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Updated: March 20, 2023 Know How

What content marketing is and why I like it

Does advertising still work? Absolutely. But what works is always changing. A hundred years ago, “Buy product X” was competitive. Fifty years ago, not so much.

Today, there’s a lot to overcome. Clutter. Ad blindness (the habit of tuning out ads). Ad blockers, which are used by more than a quarter of people in the U.S., and two-thirds of younger adults.

Photo | Courtesy of Michael Donovan
Michael Donovan is chief strategist and creative director for Worcester marketing agency Metaphor.

Enter content marketing. You can think of it as a blend of three elements: advertising, branding, and thought leadership. Advertising is about selling. Branding is about projecting a personality and set of values in all you do. Thought leadership is about sharing knowledge: tips, insights, lists (top five ways, top 10 myths, etc.).

With content marketing, the first step is engagement, typically a promise of useful or intriguing information. The second step is paying off the promise by delivering that information. Only then does any type of marketing message enter the picture, if at all. Some of the most effective content marketing sells by leading the customer to your door in such a way they open it themselves.

You may have heard the term branded content. That’s a type of content marketing where you create or curate content appearing as a sponsored item on a given website, publication, or social media. It’s similar to an advertorial but more about branding. A biotech company, for instance, might sponsor an ongoing series of stories about scientific innovators through history.

Content marketing in action

Options for each phase of the customer journey. Content marketing can play a role in all phases – awareness, consideration, decision – but especially in the first two. You can use it in the same media you’re currently using for sales messages, but you have additional options too, including brand video, webinars, white papers, and checklists/tip sheets.

A refreshing break from spam. Unlike the sometimes aggressive tactics seen in some online ads and messages, content marketing seeks to align with how people prefer to choose and consume content, because of the benefits it offers. In a noisy environment, quiet alternatives get noticed and appreciated.

Storytelling with a purpose. Content marketing goes beyond the traditional storytelling of advertising by using branded content to tell stories reflecting a company’s values and the ideas it stands for. It’s a way to bring the brand to life by providing helpful information, making value statements concrete, and inspiring more referrals and deeper customer loyalty.

Content you can repurpose. Once developed, content marketing materials can be adapted for other channels. In addition to those mentioned above, this can include blogs, social media, email marketing, events, and how-to guides. Branded content can be especially powerful in these venues.

Michael Donovan is chief strategist and creative director for Worcester marketing agency Metaphor. Reach him at

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