You Know the Difference Between Content Creation and Content Marketing
Content is everywhere.
Content includes blogs, product descriptions, ads, social media posts, videos, transcripts, landing pages, home pages, and more. Essentially, content is just about anything and everything you put in front of your audience.
What content is not, necessarily, is content marketing.
Content is almost always published with a goal in mind. Having a goal (including selling) does not mean you’re using content marketing, however. Content is anything with an outward bound message whereas content marketing is the next step beyond. It is the process and strategy of using content to draw the audience into a situation where their perceptions and actions can be manipulated.
Think of it this way:
Content Marketing as a Fishing Boat
Your business is a fishing boat. Your purpose for being in the boat is to get fish so you can take them to shore. There you intend to sell them and turn a profit. Content is the bait you toss into the water. You’ll need bait for that.
The fish can see the bait.
They can swim around and inspect the bait.
These fish can even nibble on the bait and taste it.
They cannot, however, grab the bait and jump into the boat without help. (And why should they? What they want — the bait — is already in the water for them to do with what they want.)
Content marketing is the fishing rod and line attached to the bait. Once the content gets the fish to nibble, you yank on the rod and pull them into the boat. Without content marketing attached to the content you’ve tossed into the water, those fish will eat away at and benefit from your bait from the water.
So, stepping back away from the fishing boat analogy, your content is what you use to get your audience looking your way. Content marketing is how you get the audience to do what you want once you have their attention.
Shifting from Content to Content Marketing
In my experience, not all content writers (even the best) know how to shift gears into content marketing. They may understand shaping information to suit an audience, including shifting their “voice” to suit different audiences. What they don’t know is how to craft content that engages the audience. They can’t use content to manipulate the audience towards a goal without coming across like a sales pitch. Figuring out how to correct this is where content marketing comes into play.
Content Branding is not Content Marketing
I’ve worked with a number of people who confuse branding for content marketing. They don’t accept that the former as just one aspect of the latter. Sure, if your brand already has established potency in the market, merely slapping it on something could be enough to convert some of your audience. However, those are the brand loyal people who don’t dive deeper into the details. Anyone who cares more about quality than brand will not be sold on the merit of a trademark or logo alone. Such an audience will expect more from your content.
Transforming Content Creators into Content Marketers
Even among large organizations that separate marketing and content professionals, there must be alignment between workflows and goals. Far too often, a lack of proper content marketing knowledge and training leads to communications problems. Difficulty in meeting objectives that deliver both engaging content and achieve marketing objectives becomes inevitable.
A content creator needs more than direction on achieving marketing’s goals using content. Content marketing means understanding the how’s and why’s of doing so.
To get your content creators to more easily embrace marketing, they must learn a new perspective. Whether the content is created around a product, service, story, or idea, marketing it to the intended audience means understanding audience conversion. This conversion could be a making a sale, entering an email, registering a new account, or sharing the content, for example. Regardless, converting the audience as intended is where understanding content’s marketing strategy and processes is critical.
I like to introduce content creators to content marketing by providing three simple elements.
Element 1: Features
A “feature” is a characteristic of whatever you are marketing. It is something that makes your product (or whatever) has, does, or is in an objective, measurable sense.
Here are some common, broad (and non-exhaustive) features that may define your content’s subject:
- Format: Is the product physical or digital in nature? Is it a live event? A recorded webinar? How your subject manifests and is interacted with matters.
- Duration: How much time does an event last? How many pages does a book have? How long does a product’s battery run for? Your audience will use this information to decide if they are getting appropriate worth from their investment.
- Relevancy: Was a book published so long ago it’s information is out of date? Does your audience fit in the target demographic or have an interest in the topic? Whether or not your audience cares about your subject is obviously important.
- Cost: A product’s cost matters when marketing it. Your audience’s demographic can easily influence the value placed on cost.
- Appearance: People tend to place value on things based on the subject’s looks. Also, form is often confused with function for many products. Knowing audience expectations in this regard is crucial.
- Added Value: Are there any upgrades, downloadable content, or freebies attached?
- Outcomes: Does what you’re marketing get the job done and meet needs? This could be tied to one’s satisfaction after hearing a story or how well a product performs at its intended task.
- Who is Involved: Is a famous writer or well-respected subject matter expert authoring the book? Has a well-known subject matter expert provided a testimonial?
Do you now know your content subject’s features — what makes it what it is? If so, you can turn to why your audience should care.
