A startup recently approached me about being a guest blogger. It seemed like a great opportunity. To reach a new audience and flex my storytelling skills would be fun. I was very disappointed, however, when the company edited my work to be a blatant promotion of their product. #FAIL
Guest blogging is a powerful form of content marketing and a great way to to expose yourself to a new audience. High-quality guest blogs on relevant websites and communities are are one of the simplest ways to cultivate thought leadership in your industry. As a journalist I’ve learned not to have an ego about my work being edited.
However, the company in question violated the cardinal rule of content marketing; don’t sell. While I consult with startups, I didn’t agree to be a spokesperson for the company.
Fortunately it’s a teachable moment. We’ve already explored the difference between public relations and marketing on this blog, so now is an excellent opportunity to understand the difference between content marketing and advertising.
Content marketing puts your audience first
In order for content marketing to work you have to think first and foremost about what your audience needs. Putting your product or service ahead of the needs of your new readers is a fast and easy way to damage your credibility.
People know when they’re being advertised to, but they treat it as such. Content marketing allows you to engage different parts of the brain, and reach people when their guard is down. This is sometimes called “educational marketing.”
“You can out-spend or out-teach your competition,” Nathan Kontny said recently Fast Company. Teaching something new or necessary demonstrates your expertise and value. Kontny says,
Let’s say you’re selling a camera. If you have a lot of money, you can use it to buy attention. But if you begin in a spot like me, without enough money to even pay yourself, you’re better off spending your resources teaching people.
Teach people to be better photographers. Once you’ve helped someone take better pictures, you’ll have a true follower and lifetime fan. Oh, and you also happen to sell cameras?
With advertising you’re attempting to be everywhere your audience is. Content marketing allows you to be where your audience is when they need you.
Content marketing is about building trust
There’s a marketing adage that your audience must be exposed to your message seven times before they will be ready to make a buying decision. A combination of paid advertisements, marketing collateral and other forms of content can help you reach the magic number seven, and convert your prospects into customers.
In order for a guest blog or any form of content marketing to be effective, it has to be valuable to the reader. Resist the temptation to sell. Your agenda is already implied.
When people find your content–likely on your website or blog–they know that your agenda is wrapped up in whatever you’re saying. This is fine. If the content doesn’t speak for itself, however no one will be motivated to accept your offer.
Why content marketing is different from advertising
Advertising is, “Truth well told.” This elegant slogan for multinational advertising agency McCann Erickson sums it up nicely.
Advertising is truth well-told to get you to buy stuff. Preferably today. The goal of advertising is to drive a behavior. The goal of advertising is to drive sales.
Increasingly advertising agencies are engaging in content marketing on behalf of their clients. Copywriters, graphic designers, animators and other professional content creators are legion within advertising firms. Who better to come up with the content for content marketing?
But advertising is fundamentally different from content marketing. While content marketing seeks to educate, advertising seeks to activate. Advertising uses psychological principals such as scarcity, discounting, and positioning to get you to buy.
When your business buys advertising you’re buying the right to say whatever you want about yourself. Advertisers can tell great stories about themselves, their mission and their worldview.
Apple is a great example of a company that inspires with its advertising.
Content marketing is not about self-promotion
Content marketing is an investment in a relationship with your customer. The goal is to drive behavior–ultimately a purchase–but it is different from advertising, because the persuasion happens over a much longer time horizon. Content marketing pulls the reader towards a purchase decision, while advertising pushes. Advertising is by its nature disruptive, while content is a story we seek out.
When you’re promoting yourself you’re not giving the audience a chance to make up their own mind’s about the value you create. Even if you’re awesome. Content is a neutral third party that reinforces your value without interruption, self-promotion or pressure.
Content marketing versus native advertising
Native advertising is original content that carries a sponsor’s brand or message. BuzzFeed, College Humor, The Atlantic, Vice and a growing number of online publishers are supplementing their revenue through native advertisements such as, which appeared on BuzzFeed recently.
Native ads aren’t cheap. In addition to the cost of content creation, placing a native advertisement can cost thousands of dollars. But native advertisements appear in the “river” of posts, as opposed to real reserved for traditional ad units, and they’re guaranteed maximum eyeballs.
While the rates may vary between publishers, the native ad platform maintains one strong advantage over traditional ad placements; virality.
While there’s an increasingly-sophisticated science of creating viral content and viral advertisements, people rarely share a marketers message on their own. Not so with original content that is educational, emotional or contains practical value. If something appeals to you, it’s likely to appeal to your friends.
Content marketing as public relations
If you’ve invested in content marketing you have already engaged in the public relations process. Content marketing is “owned media” that speaks to the needs of your target audience. If you take the added step to promote your content (as you should), this is most certainly public relations.
The hybrid of earned and owned media is when you promote your useful, owned content to relevant journalists. One of the most common forms of content marketing/public relations is when companies create infographics with information about industry trends, and then pitch them to journalists. Another tactic is to promote the publication of a white paper or another piece of long-form content.
Great content is an investment
Great content requires an investment of time or money. Your corporate blog is a great place to showcase your story, and engage customers. If you have the time yourself, or if your team has a talented writer to manage your blog, this is an excellent way to educate, challenge and inspire with your mission. The rise of content marketing is one of the reasons English majors are the hot new hire at businesses and startups. Stories are more powerful than ever for business. But at most startups time is the scarcest resource.
A number of platforms such as Scripted, Contently, oDesk and Elance will allow you to outsource your blogging and content creation to a pro. And when you decide to invest in content marketing there are countless content types to choose from to achieve different goals. And then the fun starts.
Do you need content for your website or business? If so, I’d love to help. Email me
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