WTF is Content Marketing? A Beginners’ Guide.

February 2024
February 2024

John Ashbrook

I'm a Senior Writer. I put words together to create sentences. Hey, I'm doing it now! If it needs words, the call goes out: "This is a job for John!" My red phone rings, I slide down my pole, switch my laptop batteries to 'power' and my turbines to 'speed' then I begin typing. What am I going to type this time, I wonder? Let's see ...

Ever found yourself scratching your head and wondering “WTF is Content Marketing?” You’re not alone. Between the convoluted jargon and the Machiavellian marketing strategies, it’s easy to get lost in the marketing maze. But, fear not, we’re here to turn befuddlement into enlightenment.


We like to think of Content Marketing as the subtler, less in-your-face neighbour of paid advertising.

It recognises that today’s consumers are savvy and seek meaningful connections with brands, not just transactions.

So, wind down the window, stick your elbow on the sill and enjoy the ride as we head off down the road into Content Country.

Under the Bonnet of Content Marketing

At its core, Content Marketing isn’t about pulling a fast one or making a quick killing, it’s the art of creating and sharing valuable content that your customers find interesting, educational and useful. It’s about crafting stories, insights, and information that makes your potential customers think, “Ah, these people get me.”

Content marketing isn’t about yelling “Buy me” at an indifferent population, it’s about telling fascinating stories and offering helpful advice, to gain interest and earn trust, so people want to stay around and learn more.

If they know you and they trust you, they’re far more likely to buy from you when the moment comes!

Why Content Marketing is a Gear-Changer

In a media landscape where we’re bombarded with ads from every direction and every screen – on billboards, magazines, TVs, streaming services and social feeds – people have become adept at tuning out the noise. Done poorly (as it often is) paid advertising can be misplaced, irritating, repetitive and repetitive (!)

Content Marketing’s strength is that it endeavours to offer something of genuine interest and value. It’s not just about selling; it’s about building relationships, trust and, ultimately, a community of loyal followers and customers. And then selling!

Think about the last time your car wouldn’t start. You Googled the problem and found a YouTube video that talked you through what you need to do. Not only was the article useful, but it gave you a laugh, so you bookmarked the site to return to next time you have a car question.

There you go, that’s how Content Marketing can put your business onto a potential customer’s radar. It’s about being genuinely helpful, engaging and entertaining. Which is to say: It’s really about advertising your services to people without them really noticing.

So, as you cruise through Content Country, you’ll see the tracts of open countryside and the distant horizon. Content Marketing is about taking the long view. It’s not about selling immediately, it’s about connecting first, selling later. It’s a shift from the old-school hard-sell to a subtler, some might say ‘more dignified’, relationship-building approach.

In today’s spoon-fed digital world, where authenticity and reputation seem to be easy to fake, being genuine and reliable aren’t just desirable traits, they’re essential.

The Blueprints of Content Marketing

Navigating the Content Marketing landscape requires a keen understanding of its landmarks and signposts. You’ll find Strategy, Creativity, Distribution and Analysis all doing their part in creating a successful campaign.

Creating your Content Strategy

Every successful journey begins with a map. Unsuccessful journeys often begin with the conviction that you know where you’re going so you don’t need to plan your route before you set off.

For Content Marketing, your map is your Content Strategy. So – what do you want to achieve (ultimately)? Is it to increase brand awareness, drive specific sales or, maybe, establish yourself as a thought leader?

Whatever you want to achieve:

  • Set yourself clear and simple objectives
  • Understand your audience
  • Identify the type of content that will connect with them

You then need to think of creative ways you can follow your map.

So, for example, if it’s important to you that your business operates sustainably (as, let’s be honest, all businesses should) and you want to become a thought leader in that field, your Content Strategy might include writing educational blogs about your sustainable supply-chain; you may create behind-the-scenes videos demonstrating your sustainable practices; then you might get some designers to put together infographics showing simple ways other businesses can improve their sustainability without impacting productivity.

Distribution: Spreading the Word

Even the most engaging kick-ass content can’t achieve its purpose if it isn’t seen by the right eyeballs. Distribution is about selecting the appropriate channels to share your content. That could be your website, your social media platforms, your email newsletters, a range of third-party publications or all of the above.

Selective distribution ensures your content is seen by your target audience at the right time and in the right place.

Analysis: Measuring Success

After you’ve gone all the way down the road of deciding on your message, creating your message and publishing your message – you need to bring it on home by evaluating the performance of your Content Marketing message.

This involves tracking metrics such as social media shares, website traffic, engagement rates and conversion rates, to understand what’s working and what’s not.

Okay, so what does all that mumbo-jumbo mean in English?

Social Media Shares:

What it is: This is fairly self-explanatory – it’s literally how many times your content gets shared on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Insta, TikTok or wherever you think your potential customers might be lurking.

Why it matters: If people are sharing your content with their friends, that suggests you’re doing something very right!

Example tool: Sprout Social provides a range of social media management tools, so you can track your performance, including share metrics.

Website Traffic:

What it is: Your Website Traffic is the number of people who visit your website. It’s like counting how many people walk through your shop door in the real world.

Why it matters: A high level of traffic shows that your Content Marketing is working, it’s grabbing people’s attention and drawing them to you.

Example tool: Google Analytics is a popular tool for tracking website traffic. It shows you how many people visit, which pages they view, how long they stay and other useful stuff. If they’re staying longer on some pages than others, you can feed that info into your next Content Strategy! Google offers a lot of training to help you make the most of its tools.

