What is the difference between Direct Advertising and Content Marketing?

Every Tuesday and Thursday, Steven Keith will simplify a misunderstood marketing term, kill a common marketing misconception, or pry apart terms within the realm of digital marketing that should never have become synonymous.

The difference between direct advertising and content marketing is fairly straightforward.

Direct advertising, often synonymous with direct marketing, is a solicitation or advertisement driven directly from a brand or its agents of distribution. It is nearly always about a brand’s offering to a customer based on the brand’s understanding of a segmented audience’s willingness or ability to buy something.

Have you ever gotten a speeding ticket, and a few days later your mailbox is full of letters from various local law firms? This is direct advertising. They have seen that, due to a moving violation, you may be needing a lawyer in the near future and are ready to offer you their services.

Content marketing is deliberately placing assets (content) of value out there before the sale in a non-solicitous, or significantly less solicitous, fashion. Content marketing is more about suppressing the compulsion to interrupt with brand messages. It offers more value to people by attempting to know more about them and what they hold dear, then gives that to them for free in a process that can lead to a brand-customer relationship on the customer’s terms.

Kraft Foods has built a microsite full of free recipes. You are invited to give or take recipe ideas to spruce up otherwise uninteresting meals, and you can even print out, email or text a grocery list format to another family member. This is content marketing. Kraft has offered these recipe suggestions to you, free of charge, in order to build a relationship.

The principle differences between the two is in the value they intend to deliver.

Direct advertising rarely has the intention to deliver value— it’s commonly delivered directly to a list of people who meet specific standards based on the assumption that the likelihood is higher they will be receptive to that solicitation. It’s intention is largely to deliver brand or offering awareness-building solicitations to a list.

Content marketing’s intention is to better understand potential customers so that it can serve their needs better. It freely delivers research, data, resources, tools, articles, videos and white papers in an attempt to get potential customers to see and use the value from the content.

One is a bet, and the other is more of an investment.

Over the last decade, brand marketers have slowly moved their budgets from direct to content marketing. Content marketing will pick up even more steam when there is enough solid evidence that it can help achieve deeper engagement with lower cost content programs, attracting audiences that matter the most.


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