content marketing definition

Defining Content Marketing – Not as Simple as it Should Be

I caught up with a friend from outside the industry last week and the conversation turned to what we’re each doing in our careers at the moment. It ended up something like this:

“Define content marketing?”


“Well, what is it? What is it really? Cos I’ve heard this described in so many ways and I still have no idea….”

She’s familiar with SEO (undoubtedly after I bored her to tears with explanations over previous years) but not so much content marketing.

My definition of content marketing is relatively simple: Content marketing is the use of content in any way to achieve marketing goals either directly or indirectly.

Those goals could be absolutely anything from link building (therefore to contribute to SEO goals of rankings, traffic and ultimately sales) or to generate impressions of your brand, acquire social media fans, generate a new audience or convince people to convert on your website.

I don’t profess to be an expert in all areas of content marketing (and frankly, I don’t believe anyone is). I have a lot of experience in using content to acquire links and to generate organic traffic (through long tail content etc). But social media centric content isn’t something I’ve done a lot of. Similarly, content to convince and convert is something I have limited experience in. Email messaging, sales messaging etc – all aspects of content marketing I would consider myself reasonably well versed in but with plenty to learn.

For me, “content,” isn’t a marketing channel. It’s one element of marketing that, in some way, spans all channels.

But content marketing practitioners all have their own way of defining it.

Complicating it

For clients and businesses with little or no experience in content marketing, though, getting a simple explanation isn’t all that easy. I think one of the most confusing things we find consistently in content marketing definitions is this:

“Add Value with Content”

Lots of content marketing definitions focus on “content that adds value.” It’s not always true that your content has to add something particularly valuable to work. We’ve created a series of “find the hidden object,” images for clients like this one below (for

flamingo ballet dancer puzzle

Let me be clear:

  • This content did not win our client any new customers (that I’m aware of… I’d be surprised if it did)
  • I don’t imagine that anyone looks at a puzzle featuring flamingos and a ballet dancer and thinks, “you know what? I’m going to head to Dancewear Central and buy some dance shoes.”

But here’s what it did achieve:

  • It was covered in press around the world hundreds of times
  • It built scores of really high authority inbound links
  • Immediately following those links, we saw a surge in rankings (that has sustained)
  • That in turn generated more of the relevant shopping traffic (people searching, “dancewear,” or one of the other several hundred keywords driving sales)
  • And ultimately, this resulted in an increase in sales

Is this content that”adds value?” I don’t think so. It’s entertaining, it’s lighthearted and it’s fun. But I wouldn’t say it would fall under the bracket of adding value to their customers. Not at all.

Does that mean we shouldn’t have done it? No way. It resulted in an increase in sales.

We Confuse People Outside the Industry

By over defining like this and suggesting everything should “add value,” or resonate leads people to believe content marketing has to fit a certain mould.

We almost force people into the belief that content should actually be the serious, “value add” page content that sits on your website to lead people to convert. And yes, there’s a place for that.

But is that all content marketing?

I don’t believe so. That’s one way of many you can use content.

Businesses looking for “content marketing agencies,” or services likely have an objective in mind and when it comes to researching what it is might be led to believe they’re looking for the wrong thing. I’ve spoken to clients and prospective ones who’ve been left more confused after looking for definitions than they were before looking at all.

Keeping it Simple

My personal definition might well be over simplistic for some. It doesn’t go into the detail. It doesn’t suggest what objectives content should achieve. But I don’t think it has to.

I intend to stick with a definition of:

Content marketing is the use of content in any way to achieve marketing goals either directly or indirectly.

I don’t want to over define it. I don’t want to suggest to clients what content should achieve. Objectives are fluid and varied business to business. So how you approach content has to be fluid. It doesn’t always have to add value. It doesn’t always have to inform. It needn’t always educate and it doesn’t always have to make the news. It depends on objectives.

Wow. Sometimes content doesn’t even have to reach your company’s target customers!

And with a method of marketing that’s a open to interpretation as that, does it need any definition beyond just “content to achieve stuff?” I don’t think it does. So let’s keep it simple 🙂