Engagement Rates:

What it is: Engagement rates measure how actively your audience interacts with your content. It’s another way you can gauge what content is working and what isn’t.

Why it matters: High engagement means your content is answering your potential customers’ questions.

Example tool: Buffer provides a range of useful social media analytics tools and, here, they offer a more detailed overview of the metrics you need to be looking for and why.

Conversion Rates:

What it is: Conversion rates track how many visitors actually take the action you want them to take – be it buying something, downloading an asset you’re offering or signing up for your newsletter.

Why it matters: High conversion rates mean your content is aligned with your offering, so you are successfully turning visitors into customers.

Example tool: HubSpot offers conversion tracking features. It provides a great knowledge base of help and advice (as part of its own Content Marketing Strategy).

There are many other tools out there, btw, we’ve just given you a few examples.

Whatever tools you use, analysis of your Content Marketing allows you to evaluate what is and isn’t working, so you can refine your strategy, improve your content where needed and optimise your distribution channels to get better results.

By tracking your metrics, you have the info you need to craft campaigns that not only captivate and engage potential punters but also drive sales.

Content Marketing vs Those Ads You Love to Hate

As we cruise further into Content Country, it’s time to pull up at the side of the road and draw a line in the sand. It’s the line between Content Marketing and traditional advertising.

Invitation vs Interruption

Traditional advertising can pop-up at the most inconvenient times. It forces itself into your TV programmes at the most dramatic moments, your YouTube viewing, listening to the radio or streaming. When you’re reading magazine or newspaper articles online, the text keeps moving about as adverts pop-up and get in the way.

There’s no doubt that kind of in-your-face advertising works, otherwise multinationals wouldn’t spend billions on doing it to you.

But Content Marketing is, by comparison, a lot more intuitive and empathic. It’s the helpful article you stumble upon about the subject you’re actually researching.  It’s the engaging tutorial video that pops up when you’re really wanting to learn a new skill. It doesn’t barge into your feed unbidden, it waits to be invited and, therefore, when it’s well done, it receives a much warmer welcome.

Added Value vs Sales Pitch

The essence of traditional advertising lies in its sales pitch – it’s designed to persuade you to buy or subscribe, often with a sense of urgency: “There’s never been a better time!” “Buy now to avoid FOMO!” “Limited Time Offer!” They’re trying to convince you to buy something you didn’t know you needed. Now, using the kinds of algorithms they use for targeting audiences these days, those sorts of adverts can be far more appropriate to your needs and, therefore, far more effective than ever before.

But they’re still interrupting your day with a message that’s more important to the advertiser than it is to the advertisee.

Content Marketing flips this on its head by offering intrinsic value without the expectation of money in return. At least, not immediately. It’s about educating and entertaining people or solving their problems. It’s about creating a positive association with your brand. The idea is that, when you provide consistent value for free, your followers will naturally gravitate towards you when they’re ready to make a purchase.

Building Relationships vs Making Sales

Traditional advertising is about the quick win – and there’s nothing wrong with that. Here in the real world, businesses have to convert customers and sell products or services at pace to keep the lights on and the doors open. It’s a sprint.

But Content Marketing is more of a marathon. It takes time to build relationships and foster trust. But, once you’ve established that trust and customers already know and respect you, it helps to make your paid marketing so much more effective!

So the sprinter and the marathon runner are on the same team!

Here in Content Country, brands don’t just shout “Buy me, buy me” at customers. Instead, brands listen and engage. This road we’re on, it’s a two-way street.


As we pull into the final stop of our journey, it’s clear that Content Marketing isn’t just another marketing bandwagon passing through town.

Now, since we’re The Content Marketing Agency, you’ll forgive me for mentioning that we’re pretty fluffing good at this! You’ll find out more about our Content Marketing mojo here and you can see a range of our Case Studies here!

The beauty of good Content Marketing lies in its accessibility and versatility. Whether you’re a burgeoning start-up one-person-band or a seasoned enterprise with expensive head-offices and an entire marketing department, Content Marketing, done properly, will work for you!

It’s a tool that can be moulded to fit your brand’s voice, goals and budget. It’s about leveraging the stories you already have and presenting them in a way that engages the interest and attention of your audience, turning casual browsers into loyal followers and then turning those followers into advocates who are, if we’re honest, volunteer sales people.

But our expedition doesn’t end here. Content Marketing is just one adjustable spanner in your bright red Snap-On marketing tool box.

In this series we’ll go on to look under the bonnet of a wide range of marketing vehicles and ask (then answer) a series of important questions, such as: WTF is Paid Marketing? WTF is SEO? And WTF is Audio Advertising.

We hope you’ll come along with us for the ride. We’ll even let you bagsie shotgun!

Further Reading:

The Content Marketing Institute provides a comprehensive definition and explanation of the core principles of content marketing. As does the Adobe Business Cloud.
HubSpot provides a guide on how to develop a content strategy in 7 steps.
Forbes provides ways to better understand your audience.
Elite Editing provides tips for balancing quantity and quality in content creation.
Daniel Latto explains how content marketing helps in building trust and credibility.
DesignRush also provides insights on content marketing vs traditional advertising.

John Ashbrook

I'm a Senior Writer. I put words together to create sentences. Hey, I'm doing it now! If it needs words, the call goes out: "This is a job for John!" My red phone rings, I slide down my pole, switch my laptop batteries to 'power' and my turbines to 'speed' then I begin typing. What am I going to type this time, I wonder? Let's see ...
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