If you’ve ever wondered what exaclty “content marketing,” exactly, you’re not alone.

Consider these different definitions of content marketing:

-a type of marketing that involves creating and sharing online material (such as videos, blogs, and social media posts) that does not explicitly promote a brand but is intended to stimulate interest in its products or services

-a marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience to drive profitable customer action

Content Marketing Institute

While these definitions are similar, they are also nuanced, and that slight difference contributes to a sense of confusion when it comes to determining what content marketing is…and what it isn’t. A key term in the second definition is the word valuable. True content marketing is about defining the perfect person for your service or product and talking directly to that person.

Whatever content you produce, whether it’s on social media, in blog posts, videos, podcasts, or in any of the many other types of content you can create, it is all done with that one client in mind.

Content marketing is about creating value-added content for the market you’ve designated in your marketing strategy. Creating a ton of content that doesn’t talk directly to and add value for your perfect person does nothing for your business.

Marketing is one of those strange words that people often confuse with sales. And yet, marketing is nothing more than being clear about your market. So what do you do and for who? That’s where your content comes in.

Content marketing connects you relationally with your audience. Content marketing speaks to a person’s difficulties and explains how to overcome them. It provides solutions couched in story.  It educates, relates, and offers resources. In short, content marketing provides something useful to an audience that’s interested in what you offer.

Providing maximum value is the ultimate goal of content marketing. Developing and delivering content that connects with your audience or market creates trust and emotional connection. That is proper content marketing.

Marketo by Adobe says: “Buyers and customers today are inundated by more marketing messages than ever before – more than 2,900 per day, by current estimations. This creates an environment of attention scarcity, challenging marketers to produce more engaging content that won’t get lost in the static. A well-crafted content marketing strategy places your business in the position of a thought leader, building brand preference as you inform and educate buyers. In addition, providing helpful and entertaining content can form a strong bond between your brand and customers that continues to grow and strengthen over time.”

That is why educating, informing, and adding value are what proper content marketing is about.

Josh Steimle explained that content marketing addresses the first two steps in the four-step buying cycle. In the four-step process, Awareness and Research are the first two steps. He says, “content marketing raises awareness of solutions and educating consumers about a product they may never have considered before.”

Advertising, as you know, isn’t completely about awareness. But it might tap into providing a buyer with options. Take car advertisements, for example. An advert on TV may raise awareness of a quality in a car that a potential buyer is looking for, which then triggers the person to investigate the brand further. In his search, the potential buyer lands on a piece of content that further educates him about the car’s characteristics and why they matter — but doesn’t directly push a sales message in his face. So, while the ad itself set out to gain a purchaser, it served the purpose of driving potential buyers to a content marketing piece, which deepens the relationship between potential buyers and the seller by providing the buyer (or reader, in this case) with information he didn’t previously have.

If content marketing is about adding value, educating, and raising awareness, then what isn’t it?

It’s not just about the content.

It doesn’t matter whether you write a blog post, create an eBook, make a video, create an infographic; it isn’t the content format that is key. What we are saying is that the act of developing the content is not in itself content marketing. You can create a great eBook, and it does not provide value for your audience. Likewise, just because you recorded a video doesn’t mean it raises awareness for your perfect client. Remember that content is just content unless it markets in a way that adds value for your ideal customer.

It’s not straight-up advertising.

Crafting an ad, whether that is a Facebook post or video, is not content marketing. That is advertising. Anytime you are simply selling your product or service, you are not marketing in a way that provides value to your audience. That is selling.

It’s not buying an audience.

If you choose to partner with an influencer or someone with an audience to get your information or product in front of that group of people, that’s not content marketing. Instead, you are simply buying your way into the sales cycle in the hope of finding someone who might engage with what you have.

The key here is that you are not crafting that relationship yourself. Sure, you might provide some value to the audience you’ve bought. And while the content may be positioned as adding value for the audience, you must ask yourself if it really is.

It’s not telling people what you want them to know.

There is a difference between telling a story to connect with people and telling people something in a way that’s akin to providing unwanted advice. Authentic content marketing is not about manipulation in any way, shape, or form. By telling them what you’re dying for them to know (Our car is the best on the road!), you push them away rather than strengthening your connection with a potential client.

It’s not hiding a sales pitch in content.

Content marketing is NOT about hiding a sales pitch in content. Authentic content marketing has no angles in it at all. If you are selling in any way, then you aren’t truly involved in content marketing. It is one of those fine lines, but if you consider content marketing as the way to build a solid and lasting relationship with someone, then you won’t even think about trying to sell them anything. When the connection is strong enough, and the person has enough information, they will sell themselves on what you offer.