According to a July 2016 article by Content Marketing Institute, the only thing you need to do to be successful at content marketing is "write a few thousand-word articles several times a week, produce masterful, in-depth, search-engine-optimized, intensely visual, user-focused content, and unleash it with the grace of an industry maven and the power of a market leader."[1] You may have to wade through the dripping sarcasm to actually read that entire quote, and CMI made the statement with obvious tongue-in-cheek humor intended. The point of the article was the importance of content marketing and what people are doing to fail at it.

"write a few thousand-word articles several times a week, produce masterful, in-depth, search-engine-optimized, intensely visual, user-focused content, and unleash it with the grace of an industry maven and the power of a market leader.... " Yikes!!

More often than not, marketers and business professionals are failing at content marketing. In some cases, this failure is unnoticed because the perceived success of other marketing efforts and strategies balance the scales somewhat. This balance detracts from the negative impact poor content marketing has on the success (or failure) of a company's online presence. 

Regardless of whether the content marketing failure is noticed or if it plays a role in the overall success of marketing strategies, the failure is invariably due to one key reason. Content marketing is seen as necessary, and you can find a variety of tip and trick lists to give you pointers on doing it or doing it better, but the what and why of it are often not fully understood.

What is Content Marketing?

There are several different definitions of content marketing that vary a bit from each other, but it can most easily and concisely be described as the creation of original content that has value for and is intended to appeal to a specific audience. While this definition sounds quite a bit easier than the one provided by Content Marketing Institute, it does not truly convey what, exactly, content marketing is. Yes, it is the creation of original content and then distributing that content through various online marketing channels where your target audience is likely to see it. It is also the process of designing that content that evokes a sense of need in your audience, meaning they are compelled to take action in some way. This action can be through clicking links to learn more, signing up for something you are offering (like a subscriber-only newsletter or video tutorial), or buying whatever you are selling, among other things.

Content marketing involves more than just creating irresistible content for your target audience, however. After the painstaking process of creation has been complete and you have published your content on one of your online marketing channels, you also need to promote that content. This makes sure your marketing material gets as much visibility as possible. Promotion can take several forms, like sponsored (paid) advertising, targeted distribution of news or notices, featured sections on your website or landing page, or cross-channel linking from your other marketing content. By promoting your content, you are essentially placing a bunch of billboards along the information highway to let surfers, searchers, and shoppers know who you are, what you are offering, and how you can meet their needs.

Finally, after creation and promotion, you need to implement an effective method of monitoring the performance of your content to make sure it is having the marketing impact you are hoping for. Performance monitoring can be done through platform-specific tools, web-based monitoring programs, or independent analytics applications, or any combination of the three. In addition to performance measurements, many analytics tools offer options to help you set up publication schedules for your content, keep track of which content is active on what marketing channels, and maintain an inventory of your content - published and unpublished - so you can tell, at a glance, what you have and what you may need more of. These are just a few of the numerous features and options you can find on content management and marketing applications, to give you an idea of what to expect or what to look for when searching for a program that fits your content marketing needs.

Why is Content Marketing Important?

The obvious reason why content marketing is important to businesses would be because it is, in essence, "selling" your content to your target audience. This, in turn, "sells" your products, services, or even your company or brand, and attracts online traffic to different parts of your online presence. More traffic equals more leads, which eventually translates to more sales. In other words, content marketing is the root of all your online marketing activity. Going back to the billboard analogy for a moment; without effective content marketing, your billboards may as well be located along the side of an abandoned digital dirt road rather than the information highway.

There are actually a significant number of benefits your business can realize by properly using content marketing as part of your overall marketing strategies. Several of these benefits, or "why" content marketing is important and how it can improve the success of your company, are as follows:

  1. Generate more brand awareness, recognition, and loyalty 
  2. Attract a higher number of qualified leads through targeted content distribution 
  3. Establish a greater level of trust and credibility 
  4. Build a following of loyal fans, users, and consumers 
  5. Demonstrate your company's singular ability to meet consumer needs, address issues, or solve problems (especially if your company is truly singular in its ability to do so) 
  6. Gain recognition and authority as an industry expert or thought leader 
  7. Increase number of conversions 
  8. Cultivate and strengthen relationships with your audience 
  9. Prove your value to users before they become paying customers 
  10. Drive more traffic to websites, landing pages, and other online content 
  11. Shorten a consumer's buying journey by conquering obstacles before they arise 
  12. Support and reinforce all other areas of your marketing strategies 
  13. Maintain a competitive position in your chosen industry, niche, or market 
  14. Improve search engine optimization and ranking in search results 
  15. Extended reach of content with a narrow focus or audience-restricted theme or subject 

This list of fifteen benefits of content marketing is hardly all-inclusive. It just gives you a detailed look at the many ways content marketing can boost your company's success in several areas. Providing an exhaustive list of benefits would only serve to more fully illustrate the point that content marketing, when implemented effectively, is highly beneficial to any business with an online presence.

The act of marketing your content, or promoting your marketing material, is only one leg of the content marketing tripod, also. Without content creation, you would have nothing to promote and, with nothing to promote, there would be no performance to speak of that would be monitored or measured. Many definitions of content marketing leave out the promotion and performance measurement, focusing instead on the creation of content that appeals to a specific audience and motivates them to take positive action toward a sales funnel. While these definitions may be silent with regard to promotion and performance measurement, they are no less important to the overall concept and process of content marketing than content creation is itself.

Effective implementation of a content marketing process, plan, or strategy can sometimes seem to be a challenging obstacle that isn't worth tackling. While it does require an investment of time, effort, diligence, and commitment, a well-formulated content marketing strategy can make a significant difference in the success or failure of your company's online content across all your marketing channels.

[1] Source: 9 Mistakes You Might Be Making With Your Content Marketing Strategy, Neil Patel, Content Marketing Institute, July 5, 2016