Modern technology has completely changed the landscape of pretty much everything. People are used to instant gratification, of taking control of the wheel.
They know what they want, when they want it, and how they want it. And thanks to multimedia streaming services, gone are the days of having to sit through commercials from businesses begging the world to buy their products. Within this context, the entire marketing industry has had to pivot to accommodate new expectations.
And with it, it’s brought new terms that you may find confusing or overwhelming. What is content marketing? How is it different from advertising? And is there such a thing as having both of them working cohesively?
For B2B and B2C companies, there’s always a question of how to allocate resources for expanding brand awareness and generating sales. Let’s dissect the similarities, differences, advantages, and disadvantages of content marketing and advertising.
What Is Content Marketing?
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.
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.
The Benefits of Content Marketing
It Focuses on the Reader's Needs.
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 (+ Examples)
There are many types of content marketing, and although they are all valuable, you should focus on the type of format your buyer persona would prefer. And you don’t have to pick one and stick with it. You can repurpose the same content into several different formats, including:
What do you do when you need to find answers? If you’re like most people, you’ll search on Google (or Bing, or Yahoo, or whichever search engine rocks your boat). If you need something simple, like a business’ contact information or hours of operation, a simple glance at the search results will suffice.
But if you want to go more in depth, you’ll likely click on blogs. Often, this same content will link to other relevant content, and you may very well end up going down a rabbit hole of wonderfulness that will clear up your doubts and help you out in whatever it is you’re intending to do. Translation: You ended up on someone's website.
Every time you publish a blog, you’re creating an additional indexed page that Google may turn up as a result of someone’s query. This, in turn, drives traffic to your website. Do this often enough, and you’ll establish yourself as an authority on your industry, and prospects will enter your sales funnel feeling more confident about your ability to deliver.
Not everyone has the time or desire to read literature. Or if your subject is particularly complex, your target audience may benefit more from visual demonstrations.
Creating video content provides a convenient way for prospects to become informed about what you’re offering. In addition, if you publish regularly enough, people start getting familiarized with your personality and sense of humor. This humanizes your brand and makes you more trustworthy.
Something else that gives plenty of food for thought is the vast number of people who rely on video for content. A whopping 70 percent of YouTube viewers have bought from a business after seeing their content on the online platform.
You can use it to showcase a product, create tutorials, or simply talk about the industry you’re in so that consumers become better informed. Even if they don’t buy something from you today, they may do so down the road. And ps: You can repurpose the content and turn it into a blog post.
Who has time to sit at a seminar? While some people may find the idea enticing, the reality is that it’s not always feasible or practical to expect your target audience to show up for one.
However, webinars allow both real-time and in demand content to be available for people when they have the time to do so. They also allow you to build a bigger audience, since you can get guests from around the world to sign up for it.
Webinars also provide you with a faster way of becoming an authority within your industry. As long as you’re providing insightful, useful, well-researched content, people will find value in what you’re offering and see you as a trustworthy source of information.
If you prefer an interactive format, you can provide live chat for users to submit questions, which you can answer in real time. You can also include a Q&A session at the end, where you can provide additional answers and gain insights as to what your prospects want to know and need resolved.
Ebooks provide you with an inexpensive way to establish credibility. Although you have to invest either time and/or resources to create it, once it’s completed, distribution is a lot simpler than having to print and sell a book.
You can either self-publish them in a large platform, such as Amazon, or you can make them downloadable once a prospect provides you with their email address (bonus points: This strategy helps you expand your contacts list).
Another huge benefit of an ebook is that they are a valuable tool that doesn’t make your prospects feel like you’re pushing a sale.
People read them because they believe the information will be useful to them — answer questions, provide them with education on a specific subject, give them actionable steps to accomplish a goal. It’s a good way to establish relationships with potential customers, at a fraction of the cost of other marketing methods.
Podcasts are another way to provide useful content to your prospects, in a format that’s consumable even as they go on about their daily lives — while out on a run, commuting, cooking, or cleaning. They allow you to become an authority in your industry by sharing your insights and experiences, as well as by hosting interviewees who can also provide useful information to your listeners.
You can also use a podcast as another stream of revenue. Once you build up your listener base, you can get paid for advertisements, mentioning products or brands, and/or receive commissions from affiliate programs.
Infographics make things much easier for customers. You can use them to visually summarize any complex or nuanced concepts.
They’re also a lot more likely to be read by the TL;DR crowd, by people who feel overloaded with information, or by people who’d rather follow a step-by-step guide with images than reading content in long format. You can also use it to highlight impressive data from your business, such as percentages or number of people served.
Infographics can also be fun, entertaining, and engaging, which can give you a competitive edge over businesses who only present content in text format.
Whitepapers are in depth communications about a particular topic. They’re more scholarly and well-researched, so they’re a medium for industries that require something more serious in tone than flashy advertising — such as healthcare, engineering, and technology.
Just as with ebooks, whitepapers can help you stand out as an expert in your industry. You can also use them to increase your marketing list by gating them so that prospects have to enter their email address to be able to access the content.
Why Does Content Marketing Work?
Content marketing works for many reasons. It gives you an advantage over traditional forms of marketing because it’s not disruptive — prospects find it because they are proactively seeking the information you’re providing.
Therefore, you are being noticed by people who already have a need for what you have to offer. In addition, it costs less than traditional marketing, yet produces more leads per dollar spent.
Content marketing also gives you more opportunities to be indexed by Google, and thus increasing your likelihood of being found through organic searches, which translates to increased traffic to your website.
What Is Advertising?
Advertising is a method for influencing your audience’s behavior through messages that are intended to persuade them to take action — specifically, to buy your products or services. You can also provide what’s known as institutional advertising if you run a non-profit organization, host events, or promote certain issues.
Since online streaming platforms and music services make it so easy to skip commercials, it's tempting to write off advertising as a dead channel. However, it does still have a place within the inbound marketing world.
The Benefits of Advertising
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.
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:
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 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.
This media is controlled by your company. It includes your website, email newsletters, social media profiles, and other media assets you have control over.
Obviously, this is media you pay for. Examples include PPC, social ads, and any other form of advertising.
What Is Content Advertising?
Content advertising marries both concepts. You create inbound marketing content, then promote it through paid advertising — social media ads, PPC campaigns, video advertisements, sponsored placements, etc. It’s done to expand your reach from what you would get organically.
Pros and Cons of Content Advertising
Content advertising is targeted. You can segment your audience by demographics and stage in the sales funnel and send your ads to them. This can help give you a boost in a landscape where most of your competitors are also following a content marketing strategy.
On the other hand, while content marketing brings organic traffic to your website, content advertising requires an upfront investment. By the same token, too many of these ads can be as disruptive and intrusive as TV commercials. This is why it’s crucial to have a well thought-out marketing strategy — to ensure a good ROI.
Content Advertising Examples
When you enter a search query in a search engine, the first listings that appear are all paid content. Readers can differentiate them from organic search results because they’re clearly identified as ads.
Social Media Ads
These will only be seen by your targeted audience, based on their shared interests, demographics, and browsing history. They will appear on their newsfeed as sponsored content; however, instead of looking like an ad, it has the appearance of regular social media posts.
Just as with traditional mediums, you can place paid ads on email and snail mail newsletters to promote your content.
Bringing It All Together in Your Strategy
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 while promoting your content using content ads.
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 positive ROI 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 consistent and valuable results if you’re willing to put in the time and effort.