Thanks to the onset of the digital era, marketing has evolved in many different directions. Traditional ad mediums like radio and TV spots are still around, presumably making money for somebody, while newer mediums like social media marketing promise substantial returns with less historical evidence and a steeper learning curve.
The way I see it, there are two major types of marketing that lie at the center of most debates, because they draw a line in the sand between two major schools of thought when it comes to marketing. These are product marketing and content marketing; the former focuses on making product sales to a specific demographic through outreach, and the latter focuses on becoming an authority to naturally attract potential buyers.
Which of these is better, and why?
Product marketing is the promotion of a specific product or service through some medium, with the clear intention of pitching that product to an end user. Traditional methods here include paid advertising, direct mail, and product placements.
Key advantages include:
· Specific intentions. You don’t have to be subversive with product-based advertising, and the consumer decision is a much simpler, more identifiable one. You’ll pitch your product; if users like it, they’ll buy it, and if they don’t like it, they won’t. The complex patterns of achieving brand visibility, recognition, trust, and eventual purchase are not an obstacle here.
· Higher visibility potential. When it comes to product marketing, you get what you pay for, oftentimes literally. If you’re willing to shell out a few million dollars for a Super Bowl TV spot, millions of people will see your ad. It’s a way of guaranteeing high-level exposure, as long as you have the budget to substantiate that approach.
· Fast returns. Though it does depend on your method of approach, generally speaking, product marketing is a fast strategy. You can go from 0 to 60 easily; as soon as you front the money, your ads will go into circulation, and there’s no ramp-up or warm-up period in which you have to wait.
Content marketing is the provision of valuable material to an audience, to bolster a brand’s reputation and attract traffic, which then has a higher likelihood of converting. Traditional methods here include on-site blogs, off-site content, and social media marketing.
Key advantages include:
· Customer relationships. With product marketing, you’re merely pitching a product. With content marketing, you’re actively building and solidifying a customer relationship. Your customers will naturally trust you and value you more from the outset, leading them to have higher satisfaction ratings for your brand and encouraging higher retention rates overall.
· Cost efficiency. Content marketing tactics tend to be more budget-friendly than their product marketing counterparts. For example, creating a valuable blog post might only take a few hours of your time, and it will continue to create value for your brand indefinitely. A paid ad campaign, on the other hand, can be expensive, and its long-term value is comparatively fleeting.
· Long-term returns. Content marketing has a higher potential for long-term returns as well. Because paid ads disappear the moment you stop paying for them, there’s a finite and linear value to your investment. Content, on the other hand, offers compounding returns over time.
Before I compare these two strategies in any more detail, I want to point out that the line here is blurry. There are some “gray area” strategies that combine product marketing and content marketing. For example:
· User guides and help forums. These are centered around your specific product, but at the same time take the form of content to achieve their goals.
· Promoting a blog. If your content strategy is a key value offered by your brand, it can become a product, which you can then market through advertising or other product marketing tactics.
· Filters and co-dependency. You can also leverage these strategies in a symbiotic kind of relationship, using one to filter your audience and the other to drive your message home.
The Power of Context
It’s also worth noting that there are countless variables that determine the effectiveness of either product marketing or content marketing, so it’s impossible to reduce either to an objective “effectiveness” ability. For example, small businesses may benefit more from content because of their smaller budgets and more limited resources, while industries that serve older demographics may benefit more from product marketing because of lower content engagement rates present in that audience segment. Furthermore, strategy and execution matter a great deal to the overall success of any campaign; for example, a well-executed product marketing campaign will outshine a poorly executed content campaign any day.
The Bottom Line
As you might have guessed, there’s no objectively clear victor here, especially when you consider that there are strategies that blur the line (and that both strategies can be adopted simultaneously to benefit each other). However, there are distinct advantages and disadvantages to each strategy, and certain industries and business types that benefit from one more than the other. Based on anecdotal evidence, I can attest to seeing more companies benefit from content marketing, especially in the long term, but don’t write off product marketing just because it’s unfashionable. The best marketing strategy is a multifaceted one, with ample flexibility to give you the best and furthest-reaching results.