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Content marketing: what it is, and why you should be doing it

It has become increasingly clear that the most effective way to gain your customer's attention is to earn it. Rather than needing to sponsor 'traditional' media channels, digital distribution channels such as blogs and YouTube have made it possible for brands to become content creators themselves.
In essence, content marketing is the process of creating and sharing something awesome - entertaining, engaging content (text, photos, video, audio, interactive) that promotes the brand in an indirect way.

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Social media, which many brands already use, enable content marketing on a useful and sustainable scale, which in turn grows the audience for your brand. Brands are cottoning on - 60% intend to increase their content marketing budget in the next year.

The content can be created, curated or user-generated. Brand-created content is usually what people mean when they refer to content marketing. It requires the most investment but potentially reaps the greatest rewards.

Your content should tell a story: about an event, about your principles, about a person. Customers don't care about your latest product, but they do care about the awesome township school initiative or music festival you're sponsoring. That's what makes content marketing so powerful.

Technology provides an unparalleled way to spin amazing tales in new ways. High-quality content doesn't have to mean skyrocketing costs - the web and related technologies have made creating slick web videos, insightful blog posts, funky infographics and informative podcasts affordable.

For content marketing, it is not enough to create ordinary press releases, keyword-laden articles and automated retweets - you need valuable, amazing editorial content. That's because real content marketing success relies on sharing - people need to "like", upvote, share, promote and rank your media, so that more people see it and its reach spreads.

Media creators have been trying to define what makes content successful and are refining the process slowly - it's easier said than done, but brands need to start building up these skills to ensure future success.

Why content marketing?

Content marketing is important for many reasons.
  • It positions the brand as a trusted expert and source of reliable information and entertainment. This can be used to improve the company's public relations.
  • It humanises the brand - people want to hear from people, not impersonal business entities.
  • Users want valuable content, not adverts - content marketing lets you give something back to your community and raises your esteem in their eyes.
  • You gain insight into what customers want from you by analysing their interactions with your content.
  • Valuable content boosts your SEO efforts - the more people share and link to your content, the better. This should be a long-term strategy for establishing the brand and building relationships and consistency.
More for less – Salon’s content strategy has shown amazing returns.
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Does it really work?

Online magazine Salon found that publishing 33% fewer posts and dedicating the saved time to creating amazing articles increased their readership by 40%. This shows the power of dedicating yourself to content quality over simply flooding fans with content - and that's for a brand where content is the product.

Content and social media in harmony on the Red Bull website.
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Red Bull is the undisputed master class in content marketing. From extreme sports clips and musical showcases to celebrity blogs, the Red Bull Media House has a holistic content strategy that positions it as a cutting-edge youth brand without ever mentioning the words "Red Bull" or "energy drink".

Over 300 million YouTube views later, the strategy is so successful that access to the content portal is marketed as a feature, for example in its mobile partnership with Cell C, where customers can buy Red Bull-branded phones.

Content marketing strategy 101

To succeed as content marketers, brands need to reposition themselves as publishers as well as service or product providers. But it's also not enough to just produce content and put it out into the world - you need to focus on getting your strategy right.

Content marketing is not a one-off campaign, but an on-going process and a mind-shift for the way the brand markets itself. You need to distribute, promote, monitor, measure and optimise your content as part of a holistic strategy.

Content marketing relies on the existence of a community - if nobody's around to see your awesome video clips and share your fab photos, then they're pretty pointless. Your social media profiles are where your community will congregate, so that's where you need to start applying your strategy.

Being effective here relies on:
  • Knowing your audience
  • Timing
  • Creating and sharing appropriate content
  • Responding and engaging
If you're sharing college drinking games with your middle-aged realtor audience at 3am, or share some tasteless religious videos over the Easter weekend, you're not doing it right. And if you make mistakes like this, you'll end up chasing your audience away - and developing a really terrible reputation.

If you're going to do content marketing, make sure you do a lot of research upfront - and take the time to make something awesome before you share it.

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For More list added at 10.06am on 23 May 2012.

About Anna Malczyk

Born in Poland, Anna Malczyk swapped an icy future for one in sunny South Africa. Fast forward to 2012 and that move has paid off: Anna is the latest addition to the Cape Town Quirk Education team ( as a knowledge officer. Contact Anna on tel +27 (0)21 462 7353, email her at and follow @annamalczyk on Twitter.
Elizabeth Joss
Great article for those who do not know what content marketing is all about. Content marketing can be a feat, especially since many companies may be very creative and may come up with new ideas regularly. However, this can also be seen as a challenge! Well, that's how I see it anyway.
Posted on 22 May 2012 22:19
Rob Campbell
Thanks for great piece.Content that is engaging - and relevant to the audience - is the beginning of a brand dialogue.The only point I wish to emphasise, is that the link between the content and the brand idea cannot be tenuous.Which is why the principle of have a brand idea that is relevant, different and sustainable is more important than ever before.Viva the brand idea.
Posted on 23 May 2012 08:45
Gareth Maggs
This article proves the concept that marketing can never be 'Here's my brand and what it can do for you'. Instead it is interactive, engaging with the concept of the brand together with the product. I'm a huge fan of this article and so excited the marketing opens up a world of possibility.
Posted on 23 May 2012 09:33
Cindy Wilson-Trollip
So agree with you Rob - relevant and big idea
Posted on 23 May 2012 11:19
Andy Davis
Hello everyone. We've been producing "branded content", or "content marketing", as it has been described in this piece, since 2005. Nice to see that brands are catching on that building engagement with an audience is not the same as spamming them with a sales pitch.Check us out on
Posted on 23 May 2012 16:53