Jewel Marketing
Taiwan Content Marketing

So What Exactly Is Content, Anyway?

By Jason Patterson

Founder of Jewel Content Marketing Agency
Not all marketing assets are content. And I've been in the content game since before "content" was a thing. But in all that time, I've never exactly been able to define what content is, at least not in the marketing sense of the word.

I have tried from time to time, largely out of curiosity. But until now I've never landed on a definition I really like. And I've never stuck with trying to find a better definition for long.

Because the world doesn't care. It's never seemed important to my job. And my clients (and previously my employers) have never seemed to consider it important to their jobs.

And the marketing world at large doesn't seem to care that much either, about formal definitions for content or for a lot of other terms, such as demand generation or thought leadership.

But Dave Trott recently published a scathing article illustrating this very fact, that the advertising/marketing world doesn't care about content sufficiently to define it. But he seems to care. And perhaps so should we.

But there's a problem.

Content Has Various Meanings

Bill Gates famously said "content is king." But I'm guessing the content he was referring to wasn't exactly the same thing that marketers often mean when they talk about content. Because if marketing content were king, I'd be rich.

Instead, I believe Gates was referring to what could be called media content, which I would define (I couldn't find a satisfying definition online) as information, narrative, argument, advice, performance, expression, or event, presented in a media format.

But we also have brand or marketing content. Which, in the orthodox sense of these words, are not simple extensions of the definition I just gave.

Brand and marketing content, as concepts, came about in the wake of social media and SEO. We had true online channels for the first time and we wanted to fill them with something.

Namely something besides conventional advertising, because people generally won't follow you, subscribe to you, or join your email list if they think all you're going to do is advertise to them (unless discounts are involved).

Or perhaps I should say people won't follow you if they think all you'll do is explicitly advertise to them. And so brand and marketing content were born.

What Is Brand Content?

Brand content, or branded content, is a type of implicit advertising. And if you're wondering what implicit advertising is, it's advertising that pretends to be something else. Native advertising is implicit. So are brand sponsorships.

Branded content is brand-sourced media content (as defined previously) that either embodies the brand, mentions the brand, or talks about the brand (or the company) but doesn't explicitly try to sell the brand.

However, it does implicitly sell the brand, either by presenting it as something so valuable you can afford to blow a ton of money on some human-interest story a once-respectable news organization produced, or by presenting your brand, its qualities, its activities, and its history as a topic worthy of discussion.

What Is Marketing Content?

Content marketing was originally imagined as a way to turn your brand into an industry authority or news source. We did this because we really thought we could be media companies, though now we're mostly in it for the SEO.

But this notion of marketing content as something impartial, as something that doesn't explicitly market or sell, as something more akin to journalism, has lingered.

In that sense, the orthodox definition of marketing content is information, narrative, argument, advice, performance, expression, or event that implicitly serves a marketing goal, served in a media format.

Whitepapers, e-books, listicles, bylines, and most blog articles fit this definition.

Something like a product page doesn't fit this definition and yet it's still content, because another definition of content is "anything that fills a media channel." Leaving me free to refer to it as such without being a hypocrite (many forms of advertising and copywriting fit this definition as well).

So how do we untangle this? We don't.

We just have to accept that content has multiple definitions, explicitly referring to or implying more than one thing, sometimes simultaneously. Just like the word "engagement" can explicitly refer to or imply love, war, or social media, sometimes simultaneously.

And we'll have to be content with that.

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