Content marketing is undoubtedly the golden child of the marketing profession. But what is it exactly?

The Content Marketing Institute’s definition is about as good as it gets:

”Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

That pretty much nails it down.

But, as valuable as content marketing is, I think there’s more we could do with it. I think it’s time to rethink what we define as content, and broaden our outlook on content marketing.

Are we too content with content?

seth godin book

For the purposes of this post, I’d like to focus on two key points from the above quote, and they might not be the ones you immediately think of:

  1. Distributing

You’d be forgiven for having picked creating as the first key point, and you’d be justified for thinking that way. Content creation is, of course, central to content marketing, and it’s what many marketers spend a large part of their day doing.

But creating is no good on its own. As with any product, distribution is key. A brilliant piece of content is no good if no one can get to it.

  1. Drive profitable customer action

This is what it all comes down to.

We don’t create content simply for the joy of making something useful and consumable. We always have something in mind that we want consumers to do; we want them to convert.

I mean, even die-hard poets want people to buy their work.

But let’s look at distributing first.

Promoting your content to the world

This is what we do. We create something, and then we attempt to tell everyone about it using a myriad of techniques and channels.


The web is full of blog posts and articles about how to create great content and how to share it efficiently with people who may be interested.

But what if we rethought that process, and turned it on its head.

What if promoting was the content?

There are two main definitions of the noun promotion:

  1. Activity that supports or encourages a cause, venture, or aim.
  2. The publicizing of a product, organization, or venture so as to increase sales or public awareness.

Glance back to the definition of content marketing at the top of this post, and you will see the similarities.

Unfortunately, promotion comes with quite a bit of baggage. Particularly in the retail world, it’s become synonymous with discount-based gimmicks designed solely to get consumers to buy something.

However, a new generation of smart promotions are changing that perception.

Sales can be part of content marketing

Before all the content marketers out there start to tweet about how wrong this is, let me clarify:

I don’t mean we should start posting “Buy 1, get 1 free” vouchers on our blogs.

What I’m talking about is content that is engaging, can be shared on multiple channels, and drives conversions; but is also valuable, relevant, and attracts and retains a clearly defined audience.

If this all sounds too good to be true, well, it’s not.

Winkie Winkie

A great example of how sales can be incorporated into content marketing is the Finnish wig and accessory company, Winkie Winkie.

Winkie Winkie produces lots of high-quality, image-based content on their website and their social channels, but they wanted to try something new. They decided to create a smart sales promotion that could also be used as content in their marketing activities.

Winkie Winkie frontpage

(English translation: Choose your favourite and win! What’s your summer style?)

By using the same high-quality images embedded in a smart promotion they highlighted three new summer-season products on their main page:

They also linked to their Facebook page:

Winkie Winkie FB

(English translation: Choose your favourite look, and you could win one of our many prizes.)

They even made an Instagram video for the promotion.

Customers had the chance to vote for their favorite product by clicking on the relevant image, after which they received a voucher for use in Winkie Winkie’s online store.

Winkie Winkie coupon

(English translation: Congratulations! Add this discount code to your shopping cart and you will get an additional free gift! Free shipping for purchases over €95, and €20 off the total price. This code is valid until May 31st.)

Winkie Winkie successfully incorporated a specific sales promotion into their content marketing without gimmicks or hard sell, and the results were impressive. They were able to produce quality content for their channels and increase sales.

Remember that bit about “driving profitable customer action” in the content marketing definition?

Marketing can be part of content marketing, too

The Winkie Winkie case is a good example of how to tie sales and content marketing together. However, it is also possible to use smart promotions to augment content marketing.

Think of it as content marketing for your content marketing.

Vallila Interior

Another Finnish company that did this very well was Vallila Interior, an industry-leading home textile company.

Vallila Interior’s smart promotion was not designed to drive sales, it was purely a marketing promotion. Their objective was to showcase their spring collection and at the same time get more opt-ins to their marketing register.

Vallila frontpage

(English translation: Vote and win a gift card.)

Vallila Interior used a similar promotion design to Winkie Winkie, with three images that people could vote for. The difference with Vallila Interior’s smart promotion was that there was only one incentive: a €100 gift voucher for a lucky winner.

What Vallila Interior actually wanted was feedback on their latest spring collection. To achieve this they created a standalone site for their promotion:

Vallila promotional content

(English translation: Vote for your favourite from our new spring collection, and win a gift card for Vallila’s online store.)

They directed traffic to the site via their Facebook page:

Vallila FB

Visitors were asked for their email address and given the option to sign up for marketing newsletters. In return, they had the chance to win a gift voucher for the Vallila Interior online store.

A smart promotion success story

The promotion was a huge success with 70% of the total visitors to the site taking part in the promotion, and 44% of them signing up to the marketing newsletter.

Think about that conversion rate in terms of content marketing.

Have you ever got a 44% sign-up rate to your blog or webinar or white paper download?

Probably not.

But, when you think about it, it makes sense.

People have been using RSS feeds for years to sign up to blogs or podcasts, etc. to keep up to date with the latest posts. In the same way, consumers are signing up to newsletters and email marketing in order to get the newest and best deals, and smart promotions are making online retailers rethink their content marketing mix.

In terms of retail, there’s simply so much choice online that there aren’t enough hours in the day to manually search for the best offers in different stores. By signing up to email marketing and product newsletters, online shoppers are instantly informed of the latest deals in their inbox.

Email is still the most popular and effective way to reach customers with product information. And the beauty of email is that messages can be easily organised into folders and flagged as important for later use, allowing consumers to organise their product newsletters, and the offers therein.

“Unboxing” content

We like to divide our disciplines up into nice boxes that we can easily understand. But, as with virtually everything in life, the reality is a big blurred mess of fuzzy relationships that change with time and context.

We shouldn’t exclude anything from the concept of “content”, especially when we can present that content in such a compelling and effective way.

Of course, there needs to be best practices in content marketing, but we also need to shake things up every now and again, and think outside the box. Or maybe even throw the box away sometimes.

content marketing books

Instead of simply writing more and more blog posts, ebooks, white papers, and gating our content, let’s flip it, and start using the act of promotion itself as a form of content.

There is a generally-accepted belief that sales content is too, well, salesy to be included in marketing, especially content marketing. And that is undoubtedly true in many cases. But when done right, with content that fits the channel perfectly, engages the consumer, and encourages them to take action, sales content is no longer sales content, it’s just content. And as such, it should definitely be included in any content marketing strategy.

Is it time to rethink your content marketing strategy?

Rob Brooks works as a Content Producer for RapidCampaign, a Finnish startup that enables online retailers to create smart promotions that combine gamification and brand experience. When Rob is not writing blog posts and producing content, he is out running half-marathons in the Finnish countryside. You can contact him @RapidCampaign or @RobiBrooks.

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