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At what point does content marketing just become advertising?

At what point does content marketing just become advertising?

We get it, the world of marketing is swarming with buzzwords and sometimes it can be tricky to fully define some of its key concepts.

However, if you want see digital marketing success it is essential that you understand exactly what makes good content marketing and how it is truly separate from your traditional advertising methods.

Let’s take a look at these two branches of marketing and how their strategies should differ.

So when does content marketing simply become advertising?

Before we get into the nitty gritty of precisely what content marketing and advertising are let’s first address a central point: content marketing only becomes indistinguishable from traditional advertising when it is monumentally bad.

Good content marketing should always have a separate purpose to advertising and when executed correctly will always be thoroughly distinguishable from the latter. They employ different tactics to achieve different relationships with the consumer.

Content marketing should invite a specific target audience to engage with your brand in order to build authority and trust. It embraces a subtle soft-sell mentality where consumers are invited to gently move down the sales funnel of their own accord. This should contrast substantially with the interruptive hardsell mentality of traditional advertising.

Truth be told if your content marketing becomes in any way similar to your advertising it is a sign that you need to work on your content marketing – sooner rather than later.

Let’s delve into these concepts in a bit more detail and understand why this is.

What is content marketing?

Content marketing in its essence is creating some form of informative, valuable – usually digital – asset which appeals to a clearly defined audience. These digital assets, referred to as content, could be anything from blog articles, to infographics, videos, podcasts, quizzes, newsletters and emails. The purpose of these assets is to engage an audience, often by providing relevant education or entertainment, with the end goal of moving this target audience towards a profitable action.

The creation and distribution of this content is not compatible with a  a traditional hard sell approach. Your audience is one that may need your products, but is currently only researching potential solutions to their problem. What is most valuable to them therefore is information delivered in a clear manner – not being overwhelmed by your brand.

  • An example: Kevin is a regular skier and is considering buying his own pair of skis for his next trip. He has a rough idea of the type of skis that he wants but needs to do some more research before coming to a decision. He finds an article ‘How to find the best type of skis for you’. This contains some very relevant information that helps Kevin to identify what he is looking for. Because he found the article so useful he follows the closing link back to the origin site to browse their suggested ski selection. After reading a few similar articles from the site he purchases a set of their skis.

This form of marketing is particularly useful for building brand authority alongside trust and credibility. It is also important to note that the digital nature of the content created also makes search engine ranking a significant factor. A successful content marketing strategy is therefore often clearly linked to a successful SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) strategy.

At what point does content marketing just become advertising?

People choose to read content – which means it is usually informative or entertaining.

How does content marketing differ from traditional advertising?

Traditional advertising on the other hand is an interruptive form of marketing. It allows marketers to reach out to potential consumers whenever they wish, pushing their message in front of large audiences regardless of whether or not they are interested in their message. This approach is often seen in newspaper ads, billboards T.V ads, Google Ads and pop up digital ads.

So what exactly are the key underlying differences between traditional advertising and content marketing?

  1. Information: Content marketing works by offering value to potential consumers, usually in the form of insights and information. By contrast traditional advertising typically only provides information about the product that it intends to sell.
  2. Permissive vs. interruptive: Content marketing invites engagement, instead of imposing its message. In other words people interact with  good content because they want to. Traditional advertising however works on an interruptive format often by ‘renting’ an audience. For example paying money to a T.V.  platform to sell a product to their audience.
  3. Interaction: Content marketing is more like starting  a conversation with your target audience. By sharing something of value you build a relationship of  trust between your audience and your brand. By contrast traditional advertising is a one way communication where information about a product or service is put in front of consumers in the hope they want it. Typically there is no avenue for conversation or engagement.

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Cathy Breed
Cathy Breed About the author

With a degree from Downing College at Cambridge University and experience as a Marketing Executive in London Cathy comes to the Castleford Blog with a reputation for deep research and high-level subject-matter expertise. Her current writing portfolio covers artificial intelligence, financial services, the property sector and not-for-profits. Clients include Stackchat, Surf Life Saving New South Wales, Fiserv and Investa.

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