Today’s information-hungry consumer is not happy to be spoon-fed advertising or ‘hard-sell’ articles.

Instead, they are looking for a more value-led approach to content.

At the same time, consumers are no-longer passive armchair spectators.

They are much more likely to be contributors and commentators on their own platforms and social media feeds.

In many ways, consumers are leading the debate – whether via social media, web, video, podcast or blog – which makes it even more important that the content that brands develop is smart, targeted and relevant.

So what is content marketing?

According to the Content Marketing Institute, approximately nine out of 10 marketers today are using content marketing – regardless of company size or industry.

Content marketing can be used to influence business decisions (b2b) or consumers (b2c) but either way, the techniques are the same and they’re not new.

The father of content marketing is a little known (in his day) farmer called John Deere.

He launched The Furrow magazine back in 1895 in order to tell farmers how to be more profitable – and of course, sell his wares on the back of it.

It helped catapult the John Deere tractor into a global brand and was the very first example of content marketing. Over a century later, and The Furrow is still going strong, available in 12 languages in more than 40 countries.

For a formal definition, the Content Marketing Association says content marketing is, “the discipline of creating quality branded editorial content across all media channels and platforms to deliver engaging relationships, consumer value and measurable success for brands.”

Perhaps a less formal definition is to say that, unlike other lead generation strategies, content marketing gives something to readers, rather than asking them for something.

The reason The Furrow worked is because it carried content that was useful. If there was a selling message in the content, it wasn’t obvious and it wasn’t the primary point of the exercise.

Why is it different to social media marketing?

There is also a distinct difference between social media marketing and content marketing.

According to the Content Marketing Institute, in social media marketing, the center of gravity – the focus of the marketing activity – is located within the social networks themselves.

When marketers operate social media campaigns, they are operating inside of Facebook, inside of Twitter, etc. As they produce content, they place it inside of those networks.

In contrast, the center of gravity for content marketing is a brand website — whether it be a branded URL like AmericanExpress.com or a microsite for a brand’s specific product, like Amex’s Open Forum.

Social networks are vital to the success of content marketing efforts, but instead, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest are used primarily as a distributor of links back to the content on the brand’s website — not as containers of the content itself.

Here are eight good reasons why a successful content marketing strategy is worth its weight in bitcoins:

1. It’s produced for a brand, by a brand

Traditional media advertising is increasingly losing its value. Users don’t like it, or trust the sales messages.

By comparison, content marketing represents a form of word-of-mouth marketing, whereby users consume, engage and share your brand content.

2. Content marketing delivers quality lead generation

In general, content marketing generates three times as many leads as traditional outbound marketing, but costs 62% less.

Great content will attract high-value customers, and these customers will come back for more.

3. It builds bonds that last

Good content will work across any channel. Engagement is the key. Google has also taken a strong preference to content marketing, rather than SEO, to rank search results.

Content marketing forms a powerful, long-lasting bond with its target audience. Authentic content will position you as a brand leader in your own right.

4. It’s measurable and effective

All content platforms have a number of established methods for proving effectiveness. Despite the rise in native advertising, content marketing still seems to rule the digital world.

Fractl and Moz used survey responses from more than 30 content marketing agencies and cost data from more than 600 digital publishers. They found that content marketing has a better overall return on investment.

Great content marketing can also earn a company significant ‘earned media’, where you don’t have to pay for including branded content in magazines, for example.

If it is shared across media channels, it potentially produces thousands of dollars of free brand exposure.

5. It performs a number of marketing tasks

Content marketing is a Jack-of-all-trades tool. It can help build awareness, loyalty, sales, engagement, cut-through, point of difference and much more.

6. It will influence consumer decision making

Content marketing allows you to influence decision makers well before they have made up their minds.

7. Consumers will love you

Content marketing helps to inform, inspire and entertain.

Helping your current and potential customers first, without even thinking of pushing products, builds trust, word of mouth respect and high-quality, long term advocates.

8. It creates content for good

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with “feel good” content or even product-lead content, today’s culture views those traditional approaches as ultimately self-serving. 

Content with embedded social values that are deeply ingrained in the company culture (Uber’s recent fight against New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, for example) or that drive its business strategy, will be a differentiator in consumer decisions going forward.

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Remember, while the content medium can be extremely powerful, context is all important; if you respect the platform, your audience and the agenda, then content marketing can really strike home with your target audience.

So, the next time you are questioned on the cost effectiveness of content marketing, remember the story of John Deere, the humble Mid-Western farmer in the US who went on to forge a global business empire on the back of some very savvy tractor-tainment, and a world class product too!