content marketing.jpgSomehow, "Content Marketing" has hit the jackpot in terms of business memes, with every marketing person tossing the term around like it's some sort of magic elixir.

But what exactly is content marketing? And how do you do it? I've cooked up a list of myths and truths of content marketing to help you wade through the hype.

Myth No. 1: Content Marketing is New

Content marketing is a strategy that's been around for hundreds, if not, thousands of years. The goal in all of its simplicity is to connect with customers by generating inspiring content. All good marketing is content. It's jargon for an age-old process. Remember Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom? That's a great example of sponsored content, underwritten by a lead sponsor for branding purposes.

In fact, you could argue that content marketing dates back to 4200 B.C. The Content Marketing Institute has supplied this nifty chart of content marketing history, showing a timeline. It's interesting to see that the idea of melding publishing to marketing is an age-old corporate concept. For example, in 1895, John Deere launched a custom magazine.

Granted, there are some new angles to content marketing as applied to the Internet and social media, but basically, using custom content to drive corporate marketing is not really a new idea at all.

Truth No. 1: Content Marketing Works

The reason content marketing works, when executed properly, is that, well, people want content. There are many case studies that prove this.

According to Marketingsherpa.com, global tax and consulting firm McGladrey re-architected their Website and increased content production, resulting in a 100 percent increase in web traffic and a $500,000 increase in sales.

Scripted.com ran a study on its own traffic and referral sources, and found 46 percent of referrals came from content-based marketing.

But if I were to pick the giant of content marketing, it's Red Bull. Red Bull produces magazines, specialized websites, events,and interactive advertising campaigns -- all of which tie together under its unifying theme of action sports, which have been a powerful driver of the brand. Some other examples of companies that drove their entire marketing strategy through content marketing, including Mint.com and Hubspot.

Of course, there are cases when it doesn't work. But I would guess that comes in cases when content marketing is poorly executed.

Myth No. 2: You Need a Huge Amount of Money

Most companies that have some kind of marketing budget should have resources available to initiate or improve a content marketing program. The secret is to tap into the resources that are already being used.

For example, maybe your customers want to speak on your behalf? That can be turned into content. Have you recently completely a customer survey? Again, this can be turned into content for a website or e-book.

The truth is, the vast number of companies have a huge amount of content bottled up inside of them -- and are already  communicating internally. The key to a successful content marketing program is to filter out the best messages about your company or brand and turn them into messages you can transmit to the outside world.

That shouldn't cost a lot of money, because much of the content should already be there.

Truth No. 2: You Need a Strategic Plan

If you think content marketing is just about whipping up some content and throwing it up on a blog, you're wrong. For it to be successful, you need the content to be hosted on an integrated technology platform that can capture, organize and score potential leads from your audience. 

These days, there are hundreds of technology products to help you do that. Choosing them is no easy matter. The scope of work involved in picking the right web CMS, email and CRM system will vary widely depending on the breadth and complexity of your goals.

A successful program requires a plan that melds a high-quality content pipeline along with the technology tools to collect the fruits of that labor.

Myth No. 3: Content Marketing Will be Instantly Successful

Like most overhyped business concepts, you need to be careful not to set your expectations too high. The glossy magazine and flashy websites will lead you to believe that content marketing will be making you millions as soon as you push the button. It's not that easy.

Most experts estimate that a properly architected content marketing campaign will take six to 12 months to pay off. In certain cases, you could probably get reasonable results in as little as three months.

A good content marketing program should be thought of as a long-term investment, whose efficacy and success rate will increase over time. So it's important to take a long-term view and implement the plans accordingly.

Truth No. 3 You Should Measure and Analyze

Okay, so you've found some budget, you've sketched out a content plan and you have a reasonable technology implementation to collect data and leads gathered from the content. Now what?

Time to measure and analyze. This is the only way you know it will work. You should have monthly and quarterly goals. At the end of each period, analyze what's working and what's not. Which types of content are generating the most interesting? Which mediums are working the best? (webinars, email, newsletters, blogs, etc.) What could be optimized?

Most organizations will find that they need to adjust the plan many times to get it right. The more tools you have to gather and collect information, the better.

Title image by Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH (Shutterstock).