The 5 Creative Pillars of Content Marketing and the Benefits of Each

Content Marketing

For over a decade many marketing folks have believed (and some still do) that owned media (brand created content) is what makes content marketing come alive. And for many, it has. Fast forward to today and nearly 50% of brands expect to increase spending on content creation initiatives, according to Textbroker. Some brands have built (or bought) their own content studios to maximize output and quality. reports that 84.5% of US companies that have 100+ employees have adopted content marketing since 2019.

However, for many, it’s an effort for producing just one of the five creative pillars. Owned media is great for many reasons. However, by leveraging all the pillars of content marketing brands have a much better chance of reaching the best consumers on the right channel at the best time.

Below is the definition of content marketing, according to the Content Marketing Institute. This is shared so that together we can have a frame of reference and agreement on what we’re talking about.

“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.”

The reason it’s important to share this definition is to show that content marketing is much more than creating owned media. The part that many brands seem to forget is the “distributing” part of the definition. We’ll address this together below.

1. Owned Media

Before we dig into the value of owned media let’s agree on a definition.

“Owned media is defined as communication channels that are within one’s control, such as websites, blogs, or email.” ~Wikipedia

While this would include newer channels such as AR and VR, their value propositions won’t be included do to low adoption rates by both consumers and brands.

Control is the number one value proposition with owned media. Some companies prefer to have absolute control of any content-type presented under the guise of its brand, and it’s hard to blame them.

The most challenging aspects of producing owned media is quality and scale using limited resources. While this remains a challenge, brands need to figure out a consistency and cadence that works best given the resources available. Audience members who subscribe and come back for more will recognize this cadence and appreciate the consistency, even if it’s one blog post a week.

Some common forms of digital owned media include:

  • Brand operated website
  • Blog
  • Email newsletters
  • Infographics
  • And others

2. Earned Media

To remain consistent, let’s look at the definition of earned media before we dive into its value first:

“Earned media (or free media) refers to publicity gained through promotional efforts other than paid media advertising.” ~Wikipedia

Earned media can be one of the most valuable unowned content a brand can have access to. A warning though: not all earned media is positive. It can be negative in nature, too. Brands don’t necessarily have control of its earned media. However, through PR efforts it can be steered and encouraged in the media.

This type of content has the potential to turbocharge engagement with owned media and/or a brand’s website if the publisher covers it and links to it. The greatest value proposition earned media provides is an “honest” third-party take on a brand and/or its owned media.

This is seen as more credible by consumers and has been proven through multiple studies. The key is for brands to amplify and distribute positive earned media and be aware of and react to its negative counterpart.

3. Sponsored Content

There’s a lot of confusion throughout the world when it comes to the definition of sponsored content, depending if someone is in Europe or the US. However, we won’t get into the weeds of that issue and use the below as our definition for these purposes.

“Sponsored articles [content] amount to paid advertising on a media outlet in the long-form of editorial content that looks like it’s supposed to be there.” ~Moz

With the rise of content marketing and consumer banner blindness two things have happened over time:

  1. Since last decade, it’s become increasingly more difficult over time for brands to organically make its owned content stand out in the crowd because the adoption rate among businesses grew YoY. With more content online there’s more competition for eyeballs.
  2. In 1999 click through rates (CTRs) on banner ads was 10%. Today, 0.05% is the average CTR on a banner ad because the industry has lost touch with consumers by interrupting their online experiences.

Due to these pressures on the industry a relatively new form of advertising arose – sponsored content. It allowed brands to leverage the massive audiences of publishers and the media in order to rise above the noise of the owned content being developed by competition. This is one of two major value propositions for sponsored content.

In addition, it allowed advertisers to avoid the ever-present diminishing value of the display ad. Banner blindness was one of the empowering factors for the massive growth in publisher content studios deploying sponsored content for brands around the world. This is the second major benefit of sponsored content.

4. Video

This creative pillar doesn’t really need an agreed upon definition. We all know what video is. It also can exist within all the other pillars described in this article. However, since this format is so different than the others it seemed important to give it its own category.

Last year alone, 87% of marketers used video in their mix, according to Wyzowl. This medium is highly engaging, regardless of the channel and studies bare this out. B2B lead gen folks show that video drives 66% more qualified leads over the course of a year, according to Optinmoster.

Forbes showed that this content pillar drives engagement up by 88% compared to the others. Consumers in 2019 spent an average of 06:48 hours per week watching online video, according to Limelite. The above are solid reasons and benefits to implement and develop online video for brands.

5. Amplification

For our purposes in this article we’ll consider this creative content pillar as both organic and paid content distribution. As mentioned above, this is the one category that many content marketers seem to forget. As a result, we’ve shared some tips. Below is the definition we’ll work with for this category.

“Content amplification is a term used to define ways content can be amplified using specific channels online.” ~Syndacast

In a lot of ways, from a creative prospective, both organic and paid distribution have similar attributes. Amplifying content via branded social media accounts organically is not too different than using native advertising or paid social. They both should have a headline (organic social can have copy as opposed to a headline) and a graphic. Here’s some suggestions for both:


Content Marketing Headlines

Choosing Graphics

  • Use up close photographs with faces (heatmap studies show that when eyes physically look at the call to action it gets more clicks)
  • Incorporate familiar imagery
  • Use brand-appropriate colors
  • Be consistent from ad unit/social post to content
  • Trigger emotions

The value proposition for this creative pillar isn’t that difficult to figure out. Amplifying content outside of a brand’s owned audience gets the most out of all of the other pillars mentioned above. If a brand’s reach is 50,000 people from their owned and organic channels, then using native advertising for paid distribution could expand that to millions, thus massively increasing performance and overachieving on objectives.

In order for a brand to reach the right consumers at the best time on the most appropriate channels all creative pillars should be incorporated into the content marketing plan. They all have a place and value in the content mix of success.

Unfortunately, the one most forgotten (amplification) is the pillar that creates the most performance acceleration. Owned media alone does not have to define content marketing for a brand. The creative mix above is what makes brands stand out to consumers and outperform their competitors.

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