We often hear the question “What is content marketing?”

It’s totally understandable. The term is still pretty new and somewhat vague, kinda like NBC’s fall television lineup. But fortunately the answer is an easy one.

Let’s start with the “marketing” part. You know what that means. The dictionary defines it as “The activities that are involved in making people aware of a company’s products.”

So we have “marketing,” and then we add “content” to it, which in this case simply refers to articles, blog posts, videos, infographics… the stuff that people are interested in online. And there you have it. Content marketing is simply the practice of attracting prospective customers through interesting content. And it works.

What to Expect When You’re Delivering (Content, Not a Baby)

When done right, content marketing does two important things:
1. Grow your business
2. Make your business better

For example, take Zillow, the hugely popular online real estate database. Zillow showcases more than 110 million homes on its site, and at last check, was the 34th highest rank site in the US. The Zillow staff could easily kick back and coast on their reputation and market dominance. And yet, the Zillow blog continually offers up free content, with articles on celebrity homes, helpful advice for homebuyers and sellers, home improvement tips, and more. This not only catches the eyes of prospective customers, but keeps people already using Zillow on the site longer—always a good thing.

You’re Soaking in It

Whereas traditional marketing focuses on pushing your message out to the prospective customer, content marketing is about pulling them in, with no pushy sales tactics involved. That means the best content marketing doesn’t appear to be marketing at all.

Think of sites like BuzzFeed that specialize in viral or “sticky” videos, articles, quizzes and such. A collection of photos entitled “The 50 Most Beautiful Shots Taken Out of Airplane Windows” is surely enjoyable to scroll though, right? With its relatively subtle branding, most people wouldn’t even guess it’s a Jet Blue-sponsored piece of content. But it most certainly is.

Pretty stuff.

It’s Good to Give

At first blush, content marketing might seem like backwards business sense; we’re giving away valuable content away for free? Yes, you are, but it’s important to recognize that the game has changed.

With an Internet-obsessed world, and way too many in-your-face marketing messages for the average person to deal with on a daily basis, providing value to prospective customers – not all of it, of course, but some – right off the bat is the best way to get their attention, convert them into customers, and keep them happy.