Content Marketing for the Uninitiated

There’s a monthly magazine
called The Furrow that’s been published for more than a century. It contains stories about farmers and farming, along with useful agricultural and business information. It’s something you might be likely to read if you were a farmer—which is exactly why the tractor company John Deere puts it out. 

This magazine is an example of something called “content marketing.” This is a phrase you may have heard before – and even if you haven’t, you’ve encountered it in one form or another. It’s the concept that brought us the Guinness Book of World Records, the Michelin Guide, Spotify Wrapped, and Doulingo’s unhinged TikToks. It’s also the driving force behind a lot of the podcasts we make at CitizenRacecar—shows that cover ground from the informative to the entertaining, and the encouraging to the thought-provoking. 

But what exactly does that have to do with content marketing? What is content marketing? 

According to the Content Marketing Institute, “Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience—with the objective of driving profitable customer action.” In other words, content marketing involves creating a standalone content product, separate from the main product but attached to the brand, to bring in potential customers. “Content” tends to mean things that aren’t physical goods or services—that could be a newsletter, blog, video, book, or podcast. 

MailChimp, which is itself a content marketing platform, describes it this way: “A content marketing strategy establishes your brand as a thought leader, boosting trust among your audience by creating and distributing content in various ways. Content marketing is a type of inbound marketing that attracts customers and builds loyalty.”

This differs from advertising, which exposes people to products. Instead, content marketing is about making something with its own inherent appeal, which therefore connects people with a brand. When John Deere launched The Furrow 1895, they deliberately chose not to call it “The John Deere Monthly.” Instead, it’s a unique product that appeals to farmers broadly—not just those who are already John Deere customers. At the same time, it’s still a niche publication—a non-farmer would be unlikely to read it. In this way, the magazine appeals to both current and potential customers. 

Content marketing is a long-game strategy meant to increase awareness, reach, and engagement. The New York Times Licensing Group identified the potential benefits of this approach: it directly speaks to a target audience; it establishes trust and brand loyalty; it drives traffic and engagement; it educates consumers; it can help with search engine optimization; it can be more cost-effective than traditional advertising; and it establishes your brand as a thought leader. 

Podcasts are an important part of the content marketing arsenal available to brands, businesses, and nonprofits. According to a 2020 report, podcasts have demonstrated the ability to lift brand awareness up almost 80% in some circumstances. And the number of potential listeners (and customers, supporters, or donors) is in the millions. While radio listenership has remained relatively steady over the last decade, podcast listenership has grown. A 2023 report found that 42% of Americans reported listening to a podcast in the past month. In 2013, that number was just 12%. 

Podcasts, by nature, do everything that a successful content marketing strategy could hope for. They educate and entertain; they are consistent; they are accessible and shareable. A well-told narrative series that unfolds over the course of several episodes attracts and engages listeners. A thoughtfully edited interview series educates and informs. The best content marketing is said to speak directly to a target audience; podcasts literally speak directly to a target audience. 

This isn’t just for companies with an established media presence; anyone can create a compelling podcast adjacent to their core product. Content marketing via a podcast opens a doorway to do something creative and interesting, emotional and informative. Part of what I like so much about The Furrow example is that it feels akin to what podcasts do best: telling stories that connect people while providing useful information. If John Deere had been able to launch a podcast in 1895, it probably would have done terrifically. 

As with all content marketing, the target audience of these podcasts is not current stakeholders,  it’s people who listen to podcasts but aren’t yet invested in a given brand. To be successful, it needs to have informational or entertainment value – ideally both. The show needs to have a life, identity, and personality of its own. If it can stand alone as a good product, it will serve as a bridge between an audience and a brand. Then awareness becomes engagement, and all the good things that follow.

(Anna Van Dine is an Associate Creative Producer at CitizenRacecar)