Content Marketing vs. Advertising: Which Is Better?

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Marketers must make the decision about where to allocate their budget and resources: content marketing vs. advertising. But the choice isn’t as simple as you may think. Here, we will distinguish the differences between content marketing and advertising to help you determine which route may be best for your organization.

What Is Content Marketing?

According to the Content Marketing Institute, “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.”

Examples of content marketing are numerous and include:

  • Blogs
  • Audio/video content (like podcasts or webinars)
  • E-newsletters
  • Educational/tactical resources (like white papers or checklists)
  • Social media posts
  • Educational classes/courses

Content marketing is most effective when you’re interested in building affinity and trustworthiness with a community of followers, providing content specifically tailored to your target audience, and keeping them interested and coming back for more. Consistently updating your content streams helps remind your audience that your organization is an authority worth following and engaging with.

What Is Advertising?

Advertising is sales-focused marketing that is often more direct and succinct than content marketing. Some examples of advertising include :

  • Television spots
  • Radio spots
  • Print ads (like newspapers or flyers)
  • Billboards
  • Digital display ads (like banners)
  • PPC ads and sponsored social ads (like Facebook)

Content marketing and advertising can appear on the same platforms but usually in different formats. While you can produce content marketing and promote it for free (without paying a third party to host or serve it to an audience) or pay for placement(s), advertising is always a pay-to-play arrangement, wherein the advertiser pays a publisher for access to their audience.

Which Is Better?

Deciding whether to budget more for content marketing vs. advertising depends on a few criteria.

What’s your goal?

Are you trying to close the deal or build a relationship? If the former, advertising may work better for your organization. If the latter, content marketing allows you to establish trust between your business and the customer.

There’s a good chance you will want to do both for a well-rounded marketing approach. Consider using content marketing to raise awareness of your brand, product and/or service and using advertising to speak directly to those potential customers most interested or ready to work with you.

Who’s your audience?

Savvy marketers know that different members of your audience engage with you on different platforms and in different ways. Some may be more receptive to content marketing while others may prefer advertising. Psychographic segmentation — breaking consumers into segments influenced by their buying behaviors, including beliefs, values, lifestyle, social status, opinions and activities — can help determine who you should be targeting and how.

You could also consider conducting a membership or reader survey to help determine if your audience prefers your content marketing offerings or would rather see more advertising.

What phase of the marketing funnel are you targeting?

Choosing between content marketing vs. advertising often depends on the phase of the marketing funnel you’re intending to target. Is your message intended to increase awareness of your business or product? Or is your aim to keep customer loyalty high for your brand? In general, content marketing is better suited higher in the marketing funnel, and advertising is more effective toward the bottom. However, advertising can be effective for broad awareness campaigns that showcase your brand, and content marketing can provide the detailed information potential customers need to make purchase decisions.

The Verdict? It Depends.

Still having trouble deciding between content marketing vs. advertising? It’s important to remember that both marketing avenues should support each other over the lifespan of a customer.

A healthy mix of both can prove the most fruitful for your business. Promotion through advertising plus cultivating excellent thought leadership content can do wonders to capture customers from all walks of life.

If your initial strategy isn’t providing the results you hope for, there’s no shame in heading back to the drawing board with data to better focus on a plan that works best for your organization.