What is Content Marketing? (An Easy Primer for Beginners)

Have you been Googling “what is content marketing” and keep finding lightweight fluff or, worse, ultimate guides packed with so much info that reading them is like drinking through a water hose? If so, this simple, thorough primer is just what you need.

How does this sound?

A marketing channel that…

  • Stands the test of time. You can do it for years without the channel going out of style or your work becoming less effective.
  • Provides a compounding positive return on investment that improves as it ages. You put in $100, and by the end of year three, it’s made $10,000.
  • Helps you attract, convert, and retain customers. It does triple duty without triple the work or investment.

If it sounds too good to be true, I have good news.

It’s not. This marketing channel exists.

It’s not just for online influencers. It’s almost free to kick off and run. And you don’t have to do anything illegal to start it.

It’s content marketing.

What is Content Marketing?

What is Content Marketing?

Content marketing is a strategic marketing channel that drives user and customer acquisition and retention through the consistent development and distribution of digital content.

All types of businesses use content marketing, from individual consultants and solopreneurs, to large media and ecommerce companies.

Why Is Content Marketing Important?

Many marketing teams new to the content marketing process will publish a few articles, track their performance for a few weeks, and then throw up their hands in frustration when Google Analytics shows that they didn’t make any sales.

“We tried content marketing and it didn’t work” they’ll say, and then move onto the next channel experiment to find their golden ticket to marketing nirvana.

But the truth is, they didn’t give content marketing a fair shake.

Content Marketing Acts as the Engine for All Other Marketing Efforts

The majority of content-driven sales won’t show up as “last touch” conversions. That’s because content marketing rarely gets the credit for the sales it has a big hand in driving.

Not sure what I mean?

Consider the following customer journey scenario:

You’re traveling to Europe for business, and when you arrive at your destination, you need to be on your A-game, as you’re meeting a potential customer that would be career-making if you were to land their business.

The problem? Between the dehydration, jet lag, bloating, and headaches, you never feel good when you fly.

But because this is such an important business trip, and you know it’s extra important to stay healthy while you’re traveling, you try to find solutions on Google.

You type in “healthy travel tips” and find this article with 12 strategies to stay healthy and feel better before, during, and after your flight.

After reading the blog post, you continue planning your trip. The next day, you’re browsing Facebook or LinkedIn and you see an ad for a health supplement to support your body while traveling.

When you click on the ad, you’re brought to the same site you visited the day before.

When you go to leave the page, a form slides in offering you a 10% discount in exchange for your email. You enter your email address and then go back to browsing social media.

The next day, you open your inbox and find an email with your coupon code for 10% off the drink mix. You use the coupon at checkout and feel prepared for the long flight ahead of you.

Now, when the company’s marketing team reviews their metrics, your purchase will likely be attributed to email marketing. That’s because you bought the product from the follow-up email they sent you.

However, without good content marketing, you never would have been retargeted on Facebook or LinkedIn with the advertisement that led you to become a subscriber to their email list.

In other words:

A content marketing campaign is often a customer’s first interaction with you.

What are the Benefits of Content Marketing?

Of the many marketing channels available to digital marketers, content marketing is one of the channels with the widest-reaching benefits, because it enables many other channels to be more effective.

A successful content marketing program will also benefit all stages of the marketing funnel.

Here’s how:

1. Drives Sales Conversions

As with any inbound marketing channel, the main purpose of any content marketing effort is to drive sales and conversions.

Some content closer to the bottom of the marketing funnel, such as sales pages and landing pages, will drive direct conversions, but the majority of content captures users at the awareness and interest stages of the funnel, so they assist in driving sales, as mentioned in the earlier scenario.

2. Increases Website Traffic

With a few exceptions, you can’t convert people who never land on your website.

Experienced marketers look to content marketing to drive traffic to their websites and grow their customer base.

The best part about content marketing is that the traffic a good content strategy can drive is targeted and qualified.

You create valuable content that is highly relevant to your products or business, and your new visitors are seeking that content, so they’re more likely to be warmer leads.

The warmer the lead, the more likely the lead will become a new customer.

3. Improves Brand Awareness

Say you were to launch a new yoga gear brand from scratch. You have no traffic, no customers, and no brand awareness. Nobody knows who you are.

But then, you begin publishing consistent content that’s high quality. And your ideal customers — beginner yogis and yoga enthusiasts — start to see your brand name when they’re searching for yoga content.

On YouTube, the 5-Minute Morning Yoga video content you developed is popping up when they’re searching for guided yoga videos.

On Google, the content you developed about the different poses, and the benefits and types of yoga begins to show up in their search results.

They begin to see your brandmark on the infographic you developed that’s been shared on social media.

