Content Marketing Vs. Advertising

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According to research conducted by the CMO Club and IBM, today’s chief marketing officers are rethinking how to best allocate spending within their marketing budgets. Among its takeaways, the research suggests: 1.) that a once-predominate focus on customer acquisition is shifting toward customer retention and advocacy, and 2.) that siloed investments by channel, and those based on the traditional purchase funnel, are shifting toward a more balanced investment “across the entire customer journey,” with particular emphasis on digital multitasking.

While there’s nothing especially surprising in these findings for those who monitor marketing trends, the average budget allocations reflecting these CMO priorities are noteworthy in their own right — namely, that the top budget item, edging out even advertising (11 percent), is content (13 percent).

So there you have it: When it comes to brand marketing, content is unambiguously king, right?

Well, not so fast.

Publicly and privately, marketing and communications professionals still don’t universally agree on how to define content marketing, or whether it’s truly a separate entity from advertising to begin with. So what, if anything, distinguishes content from advertising?

The prototypes of both approaches are easy enough to spot. We can all agree there’s an obvious difference between a brand’s quick-hit 30-second spots and campaign taglines aimed at moving product — “Red Bull gives you wings!” — and its deeper dives into customer relationship-building and brand lift via full-blow lifestyle media. But as you move inward from these two extremes, you encounter more- or less-overt forms of branded content as well as variations of another buzz term: native advertising. That’s where things get fuzzy.

But digital marketing strategist Mitch Joel suggests the line in the proverbial sand between advertising and content is actually quite simple: “If you have to pay to have it placed, it’s not content. It’s an ad.” So Joel reframes the conversation from a debate of strategic intent to one of tactical execution. In other words, a big part of what establishes work as content, as opposed to an ad, is where you can reasonably plot it on the scale of paid, owned, earned, and shared media.

Still confused? Join the club. But in the end, whether you think “content marketing” is the great catch-all term for new, and old but formerly fragmented, types of story-rich marketing we’ve been waiting for, or just a new wrinkle on what we’ve always known about advertising, it’s probably just semantics.

So while you may struggle to allocate your budget by marketing categories, don’t lose sight of the fact that you have more tools and savvy ways to connect with consumers than ever before. And that’s a good problem to have.

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