What is content marketing and why is it so effective?

I was working on a client’s project the other day and I wanted to use humor to brighten up the copy. I wrote ten puns in all, hoping that at least one would go viral.

Unfortunately, no pun in ten did.

Unlike that joke, content marketing can be a bit difficult to understand especially because it is so vast and also because a lot of the information out there is difficult to understand.

Well, this guide isn’t like any of those. This guide is like a Rolls Royce on a street full of Toyotas.

No offense to, ahem, Toyota owners… like me (we have a Highlander and before that a Venza and before that an Echo… a real Toyota family).

Related: How much should you pay for content marketing?

So what really is content marketing?

Content marketing is shady business and I’ll explain why in a bit.


CMI (Content Marketing Institute), the last word in content marketing, defines it thusly:

“Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.””

If all that reads like gobbledygook. Here’s a simpler explanation.

“”Content marketing is simply creating and publishing content, be it audio, written or visual, that helps your audience immensely—so they’ll be more open to buying from you””

If even that is not enough, here is a more distilled, somewhat lyrical definition:

“Traditional marketing and advertising is telling the world you’re a rock star. Content marketing is showing the world that you are one.””

I actually stole that last definition from Joe Pulizzi, founder of CMI.

Why content marketing is shady

Content marketing is shady for the simple reason that your audience is unaware of your end game. You’re creating all this juicy content and they’re gobbling it all up, unaware that what you’re really doing is making them more open to the idea of buying from you. You create content so valuable that your audience comes to the conclusion (on their own) that your product or service is the one that will scratch their itch.

Don’t feel bad for your audience.  As long as they get value out of your content, you’re doing well, creating a win-win scenario for both of you.

If you’ve ever read the newsletter that gave you some value and you didn’t pay for it, you’ve been indirectly marketed to. If you’ve ever read a blog post about preparing banana bread (yes that’s a real thing), you’ve been marketed to.

As long as you’ve consumed content you didn’t pay for, you’ve been indirectly marketed to. At least 90% of the time.

Why content marketing?

Think about your process when you want to learn something new.

Say you want to learn how to paint your room. If you don’t have any friends or family that could make recommendations or show you how to do it, you instantly whip out your phone or open up your laptop, and head straight for Google, or any other search engine.

You then enter the keywords “How to paint your room”. Only websites that have been optimized around those keywords will show up in the results. Sure, you’ll find the blog post that shows you how to paint your room. You’ll leave the blog with valuable actionable information all for free.


You do some snooping around. You look around and then you ‘stumble’ on a DIY course they’re offering.  And it’s not free.

The reason content marketing is so effective is that it builds trust.  When your audience was looking all around for a solution to their problems, you very lovingly gave them the solution (for free), and then you ‘accidentally’ showed them something you were selling.

Since your free stuff was so good, they’re convinced your premium stuff will be as good, or even better.

That is exactly how content marketing works. And there are other benefits too.

More benefits of content marketing.

There are many benefits of content marketing but we’ll take a look at some of the biggest ones.

Content marketing can help you:

  1. Acquire new customers
  2. Generate trust and community around your brand and product
  3. Build increased revenue with existing customers
  4. Build an interested, engaged audience

Acquire new customers

Businesses are more profitable when they have a large customer base. And content marketing is one \way for businesses to get new customers. It’s much easier for members of your audience to buy from you than people who haven’t previously interacted with your business.

If you’ve built an audience that is engaged and loyal to your brand it’s much easier for them to become customers. And although you won’t reap the harvest of your content marketing efforts immediately, when you do reap them, the benefits can be enormous.

Generate trust and community

I think that this is one of the greatest assets that any company can have.

Although it’s an extreme example, consider the community and following that Apple Inc has built. They have millions of loyal customers all over the world who love their brand and are willing to spend money on high-priced gadgets.

When you create content regularly that people love, you inadvertently create that same trust and community—albeit not on the scale of Apple. People naturally form a community around your brand as they interact with your business through questions, comments, etc.

Build revenue with existing customers

When you already have customers, you can increase your revenue with cross-sells and upsells. With cross-sells, when they buy a product from you, you can recommend a complementary product for them. Cross-selling is the cashier at the fast-food restaurant asking “Would you like fries with that?”.

Upselling on the other hand is asking your customers to upgrade and buy something more expensive. If they buy a phone from you, for example, an upsell would be to offer them a more expensive phone. You would of course justify the added costs with more features and benefits.

Build an engaged audience

You know your content is valuable when it attracts users and causes them to engage regularly with your content—as customers, subscribers, and evangelists. Or ideally, all three.

Once you’ve gotten to the stage where you have an engaged audience, your content efforts will begin to be more fruitful. You can now monetize your audience to drive sales; and from all this activity you can gain valuable customer insights that could help you streamline and improve your processes.

