What is Content Marketing?

Learn all about what content marketing is and get actionable steps you can follow to start doing it for your brand.

  • Nov 18, 2019

Content marketing has become a bit of a buzzword as of late. It’s one of those things that people throw around without really understanding what it means. But boy does it sound cool to say you work in content marketing. What is content marketing, exactly, what does it entail, and how can you suck at it a little less?

Let’s explore.

Smiling woman typing on laptop

What is Content Marketing?

I’m going to steal the Content Marketing Institute’s definition of the term because women’s intuition tells me they know a thing or two about a thing or two. They write:

“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.”

Wait, what?

Content marketing is when you create material to help grow your audience and better engage with them.

Taking notes in front of laptop

As important as what content marketing is, is what it isn’t. We’re not talking about hard-selling, blatantly promoting your brand, or point-blank pushing products or services. It’s more about nurturing relationships with people who care about you.

Your target audience won’t discover you and then immediately spend money on you. That’s not how it works. They need to get to know you first. In fact, some research says that people need to see an ad at least seven times before they make a purchase.

We’re not trying to close the sale. We’re trying to provide value, increase their awareness of your company, and gently nudge them toward eventually — the keyword being eventually — spending money with you. This improves your authority and trustworthiness, and it tells your followers that you care about them more than taking their money.

Content marketing is about building relationships and helping them flourish — an increasingly important factor if you want your business to succeed online. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

If might sound like a load of you-know-what, but there’s a reason more and more brands are pouring money into it. And if what Brafton claims is true, you better hop on the bandwagon. They write that content marketing costs 62% less than traditional marketing, converts six times the people, and generates three times as many leads as paid search.

Using google on a smartphone

Alright, so by now, you know exactly what content marketing is. Now comes an important question: At a movie theater, which armrest is yours?

Also, how can you start to implement content marketing for your own business?

How to Start Leveraging Content Marketing

There are countless ways to go about this. For this post, we’ll focus on general steps you can follow and actionable steps you can take, with a few examples sprinkled in here and there.

Step 1: Start With Extraordinary Content

You’re dealing with an audience that doesn’t know you. They have no reason to like or trust you. So, the first step is to begin to win them over and not ask for a single thing in return.

That means you need a high-quality, high-value piece of content that will educate, inform, inspire, or entertain them — or maybe a little bit of all four. Think about various types of content like:

  • Blog posts.
  • Videos.
  • Podcasts.

You want content people can access for free without having to give you any of their own information.

Microphones on a desk

In terms of what the content is about, ask yourself these questions about your target audience:

  • What are common questions they have?
  • What’s a big problem they face?
  • What are their pain points?
  • Hopes, goals, dreams?

For example, if you’re a salon, you might write a blog about the five most common causes of hair damage. If you’re a plumber, you might film a video showing how to fix a clogged toilet. If you’re a nutritionist, consider recording a podcast discussing the most common nutrient deficiencies.

Remember the purpose of this content. It’s to introduce your brand to people who don’t know you and ignite a relationship of trust. You want to establish yourself as a reliable authority, and this is the first step. As that trust grows, you should think about moving onto…

Step 2: Ask for Their Email Address

You did a really nice thing and gave away awesome content for absolutely free. Pat yourself on the back. Now, you’re going to ask for a teeny tiny favor in return.

One of the most valuable pieces of information you can get from a lead is their email address. Why? Simple. You can enter them into an automation and continue nurturing the relationship via email.

Gmail inbox

You don’t need me to tell you how powerful email marketing is, but I will anyway. The DMA (PDF) says that for every dollar you spend, you get roughly $32 back. Other research says that 81% of SMBs rely on email (PDF) as their main method of customer acquisition.

How do you get people’s email addresses, exactly? Straight-up asking for it probably won’t work. This would be a good time to entice them with gated content. You’ve very likely had your own experience with this. A website offered you something enticing like a free mini-course, webinar, ebook, or downloadable PDF — something that provided you with information you were in search of. And all you had to do in order to receive it was give them your email address.

Your content marketing strategy should include content that people must opt into to receive.

Woman using cellphone

This step is really important. Don’t skip it! One of the reasons people have a hard time grasping the concept of content marketing is because it sounds vague and abstract and difficult to measure. In a way, it is. But that’s why gated content is so important.

Depending on the success (or lack thereof) of this stage of your content marketing, you’ll have a better idea of if your strategy is on the right track or not. Not getting any opt-ins? Do people not care about what you’re offering? It’s time to go back to the drawing board. You might’ve gotten their attention in the first step, but you haven’t convinced them enough to acquire their email address. If you can’t get their email address, don’t expect to get their money.

So, your leads have opted into the gated content you made, and now you have their email address. What comes next?

Step 3: Take Them Through a Journey

Email marketing is such a simple way to develop relationships. When you build an automation, you do most of the work upfront, and then the automation takes over from there. You need a system, a process like this that runs on autopilot.

Using something like MailChimp, ConvertKit, or Klaviyo, build an automation that people will be entered into once they sign up for your gated content. The automation should take them through a series of emails that span weeks or even months, repeatedly delivering amazing content and getting them to like and trust you more.

Mail email icon

Later in this journey, you can start subtly suggesting ways for them to purchase from you. Bonus points if you offer an incentive, like a discount code. They deserve it, don’t they? After all, they gave you their email address.

To give you an example, here’s what an automation might look like for an apparel store.

  • Gated content: 10 Ways to Style Scarves in the Winter
  • Email 1: Thank them for downloading your tutorial.
  • Email 2: Offer tips for dressing in layers.
  • Email 3: Share the owner’s favorite winter accessories. (You can link to the products, but that’s it! Don’t push for the sale.)
  • Email 4: Offer a discount code to show your appreciation. Set the code to expire within 24-48 hours to create urgency.

You probably get the picture.

You would never propose to someone you just met, and it’s kind of the same with your leads. You have to date for a little while before you get down on one knee.


As with most of the sub-categories that fall under the umbrella of digital marketing, remember that your content marketing strategy can and should align with your blogging, social media, email marketing, paid search, and SEO. In some capacity, everything needs to work together harmoniously in order for your online strategy to pay off.