The need for quality content isn’t new, just the label is

Content marketing is one of marketing’s biggest, newest buzzwords, but what it actually stands for isn’t all that new.

Consider this: Fifteen years ago, would you have worried about link building or even thought there was anything you could do to affect where your website appeared in search results? No, because in 2000 you might not have even had a website and Google was a mere two years old. So, when SEO first hit the scene in the following years, it was an entirely new concept.

The same simply cannot be said for content marketing. Sure, content marketing didn’t become part of our mainstream marketing vernacular until a few years ago, but the activities to which this label applies are far from new. Fifteen years ago, did you communicate with prospects and customers? Did you create “collateral”? Sure. How about thirty years ago? Absolutely. And in both cases, did you pay attention to the messages you shared in those communications? Of course.

You’ve Always Paid Attention to Your Marketing Content

Whether you’re looking at direct mail campaigns and other more traditional methods of marketing or newer media like blogs, videos and emails, the message behind your marketing content has always been important.

In fact, when you get down to it, content itself has always fueled marketing. Content can take many different shapes, but marketers have always needed it in one form or another in order to drive their efforts and to have something tangible to share with prospects. As long as there’s been marketing, there’s also been content.

So What’s the Big Deal About Content Marketing?

If using content in marketing is nothing new, then why is everyone making such a big deal about content marketing all of a sudden? The answer is two-fold:

1. We’re consuming more content than ever before

Back in the days before we were attached to our smartphones and when tweeting was just something to describe the sound a bird makes, our opportunities to consume content were far less plentiful than what they are today. Perhaps you read the newspaper in the morning, flipped through a magazine on your commute and watched the evening news after work. Today, however, we consume content more often than we don’t.

In 2009, a study from the University of Southern California revealed that Americans consumed, on average, 34 gigabytes of content and 100,000 words in a single day. The same study also found that the amount of content we consumed increased 6% each year since 1980. When you think about how much has changed in the six years since then, it’s startling to consider not only how much content we consume currently, but also the rate at which that number will continue to grow. To really grasp the startling amount of content that we consume today, check out WebpageFX’s The Internet in Real Time.

In this sense, the increase of attention paid to content in marketing has simply matched the increase of content consumption.

2. The nature of marketing content has changed

Beyond amount of content we consume, the other big factor we need to consider is the type of content we consume. When we talk about content marketing today, we’re not talking about something that boils down to: “Our company is great. We have the best product on the market. You should buy from us.” Rather, we’re referencing content that’s more educational and provides value to those who consume it.

Why the change from content that’s sales-y and advertorial in nature to more subtle, value-add efforts? In short, because given the technology and amount of content available today, people can now be much more selective when it comes to the type of content they consume. Think about it this way: When was the last time you watched a commercial? Most of us fast-forward through commercials (no one really wants to be sold to!), and behaviors like this have forced marketers to get more creative in how we share messages. So, instead of telling our audiences why they need our products or services, we now have to show them by highlighting the value it provides in solving specific problems and by positioning ourselves as an expert in the field. And that’s the idea behind content marketing.

Sure, this transition to subtlety is somewhat different for marketers, but it’s still not new. We’ve always had to explain how our product/service solves a problem in order to create a sense of need and we’ve always had to create quality content in order to do so. The difference is just the way we approach this content and the tone that we take throughout.