Do you actually know the difference between Product Marketing and Content Marketing? Be honest!

26th January 2023

It’s one of my pet hates (not ANOTHER one, I hear you cry!).

You download a white paper or e-book expecting to benefit from a valuable guide on a topic you’re interested in. The first couple of paragraphs whet your appetite nicely for all you’re about to learn. And then, by paragraph three, the feeble attempt at hiding the company’s sales pitch is shamelessly dropped. Instead of learning about the topic you were interested in, you may as well be reading a sales brochure!

Why is it that so many B2B marketers still confuse product marketing with content marketing?

Content Marketing – what it isn’t…

The most common reason for getting it wrong is the inability to switch off the part of our brain that’s been hardwired to talk about our company, and sell, sell, sell!

Traditional marketing messages

  • What do we want to say about us?
  • What products/services do we offer?
  • How long have we been doing it?
  • What are our USPs?

What’s wrong with this approach?

  • It’s already been done on our websites, brochures and other marketing materials.
  • It’s not sustainable – once the services are covered, what comes next?
  • It’s a one-way street – it doesn’t engage or interact with the audience.

If we’re not careful, we lose everything that’s so powerful about content marketing by simply doing traditional marketing but through new ‘shiny’ channels.

B2B marketers who get it right understand the difference between these two fundamentally different types of marketing, what their objectives are and how to use them in the right way.

Content Marketing – what it is…

“Content marketing is the marketing and business process for creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.” Joe Pulizzi, Content Marketing Institute

Content marketing is the process of producing and promoting content that has genuine value to our audience, without overtly pushing a product or service on them – content that benefits them on a day-to-day basis and reflects positively on our company as the source of this information.

“Advertising interrupts what people are trying to read, watch or share. Content marketing attempts to be what people read, watch and share.”

There’s a well-known saying that ‘people like to buy from companies they know, like and trust.’ We can throw money at traditional marketing with no guarantees that our audience will trust us or like us. Providing quality, relevant, engaging content on a regular basis, however, helps us build long-term relationships, rather than just bombarding people with sales messages. This makes them far more receptive to marketing messages when we do present them, or they may even come looking for us when the time is right.

So we should aim to produce content that will educate, entertain, inform and influence.

Applying the principles of storytelling (forgive the shocking use of marketing jargon) can actually help. What do I mean?

Storytelling is the oldest form of imparting knowledge and much of how we look at what we like to call facts is influenced by stories and how we interpret them.

Stories make important messages easier to communicate…

So what’s the formula?

Think about it. Every good fairy tale has three acts. And don’t try to claim you can’t remember back that far because I know you’ve seen Frozen or Toy Story at least five times!

1) Set the scene and introduce the characters

2) Something bad happens and a quest follows

3) The happy ending

So, the structure of your content could look something like this:

1) Set the scene; who is this article for and how will they benefit from reading it?

2) Talk knowledgeably about the challenges and pain points that are keeping them awake at night. This also shows empathy, which is a likeable quality.

3) Give away some practical tips the reader could take away and apply, without using your product or service. Sharing your knowledge freely builds your credibility, trust and like-ability.

4) Provide your own unique insight, based on your own experience and anecdotal evidence without overtly pushing a sales message – you don’t need to as you’ve already got a receptive ear

Product Marketing

Hubspot defines product marketing as ‘the process of bringing a product to market. This includes deciding the product’s positioning and messaging, launching the product and ensuring salespeople and customers understand it. Product marketing aims to drive the demand and usage of the product.’

The content required to support this function includes everything from core messaging and the product descriptions on your website, to your sales decks, product data sheets and customer case studies.

This is the right place for all the ‘me, me, me’ messages we mentioned earlier. It’s where we can delve into every relevant benefit and feature of our products, explaining what differentiates them from our competitors.

Sales Funnel: Top Versus Bottom

I’ve often heard it said that ‘content marketing is designed for top-of-the-funnel marketing activity, while product marketing comes into its own at the bottom of the funnel.’ I actually disagree slightly with that statement, as the lines aren’t quite that clear.

The bottom of the funnel is often described as the ‘nurture’ or ‘loyalty’ stage and that’s well and truly content marketing’s strong suit.

Equally, product marketing doesn’t stop once the product has gone to market. The process of marketing a product goes on well after its launch, making sure the right people are aware of the product, they know how to use it and that their needs are being met over the product’s entire lifecycle.

A good nurturing campaign will probably include elements of both content and product marketing, guiding prospects through their buying journey and beyond, developing loyal, long-term customers and advocates.


The conclusion

Cutting through the noise is probably the biggest challenge facing B2B marketing today. Mastering these two important types of content can have a huge impact, but only if we understand the difference between them and the right way to deploy them.


About Ben Hollom

25 years experience as an agency owner and Head of Marketing in the commercial sector, working with brands such as Zurich, Hastings Direct, Go Compare, The FA, AXA, Nestle, Sky and DELL. I now work with ambitious, growing agencies and businesses.

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