Types of content

Now that we know the importance of valuable content, let’s examine some of the major types of content and how you can use them to bolster your marketing efforts.

  1. Blog posts
  2. Social media content
  3. Video content
  4. Email marketing
  5. Case studies and white papers
  6. Podcasts and interviews

Blog posts

Whenever you hear ‘content marketing’, undoubtedly the first thing that comes to mind is blogging. It’s a given actually.

Long before video content and podcasting ever caught on, blogs had already existed and bloggers were already churning out content regularly. And blogs have remained popular ever since.

The key to using blog posts well is to write blog posts that answer the questions your audience is already asking. Users primarily have three search intents when they use a search engine. Those intents are informational intents (when they want to learn to do something); navigational intent (when they’re looking for a particular website, like Facebook or Youtube); transactional intent (when they want to buy something).

If you can address one of those intents and provide a solution to their problems, they’ll be much more interested in learning more about your products and services.

Grammarly is a good example. Grammarly sells editing software for writers. In addition to their software, they have a blog that provides a lot of useful information about grammar and writing.


Any writer or editor who reaches their blog is likely to make a purchase after reading all the expert advice they get on the blog.

Social media content

With over 3.7 billion global users, it’s easy to see why many businesses choose to invest heavily in their social media content marketing efforts. With various platforms like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc, to choose from, businesses can share different types of content including photos, stories. videos, live videos, etc with their audience and create authentic valuable connections with them.

With social media, especially Instagram,  the challenge is to create content that is valuable as well as engaging. Everyone furiously scrolls through their feed and only the most engaging content gets looked at.

Many businesses resort to using social media graphics that contain short posts or quotes that their audience finds valuable. It has also become something of a trend to create carousel posts– those swipeable posts with as many as ten pictures.

One example is Hellofounder.co.  They teach budding entrepreneurs how to launch and grow their businesses. They share a lot of useful content on their Instagram page and (obviously) have a link in bio to subscribe to their membership plans. Pretty slick huh?

That’s the power of content marketing

Or meet Alma for example. Alma is a social media and branding expert who teaches other entrepreneurs how to create content for their businesses. Her Instagram page is chock full of helpful tips on self-development and content creation tools. In her stories is a link to her paid course. Hurray for content marketing.

In addition, it may sound a bit obvious, but choose a platform that suits your product and your type of business. Daniel Wellington is a fashion watch brand that has a significant online presence on Instagram. They’d do poorly on LinkedIn for example.

Video content

According to Omnicore, Youtube has as many as 30 million active users daily and a staggering 300 hours of video are uploaded every minute.

Not every business will do well on Youtube. But if video content is germane to your niche or product, Youtube is the place to be.

One good example of a business that makes Youtube work for them is Trenton & Heath. The channel is run by two cobblers who do review videos of dress shoes, boots, sneakers, etc. They tear up shoes and then talk about the build and quality of the materials used to make up the shoe. Based on that, they make recommendations, pointing out shoes that are worth investing in.

Because they have proven their expertise over and over in videos, if I wanted to repair my dress shoes, they’d be the first business I’d contact because they’ve created the impression that they are experts—and they really are experts.

So really think about your brand and its offerings and consider whether video content is the way for you to go.

Email marketing

This is another form of content marketing done through emails. With email marketing, you create some exclusive content that can only be accessed when a user signs up to be on your email list. These pieces of content are called lead magnets. They could be e-books, checklists, cheat sheets, or guides.

Brian Dean,  owner of the Backlinko site takes a slightly different approach.  On his website, some pieces of content are locked, and only when you give up your email address can you access them.

It doesn’t matter what you use to get users into your list. Once they’re in, the aim is to interact with them as personally as you can, sending them newsletters, surveys and asking for their feedback.

The goal here, as with any other form of content marketing is to provide valuable information.

I’m a loyal subscriber to the Psychotactics email list. Sean D’Souza, owner and founder has made email marketing work so well for him that in fact, some of his courses sell out within 15 minutes of launch

His content has inspired so much trust in me and many other And predictably, I’ve bought two of his books!

Case studies and white papers

This form of content is for the big boys. This is for large companies that mostly sell software or services. Your regular mom and pop store has no use for white papers.

Case studies are documents (or stories basically) of how a customer solved a problem using your product. They are usually written by interviewing the customer and documenting the customer’s journey.

In a recent report, B2B Marketing asked a number of marketers what they thought about various content formats—including case studies. They found some interesting results.

