Content Marketing and Advertising: Differences and Synergies

Would you believe that the first instance of advertising was found in the ruins of Thebes in ancient Egypt in 3000 BC? Yes, the desire to promote a business has long been part of the human experience.

Advertising’s heyday was the 1950s and 1960s (as any loyal Mad Men fan would know!). Today, advertising is cross-channel and part of every media experience. What’s different now is that brands do much more than create ads. They also invest in and understand the value of content marketing.

So, what’s the difference between content marketing and advertising? And what synergies do they share?

Content Marketing and Advertising: What Are They?

We’ll start with how these two practice areas of marketing differ. Many would say that content marketing is about storytelling. It’s about publishing and “marketing” content that addresses your audience’s needs, fears, and more. It’s most certainly not an advertisement.

Advertising, on the other hand, is a form of media that, often loudly, tries to divert your attention or interrupt whatever you are doing. Whether you are watching a TV show, reading an article, or scrolling through a social media feed, there’s no escaping an interruption from a brand trying to influence you to buy that shirt, order that sandwich, and watch that movie.

The differences between content marketing and advertising are fundamental in their approach to driving buying behavior.

To start, let’s define each.

What Is Content Marketing?

Content marketing is a strategy that involves the creation and marketing of content directed at a targeted audience. It’s relevant and delivers value to its audience. It’s also a constant process of publishing. There are many different content marketing formats, from blogs to social media posts to white papers and videos.

What distinguishes it from advertising is that it educates and informs. There’s no hard sale. While the goal of content marketing is to inform, attract and convert buyers, there are key concepts that content marketers consider when they develop it. According to the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), the key idea is to prioritize the audience’s informational needs over sales and promotional messaging.

What Is Advertising?

Advertising is a medium to influence someone’s behavior through persuasive and promotional messaging, specifically to get them to make a purchase. For an “expert” take on what advertising is, listen to Don Draper’s answer.

Advertising also has many formats, which expanded with the introduction of digital. It’s on TV and radio. It’s in your social media feed and on every website you visit. It’s also on billboards and taxis and covers the pages of magazines and newspapers.

The Key Differences Between Content Marketing and Advertising

Now that we’ve established what each is, let’s look at what makes them different.

Inform vs. Persuade

Content marketing always strives to inform. In early funnel content, information is the key objective. Bottom funnel content can be more product-focused, but it never feels like an ad. An ad has one goal: to persuade someone to buy a product or service.

Ads Require Buying Time and Space; Content Marketing Doesn’t

To run an ad on any channel, you must buy time or space. Content marketing can have paid promotion behind it, but where it lives, typically your website or organic social feed, doesn’t require acquisition costs.

Ads Often Have Negative Connotations; Content Marketing Sentiment Is More Positive

A lot of people hate ads. They do all they can to remove them from their life. In 2020, 26.4 percent of internet users blocked ads. People have also become “ad-blind,” barring them from their view, according to an eye-tracking study. Many dismiss ads immediately and have negative feelings about them.

Content marketing, however, is accepted. In fact, 70 percent of people said they want to explore brands via content, not ads. Content is critical in the buyer’s journey, and we know that content consumption in the B2B realm is growing, not shrinking. Decision-makers find it helpful in understanding their challenges and the solutions available. They likely don’t feel the same way about an ad they saw on TV.

Measuring Performance Is Easier with Content Marketing

Another difference is how companies track performance. Content marketing is very measurable. You have access to a large amount of content analytics that delivers insights on how content attracts and converts leads.

Advertising is a little more complicated, although measurement is improving. On the digital side, metrics are available. TV and radio are a little murkier, and out of home (OOH) even more so. The key is to have a unique code or offer associated with an ad to count it as a converter.

Also, results from ads can be immediate but only last as long as the ad runs. Content marketing takes longer to see a return but never stops working for you.

Even though there are big differences between content marketing and advertising, they also have many synergies.

Content Marketing and Advertising: The Synergies

While content marketing and advertising may seem like two ends of the spectrum, they have some synergies. Often, they can work together to drive results.

They Both Consider the Audience

Content and ads always have an audience in mind, even though their methods are different. Creating an integrated campaign using both to meet your objectives is possible. For example, a similar message thread could be part of an ad series and an ebook or article. Think about how you can use them together to connect with audiences.

Content Marketing and Advertising Have the Same Brand Voice

The voice of a brand is consistent, no matter the medium. Tone can change, but the voice doesn’t waiver (or at least it shouldn’t). The same brand voice should be visible, whether creating a digital display ad to promote your software or a white paper to dive into what your technology solves.

Advertising Promotes Content

The most crucial synergy is that advertising can promote content. This approach is often called content advertising. You can use paid methods to promote content. The ad is an ad, but it’s for content, not your actual product or service.

You can use social media ads, paid search, sponsored content, native ads, and other paid avenues to get more eyeballs on your content. That amplifies your reach and enables you to get in front of your desired buyers with sophisticated targeting. When you do this well, you’re using both components of your marketing strategy to achieve your goals.

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