What Is Content?

Austin L. Church
September 12, 2016
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A while back I did a quick search on Google Trends for "content marketing." One of the top queries was "what is content."

what is content

Seeing this, I had palm-to-forehead moment. For months, I have been lauding the benefits of content marketing without first defining the basic terms. Some of my clients and prospects must have been nodding politely while thinking, “What the heck is content?”I won't yet try to convince you that content marketing is a smart lead-gen option for your business, but I would like to convince you that every brand is a publisher.What is content? Content is the stuff you publish. It has two purposes that often overlap: to educate and to entertain.Now some contrarian out there is at this very moment feeling sloshy with smugness. You want to quibble over my newly minted definition. You want to ask an asinine question, “But what about coupons and advertisements? Are they content?” Sure. Dump them in your bucket. But they don’t belong in mine.The concept of “coupon marketing” makes literal sense and “advertisement marketing” up to a point. But “content marketing” is a different form of marketing altogether. Coupons have no standalone value to a client or customer unless you’re short on toilet paper or firelogs. Advertisements usually only teach me about a company’s lack of creativity and penchant for trite language.With content, different best practices and strategies are at play, and what I count as good content aims to create value for real people from a company’s motive to gain a customer. Your business agenda comes first. Selling comes second.Good content is good precisely because it improves people’s lives. That's why producing infomercials and sending an eblast to a list you purchased don't count as content marketing. The media (words, videos, HTML) and delivery mechanisms may be the same, but don’t let that confuse you.The informercial didn’t make me smarter. The eblast did make me roll my eyes and click the Junk button.

What Is Content?

Here is a non-exhaustive list of types of content:

  • Blog posts
  • Books
  • Guides
  • Infographics
  • Videos
  • Tutorials
  • Audios
  • Strategy breakdowns
  • Code samples
  • Coding exercises
  • Design templates
  • Email templates
  • Checklists
  • Worksheets
  • Spreadsheets
  • Cheatsheets
  • Stock photos
  • Interviews
  • Lists
  • Tips, tactics & techniques
  • Common mistakes
  • Best practices
  • White papers
  • Opinions (preferably, informed opinions)

How Do You Decide What Content To Create?

Producing good content is simply teaching what you know.To help my fellow consultants and freelancers, I could draw from my education and training in writing. I could share everything from swipe files of good email subject lines to a business blueprint for content writers. I could write about where to get new writing clients, or I could publish a list of my favorite apps and tools.For my clients, I can do what I’m doing now and offer up clear, concise explanations of basic terms, as well as strategy breakdowns and case studies.The goal with your content is to out-teach and out-help your competition. You can write blog posts. You can make videos. You can share case studies and white papers. You can curate the best tools and resources. You can create presentations in PowerPoint or Keynote and post them on Slideshare. You can answer questions on Quora, and you can later hire a designer to turn your answers into pretty infographics.By teaching, you build your audience, and while building your audience, you generate leads. Lead generation is where the marketing enters the content marketing picture.To recap, content is the stuff you publish, minus coupons, ads, and other overtly promotional material. Good content improves people’s lives. Good content marketers strive to be generous with what they know. They teach what they know with the faith that people find generosity attractive.That's it for now, folks.If you found value in this blog post, please sign up for my weekly newsletter. I’ll send helpful freelancing tips your way.