Content marketing has been getting a lot of play in the media nowadays and it has become a buzzword that is thrown around the startup community without real thought for what it means or why it truly matters. Content marketing, in my opinion, is going to become increasingly important to both startups and established companies and brands. This article is going to focus more on startups but the lessons remain the same.

What is a good definition of content marketing?

Content marketing is any form of marketing that involves the creation and curation of relevant and valuable content with the purpose of building relationships with your target audience.

What is the value of this type of marketing? Marketing has traditionally gotten a lot of flack from “makers” in the company who feel as if marketers are just fast talkers or who worry about endless “branding” questions that do not really matter to the most important part of the Company, the product. Executives try and calculate an ROI (return on investment) for marketing activities and often end up cutting marketing budgets because the return is too difficult to “quantify.”

People are starting to realize that this myopic view of ROI and too much of a focus on product development can be dangerous for startups. As Dave McClure wrote, “Startups focus too much on building a product, with limited attention to customer interaction, usability, and marketing.” Marcelo Calbucci recently wrote a piece coining the phrase “full-stack marketer” and Kyle Tibbitts wrote a discussion of the subject here on Medium about the same subject. This dialogue about the full-stack marketer is great and it is good to see the importance of marketers for startups rising. However, a responsibility of these full-stack marketers that is overlooked is that of content marketing.

So what is the true ROI of content marketing? It is that you gain relationships on your investment. You gain these relationships because content marketing helps you build trust between your startup and members of your target audience. You gain value from these relationships in a variety of ways and that value is not always monetary or easily quantified. This value can manifest itself in terms of future customers/users, brand awareness, and/or a strong and more educated target audience which improves your industry. So how does content marketing accomplish this relationship building?

How Content Marketing Develops Relationships

Outbrain.com - Content Marketing

The purpose of this article is not to teach you how to do effective content marketing. If you want good advice on the practice of content marketing you should read Neil Patel and Kathryn Aragon’s “The Advanced Content Marketing Guide.” I want to focus on five outcomes of good content marketing and why it is a valuable investment for startups.

  1. Content marketing helps you build better products - content marketing is a dialogue with your customers; one of my favorite summaries of content marketing is that “traditional marketing talks at people and content marketing talks with people.” Because it allows both you and your customers to share their stories, content marketing allows you to gain reliable feedback about your customers’ problems, the industry, your solution, etc. And since content marketing helps users feel included in your brand’s community, they will be more likely to contribute in ways that are valuable to your company.
  2. Content marketing increases your user base - a good content marketing strategy delivers value to your users; if users feel like your marketing is valuable (as opposed to spammy), they will engage your product more, increasing your retention rates, which is especially important for startups.
  3. Increases industry knowledge - By contributing valuable content to the target community of your startup, you are advancing the theoretical and practical knowledge of your market vertical. If that knowledge is valuable to your target audience, they will begin to trust you and your brand more. They will also be more educated about your product and its offering because they know more about the problems you are trying to solve and why you care about them.
  4. Builds trust between your customers and brands - Transparency is an important part of content marketing. If you are communicating content that is relevant, timely, and valuable to your customers, as well as sharing insights into your business processes, company culture, day-to-day operations, etc., your customers will begin to trust you. Think about your friends and acquaintances in your personal life; the more you feel connected to them through the stuff they share with you, chances are the more likely you will trust them. This does not always even need to lead to conversions for it to be valuable; that trust can lead to referalls, brand recognition, community support, etc.
  5. Creates a narrative for your company - content marketing allows you to frame the narrative by which your company is known. I have explored at length in the past the power of narrative for startups.

All of these outcomes of content marketing, are not your typical “return on investment” but the relationships you build from your investment are going to be incredibly valuable to your company in the future.