Whether you’re a B2B or B2C business, you will have considered both content marketing and advertising to reach out to potential customers or clients. Let’s consider content marketing vs advertising and the factors you need to understand to make the best choice in any situation.

Content creation continues to grow in popularity, with companies spending on average a quarter of their advertising budget on digital content marketing. Meanwhile, traditional advertising seems to be taking more of a back seat, often labelled as old-fashioned.

Seen this way it’s easy to understand why most businesses think of content marketing as a form of advertising — in reality, it’s something completely different.

What’s What?

Content marketing and advertising are two expressions that usually get thrown around interchangeably, and incorrectly. But what does each of them mean exactly?

Both content and ads are a combination of information and entertainment. Using the example of traditional TV advertising, if the advert is informative, interesting, or ideally a mix of both, there’s a greater chance that potential customers will watch the entire ad without switching channels (or turning their attention to another device). Online content is the same. A person will only read a blog post or watch a video if they feel it adds value — either as knowledge, enjoyment, or a combination of the two.

Content marketing and advertising have the same end goal for businesses: increase customer interest and engagement, affect recall, and convert to sales. But the possible results those two options offer are quite different.

Advertising is best at creating and maintaining brand awareness based on one-way communication: brand-to-customer (which could be either B2B or B2C).

Content marketing is more of a two-way conversation: B2B (or B2C) and back again. It creates a dialogue and is more of a long game. Over time, if nurtured correctly, the relationship built between businesses, or with consumers, will result in meaningful long-term conversions.

With those differences in mind, we can see that there’s no clear winner in the competition of content marketing vs advertising. Instead it is important to consider the pros and cons of each approach.

The Newcomer: Content Marketing

Content marketing has many advantages — the two most obvious being affordability and value for money — especially when we take into account how popular content is among consumers. More importantly, with many possible distribution points for content, businesses can find and interact with their customers on the platforms they frequent the most, tailoring the content to the platform for maximum engagement.

This ability to personalise and target content is one of content marketing’s most appealing characteristics. With digital content creation, businesses can avoid the one-size-fits-all mentality and develop unique, targeted content for different customers demographics, whether you’re a B2B or B2C business.

Good quality content is evergreen. It can become a permanent reference point or cornerstone, that can be regularly redistributed at minimal expense, and easily updated if needed.

However, in an increasingly saturated content marketplace, only the best content stands out, and even then, it still needs a helping hand from advertising. This is the main disadvantage. With purely organic content marketing, consumers have to actively seek out the content they are interested in.

It has never been more necessary for businesses to integrate digital content marketing within their overall marketing strategy.

If you’re struggling to find the right platform for your content, our guides can help you:

The Old Favourite: Advertising

Content marketing’s biggest disadvantage is advertising’s biggest advantage. All decisions about distribution are made by the business. Online ads are specific and can find someone even if they weren’t searching for your product or service. They appear directly on the consumer’s screens and across their devices, based on their online behaviour. In some cases, consumers may seek out certain adverts. But ‘viral’ isn’t reliable.

Traditional ads tend to have a short shelf-life, limited to the length of a campaign. But they do promote business visibility and help create brand awareness. With online advertising, probably the most important advantage is, more often than not, monetary investment almost always correlates with results. However, the natural downside to this is ad campaigns can become rather expensive. But if monitored closely, and tested and adapted in line with results, an online advertising expense can prove very fruitful.

Ultimately, because advertising has a longer and more established history than content marketing, it will usually form part of a larger marketing strategy, making the results seem even better.

Using Them Together

Taken separately, either content marketing or advertising can provide a useful approach for any brand to establish a market presence. But they don’t have to be separate options. In fact, they shouldn’t. It is not a case of deciding between content marketing vs advertising.

Together, digital content marketing and advertising form a fully developed marketing strategy. Businesses need to take complete advantage of the benefits of each approach to make up for their individual limitations. Ads lead customers to content, and content can be turned into advertising. Combining both approaches will lead to maximum results.

Content Marketing vs Advertising: Which is the Right Tool for the Job?

Whether you go for content marketing or advertising depends on your end goals. Is your business looking to increase conversions and develop long-term relationships with customers? If yes, then your best option is digital content marketing. Are you after brand awareness and increased visibility in a crowded marketplace? In that case, advertising would be your best bet.

If you want it all (and who doesn’t?), developing great content, creating engaging ad campaigns, and making them work together is the way forward.

Still not sure if digital marketing is right for your business? Understand what digital marketing really is in everyday terms:

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Gareth Alvarez
Gareth Alvarez

Gareth, Social INK’s Head of Content (sometimes playfully referred to as ‘spellcheck’), just adores words. He’s written copy for ads, websites, and blogged extensively. Content marketing is his bag. He loves getting creative with his writing.