Content Marketing Guide Part 2: Traditional VS Content Marketing

This is the second article of a 12-part guide on Content Marketing For Startups And Small Businesses. Check out the introduction article for more information and access to all other chapters.

Photo by  Aaron Sebastian , Unsplash.

Photo by Aaron Sebastian, Unsplash.

Many companies are starting their own content marketing efforts. Some are utilising content platforms and social media influencers to create content that helps promote their brands. How exactly is content marketing different from traditional methods? Why is it an in-thing in the recent years?

Let us revisit the definition of content marketing from the previous chapter.

Content marketing, quite literally means to utilise ‘content’ as a means of marketing one’s services or products. However, it is a bit more complicated than that because:

1. The content should be ‘organically produced’, and

2. The purpose of creating these content is primarily to help and benefit the target audience, which will

3. Indirectly (and ideally) drive sales for your product and create a positive impression for your brand.

All three aspects have to be fulfilled. This also means that content marketing can apply for both traditional and digital methods. However, in the past, it would have required more effort to create content due to the limited access to publishing tools. You would have needed printing and distributing facilities to publish your own content. Content marketing in the 20th century would have thus been more of a clever, cheeky approach e.g. the Michelin Guide, as mentioned in Chapter 1.

Content Marketing Today

In comparison, the prevalence of WordPress, YouTube, Tumblr, and other social media platforms in today’s world allows anyone to become a content creator, and the Internet abounds with user-generated content. Brands have also been catching on this trend, like how Blendtec became popular with its YouTube series “Will It Blend?” where they showed off the prowess of their blenders by blending expensive gadgets and non-food items despite being designed as a food blender. It worked for them because it was visual, it was emotional, it showed their product benefits, and it brought in traffic.

GoPro on another hand utilised user-generated content that shows hi-fidelity videos taken from the first-person view of athletes and action seekers. Videos aside, there are plenty of blogs, Reddit threads, Quora threads that provide valuable helpful information for users on the Internet.

These are all examples of content, and it really depends how companies or brands decide to leverage on the content channels to engage in ‘content marketing’. Hence, the term ‘content marketing’ is not exactly novel, but it has certainly became more mainstream from the 21st century onwards. See The History of Content Marketing.

For our discussion henceforth, content marketing shall thus be focused on the digital channels, which is also what this guide was designed for — -to help you learn to utilise online content to market your business.

Differences between content marketing and conventional methods

Technology brought about increased accessibility to publishing tools, which facilitated content marketing. Nevertheless, we should think about the appeal of content marketing such that brands and advertisers are increasingly using content as part of their marketing strategy.

Organically Produced VS Through A Publisher

Previously, advertisers have to go through media gatekeepers to reach their target audience. Whether it is through the press, through the radio talkshows or television programme producers, you have to reach out to these media publishers to advertise your brand.

As printing became accessible, advertisements started to take the form of brochures, flyers, and banners. Then came the Internet, so publishers naturally shifted to online mediums. With the Internet increasingly being populated by user-generated content, brands too can thus create their own content and build their loyal audience, without going through and paying mainstream media publishers.

The growing popularity of content marketing also saw established content platforms and social influencers monetising themselves as content producers. Anyone can become a content creator, but for those who have built an audience or a community, they become valuable to brands because they now have a reach that matches traditional media platforms. This means that brands do not need to devote time and effort to build their audience, and can simply leverage on their existing audiences and communities.

For content marketing, it has to be about creating your own personalised content, because if you are paying content platforms and influencers to mention or promote your brand, it simply becomes advertising through a different kind of media publisher.

Indirect VS Direct Approach

Conventional marketing methods entail telling people about the benefits of your products or how unique your brand is, and your goal is to convince them to convert or purchase. You are directly discussing and sharing with the audience what your brand is about and what you are selling.

In comparison, content marketing avoids direct mentions or association to your brand. Instead, the content you produce should be designed to help or engage the target audience. It is through this form of engagement that you build trust and rapport with your audience, develop a longer-term relationship with them, and leave a positive brand impression. The focus of content marketing is not about selling, but rather, to help, to engage, or to direct traffic to your website.

How different types of content varies and where content marketing ideally lies.

How different types of content varies and where content marketing ideally lies.

