What Is Content Marketing?

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Good content marketing can attract customers by delivering exactly what they want to consume.

[Featured Image] Man with top bun and round glasses speaks in front of a camera in his living room.

When you encounter content marketing in the form of a podcast, blog, or print magazine, sometimes you might not even realize that you’re looking at branded content. This is often a sign of effective content marketing. 

Providing content that is useful and relevant can make consumers excited to support your brand and share it with others. For example, Airbnb’s user-generated neighborhood guides are full of great suggestions from locals.

Content marketing is the marketing strategy of creating articles, podcasts, videos, infographics, and other types of media to engage and retain potential customers. This article will define content marketing and outline strategies to elevate your brand. 

What is content marketing?

Content marketing is the creation and distribution of useful, relevant content to attract and engage your brand’s target audience. Often, it signifies expertise in a particular area and helps promote brand awareness. Consumers want to feel connected to a brand that aligns with their identity. By putting effort into producing content that serves a purpose to existing and potential customers, delivering valuable advice can develop and nurture relationships.

Content marketing can take the form of blog posts, videos, podcasts, infographics, emails, newsletters, magazines, courses, webinars, social media posts, templates, quizzes, and more. 

Some leading examples of useful content include:

  • Canva’s Design School, a collection of short courses to help customers use Canva to its fullest

  • Zendesk’s Blog, featuring guides and advice on customer service, sales, and culture

  • Dell Technologies’ Trailblazers, a podcast that tells unexpected stories of digital disruption, hosted by Walter Isaacson, a history professor at Tulane University and advisory partner at a financial services firm

John Deere’s The Furrow magazine started in 1895 and is still in print today. As one of the oldest examples of content marketing, its goal remains the same: to tell enjoyable stories and provide operational knowledge. At its peak in 1912, the magazine reached over four million consumers. The Furrow demonstrates that content marketing that is both interesting and useful can be effective for long-term engagement and brand reputation with consumers.

Did you know?

Even before John Deere, Benjamin Franklin promoted his printing business in 1732 with Issuance of Poor Richard’s Almanack, an annual book with weather forecasts, household tips, and puzzles. In 1888, Johnson & Johnson published “Modern Methods of Antiseptic Wound Treatment for doctors that used bandages, and in 1900 the Michelin Guide was launched, with its earliest versions offering advice on car maintenance and travel.

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The importance of content marketing

There are many benefits to content marketing, one of the original forms of traditional marketing.  Content marketing initiatives from John Deere and Michelin have endured for more than a century. Content marketing is important because it:

  • Creates genuine engagement: Consumers who read a brand-sponsored blog or newsletter and resonate with its content are more likely to develop a positive association and continue to support the brand.

  • Delivers value: A podcast on productivity from a content management software company creates brand reputation, so its value to the customer translates into loyalty and sales.

  • Offers versatility: With digital tools, there are now many ways to target prospective customers. From free knitting templates to blogs on UX design, there are plenty of approaches for brands considering content marketing. The same brand can use different mediums to reach new audiences. One such example is TED growing from its YouTube video hub and into podcasts such as TED Talks Daily, Work Life with Adam Grant, and NPR's TED Radio Hour.

Content marketing is considered a core business strategy for 81 percent of marketers [1]. In 2021, 82 percent of marketers actively invested in content marketing, while only 10 percent did not use it at all, according to Hubspot’s State of Marketing report [2]. Semrush reports that 89 percent of companies surveyed rely on organic search as the most effective distribution channel [3]. This is important because if Google searches are how a potential customer discovers a brand, then the content they’re clicking on needs to be high-quality and useful.

How content marketing works

To become familiar with a brand, product, or service, customers undergo the stages of awareness, consideration, and commitment. Each stage requires different types of content that can attract and retain customers.

Awareness: During this time, customers may not be aware of your brand and what you have to offer. Providing content that illuminates and potentially alleviates their challenges, or elicits desire by forming an identity connection, can draw attention to your brand because it is useful and relevant.

  • Social media posts, emails, blog posts, and videos

  • Examples:

Consideration: At this stage of brand awareness, the consumer has heard of the brand and is in the process of choosing between different brands. This is a crucial time for brands to sway opinions one way or another, so it should incorporate an element of marketing. Not only is the content useful, it also nudges you to choose their brand over others.

Commitment: The consumer has committed to buying your product or service, so this is the time to seal the deal. They may already subscribe to your newsletter or emails, or follow you on social media, so it’s time to convince them you are the best choice out of all the competitors. After the purchase, customers might share these types of content (like tag a friend in an Instagram post) if they feel it aligns with their identity.

  • Newsletters, FAQ guides, research or impact reports, social media posts

  • Examples: 

    • Yoga app Down Dog is providing free access to students and teachers until mid-2022 in support of rising Covid-19 cases and school closures 

    • AIGA Eye on Design’s email newsletter, which synthesizes their new stories into one place

Creating high-quality content that directly targets your intended audience is important because search engine algorithms are getting smarter. Only the best content wins.

Key elements of a content marketing strategy

When creating a content marketing strategy for your brand, consider your target audience and the touchpoints to engage with them. These are the main four elements of a content marketing strategy: brand positioning, value proposition, measuring ROI, and developing a plan.

1. Position your brand.

First define your brand, values, and positioning. If you are selling chocolate, are you an artisanal chocolate bar that sources its beans from South America, or are you marketing Ferraro Rocher candies? While a chocolate lover may purchase both, the two types of brands tend to appeal to different consumers. You might consider demographics and location when positioning your brand, thinking about your competitors to strategize delivering a unique brand experience. 

2. Identify your value.

Once you have defined your brand and positioning, you can start to identify what value to deliver with specific types of content. Through channels such as emails or social media presence, you can sustain relationships with customers when they follow your brand for recipe tips, aspirational lifestyle photos, links to life hack blogs, and more. Your content offering should make sense for your brand but also convert into sales.

3. Consider your return on investment (ROI).

With your positioning and value in mind, create a compelling case for the content to drive your business forward. There is no use in wasting time and resources to produce content that does not help your organization achieve its business goals. Develop a business case that assesses the benefits, the risks, and the budget for your content strategy. Your organization must be convinced that this strategy has a high ROI in order to implement it.

4. Define your plan.

After estimating the potential ROI, you can create a plan that addresses how, when, and where (consider channels and mediums, as well as regions) your strategy will be implemented. Your plan should align with your business goals and integrate any other marketing and sales plans. With these four parts in mind, you can create a solid content marketing strategy to propel your business forward.

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Article sources

1. Content Marketing Institute. “2021 Content Management & Strategy Survey, https://contentmarketinginstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/2021-content-management-strategy-final.pdf.” Accessed February 11, 2022.

2. Hubspot. “Not Another State of Marketing Report Not Another State of Marketing Report, https://www.hubspot.com/hubfs/State-of-Marketing%20(2).pdf.” Accessed February 11, 2022.

3. Semrush. “Content Marketing Statistics You Need to Know, https://www.semrush.com/blog/content-marketing-statistics/.” Accessed February 11, 2022.

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