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Can Content Marketing Replace Traditional Advertising?

Business and Marketing Strategy

Tiaan Ras: Etiket, Strategy Director

Before I started writing this piece, I did as many others before me and many after me will do – I did research. Or more accurately, I asked the über oracle of the Internet a few critical questions and it replied in its usual fashion… By providing me with such a plethora of answers that I nearly drowned in wisdom and went to advertising heaven1.

Now the most brilliant conceptual thinkers of our industry may criticise me for allowing my thoughts to be shaped and polluted by the thinking of others and for not writing my opinion from a point of naivety, but as a person who was a researcher once, my brain simply needed to picture (and understand) a context within which my opinion will reside. Pretty old school, I’m sure, but it works for me!

In any case, the point I wanted to make before my brain tripped itself up was that almost all the articles, videos, blog pieces, etc that “made the cut” into shaping my thoughts were content-marketing outputs of organisations, companies, and individuals. Needless to say, I added quite a few Likes and Follows to my list, so that I will be bombarded by ads in the next few weeks selling me Digital Marketing Courses, Social Media Short Courses and even the odd Degree in Marketing. (And that in itself should say a lot about the role of Content Marketing vs Digital Advertising…)

But let me continue before my brain interrupts itself again…

1. So what exactly is Content Marketing?

The Content Marketing Institute, an online resource for information on all things content-marketing related, defines content marketing as follows:

Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.
For me the most critical word in this definition is valuable. If the outcome of content marketing is to drive profitable interaction with people who want to buy your product or service, then the content you create and distribute must be of value to both the customer and your brand. Creating one-sided value is quite easy. Content that is of value to the brand? As easy as churning out a 360 campaign in eight hours, we do it all the time! But it may be of very little value to the target market. And it is probably just as easy to create content that is valuable to the audience, but will not lead to that much sought-after profitable interaction.

To find that sweetspot where content is of value to both parties is much more difficult and to my mind suggests that a brand really needs to understand its core purpose (thank you Mr Simon Sinek for making us so acutely aware of the “why”). Can a brand really understand its true value offering if it doesn’t understand its core purpose?

2. What is the value of content marketing?

The main advantage of Content Marketing is that, when done effectively, people see it as an exchange of value rather than an interruption as we so often do with traditional advertising. It offers the resources and expertise of an organisation to customers and the brand partners with the audience in a way that holds their attention and builds an ongoing relationship.

In today’s globally connected, social-media driven world people pay less and less attention to or believe sponsored advertising messages. We ignore magazine adverts, channel hop during TV commercials and click away from online banner ads. But we actively seek out content. A good example of this is Adult Swim’s Rickstaverse game recently launched on Instagram to promote the season 2 release of Rick and Morty. Using this photo-sharing platform in a novel, interactive and fun way, they managed to create an experience that fans actively sought out.

While traditional marketing campaigns rely on popular programming to reach an audience, brand publishers, on the other hand, need to hold the audience’s attention on their own merits. To create material that people will want to read or watch, we as marketers and agencies need to shift our creative emphasis from crafting messages to creating experiences. Or in more academic terms: Content Marketing strives less for brand awareness and focuses more on brand engagement.

3. Can Content Marketing replace traditional advertising?

Various experts have very strong and very different opinions about this. I don’t think content marketing will totally replace traditional advertising in the South African market scape in the near future. While the upper end of our market shows media fatigue like in many First World countries and will disengage much quicker with traditional advertising; mass media still has a strong role to play in our lower to middle market environments, and especially TV and Radio can still carry very effective advertising messages.

If we look at a classical buying cycle, being:
  1. Awareness
  2. Research
  3. Consideration
  4. Purchase
Content Marketing can be very effective in our market when it comes to the first two steps; awareness and research.

With the growing trust issues when it comes to traditional advertising, good content can be a valuable ingredient in the marketing mix to raise a brand or product’s awareness and allow consumers to do research on their own terms and in their own time. More and more consumers will not pick up the phone and call in their trusted advisor to gain more insights or information on what they are looking for. They have taken that role on themselves and they strive to do everything themselves, from diagnosing their physical ailments to procuring major business software packages without as much as a single meeting with a vendor.

So, although it is unlikely that content marketing will ever completely replace creative advertising, more and more brands and companies are moving away from their total reliance on traditional marketing methods and investing varying amounts of effort, time and money into participating in and mastering content marketing with smart marketers finding a way to blend traditional and content marketing techniques into a single, highly effective promotional strategy.

A brand that’s using this method to its advantage is Knorr with its ‘What’s for Dinner’ campaign. The website provides users with interesting recipe-ideas, meal planning tools and informative articles around food and cooking, all the while subtly promoting its products. Users feel that they are getting value, and Knorr has a captive audience.

4. How will content marketing influence marketing efforts?

Content marketing will be integrated with traditional advertising and sales tactics as brands realise it’s better to attract prospects through their content than it is through cold calling and pushy advertising. Furthermore, content marketing will change the campaign-based model to one where we create “always-on” marketing efforts that continuously drive demand.

Where the print ads or TV commercials will typically be the cornerstone of the traditional advertising campaign, content will in many cases become the first consideration when creating new marketing efforts. By first building quality content that showcases the brand’s mission, the brand can establish itself as a thought leader on a particular subject. By giving consumers information in a relevant and timely manner, trust is built between brand and consumer. And while content will be key to building and maintaining this trust relationship, traditional advertising will inform consumers of price/product/promotion and drive sales.

  1. Greg Satell,
  2. Daniel Newman,
  3. Riaan Wolmarans,
  4. Jason Brewer,
  5. Michael Brenner,
  6. Darrell Cuthbert,
  7. Marion Low, Creative Director: Copy, Etiket Brand Design
  8. Simon Sinek,

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