  • Of the 112 marketers surveyed in the report, two-thirds (66%) stated that case studies were “very effective” at driving leads and sales. Further, 32% found case studies to be “quite effective,”.  In that report, case studies were found to be the most effective content format.
  • More than half of the marketers surveyed in the 2016 B2B Content Marketing Report (55%) said they found case studies to be the single most effective content format.
  • Approximately 31% of respondents questioned in Eccolo Media’s 2015 B2B Technology Content Survey Report said they found case studies to be the third-most influential content format, just behind white papers (33%) and data sheets (39%).

Take Sweet Process as another example. They are a project management software company. On their blog, they have a lot of case studies showing how customers tripled sales or increased their efficiency by using their software. They primarily use case studies to show the value of their products.

The numbers don’t lie. If you’re in the B2B space, you should be doing case studies that showcase the value of your product or your service.

Podcasts and interviews

This is another content format that ha become popular. Podcasts are audio recordings of everyday people talking about their expertise and their experiences. And there are podcasts for every topic you can imagine. Business podcasts, social issue podcasts, you name it.

Podcast Insights describes podcasts as:

  1. Netflix for audio.
  2. Audio entertainment anywhere, anytime, about anything.
  3. Audio discussions about any subject you can think of and you can listen to them anytime that works for you.
  4. Audiobooks for blogs.
  5. An audio version of a blog that you can listen to anywhere
  6. The equivalent of self-publishing your book. It allows everyday people with great ideas to publish their ideas or thoughts in an audio format for others to enjoy without having to go through traditional media like radio.

There is a quality that podcasts have that you cannot get from other content formats. Because many podcasts are usually spontaneous, the interaction and some of the real-life personal stories told on podcasts can be really inspiring.

The Brave Flies, a podcast hosted by Heather Vickery, tells the inspiring stories of people living courageously. Sure the podcast is free, but if you casually look a little to the left, you’ll see a page that indicates that she sells coaching.

Noticed a trend yet?

How to get the most out of your content marketing efforts

While content marketing is a very effective tool, if you don’t pay enough attention to your strategy, you’ll end up going all around in circles without achieving much.

The following are a few things you can do to make sure you get the most out of your efforts:

  1. Decide which type of content you want to focus on
  2. Branch out slowly
  3. Find gaps in your market
  4. Repurpose content

Decide which type of content you want to focus on

This is the first logical step to creating content.  Carefully think about your brand, your offerings, and your goals and then choose the kind of content you want to publish consistently

That doesn’t have to be the only content format, you put out. Choosing just helps you focus all your energy and resources behind a singular format.

You can always decide to focus on another content format later.

Also, consider what types of content work for your niche. If you’re teaching karate or reviewing sports cars, a podcast is as useless a screen door on a submarine. But in the previously mentioned niches, videos are just perfect.

Branch out slowly

In continuation of the last point, it is important to choose one content format at first and then branch out slowly. The mistake many businesses make is to try to diversify and dominate Instagram Facebook and Youtube all at once.

This rarely works out because each platform is different and it takes time to master each platform.

Instead, take time out to master each platform, and when you’ve figured things out and have built up an audience there, proceed to the next one.

Rinse and repeat.

If you do this consistently, conquering each platform, in a few years, you’ll end up having a strong online presence on multiple platforms

Find gaps in your market

If your target audience watches videos all day, then by all means create high-quality videos so you can compete.

But you can also go a step further.

Like the old marketing adage, “go where they ain’t”.

While your competitors are focusing all their efforts on one platform, you can move a step ahead and move into a space that isn’t as saturated and create content in that space.

If you are a content creator in the gaming niche, consider writing blog posts so you don’t have to compete with the plethora of  Youtube gaming channels.

If the majority of your competitors publish short-form content, publish long-form content. You’ll become the expert that publishes long-form content.

If they’re posting images, post videos.

If they’re writing formal case studies, write informal, conversational list posts.

You get the idea. Find the gaps in your niche and fill them up.

Repurpose content

In a survey conducted by Orbit media, bloggers that publish content regularly get better results than those that publish infrequently.

While you need to publish content regularly for the best results, you don’t need to start from scratch with each infographic, article, video, or podcast.

You can take a really good piece of content and repurpose it into as many as 5 pieces of content in different formats. This is repurposing of content.

You can easily turn:

  • Articles into videos
  • Long-form articles into ebooks
  • E-books into presentations
  • Video interviews into blog posts

The possibilities are endless, but I hope you get the idea.  Just take what you already have and paint it in a different color.

The rewards of content marketing

Content marketing requires effort. You just need to put in the time.

The rewards can pay off in a way that traditional advertising couldn’t. You’ll get a bunch of customers that become loyal advocates of your brand and spread the news of your business all over. And you know that word of mouth is the most powerful trust signal.

Put in the work and you’ll surely reap the rewards.

Last words…..

If you want to hide anything, the best place is page 2 of Google. No one ever goes there.

Always remember that.

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