RR 13 | Rewind Interview with Ann Handley and What is Content Marketing

Picture of Ann Handley for the Rethink Podcast where she talks about What is content marketing

In this episode, we return to our conversation with Ann Handley who spoke with Act-On CMO Michelle Huff in episode 33 about what is content marketing and how to use it to differentiate your business. 

Ann is Chief Content Officer for MarketingProfs, and author of the best-selling book Everybody Writes. She is perennially included in Top 10 lists for influencers in the marketing industry.

Enjoy the conversation, and we hope you can get one or two takeaways that you can bring to your business.

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What is the role of content marketing

Ann Handley: I think that there’s a temptation to think about content marketing only as a top of funnel approach. But it’s not that. Somebody asked me a question not too long ago, what do you think the future of content marketing is? And I said, I think that it’s not content marketing, it’s marketing.

I think the notion of brand, demand, expand, content is inherent in all aspects of that. I mean because content is sort of integral to all aspects of starting a relationship with a customer, nurturing that relationship, and then furthering that relationship. So content to me is not some sort of special thing that’s siloed over here in some corner of the office. Instead it’s integrated throughout the entire ecosystem of marketing. It’s integrated throughout the entire business, really, if you really wanna call it.

I don’t see content as this what we use on social media. Instead it’s everything. If you’ve ever seen me speak, I sometimes will show a graphic of a scene from the Lion King where Mufasa is sitting there with little baby Simba, and looking out over their kingdom, and he says, everything the light touches is content, my son. And sometimes I will actually sing that moment from the Lion King. I’ll actually just belt it out on stage. I’m not gonna do that here.

But I think that’s absolutely true. I think everything that our customer touches is content. Everything that expresses any aspect of our business is content. Everything that extends our brand is content. So it’s not just the thing that we in the marketing space tend to only think of as content, like the things that we own, things like the brand or the FAQ page. It’s everything. It’s the product page, it’s your social channels, it’s the minute that anybody picks up a brochure anywhere. So all of those things. It’s everything.

How Do You Use Content Marketing To Differentiate?

Michelle Huff: That’s true. Related to that, I actually organized my marketing department into the brand, demand, expand. And I have kind of the key message I want them to focus on, the different teams. So brand is a little bit around trying to communicate who we are as the company, what our brand is, our culture, the thought leadership part. And then for demand it’s like, well why now? And then expand is, how do you get them to realize the value so that they want to advocate, they want to buy more. And so they kind of have these charters.

And I guess along those lines, how are you thinking of and how do you think you should use content to succinctly differentiate yourself from your competitors? You’re trying to drive these things, but you want to make sure, how do you be bolder, how do you have that voice, how are you thinking about using that content differently?

Ann: I really like the way that you just articulated brand, demand and expand. Because you said in far fewer words just my philosophy about content, it’s throughout the organization. So that’s fantastic, number one. But number two, to me it sort of starts with in your — in that construct, to me it starts with the brand. It starts with your story. Who are you? Why do you do what you do? Why are you in business? What is your real — what’s your founding story? But also why do you exist?

And so to me, that’s the — when you ask, how do you succinctly differentiate, you start with your story. Who are you? Why do you exist? And why should customers care about you? So I think it’s important to really think about your story and not just talk about the products that you sell. But really think about it a little bit more deeply than that.

What is the Difference Between Content Marketing and Advertising?

Michelle: The whole you is the services you offer, like what they gain from that whole experience. Some people equate content marketing to advertising. Maybe it’s kind of the inbound focus. But what do you think the difference is? Do you think it’s more than just the fact that it’s  ̶  and content is everything, you mentioned  ̶ there’s something kind of uniquely different between the two.

Ann: There’s probably a million different ways that you could answer this question. But to me it really comes down to the fact that content is customer centric, and advertising is brand center, in general. I think to me, content is  ̶  it answers the questions that customers have, so it has real utility for customers. It’s helpful to them. It has a more  ̶  typically it has some sort of creative approach to answering those questions. Sometimes not. Sometimes it does.

But it has a very customer centric point of view, which his again why I think it’s much broader than  ̶  it is really what marketing should be focusing on these days. We should be focusing on our customers 100 percent of the time. Where advertising is fine. I’m absolutely not anti-advertising at all. But to me that’s really more about  ̶  it’s much more brand centric. So you’re just talking about yourself. You’re just sort of talking about your attributes as opposed to what you can do for customers. So that to me is the more interesting part of marketing, is really thinking about things from your customer point of view. I challenge myself with it all the time.  But that’s how I would differentiate. Content is customer centric and advertising is brand centric.