In the most recent Content Marketing Institute/MarketingProfs study, “B2B Content Marketing: 2014 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends-North America,” 93% of B2B marketers are using content marketing in some way, shape, or form. A staggering 73% of those marketers are creating more content than the previous 12-month period. But let’s be honest … many of these companies aren’t really doing content marketing. 

They are engaging in what we at Content Marking Institute (CMI) like to call “clever advertising.” Recently, I sat through a “content marketing” presentation where the presenter showed a number of case studies and talked about how the brands were leveraging the power of content marketing to grow their businesses. Unfortunately, none of the examples were actually content marketing.

To qualify as content marketing, a program needs to focus on attracting or retaining a targeted customer audience; be a source of compelling, useful, and/or entertaining information; and be consistently delivered.

If we deconstruct these three tenets just a bit, we start to see some patterns that distinguish the art and science of content marketing.

When we focus on attracting or retaining a targeted customer audience, some key concepts emerge. Customers or prospects subscribe to our content through email, social, or print channels, allowing us to have an ongoing conversation with them. This means subscription is the key weapon of choice for most content marketers. Although we may have developed multiple buyer personas, a content marketing effort is most likely targeted to one strictly defined persona. Goals revolve around demand generation, guiding the buyer through the purchasing process to the desired destination of customer retention and loyalty.

When we focus on developing compelling and useful content for our content marketing program, other key concepts emerge. Content is most likely not about our products and services; rather, it focuses on information that addresses the pain points of buyers. When possible, content should be entertaining. In many cases, the content helps customers or prospects accomplish a desired task.

When we focus on consistently delivering the content, these key concepts emerge. Content is not a one-time or campaign initiative. (Note: If you hear someone say “content marketing campaign,” it’s probably not content marketing.) Content is repeatedly delivered at reliable intervals, through a consistent channel.

Let’s look at some examples.

Dollar Shave Club’s viral video-With more than 10 million views on YouTube, Dollar Shave Club’s amazingly funny video has often been referred to as an example of content marketing. Content marketing effort or clever advertising campaign? In and of itself, this video is a clever advertising campaign. Why?

  • There’s no real subscription program (for the content, that is, not the razors).
  • It’s heavily focused on the brand’s core product.
  • It’s a one-time campaign effort.

Oreo Daily Twist-In celebration of its 100th anniversary, Oreo shared an original, Oreo-centric image each day (for 100 days) that marked that particular day in history. Examples included the Mars Rover landing, Elvis Week, and Gay Pride Day. According to reports from Oreo, sales surged 25%, with most of the credit going to this campaign. Content marketing effort or clever advertising campaign? Again, the correct answer here is clever advertising. Why?

  • The campaign launched with a built-in stop date.
  • It’s heavily focused on the brand’s core product.

American Express’ OPEN Forum-The forum is an educational resource for small businesses that provides operational, financial, and marketing advice. According to American Express (AMEX), the site has driven as many credit card inquiries as any other traditional marketing effort it has executed. Content marketing effort or clever advertising campaign? This one is true content marketing. Why?

  • 99% percent of the content created is not about AMEX.
  • The program has consistently delivered information every day since 2008.
  • It has kept its associated subscription program (membership to the site) in play.

 ShipServ Pages: The Movie-ShipServ is an electronic marketplace where buyers and sellers in the shipping industry can connect. Many marketing sites have cited ShipServ’s LEGO-based movie as a grand example of content marketing. Content marketing effort or clever advertising campaign? That’s right, once again, it’s clever advertising. Why?

  • It’s a product pitch (although ShipServ does get extra points for incorporating the LEGO brand).
  • It’s a one-time initiative.
  • The content is not part of an ongoing subscription program.

When marketers ask me why most content marketing programs fail or tell me why they aren’t really doing content marketing, there is usually one reason: They stopped. Most marketers still think of content as a one-time campaign or short burst of speed. This is not, and never will be, content marketing. Content marketing is a marathon, not a short sprint.