Content Marketing + Digital Marketing: What’s the Difference (& Why You Need Both)

We get why you might not be sure how “content marketing” differs from “digital marketing.” We’re content folks, and we’re asked all the time. Here’s our take on how they fit together (and why they always should!)

You aren’t alone in wondering what the differences are between content marketing and digital marketing —or where one ends and the other begins. So as the owner of a content agency who partners a good deal with digital agencies, I’m going to do my best to clear that up right now, outlining the key differences between content marketing and digital marketing, and where they go hand in hand to create a solid and effective overall marketing strategy..

The Main Distinctions Between Digital Marketing and Content Marketing

The key distinctions between digital marketing and content marketing lie with you: in your intentions.

Most digital marketing-focused customers (business owners and leaders and marketers like you) intend to prompt a transaction. Their intention is transactional. They want their marketing to convert an audience to purchase, starting at the very top of the funnel — awareness — and to get there quickly. Success in digital marketing is often measured by this conversion.

The Digital Marketing discipline commonly uses digital strategies including SEO (search engine optimization), PPC (pay per click marketing), SEM (search engine marketing), and also often employs a variety of content-focused strategies including email marketing, social media content, and community management—all aimed at generating business.

The intention behind content marketing, on the other hand, is more often about bridging the gap between awareness to conversion through information and education, giving an audience the context for making a purchase. Success in content marketing is therefore often measured by ‘softer’ metrics around audience growth, engagement, and taking steps toward final conversion (signing up for a newsletter, for example, or downloading an ebook).

As a discipline, content marketing is intended to prompt customer action and drive results in a way that yields engagement, education/understanding, and trust — using content as its vehicle for getting there.

I personally like this explanation from the Content Marketing Institute:

“When audiences consume content online, they have only two purposes: Informational intent – Audience members consume content as part of their research or their interests. Transactional intent – Audience members act with the purpose of completing a transaction.”

~Daniel Huchuli, Content Marketing Institute

Looking at it this way, you might see that content marketing focuses more on the informational intent, and digital marketing more on the transactional intent.

I also really like this quote from content marketing guru Robert Rose: “Marketing is telling the world you’re a rockstar. Content marketing is showing the world you are one.”

“Marketing is telling the world you’re a rockstar. Content marketing is showing the world you are one.”

~ Robert Rose

You might, then, see content marketing as the engine that keeps digital marketing moving.

Great content, after all, gives a brand substance, personality, and a reason to investigate, learn more, engage with, and consider doing business with the brand.

Digital marketing without thoughtful, quality content has a tendency to feel “same same”: mechanical, promotional, transaction-driven, and, well, pretty darned boring.

A Quick Look at the Ol’ Marketing Funnel

Another way to look at the relationship between digital marketing and content marketing is through the lens of the marketing funnel, which in general terms outlines the common stages of a customer journey. It paints a picture of the progress a customer needs to make from knowing nothing about you to becoming a fan or advocate.

You’ll see many permutations of the marketing funnel, but typical stages you will see might include:

  • An Awareness stage (broadly how an audience might learn about, or discover your brand)
  • An Interest stage (where their interest is piqued)
  • An Evaluation or Consideration stage (where they recognize your brand and start to consider your brand to meet their needs)
  • A Purchase or Conversion stage (where they take action)
  • And an Advocacy stage (where they might share your content or tell others).

We most often simplify the funnel into the following four stages as shown below: Discovery & Awareness, Engagement & Consideration, Decision & Conversion, and Retention & Advocacy.

Consider it this way: even if you’re creating stellar blog, video, and social content as a new brand — a classic and effective way to use content marketing at the top of your funnel — you are very likely going to need a bit of assistance to ensure that content gets out there and seen. This is where digital marketing comes in: strategies like SEO, social advertising, and PPC will help greatly here in gaining awareness for your brand and content. Digital marketing can also help to distribute your quality content through ads.

Further down the funnel, you will start to see where content marketing can truly take over as star.

Creating solid, on-brand content that tells your brand story and shows the world who you are, what you do, and what you stand for is the single most important investment you can make in ensuring that your advertising investment truly pays off.

Content (including, for example, website content, social media posts, videos, photos, educational carousels on social, infographics) will show and tell an audience who spotted your ad, for example, what you’re all about — and will keep your audience wanting to learn more about you, to engage with you (signing up for newsletter perhaps, or following your social channels), and to purchase from you.

In short: you need the content to make the digital mechanics work, and you need the digital marketing mechanics to ensure that your content is amplified and getting the results you want.

How We Work With Both Digital and Content Marketing

At Forge and Spark, we’re content specialists, and over 10 years have developed experience in crafting content-focused marketing strategies that also have digital marketing components.

When a project is more squarely targeted at digital marketing, or at generating broad awareness at the top of the funnel, our process is occasionally reversed: we work with digital marketing specialists on strategy, and support them with fleshing out the right story, messaging, and content to deliver results.

On projects incorporating both robust content and/or social media marketing strategies and digital marketing strategies and execution, we often partner with digital marketing specialists (we’re talking about you, SnapTech Marketing). We support them to produce stellar content for their digital marketing clients, and rely on them, in turn, to create and execute on stellar digital marketing executions that deliver end-to-end results.

We often, for example, create content-focused marketing strategies that include numerous content touchpoints along an ideal user journey, and ensure that we maximize the value of each touchpoint by using digital marketing tactics such as SEO combined with social and search advertising (to ensure our content gets discovered in search) and retargeting ad strategies (to ensure that those interested in our content get reminders from time to time).

Conclusion

Wherever you are in your marketing journey, you now hopefully feel more clear about how content marketing and digital marketing fit together, so you can make a more informed decision about what you need, and when.

Do get in touch if you want to chat about how to create a better content marketing OR digital marketing plan for your purpose-minded organization. I’m always honest about where I can help and where I need help. In any case, I’d genuinely love to help you do more good work in the world.

Connecting people genuinely since 2013

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Shannon Emmerson
Shannon Emmerson
With 20+ years experience in creating and publishing digital content for a range of organizations, Shannon knows it’s all about stories. Inspired by: small acts of courage.