As a business owner or an entrepreneur, you already know the value of content marketing and advertising. In fact, you’re probably already utilizing both to increase your brand’s awareness and generate leads and sales to one degree or another.
However, people often confuse the difference between content marketing and ads: on the one hand, both are powerful tools to spread the word about your product and service, create a loyal customer base, and grow your business.
But what, exactly, is the difference between content marketing and advertising, and why does it matter?
Content Marketing vs Ads
By nature, marketing and advertising are intermingled in many ways, and often, they overlap so much it’s hard to make tails or heads of it all: marketers use advertising to boost their campaigns, and advertisers rely on marketers to provide fertile grounds for their promos and offers.
One feeds off another, and your best bet is to use both techniques for maximum results.
The key difference between marketing (especially content marketing) and advertising is its purpose.
Content marketing is all about creating the actual market for your product or service: it involves market research which is then used to create a digital space to spread information and generate interest in your brand.
It’s a long game: first, content marketers will gather data about your target audience, research their pain points, their interests, and the problems they’re facing. Then, once the needs of your target audience are identified, content marketers will come up with a strategy how to best hook that audience and grab their attention.
Finally, it’s about creating and distributing specific, targeted pieces of content that the target audience will engage with – and then, once you have the audience’s attention, it’s time for advertisers to step in.
In other words, content marketing is all about setting the stage, researching the potential customers’ wants and needs, and offering them value in the form of informational, educational, or entertaining content to earn their attention.
Advertising, in contrast, isn’t about earning attention – it’s about buying it.
An ad promoting a product or a service can be placed anywhere, anytime, regardless of context; the purpose of an ad is a direct sale rather than generating interest or leads.
The Story of the Running Shoe
To put this into perspective, let’s say you sell running shoes, and you’re about to launch your new running shoe model.
A content marketing strategy will involve researching runners and their pain points; let’s say, for example, that avid runners all complain of the same issue – perhaps it’s that their shoes do not last very long.
Now that you know your audience (runners) and their pain point (shoes that wear out fast), it’s time to offer them targeted content that will help them solve their problem.
In this case, good content marketing strategy could involve creating a blog, a podcast, and a social media content plan where you share your tips and advice on how to look after running shoes to make them last longer.
In your content, you may talk about tips and advice on running shoes and aftercare, giving your target audience valuable and interesting advice on their passion: running.
Once you’ve captured their attention and earned their trust, you can then start mentioning your new running shoes and, chances are, people will buy them because they already know and trust your brand as the #1 expert on all things running.
By contrast, advertising isn’t about the long-term results. Placing ads is about selling the product there and then rather than trying to build a loyal customer base.
Ads skip the relationship building and go straight for the jugular – that is, the customer’s wallet.
In the running shoe example, an advertiser wouldn’t bother with long-term content; they would strategically place ads promoting your new running shoe, write direct-response copy, and create sales emails and sales copy to promote the product instantly rather than build the customer base first.
Content marketing is about slowly and carefully warming your audience up to the product, whereas advertising is more of a hit-and-run.
Pros and Cons of Content Marketing vs Advertising
Both content marketing and advertising have value, and most businesses and startups utilize marketing and ads together.
However, content marketing is all about earning your target audience’s trust and attention, building a long-lasting relationship, and creating a loyal customer base that will keep coming back for more. Because it has a much longer-lasting effect, content marketing is key to growing your business long-term.
It’s also significantly cheaper than advertising, and in this day and age, content grabs people’s attention much more effectively than ads: in fact, most people try to avoid ads like plague, using adblockers and ignoring sales emails as much as they can.
Content, whether it’s in the form of blogging, ebooks, podcasts, videos, or social media, on the other hand, still has the power to capture and hold attention – and that, in the longer term, converts much better than ads.
However, the main disadvantage of content marketing is the lack of instant results.
To see the results of your content marketing campaign, you’ll need to wait at least three or six months; it takes time to create and distribute stellar content and build your audience in authentic, organic ways.
An ad, on the other hand, generates sales instantly, and that’s why a lot of business still rely on paid advertising rather than slow-burning content marketing strategies.
Best Results and Practices
So what’s the bottom line? Should you rely on content marketing to research, create, and nurture your customer base, or should you simply splurge on some well-placed ads and see sales start rolling in?
There is no right or wrong answer here: a lot will depend on the type of business you do, the product or service you’re offering, and the short and long-term outcome you’re hoping for.
Ideally, you should be utilizing both content marketing and advertising to see the best results: content marketing to set the stage, prep the audience, and earn their attention, and ads to boost your sales until the content marketing campaign starts paying off.
For long-term success, content marketing is easily one of the most powerful tools to increase your brand’s awareness, build a loyal audience, and create a solid, repeat-customer base.
For short-term results, ads, sales emails, and direct-response copy works best, and for maximum effect, ads can boost the content marketing efforts and vice versa.