(Arguably) The Fastest-Growing Genre in Business Communication: Content Marketing

If you flip through the journals and books in our field, you’ll find hardly a mention of it. But suddenly (it seems), it’s all over the place. It’s content marketing.

What is content marketing? The label doesn’t seem to indicate anything new. Don’t we always sell by using content?

The answer is yes—but content marketing differs from sales writing in that it gives potential customers free useful content to drive them to the actual site of the sale. In the words of the Content Marketing Institute, “Content marketing is the marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”

An article in Forbes clarifies the concept with these examples:

  • Preparing an infographic on a hot industry topic and sharing it via blog post or Pinterest.
  • Posting a Web article on how to do something that your company is very good at (e.g., getting customers to subscribe to a company’s e-newsletter).
  • Uploading a podcast to iTunes that reflects on a topic your target audience cares about (and your company’s product/service can help them with).
  • Uploading a video to YouTube that does the same.
  • Selling a book that establishes your expertise in an area and drives readers to your company.

A content-marketing message resembles a white paper in that, typically using research, it explores a common problem for which the authoring company’s product is the solution. The difference lies largely in the format/channel. A white paper is a report in document format, whereas content marketing exploits all forms of media.

When preparing your fall syllabus, consider incorporating content marketing into your unit on persuasion. You could have your students, or groups of students, . . .

  • Prepare a report for a boss or client on how companies are using content marketing (or prepare a proposal for a company to get into content marketing).
  • Write a content-marketing blog post for a real or hypothetical company.
  • Summarize the key points of selected sources on content marketing, such as one of these five TED talks or articles on Copyblogger.com, the granddaddy of the content-marketing sites.
  • Create a social-media strategy for a company that includes one or more content-marketing channels.
  • Analyze the ways content marketers build interest and authority (students could choose a content-marketing expert to follow here).

If you add a content-marketing assignment to your syllabus, let us know how it turns out!

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