There’s a lot of hype about content these days, but content is nothing novel. Every company has content.  On the other hand, content marketing isn’t just a buzzword for creating and publishing content.  It represents a fundamental shift in how companies approach marketing.

But while the hype surrounding content marketing continues to grow, others are less enthusiastic about it.  And I would argue that many of the detractors are driven by a fundamental misunderstanding of what content marketing actually is. Here are some of the more prominent misconceptions that I’ve heard:

• Marketers have always used content
• Everyone has content
• It’s just a shiny new name
• Content marketing is just marketing
• I’ve been publishing content on my website for years, it’s nothing new
• Content is just another word for communications

Distinguishing content marketing from content

This isn’t just semantics. I think that there is actually a big distinction between content and content marketing and here’s why. Content itself is just a tool. Content marketing is how you use the tool. Plenty of companies have been using content to market their business for a long time, that isn’t anything new. The difference is most content is entirely promotional, focused on the company: their products, services, accolades, features and benefits—not the customer or the information that they are most interested in and find valuable.

Consumers have changed, but most content hasn’t

One of marketing’s primary responsibilities has always been to communicate and promote products and services to prospects in hopes that they will buy them. Traditionally, brands were built and sustained almost entirely on promotion, and consumers of the past often made purchase decisions based primarily on just that. And many companies still take this approach with their marketing. Think about typical company brochures, email newsletters, social media posts, and especially websites and blogs; they’re primarily focused on selling points and company information, assuming that everyone is either ready to make a purchase or they’re interested in learning more about your company. But the fact is, times have changed and the way people shop for products and services has fundamentally changed thanks to the web.

Content marketing is a fundamental shift in traditional marketing philosophy

The web has had an enormous impact on consumers (B2B and B2C) and necessitates a shift in marketing philosophy. Today, consumers are savvier than ever and research online—often extensively—before making purchasing decisions. They are conditioned to ignore brand-centric marketing and, instead, are interested in marketing that does something for them.

Consumers are not looking for a sales pitch and content marketing doesn’t give them one. Instead of selling, it shares insight, answers questions, solves challenges, educates and entertains. It provides information that prospects will not only find valuable, but also what they are searching for online. Let’s face it; this represents a fundamental shift in thinking for many marketers and companies.

Why content marketing—not just content—is needed

Here is the simple truth: most prospects and customers aren’t interested in your company, your mission statement or your accolades. So what do they care about? Naturally, they care about their needs, their interests and their businesses. Content marketing is about publishing content that focuses on the prospect and customer and what they are actually interested in, as opposed to talking about your company and what you sell.

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No amount of content strategy or content volume is going to move the needle if it’s not based on a customer- and prospect-centric (content marketing) mindset. Not just any content, but the right kind of content is needed if your goal is to attract prospects and generate leads on merit, not just persuasion. Instead of just saying you’re an expert, content marketing demonstrates your expertise and differentiates your business, while providing value and building relationships with prospects and customers alike.

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