The Medium Is The Message

Traditionally, you have to get the message right, and then choose the most appropriate and effective marketing channel to reach your target audience. Therein lies the phrase “The medium is the message” because your choice of medium is as important as what you are trying to communicate about your brand. For example, choosing to publish in the newspapers versus boutique magazines would influence your brand image on potential customers.

Today, the choice of your publishing platform still matters, and it depends on your product and your target audience. Platforms like Tumblr and Pinterest are great for visuals, while YouTube works for videos. If you have your own website, it gives you even more control as you can publish a variety of media content on it. The biggest benefit is that you get to control where you place your content, and how you want to be perceived by the target audience.

This autonomy makes content marketing a viable method for startups and small businesses because you get to control your reach, and pay less advertising dollars potentially. You will also be more closely attuned to your customers and their needs, which matters especially if you are still trying to find your product-market fit (PMF).

Other benefits of content marketing

The effectiveness of marketing would usually be measured by the reach, the impact, the conversions. Hence, we get the marketing funnel and the many behavioural models that analyse how to convince and persuade your target audience to purchase or adopt your brand.

However, content marketing goes beyond mere conversion as it is also a form of traffic referral. It can be part of your brand positioning strategy, or a customer engagement tactic, and can also drive customer loyalty.

Customer engagement — Previously, your marketing message is either a hit or a miss. With digital marketing, we now have tailored advertisements and retargeted advertisements with the help of web cookies that track the users’ browsing behaviours. Content marketing works differently because you are trying to cultivate a longer term relationship by constantly engaging your audience, listening and sifting out what matters to them, and using these information to better tailor to the customers’ needs.

Brand positioning — Assuming that the content is driving a deeper form of engagement with the target audience, this would also mean that they form impressions and perceptions towards your brand as they interact with the content. Is the information well researched and supported? What is the agenda of the writer? Am I being forced to buy something? Good content should leave a positive brand impression in an invisible way i.e. the person does not realise that he is being sold something. Well, the focus should not be on sales anyway.

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)— One other sign that you are producing good content is when people are sharing it with others. Referral traffic, together with optimised keywords, high authority links and backlinks, the relevance of the content, are all factors that contributes to the SEO of that particular piece of content. All these factors matters because it is part of your online strategy to reach out to a bigger global audience. With so many different websites and content out there, getting to the first page of Google is now a pretty big deal.

Why Content Marketing Works For Startups And Small Businesses

Having described the key differences and benefits of content marketing, you should probably realise that I am an advocate for the use of content marketing. Nonetheless, I have to caution that content marketing is not a one-size-fit-all or the golden standard of marketing because it really depends on what your startup or small business needs.

Content marketing works for startups who are keen on experimenting, and looking to build a closer relationship with the target customers because it can help you figure out your PMF. The insights of your content might raise ideas as to what your customer wants, or help you figure out their journey from discovering to using your product. However, should you realise that there is no market need for your startup’s product, then no amount of marketing would change that demand.

Content marketing also works for startups and small businesses because it requires a low capital outlay. However, if your expertise lies in product design or in product development, it would be advisable to employ an in-house or freelance content marketer rather than taking on the content creation itself. There is a nifty trick; your design or process documentation can be a piece of valuable content but you have to consider how sharing this documentation can indirectly benefit your business.

Having said that, content marketing tends to be a long-term strategy, and if your startup or small business ends halfway as most startups do, should you even bother creating content? Well, it depends.

Your number one priority should still be ensuring that you are cashflow positive so that your company can keep going. Then, if you treat content marketing as a learning process, there will be many things you can learn about your customer and your business, even if you do not eventually get the desired traffic and conversions.


Content marketing has become popular in recent years as brands are looking for innovative ways to differentiate themselves, and this method allows them to build customer engagement, position themselves, and build up web traffic while driving some conversions. Compared to conventional marketing methods, content marketing allows brands to have greater control over how they express themselves and allows them to develop closer ties with their customers.

One main difference about content marketing is that it utilises an indirect approach to build trust and rapport with the target audience rather than convince them directly with the benefits. In the following week, we will be looking at how this indirect approach influences the psychology of the customer to eventually get them to convert. Stay tuned!

As a startup or small business, your lean setup makes it more possible to experiment with content marketing, and you will learn more about your customer and business through this process. Give it a shot if you have the spare resources, and you never know what you might discover.

Chapter 3: The Psychology of (Content) Marketing >>>