Like advertising, the commercial imperative for content marketing is to grow sales. But content marketing is not advertising; the strategies on which each are based could not be more different.

While advertising relies on interrupting the attention that customers are trying to pay to another destination (eg a TV program, an article, a video clip), good content marketing becomes your customer’s intended destination.

Ideally, that customer attention is paid to content on media assets and communications channels you own. In this way, over time, with patience, consistency and of course good content, brands can become their own media companies – reducing their reliance on having to ‘buy’ attention from traditional media outlets.

In this respect, unlike advertising, content marketing done right also pays off for the balance sheet and not just the profit and loss. Building your media assets adds capital value to the business. Red Bull’s media division (Red Bull Media, which amongst other things publishes the Red Bulletin Magazine) is not just a marketing expense – it contributes to the capital value of the brand because of the assets and goodwill it has built.

The problem most organisations have with content marketing is that unlike advertising campaigns, there is often no immediate or directly traceable increase in sales to point to.

This is because the things that content marketing can do (for example grow brand awareness, increase consumer trust, improve brand loyalty, influence buyer decision making criteria) have a longer term payoff as those achievements translate to growth in market share.

For this reason, content marketing (especially in the early days of implementation) is often seen as an uncertain gamble – something which marketers have seen ‘work well’ for other brands but to which they often cannot attribute a direct positive financial ROI from their own efforts, leaving them struggling to justify content marketing as a valid strategy and high priority investment.

The flip side is that once organisations get their head around the fact that content marketing is an investment in their future, the danger is that we have no basis upon which to judge whether our content is on the right track.

A lot of time, effort and money gets burnt creating content which may on the face of it seem to be doing well (for example, getting lots of ‘likes’), but which is of no strategic value to the long term marketing, branding or positioning objectives for the company.

This is precisely why all content marketing activities need to be first underpinned by a carefully considered content marketing strategy and plan. Without one, you really are just gambling!

Richard Liew is founder and editor at NZ Entrepreneur magazine

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