Element 2: Benefits
A benefit is a form of value delivered by whatever you’re marketing. Generally, the identified features are delivered in a context relevant to the audience’s expectations. In other words, a benefit is an explanation as to why a feature matters.
Benefits are typically presented in a broad scope that best speaks to the target audience and need not be granular. You certainly don’t want to explain to the point where communication breaks down. Speak in terms your target audience understands. For example, selling a laptop to an office manager rather than an IT person means presenting the benefit in terms of “get faster connections and improved security.” It would do no good to provide technical specifications on data transfer rates and encryption methods to someone unfamiliar with them.
Features versus Benefits
Content writers who don’t understand content marketing often confuse features and benefits. They do so because they don’t understand that features are characteristics and benefits are the former’s positive outcomes. Perhaps the best way to explain the difference is to point out that features are objective. Features are what they are, regardless of opinion. Benefits are rooted in the features but are subjective (e.g., people like the colour or find the cost affordable.)
To better understand the difference between features and benefits, let’s consider an example product. Our hypothetical content subject is a mini-van with a target audience of families with young children.
- Front-wheel drive.
- Anti-lock breaks.
- All-season tires.
- Two seats in the front, and two rows of seats in the back, holding three people apiece. (Total capacity: 8.)
- Both rows of backseats fold down into the floor.
- Front and side airbags.
- Two retractable LCD screens in the back.
- Pull-down backseat trays.
- Two hands-free sliding side doors.
- Integrated child-seat anchors.
- Childproof locks.
- Costs $30,000
- Great control in all weather conditions.
- Designed to improve child safety.
- Great for keeping kids happy on long road trips.
- Easily converts into extra storage space.
- Is accessible when your hands are full or carrying a child.
You can see how the benefits are derived from the features. The benefits establish a context that speaks to the intended audience.
Messaging versus Copy
Don’t confuse the actual copy (or video, etc.) used in your content with your messaging. Messaging is the voice and tone you use in your copy. It is the implied feelings, purpose, and intended outcomes in a contextual sense. The copy, on the other hand, comprises the words used to convey the message.
An effective message should be summarizable in a short paragraph. The content creator then gives the message form. In a sense, the message is a story’s plot summary whereas the copy is the unfolding story itself.
Element 3: Messaging
With the features and benefits sorted out, your content creator now has to figure out how to package them. This needs to be done in a way best suited to the intended audience. The following are examples of key questions to ask when doing so:
- Who are you intending the content to reach?
- Once you’ve identified your intended audience, how should you best speak to them? Casually? Formally? With a sense of expertise? Using humour?
- Is there anyone you want to exclude from the target audience? Why? How can you do so?
- Are there any gatekeepers between you and your intended market? If so, how do you make your content also appeal to them?
- What are the content’s goals?
- Why is it important you release this content now?
- Do you want the content to be part of a bigger conversation? Does this conversation already exist or is this content its start?
You’ll have difficulty engaging your audience if you don’t ask questions like this when developing your message. It will likely be confusing and seem like you’re throwing a list of benefits at them without any larger context. Usually, this approach comes across as little more than an aggressive sales pitch.
The best content marketing messages (and thus the best content) do not overtly come across as pushing anything on the audience. Instead, they have something relevant to say. They communicate the topic in a manner that is valuable in its own right, whether or not the audience converts to the desired goals.
Content Marketing: Bringing all Three Elements Together
Learning the differences that set features, benefits, and messaging apart is necessary to evolve producing content creator into content marketing. Such understanding is also necessary for content creators to effectively communicate with marketers in collaborative situations. Bring all three elements together collaboratively to give your content marketing efforts their best chance of success. Messaging presents the benefits which are in turn backed up by the features’ presence. Success is more unlikely when one or more of the three elements are absent.
Features alone rely on the audience to provide context and to decide if they hold any value. This may include taking time to research what the features mean, putting the burden of identifying benefits and providing a message upon third-party sources.
On their own, benefits come across as insubstantial and elusive promises of value. They need the features to stand as proof and a message to frame them in a way that speaks to the audience.
A message without accompanying features and benefits seems entirely rhetorical. The content tells a story that has no connection to the audience. The audience must conduct their own research and derive their own benefits to verify the message’s claims.
Ultimately, your content must identify and realize all three elements, even if by some means other than what I’ve presented here. If not, your content marketing efforts will fail to reach their full potential.