What is Content Marketing? An Explained Definition of Content Marketing

Everyone seems to have their own definition of content marketing.  In fact, there are actually articles dedicated to compiling all the different definitions, from the near-200-word entry of ClickZ’s Anna Maria Virzi to the single-line ‘elevator pitch’ of CMI’s Robert Rose.

Though there are common threads through all of these definitions, there are also disagreements.  In most cases, these disagreements come in terms of scope – the elements that must or must not be present in order to be considered content marketing.

With new and innovative content formats and channels pushing the boundaries, it’s important to have some sort of shared understanding of what is and isn’t content marketing.  If for nothing more than clarity, we need to arrive at a clear and defensible definition.


Defining Content Marketing

Content Marketing Institute (CMI) is both a foremost thought leader in the content marketing space and the collective author of several content marketing definitions.  As such, CMI seems to be a natural starting point for a more standardized definition of content marketing.  In a post regarding content marketing definitions, CMI Founder, Joe Pulizzi, put forth the following:

“Content marketing is the marketing and business process for creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”

This definition provides a solid basis for our own definition, though there are a couple of points that it fails to address.  Using Pulizzi’s definition as a starting point, we created a definition.  This new definition draws from a combination of our own experiences and several other definitions.  You’ll notice several small, but notable, changes to the original (discussed below).

 “Content marketing is the ongoing process of strategically creating and distributing relevant and valuable branded content to attract, engage, convert, and retain a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”


Breaking Down the Definition

Though our definition isn’t particularly long, it’s densely packed.  To better understand the definition as a whole, we’ll discuss some of the more important elements in detail.


“…ongoing process…”

Content marketing doesn’t have an end.  It’s cyclical.  Content marketers should be constantly setting, meeting, and refining goals.  Specifying that content marketing is ongoing is a key addition to Pulizzi’s definition.


“…strategically creating and distributing…”

There are two important pieces to this segment.  The first is that content marketing is strategic.  In order to qualify as content marketing, tactics must be governed by an overarching content strategy.  This strategy is what separates content marketing from a set of scattered activities that happen to involve content.

The second important thing here is that content marketing involves creating and distributing content.  Most marketers understand the relationship between content marketing and content creation.  Fewer recognize the importance of distribution.  As we’ve said before, great content is vital, but it doesn’t guarantee success.  Distributing content is just as important as creating it.


“…relevant and valuable branded content…”

A defining characteristic of content marketing is its ability to promote self-education.  Viewers continue to consume content because it’s valuable to them.  Without this relevance and value, users have no reason to continue consuming content and efforts cross into the realm of clutter.

In addition to relevance and value, content marketing needs the appropriate amount of branding.  Content marketing has to walk the delicate line between connecting to a brand and being overly-promotional.  Content that’s too abstract loses the connection with the brand and is unable to further objectives, while content that’s too promotional is damages credibility and can be off-putting.


“…attract, engage, convert, and retain …”

Content marketing can make an impact throughout the marketing funnel.  Different types of content support different stages of the funnel, from initial attention to nurture to customer acquisition and development.  The emphasis of the efforts depends on the strategy in place.

We made the choice to replace “attract, acquire, and engage” with “attract, engage, convert, and retain“. These four stages align more closely to those of the b2b buying process – awareness (attract), evaluation (engage), decision (convert, and advocacy (retain).  Additionally, they better distinguish the role of content marketing in nurture from its role in decision/closing.


“…a clearly defined and understood target audience…”

In order to qualify as content marketing – or marketing in general – activities must be geared toward a specific target audience.  This can only occur if that audience is both defined and understood.  Defining an audience keeps efforts unified, while understanding allows for the production of valuable content and logical transitions between assets.


“….with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”

The final defining point for content marketing is its overarching goal of “profitable customer action”.  In other words, content marketing only qualifies as content marketing if it ultimately steers the customer toward an action that creates profit for the company.  In most cases, this action is a purchase.


In Summary

In order to qualify as content marketing, activities must:

  • Be ongoing
  • Involve strategic content creation and distribution
  • Utilize relevant and valuable branded content
  • Target a defined and understood audience
  • Ultimately drive viewers toward a profit-connected conversion



Let us know what you think:

  • Do you agree with our definition of content marketing?
  • Would you add anything to the definition?
  • Would you remove anything?



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