Content marketing is a form of marketing focused on creating, publishing and distributing content for a targeted audience online. It is often used by businesses in order to:
Unlike other forms of online marketing, content marketing relies on anticipating and meeting an existing customer need for information, as opposed to creating demand for a new need. As James O'Brien of Contently wrote on Mashable, "The idea central to content marketing is that a brand must give something valuable to get something valuable in return. Instead of the commercial, be the show. Instead of the banner ad, be the feature story."
When businesses pursue content marketing, the main focus should be the needs of the prospect or customer. Once a business has identified the customer's need, information can be presented in a variety of formats, including news, video, white papers, e-books, infographics, email newsletters, case studies, podcasts, how-to guides, question and answer articles, photos, blogs, etc.
Traditional marketers have long used content to disseminate information about a brand and build a brand's reputation.Business owners started to apply content marketing techniques in the late 19th century due to the technological advances in transportation and communication. They also wanted to build connections with their customers. For example:
Between 1940's and 1950's, TV was in their golden age, and advertising took over the media. Companies focused on sales rather than connecting with the public. There were few ventures into content marketing, and no very prominent campaigns.
During the baby boom era, Kellogg's began selling sugary cereal to children. With this change in business model came sociable animal mascots, lively animated commercials and the back of the cereal box as a form of targeted content marketing. Infographics were born in this era. This represented a new approach to make a brand memorable with the audience. 
In the 1990s, everything changed for marketers. The arrival of computers and the Internet made websites and blogs flourish, and corporations found content marketing opportunities through email.
E-commerce adaptations and digital distribution became the foundation of marketing strategy.
Internet also helped content marketing become a mainstream form of marketing. Traditional media such as newspapers, magazines, radio and TV started to lose their power in the marketplace. Companies started to promote and sell their products digitally. 
The phrase "content marketing" was used as early as 1996, when John F. Oppedahl led a roundtable for journalists at the American Society for Newspaper Editors. In 1998, Jerrell Jimerson held the title of "director of online and content marketing" at Netscape. In 1999, author Jeff Cannon wrote,"In content marketing, content is created to provide consumers with the information they seek."
By the late 2000s, when social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube were born, online content marketing was accessible, shareable and on-demand anytime worldwide.
By 2014, Forbes Magazine's website had written about the seven most popular ways companies use content marketing. In it, the columnist points out that by 2013, use of content marketing had jumped across corporations from 60% a year or so before, to 93% as part of their overall marketing strategy. Despite the fact that 70% of organizations are creating more content, only 21% of marketers think they are successful at tracking return on investment.
Today, content marketing has become a powerful model for marketers. Storytelling is part of it, and they must convey the companies' messages or goal to their desired audience without pushing them to just buy the product or service.
The rise of content marketing has turned traditional businesses into media publishing companies.
The rise of content marketing has also accelerated the growth of online platforms, such as YouTube, Yelp, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Pinterest, and more.
Businesses actively curate their content on these platforms with hopes to expand their reach to new audiences.
The first step in creating a successful content marketing campaign is to define a target audience, commonly known as user segmentation. Successful content marketers deeply understand their customers' needs and desires, beyond just their sole interest in their products or service. For example, somebody marketing a food truck, may define their target customer as young millennials who work within a 5-minute walk of downtown San Francisco and who enjoy trying fresh, healthy foods. The more narrowly the customer can be defined, the easier it is to define content for that target audience.
The most commonly used type of content is blog posts, though other types of content can resonate with your customer as well. Content includes:
The appropriate type of content for any business will depend on the business' goals and target customer. For example, an architect provider targeting real estate developers of large residential complexes may benefit from creating a list outlining all the considerations that a real estate developer should consider before entering a deal. Conversely, a local catering service targeting busy families may benefit from a video showcasing the warmth and convenience of a home-made, freshly-cooked meal.
To get started, businesses will need to find a content management system (CMS). Though there are many CMS and they each offer a slightly different value proposition, most include functions to help with content creation, publication, and analytics to track the success of posts.
There are 3 distribution strategies for successful content marketing, each with tradeoffs in customization, reach, and time commitment. Content distribution is often among the most overlooked aspects of a successful content marketing campaign, as it requires a consistent time commitment.
Businesses who build their own website maximize for complete control and customization. This is especially helpful for creative fields like art or interior design, where the primary value proposition communicated to users centers on qualitative factors or emotions. One challenge to building your own site is that there is not a natural base of visitors to leverage (as might be the case if you hosted a YouTube video). To increase reach, content marketing managers will want to invest in SEO, SEM or other audience-building campaigns.
Guest posts are blog posts that you submit on other people's sites, often with links or references back to your own business (or online business profile/ website). Businesses who create guest posts maximize for low time commitment and high reach. The challenge is that there is a limited level of customization, as your guest post will sit in another website. Content marketing managers pursuing this distribution channel will want to emphasize
Re-engagement marketing include: email newsletters, white papers, and podcasts. It entails anything that might allow you to re-connect with a visitor to your site or social media page - often by collecting the customer's email. This optimizes for customization and depth of relationship.
Metrics to determine the success of a content marketing are often tied to the original goals of the campaign.
For example, for each of these goals, a content marketer may measure different engagement and conversion metrics:
Businesses focused on expanding their reach to more customers will want to pay attention to the increase in volume of visitors, as well as the quality of those interactions. Traditional measures of volume include number of visitors to a page and number of emails collected, while time spent on page and click-through to other pages/ photos are good indicators for engagement.
For businesses hoping to reach not only more - but also new - types of customers online, they should pay attention to the demographics of new visitors, as evidenced by cookies that can be installed, different sources of traffic, different online behaviors, and/or different buying habits of online visitors.
Businesses focused on increasing sales through content marketing should look at traditional e-commerce metrics including click-through-rate from a product-page to check-out and completion rates at the check-out. Altogether, these form a conversion funnel. Moreover, to better understand customers' buying habits, they should look at other engagement metrics like time spent per page, number of product-page visits per user, and re-engagement.
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