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What’s the first step to explaining content marketing?

If you’re using the “official” definition from CMI, it’s to take a deep breath.

You need to power up your lungs to utter a 32-word sentence with about 80 syllables.

Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.

When you conclude, expect to see the listener’s eyes glazed over or a slight nod indicating they understood, so you don’t keep talking.

CMI’s official definition of content marketing works well in an academic sense – explaining the strategic purpose of the field. But in everyday conversations, it’s not your best option.

In everyday explanations of #ContentMarketing, the official definition isn’t your best choice, says @AnnGynn via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Instead, pick one of these examples tailored to your listener – whether a partner, neighbor, friend, parent, grandparent, teenager, business associate or networker, or a social event guest.

Finally, consider adding to your repertoire one or more of the real-life explainers from five Content Marketing World speakers.

Opening statement for all the outlined scenarios:

Content marketing isn’t about selling a product but about educating or entertaining the audience.

Opening statement to explain #ContentMarketing: It isn’t about selling a product but about educating or entertaining the audience, says @AnnGynn via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Partners, neighbors, friends, etc.

Ever had a water leak in your house or apartment? Your first stop likely is an internet search engine where you type or say, “how to fix a water leak.”

The first answer that pops up is from HomeX Plumbing and Rooter. The article outlines five quick steps to make a water leak repair. While the company sells plumbing services, the solutions they share do not require the assistance of a plumber.

You may wonder why HomeX would help people learn how to do something that the company sells as a service. Well, by addressing the person’s immediate need, the person sees them as a helpful source of information. Not only do they learn this brand exists, but when they do need to call a plumber to help with a long-term solution or other need, they’re more likely to call HomeX.

Older generations

Fidelity is a brokerage firm that sells investment-related products. Every week, it sends out a free newsletter called Fidelity Viewpoints to customers and people who sign up for it through the website. It covers financial markets, investing strategies, and personal finance topics.

Since Fidelity offers retirement products, such as IRAs and 401(k) accounts, they know a segment of their newsletter audience is interested in aging-related topics. So they published an article in the newsletter about how to prepare a home so the resident can age in place, outlining the six success factors and highlighting the key takeaways at the very beginning of the piece.

At the end of the article, Fidelity suggests additional content on its site – its life events hub of information and an article about how to talk money with family. That content is most likely helpful to a reader of the aging-in-place article.

Now, the reader views Fidelity as a helpful and valuable resource for the things that are important to them. They may even click on the next step to have a Fidelity person review their retirement strategy, moving them one step closer to becoming a customer or increasing their loyalty as a current Fidelity customer.

Pre-teens and teens

Game Informer started out in 1991 as a magazine. In this century, it expanded into a great website for all things video games. It’s owned by GameStop and is promoted in their stores. (In the print magazine, all the ads are from GameStop.)

Game Informer doesn’t sell the games. It covers industry news, reviews, releases, and more. It also publishes original videos and podcasts, including The Game Informer Show, All Things Nintendo, and Video Gameography.

Game Informer is all about cultivating and helping the wider community of gamers – and that ultimately benefits a business such as GameStop.

Business associate or networker

With all that’s happening in Washington, D.C., it can be difficult to keep up with what you need to know. That’s why Charles Schwab created the WashingtonWise podcast. Every two weeks, when Congress is in session, the host talks and interviews guests about the news and policies that impact investors.

They also take that audio content and repackage it in other formats preferred by investors, such as this text-based article: 5 Big Issues Top Washington’s To-Do List.

Social event guest

Look at the buffet table, and you’ll see the manifestation of content marketing. A lot of food brands publish content to help their audience with their cooking activities.

Ocean Spray publishes a newsletter that features a handful of recipes related to the season. For example, around New Year’s, it featured appetizer recipes for cranberry bacon crostini, cranberry spiced Jell-O shots, air-fried charcuterie bites, and cream cheese cranberry dessert dip.

These and other recipes also are on the Ocean Spray website so people searching for appetizers would find them, too. While Ocean Spray wants the reader to buy their cranberries, they’re OK sharing the information with people who may not buy their brand.

5 more options to explain content marketing

“It’s what I create to make sure I connect with you.” – Deanna Ransom, president and executive director, Women In Revenue

@DeeRansom3 explains #ContentMarketing as what I create to make sure I connect with you via @AnnGynn @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

“It’s content that delivers a message and is helpful … For example, when you land on a website, and you see blog posts and videos and other content, and you start to feel like you know that company … You get to learn more about them, and their content helps solve your problems. You start to connect with them and trust them.” – Amy Woods, founder and CEO, Content 10x

“Content marketing is what you really wish all marketing was – where the people who are trying to get you to buy something just help you and provide you with answers to your questions. (They) try genuinely to be collaborative support to you during the buying process instead of jumping straight to the click-this-button buy-now.” – Andrea Fryrear, CEO and co-founder, AgileSherpas

“We go online for answers. We go online for solutions, for things, for fixes, and for help. What content marketers do is build out those parts of the internet that are the most useful to the people that really need that information in their moment of truth. Content marketing is about making things that help people do things in their real lives.” – Andy Crestodina, co-founder and chief marketing officer, Orbit Media Studios

“Communicating without selling … That differentiates content marketing from a lot of other parts of marketing. It’s more about education. It’s about investing in the audience. It’s about answering questions and being a helpful resource for our audience.” – Monica Norton, head of content marketing, Yelp

OK, after reading through all the potential real-life answers you could use to explain content marketing, do you have a favorite? Do you have a different way to explain it? I’d love to read them in the comments.

Updated Jan. 10, 2023

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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