Seems like a simple question to answer, right? The answer boils down to who you ask and how you define content marketing. Zara Curtis, Director of Content for IAG, says, “no” content marketing is not advertising. Ok, fair enough. After all, the phrase has the word marketing in it so it can’t be advertising, too, right?
She goes on to describe advertising as “tell and sell” and content marketing as “tell stories and show.” This seems reasonable enough. However, it’s not quite that simple. This description makes it sound like content marketing is only top-funnel content. It’s not.
Google’s Instant Answers defines content marketing as:
A type of marketing that involves the creation and sharing of online material (such as videos, blogs, and social media posts) that does not explicitly promote a brand but is intended to stimulate interest in its products or services.
This definition aligns pretty closely with how Zara describes content marketing above. One could also simply look at the three forms of media for guidance – paid, earned and owned. Paid would certainly be advertising, earned would be PR and, owned would be content marketing? Not sure that does the question in the title of this article any justice either.
Let’s look at the Content Marketing Institute’s (CMI) definition of content marketing:
Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.
This definition goes a bit deeper than Google’s. It doesn’t differentiate between top funnel to lower funnel content. And it adds one very valuable word – distribution.
So, the question we have to ask ourselves is: What is distribution? There’s three ways to do content distribution.
- Owned media – sending an email out to your list
- Earned media – pitching journalists or influencers to cover content
- Paid media – doing native advertising to amplify content
CMI also uses the word “strategic” in its definition. If a brand has a very small email list would owned media be a strategic way to do content distribution? What if it didn’t have PR resources, but had plenty of budget for paid media? Scaling content distribution using paid media to amplify the content would indeed be a strategic approach to content marketing and distribution. Thus, fulfilling the definition from CMI.
The average television ad executive spends five dollars on distribution for every one dollar they spend on creation. According to my own research, the average content marketer does the opposite. This is likely why many content marketers think this craft is all about telling stories. It’s not. It’s about telling stories and amplifying them to the right people on the right channel at the right time – and doing so strategically.
So, is content marketing advertising? Yes and no. If content marketers budgeted for distribution like television advertising executives the answer would be yes. If brands only emailed its list then the answer would be no. However, today’s sophisticated content marketers use all three forms of media to distribute and amplify strategically.
Unless a brand has millions of email addresses and/or a huge influencer network the only way it can truly scale distribution strategically is through non-interruptive native content amplification.
The answer to the question in the title of this article is – advertising should always be an important component of content marketing and its amplification.