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What Is the Difference Between Advertising and Content Marketing?

For B2B and B2C companies, there’s always a question of how to allocate resources for expanding brand awareness and generating sales. You can spend your budget on marketing and advertising, but that can often raise a question: what is the difference between marketing and advertising?

This is a big question that we can boil down to the digital space.

Nowadays, companies are investing big in content marketing and digital advertising. These two approaches are widely different, but both can be incredibly valuable.

Let’s dissect the similarities, differences, advantages, and disadvantages of content marketing and advertising.

What Is Content Marketing?

Simply put, content marketing is a strategy involving the creation and distribution of relevant, high-value content directed at your buyer personas. It fits perfectly into the inbound methodology because your content marketing is successful when it is delivered to the right person, in the right way, at the right time.

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This blog you’re reading right now is content marketing. That puppy video on Instagram that you liked is content marketing. You’re surrounded by content for good reason – it works.

Why Does Content Marketing Work?

It Focuses on the Reader's Needs.

An effective content marketing strategy delivers value to your audience consistently. Based on your buyer persona research, you can identify pain points and challenges to address within your content. 

By directly solving their problems through your content, your readers will continue coming back for more, which leads us to the next point. 

It Builds Trust and Authority Over Time.

On a human level, your audience will see you as an authoritative figure in your industry. The A players are seeing big results: A staggering 96 percent of top performing content marketers say their company has built credibility and trust with their audiences. 

They will subscribe to your email, download your content offers, follow you on social media, and (hopefully) enter your sales cycle. 

This level of trust has a massive impact on the success of your business. When they trust your expertise, they consume your content. When they consume your content, they trust your brand and are more likely to buy from you. 

Search engines reward trust and authority too, and with optimized content, you’re well equipped to climb the rankings. Fueling content marketing with SEO best practices pays off dividends over the long term.

It Yields Better Leads and Customers.

Awesome content attracts good-fit audiences to your brand.

If your content marketing strategy aligns well with the products and services you're selling, the visitors who find solutions to their problems in your content are great fits for your business. In fact, from an ROI standpoint, content marketing produces three times more leads per dollar compared to other strategies.

They'll make good leads and customers because they came to you for relevant solutions. This is why content marketing is so cost-effective: it follows the inbound methodology, attracting and engaging the best audience for your company, as opposed to interruptive outbound tactics. 

Types of Content Marketing

A content marketing strategy looks different for every business. The most common foundation of content strategies often falls on blogging.

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A strong blog on your website is essential in the crowded digital world. And it still remains a top area of focus – HubSpot’s research found that 55 percent of marketers say blog content creation is their top inbound marketing priority.

Other types of content marketing include:

  • Social media – Excellent for community building.
  • Email campaigns – For nurturing leads and staying top of mind with your audience.
  • Podcasts – One of the fastest growing content assets.
  • Videos – A dominant, engaging medium.
  • Content offers – A great tactic for driving lead generation.

All of these content marketing techniques work together to accomplish several goals, like the following:

  • Drive traffic
  • Expand brand awareness and visibility
  • Improve rankings in search
  • Generate leads

What Is Advertising?

In its simplest definition, advertising is a method for influencing your audience’s behavior through messages that are intended to persuade them to take action. It's easy to write off advertising as a dead channel, but it does still have a place within the inbound world.

Why Does Advertising Work?

It Grabs Attention.

The nature of advertising is to raise awareness about your brand, a new product or service, an upcoming event, and everything in between. In other words, it's created to earn the attention of an audience.

We all experience ads everyday – as we scroll through Facebook feeds, or wait for our YouTube video to start, or drive past a billboard on the highway. 

It Stimulates Emotions.

Once advertising earns a few seconds of attention, the messaging, no matter the format, is designed to elicit an emotional response from the audience. It can make people laugh, cry, cringe, feel confusion, and experience any other emotion.

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One of the most popular advertising environments in pop culture is the Super Bowl commercials.

Every year, these commercials are seen by millions of people, and the response to the campaigns are widely discussed. A common talking point is how the commercials make audiences feel. 

It Uses Persuasive Messaging. 

Advertising professionals are great at creating concise, punchy messages to include in their campaigns, often with the goal of encouraging audiences to take specific actions.

