Content marketing has revolutionised the way that brands communicate. It's overtaken the likes of PR and advertising as the single most effective way for organisations of all kinds to build, and engage with, an audience.
But for something that's now so commonplace, it constantly surprises me how there are still so many people - especially in the business world and even, would you believe, in-house communications departments - who have little idea of what content marketing actually is.
Put simply, content marketing is about establishing who it is you're trying to reach, and then creating and distributing content that appeals to that target audience
It might be blogs or videos. It might be a series of webinars. It could be audio podcasts, infographics, eBooks, competitions or even cartoons. But whatever form it takes, it needs to be content that resonates, that people want to receive and share.
The objective is to build an audience. A following. A core of loyal fans who like your content so much they keep coming back for more.
So why build an audience, you might well ask. I'm too busy running a business or bringing in sales. Or, we can't afford it.
But just think of the value of a regular audience to your organisation. Say, 500 people consuming your content every day.
That's when you start a buzz. You generate traffic to your website, which pushes you up the search engine rankings. You get people talking about you - about your product or service - on social media and sharing their positive feelings about you with other like-minded people.
Inevitably potential customers will register their details. They'll remember you when they actually want to buy what you're offering. And because you continue to offer them content they enjoy or learn from, some will provide repeat business long into the future.
This is, in effect, what's called inbound marketing: producing such compelling content that customers come to you instead of you having to go out and find them all the time. Slash your advertising budget. And let others spam and cold call.
Of course, you need to be realistic. Content marketing won't bring overnight success. And yes, it does take up resources. But, over time, it does deliver - as scores of Ember Television clients will testify. Can you afford to do it? The truth is, your competitors already are, so in the long term you can't afford not to.
And in case you're thinking, we print brochures/ service boilers/ manufacture pet food - no one would be interested in our content we produce anyway - then think again.
You need to discover what your story is. With a little brainstorming - and perhaps a conversation with professional content marketers like ourselves - you can devise a strategy and start producing content that really hits the spot.
In my next post I'll be looking at the evidence - solid proof that time and money spent on content marketing really is a wise investment.