistent: Even if you luckily find viral success with a single content effort, you can only sustain those gains if your content efforts remain consistent – meaning they are produced on an ongoing basis, delivered on a reliable schedule, and always aligned with the standards of quality, value, and purpose your audience expects.

Goals to pursue through content marketing

You can accomplish a lot with a consistent, relevant, and valuable content marketing program. But you’ll never attain the results you want if you haven’t first identified your goals.

Some of the most common goals marketers pursue through their content programs include:

Where content fits in your marketing plan

Content marketing can’t function at its best in a vacuum nor is it meant to be a replacement for other promotional techniques. Content works best when it operates in a cooperative capacity – when it is used to fuel and complement your other marketing efforts in alignment with your overarching business goals.

#Contentmarketing can’t function at its best in a vacuum, says @joderama. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

For example, content marketing works well with:

Getting the buy-in you need

Now that you can clearly characterize content marketing’s value proposition, you can better communicate its benefits in terms that others – including your internal and external teams, the C-suite, and other key stakeholders – will understand and appreciate.

The value proposition is a must to secure buy-in and ongoing support: If executive management does not believe in the value of content marketing, it will be incredibly difficult to get the budget, resources, and approvals to keep your content engine running at peak performance over the long term.

While every buy-in conversation is unique to the organization’s priorities and marketing goals, at a minimum be prepared to address common questions and objections, such as:

The following checklist can take your buy-in preparation process further, giving you the tools to assure stakeholders that your content program will be well positioned to achieve success. You may not be able to get every element in place before you ask executives for their support, but the more boxes you can check, the more effective your content marketing program buy-in pitch is likely to be.

Setting the stage for success

With buy-in secured, you can get down to the business of planning, creating, and sharing the high-quality content your audience craves.

While no single technique for developing and managing content suits every organization, we recommend this content marketing framework. Think of it as a syllabus of sorts, covering the five core elements to run a successful, scalable, and highly strategic content marketing operation:

No single technique for developing and managing #content suits every organization, says @joderama. #CMWorld Click To Tweet
  • Purpose and goals: The foundation of your content marketing strategy – why you are creating content and the value it will provide for your business
  • Audience: A well-defined explanation of who your content can help the most and the benefits your program is designed to provide for them
  • Unique brand story: The specific and compelling ideas that will flow through your content creation efforts, and how they will reflect your organization’s values and brand voice
  • Processes and teams: The details of how you will structure, plan, execute, and manage the tasks involved in activating your content marketing strategy
  • Measurement plan: The way you will monitor the performance of your content, evaluate its impact, and implement processes for ongoing optimization

In upcoming posts, I’ll dive more deeply into each of these building blocks and explore best practices for applying them within your organization. Stay tuned. 

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Jodi Harris

Jodi Harris is director of content strategy at CMI. She describes her role as a combination of strategic alchemist, process architect, and creative explorer. Prior to this role, Jodi spent over a decade developing and managing content initiatives for brand clients in the entertainment, CPG, health care, technology, and biotech industries, as well as for agencies and media brands. Follow her on Twitter at @Joderama.

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