This messaging is often tied to an overarching narrative and theme that align with the brand and center around their unique selling proposition (USP). 

Types of Advertising

There are still companies using a lot of traditional ad techniques, like:

  • Radio
  • TV
  • Print media
  • Direct mailer

With the shift to digital media, obviously digital advertising has become a major area of focus for companies. Digital ads can also take many forms.

Display Ads

These are images or text that appear on apps and websites. There are four main kinds of display ads:

  • App ads – these target mobile app categories. 
  • Text ads – these include a headline, description, and a link sending users to a landing page.
  • Gmail ads – these appear as custom ads in Gmail, allowing users to expand it, save it, and forward it.
  • Banner ads – these can be customized in the layout, animations, interactive elements, etc. 

Video Ads

Anyone who has ever been on YouTube has seen several kinds of ads in their videos. The kinds of ads companies use include:

  • Outstream ads – created only for mobile devices.
  • Bumper ads – non-skippable ads that appear before, during, or after a video, usually lasting up to six seconds. 
  • Skippable in-stream ads – these can be skipped by visitors after five seconds, but they can last up to three minutes.
  • Non-skippable in-stream ads – while these can't be skipped, they can only run 15 seconds maximum. 
  • Discovery ads – these are presented in a video thumbnail form and include a small amount of text. 

Social Media Ads

These are some of the most popular ads in the current climate, based on consumer trends. A diverse digital advertising strategy will incorporate initiatives on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Pinterest, and LinkedIn. 

Pay Per Click (PPC)

The name perfectly describes this kind of advertising. You only pay a fee each time a user clicks your ad on search. Google Ads is the most popular PPC system.

Essentially, you're paying for visitors to come to your site via ads on SERPs, instead of earning free organic traffic through SEO-driven content marketing. 

Native Advertising

In its simplest definition, this is simply paid ads that match the media format that the ads appear in.

For social media, for example, you'll see ads in your feed that look like social media content, but they will have a "sponsored" mention on the ad.

Google also has promoted listings, and some sites will make content recommendations with "sponsored" disclaimers. 

Retargeting

Also known as remarketing, this kind of advertising is based on cookies. A visitor comes to your site and leaves, then as they're searching the internet, they start to see your ad. The idea is to drive visitors back to your site to make a purchase. 

The Difference Between Advertising and Content Marketing

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One of the best perspectives to adopt here to truly understand the difference between advertising and content marketing is looking at it in terms of media – earned media, owned media, and paid media.

Earned Media

Earned media is...well...earned – it’s free media you gain through your customers. Examples include followers sharing a brand’s post, press mentions, and bloggers reviewing your product.

Owned Media

This media is controlled by your company. It includes your website, email newsletters, social media profiles, and other media assets you have control over. 

Paid Media

Obviously, this is media you pay for. Examples include PPC, social ads, and any other form of advertising. 

Bringing It All Together

Depending on your budget and goals, both content marketing and digital advertising can work together really well. You can build a comprehensive strategy roping in both of these approaches. 

The important thing to remember is that content marketing and advertising vary widely in terms of timelines for results. Both share end goals, but the methodology is different.

Traditional advertising has you invading a customer’s space at a date and time you set – and you have no way of knowing for sure if your message is reaching them at a time where they’re amenable to it.

With content marketing, you’re creating content online (blogs, webpages, social media posts, whitepapers, etc.) and letting the customers come to you. When potential customers search for something related to your industry online, you want them to find you ranking high on the search engine results page (SERP).

Keep in mind that content marketing does tend to be a bit slower to generate results than more direct marketing tactics. It takes time for content to be indexed by the major search engines and for a company’s domain to gain enough traction to consistently rank high in the SERPs.

You’re not going to see crazy ROIs for content campaigns the same day you launch them (unless you’re already huge online and have a big, dedicated following). But, over time, you can produce remarkably consistent and valuable results if you’re willing to put in the time and effort.

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Jeff Previte

Jeff Previte

I am a Content Manager at Bluleadz. I enjoy spending time outdoors -- camping, hiking, hammocking, and everything in between. I also love reading, writing, and learning how to play guitar.