Marketing, according to Wikipedia, refers to the activities a company undertakes to promote the buying or selling of a product, service, or good. That is a relatively simple concept to grasp. Where the boundaries get a little more blurred however, is when people talk of ‘traditional marketing’, ‘content marketing’ and ‘product marketing’. People tend to get confused and simply group all of these terms together – however they ought to be kept separate. Indeed, traditional, content and product marketing may all serve the same aim of selling a product – but how they achieve that aim differs entirely. This article will explain the differences between content marketing vs traditional marketing, and how content marketing differs from that of product marketing.


What is content marketing?

Content marketing is a relatively new term, but with surprisingly old routes. In fact, probably the biggest misconception with respect to content marketing is that the term simply represents the new era of marketing. As such, people tend to conflate content marketing with ‘digital marketing’, i.e. everything advertising-based that lies in the new digital age, as opposed to print magazines, radio jingles and broadsheet newspapers. This is completely untrue.

In so far as defining content marketing, therefore, it is easier to consider the difference between content and marketing. When we take the term ‘content’ in and of itself, we find that it doesn’t just stand for digital sources of information. We would call a magazine article ‘content’ just as much as we would call the contents of a blog article such. And, as we know, marketing refers to the activities used to promote the buying of products/services. Combine these two phrases and you will find that ‘content marketing’ refers to any marketing activities which uses content, regardless of whether that content is offline or online.


In fact, content marketing advertising saw its conception well before the internet. As such, content marketing using ‘traditional’ forms of media exists just as much as traditional marketing which uses otherwise ‘modern’ forms, like the media. So – what is traditional content and how has these been used to achieve content marketing purposes? A very famous example dates back to the early 1900’s with The Michelin Guide. The Michelin Guide was produced by the tire company, Michelin, as a resource for travellers. The association between travelling and needing tires for the cars that people often travel with made this a very successful marketing endeavour. More modern content marketing examples include things like makeup tutorial youtube videos to promote certain makeup products, or a blog article on fast cars to promote a car factory.


This example of marketing using traditional forms of content already makes clear what the mechanics of content marketing are. Content marketing is about producing content which  is valuable to the people you are trying to market to. So, if you’re wanting to sell your tires to people, you’re going to want to market tires to people who actually drive vehicles with tires. A significant subset of this audience, Michelin realised, were people using cars to travel. Creating a useful travel resource therefore attracted that exact audience, who then made buying decisions influenced by the content they were consuming.

As such, the role of content marketing is to engage it’s audience, and in achieving such engagement it can then influence the buying decisions of that audience.


What is traditional marketing

The main distinction between content marketing vs traditional marketing is not, therefore, the kind of media it uses but its strategy. As we have seen, while content marketing strategy relies principally on engaging its audience, traditional marketing relies on going directly to its audience, as opposed to indirectly attracting that audience to it. Traditional marketing strategy is therefore classed as ‘interruptive’. It is all about the adverts on billboards, in Instagram stories, and during TV breaks that we didn’t ask to see but were instead presented with.


What is product marketing

Another blurred distinction and common question is – how does content marketing differ from the marketing of physical products? The misconception here is that ‘content’ which is non-tangible cannot be used to market physical, tangible products. This is not the case. The difference here is not what is being marketed (a physical product) but the goal of marketing. While content marketing has the wide goal of engaging its intended audience, product marketing has the more specific goal of promoting that exact product. As such, the strategies of these two types of marketing differs – while content marketing is concerned about being valuable to its audience, product marketing is about doing all that is possible to advertise a product. As such, product marketing can actually constitute a subset of either traditional or content marketing. Products may be advertised on billboards, or marketers may seek to make an informative article which indirectly relates to that product.