Marketing Content vs. Content Marketing – Is There A Difference? As A Famous Brand of Mustard Once Said: But of Course…

October 30, 2016

A Mr. Magazine™ Musing…

mr-magazine-by-robert-jordanI teach a graduate class in Content Marketing that is being offered at our school for the first time as part of the Integrated Marketing Communications program. It brought back a lot of memories of seminars that I gave both in the States and in Europe about content and custom marketing even before the word content marketing became a household phrase in media circles.

In addition to that I wrote a book in 2003 titled $elling Content, and yes it is a $ and it is not a typo. I used the dollar sign to replace the letter S. I always believed that good journalism and good marketing are alike. They need each other today more than yesterday and less than tomorrow. We should be in the business of selling content (after all that is the only goods a journalist produces) and we should not stop at anything to ensure we are selling our goods to both customers: our audience and our advertisers.

However, teaching this course made me think what does it mean to “market content” and how is that different from “content marketing?” Well, the old saying: drive your pigs to market usually meant the farmer was trying to sell his pigs; the same principal applies to content. When you market what’s between the pages of your magazine, you are for all intents and purposes selling that content to the consumer. Therefore, as the magazine industry continues to evolve, it is important now more than ever to learn about the difference between marketing content and content marketing.

When you throw those two phrases into the same sentence, many times people fail to see the difference, but there is one most definitely. Contrary to popular belief, magazines are in the business of selling content, in fact, that is the product in which they produce; viable, sellable content. And that content always comes in the form of words on a page, images, ads and anything else that’s placed between the front and back covers of your book. End of debate, if there was one going on that I am unable to know about at the other end of this computer.

When you start looking at marketing, and you start equating journalism, brands and marketing, what is the only common factor between those three? It’s the content. We may not call the products of a brand content, but if we think of Nike shoes as made of rubber, threads, fabric, etc. the content of the product becomes very important to what we are doing. You cannot create a good product if you use cheap content. So if you use cheap fabric, guess what? Those Nike shoes are not going to be built to last. So when we say we are in the business of content, regardless of what the product is, our job becomes so much more important.

So, if marketing content is selling your content; just what in the blue blazes is content marketing? Well, for starters, it isn’t marketing content, that’s for sure.

With content marketing you market a brand to an audience. With marketing content, you need to identify the audience first, see what content they are looking for and then complement that content with your brand.

Remember, marketing content is about those elements that build that audience relationship: design, images, typography and storytelling. When you market that structured content to the target audience, you stand a greater chance for success.

Content marketing is using content to market a brand to an audience; a noble venture, no doubt, but very different from marketing content.

bake-from-scratchLet’s take two magazines that are similar in “content” only because they are both filled with delicious recipes. They sell on the newsstands for $12.99 and $12.95 respectively. Bake from Scratch has 114 pages, Sift has 108 pages. Bake from Scratch, a Hoffman Media publication, and Sift, A King Arthur Flour Publication.

Bake from Scratch is a magazine that is designed, polished and fulfilled around its content. In other words, the magazine exists because of the architecture of the topics within its pages. And I use architecture as a description because that is what marketing content is all about; the structure of your design, images, typography and storytelling. Without each of these building blocks, your ads (if your magazine has them) will mean nothing. You can’t sell ads without content that is worth buying. Think about that statement. Bake from Scratch is the superlative example of marketing content. It is exquisitely done and promotes the entire book, rather than bolstering any other ideal.

siftNow, let’s look within the pages of Sift. This publication is a vehicle for all things King Arthur Flour. The magazine is not only published by the flour company; it’s designed to promote everything they hold near and dear; primarily their company. It is a superb example of content marketing. There is nothing wrong at all with using content to market yourself or other advertisers, but let’s be clear on the difference between that mission and the mission of marketing your content to sell your magazine.

And that’s where the fine line is drawn between the two principals. Publishers today engage in both marketing content and content marketing. And that is fine, but defining the two as interchangeable won’t wash anymore, even though I know this is a new era of relationship between church and state.

And whether we are marketing content or content marketing, how can we make sure the content for the product is the best content ever? It is all about quality vs. quantity. And, as with everything in life, you can cheat someone once, but chances are it will be tough to pull the same trick on the same person twice.

In content marketing, we know the audience and the audience knows the brand. The purpose of content marketing, simply stated, is to promote the brand and the experience that exists between the brand and its audience. Wearing a Nike t-shirt is unlike wearing a t-shirt. For the person who wears a Nike, he or she is making a statement, that this is not any t-shirt, but a good t-shirt. That reminds of the story I heard about the guy who went to Cuba. He saw a person selling Granny Smith apples on a cart with a Nike swoosh on top of the cart. He asked the seller do you know what that symbol is? The seller answered, “Yes of course, it is Nike.” But of course the guy said, Nike sells shoes. “No sir,” the seller said, “Nike sells good shoes, and those are Nike apples, good apples.” It is all about the experience.

The relationship that exists between the audience and the brand thus becomes the end result for content marketing. It is a relationship that already exists. It is only fair to call content marketing a celebration of the brand and its relationship with the audience. It can be a birthday, an anniversary or to simply say I am thinking of you.

In marketing content our relationship with the audience is like trying to go on a first date. We have an idea grounded in content, but are searching for that special audience. Our audience does not know who we are yet, but we are attempting to be recognized. It will take more than one date, or for that matter, more than one issue to get to know us.

life-first-issueUnlike content marketing, the relationship in marketing content between audience and product (magazine, website, etc.) does not exist in the beginning. Those who are in the business of marketing content are also in the business of relationship making. It may start with a date and end up with a long lasting relationship for years to come, or it may be a one-night stand (think book-a-zines, special tribute issues) or even a love affair (think bridal or baby magazines).

The editors of Life magazine, back on Nov. 23, 1936, wrote in that first issue, “The first issue of a magazine is not the magazine. It is the beginning. The Editors anticipate a strenuous and exciting year of growth and adventure. To Charter Subscribers they express again their deep appreciation and their hope that this new relationship of Editor and Subscriber may continue through many years.”

Enough said …

Until the next Mr. Magazine™ musing…

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