As you create and publish more relevant content, your target audience begins seeing your brand everywhere — you build brand awareness.

That’s because content marketing is extremely powerful in building brand awareness online. So powerful, a whopping 81% of survey respondents in a recent CMI report touted content marketing’s effectiveness in boosting brand awareness.

In short, it works.

4. Enables Other Marketing Channels

Because content marketing is effective in driving traffic and brand awareness, a solid content marketing strategy can enable and drive a return on investment for other marketing channels.

For example, when you attract visitors to your website via an informative, valuable piece of engaging content, you can then capture their email address, thereby activating your email marketing strategy.

If you don’t capture their email address, you may be able to retarget them with a social media marketing or PPC advertisement, driving them back to your website to convert later.

5. Acts as a Backlink Magnet

Whether valid or not, backlinks are still often viewed as the holy grail of digital marketing.

“If we had more backlinks, we’d be able to rank for this search term, have a better domain authority, and be more trustworthy.”

“If we had more backlinks, we’d be able to attract more partners, affiliates, and influencers.”

But “link building” should not be used as a verb. It’s not something you should go out and do.

After all, the sites that are willing to link to your article because you reached out to them and asked them to, or in exchange for a monetary reward or reciprocal action, are probably not the type of websites you want links from.

Those who write for or operate the websites that you want links from — the media sites, popular bloggers, and influencers — link to the best, most relevant content, because they don’t want to waste their audience’s attention on anything else.

When you publish the best content on the internet about your topic, you’re building a backlink magnet. Backlinks will come to you. You won’t have to seek them.

6. Builds Your Email List

Aside from content marketing, email marketing is the channel well known for having one of the highest return on investments available.

It makes sense too.

A list of people who wanted to hear from you enough to give you their email address are far more likely to convert than anybody else — besides maybe your mom.

Content marketing provides ample opportunity not only to drive qualified traffic from whom to capture emails, as mentioned above, but also to incentivize visitors to subscribe to your email list.

What are the Different Types of Content Marketing?

When many people think of content marketing, they think mainly of written content, such as blog posts. While this is the most widely-known content type, there are different mediums through which to deliver content, including audio, visual, written, and video.

1. Written Content

Written content is the most widely known form of content, and is what you’re consuming right now as you read this guide. This includes:

Written content is the most popular form of content for good reason: it allows you to target relevant keywords in hopes of ranking on the first page in search results for that search term.

For example, the SEO (search engine optimization) friendly Happiest Baby website, which sells products to help newborns sleep, ranks #1 for the popular search term “baby sleep schedule”:

Happiest Baby

This undoubtedly brings in plenty of traffic.

It’ll happen eventually, but Google’s not yet savvy enough to identify these keywords in audio or video content beyond listing data, so when you’re creating a good content strategy, written content is where most content marketers start.

2. Audio Content

Most of us consume audio content regularly, in the car on our way to work, on the treadmill, or in the kitchen cooking.

Examples of content in audio format include:

If you’re a regular listener of podcasts, you probably feel like you know the show host somewhat personally. That’s because it’s hard not to feel friendly with somebody when you hear their voice talking about something that matters to you every day!

Audio content allows you to connect with your audience more personally. Many marketers supplement their audio content with written content like a blog post or transcript to help rank for relevant keywords.

3. Video Content

When you think of search engines, you probably think of Google, Bing, and Yahoo, right?

But believe it or not, YouTube is one of the largest search engines in the world. Every time you watch something online, you’re consuming video content. Video content exists on:

  • YouTube
  • Tiktok
  • Instagram (IGTV, Instagram Story, and feed videos)
  • Facebook (Facebook Watch, Facebook Live)
  • Recorded webinars
  • Digital course sites (Skillshare, Creative Live, Lynda.com, etc.)

As our friends over at Ahrefs prove, video content can be highly effective in educating, converting, and building brand awareness:

4. Visual Content

Another common type of content marketing is visual.

Content marketing examples of visual content include:

  • Infographics
  • Slide decks
  • GIFs
  • Memes, etc.

High-quality visual content often is developed to supplement and enhance written or video content, though it can also be consumed by itself.

What is Content Marketing? A Marketing Force Multiplier

Abraham Lincoln has been quoted as saying, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

Applied to marketing, high-quality content marketing is like sharpening your axe.

It makes all of your other marketing more effective.

It’s sustainable, strategic, and provides long-term growth.

It provides an unreal return on investment.

And it’s completely organic. It’s one of the only marketing channels you don’t have to “pay to play.”

Bottom line?

If you’re ready to increase your traffic, improve your brand awareness, grow your email list, and make more sales; you should start building a great content marketing strategy today.