Blog post

Marketing content or content marketing?

By Kirsten Newbold-Knipp | April 26, 2017 | 4 Comments

Every day I get to talk with clients about content. All sorts of content. How do you build a content strategy? How can we hire great content marketers? What tools should we use to streamline content creation and store it for reuse? There is a long list of topics we can talk about – but I start most conversations with a question:

Do you want to focus on marketing content or content marketing?


I can visualize their heads cocking to one side and looking at me like, “What do you mean, lady? It’s all content.”

What do I mean by marketing content or content marketing?

Content marketing is an approach to content creation that applies to a subset of ALL the content that marketing makes – i.e., marketing content. This graphic illustrates how content marketing fits within marketing content. (Clients can see all the topics we cover in the Content Marketing and Management Primer).

Content Marketing within Marketing Content

To be more precise:

Marketing Content: All content assets created by marketing teams. Marketing content includes advertising, PR, product specifications, pricing, company information, sales enablement material, content marketing assets and more.

Content Marketing: Content marketing involves creating, curating and cultivating content and distributing it through media platforms to tell stories that engage and nurture customers, prospects and other audiences. The goal is to drive awareness, demand, preference and loyalty through deeper engagement with content that serves the customer in a helpful and useful way.

Reality: Content for Every Stage of Your Customer Journey

This question helps me crystallize the types of content challenges I am helping a client with.  There is a distinct difference between content marketing and MOST marketing content today. It lies in the descriptors of content marketing that include ‘storytelling’ ‘engaging’ ‘serving customers’ ‘helpful’ ‘useful’. Unfortunately, over the years, most marketing content hasn’t lived up to those lofty goals – spurring the emergence of ad blockers and the attention economy.

But the reality of marketing content is that we do need to provide helpful and useful content at EVERY stage of the customer journey. Just because some great content marketing asset lured a prospect into your orbit engendering some brand trust, doesn’t mean that your prospect won’t need a data sheet or product spec to make a final decision. In the best customer journeys today, content marketing makes a seamless handoff to and from other types of marketing content that work in concert to empower buyers along their journey. That means that marketers have to stop thinking in silos of content marketing versus marketing content and think holistically about how their customers engage across that journey.

The Future: Content Marketing Will Infuse ALL Marketing Content (thereby losing its meaning)

Where marketing will evolve to – at least this is my hope – is that all marketing content in essence becomes content marketing. If not in the form of e-books and how-to-videos, then in its intent to be helpful, engaging and contextually relevant. The best advertisements today aren’t slap in the face interruptions – but funny or informative, well-targeted stories that solve a problem or deliver inspiration. I recently saw an ad which told a story that was interesting and humorous – I wanted to see it again – it bordered on entertainment I would opt into – yet, it was an ad. The future of the product data sheet may still include specs but will also bend to answer the most common FAQs and allay customer’s fears or address common concerns. At the evaluation stage of the customers’ journey we want more information and the best product marketers won’t be glossing over shortcomings, they will dig deep to understand what information prospects need to confidently make well-informed decisions.

This means several things for marketers and vendors alike. Marketers, if you create content – any type of marketing content – take a cue from the best content marketers to understand how their persona and customer journey orientation coupled with a journalistic approach helps them deliver value. Think about adapting what you do to deliver even more customer value and watch the engagement rise. Consider also how disparate tools and workflows across content creation groups might benefit from cross-pollination, not only to share best practices but to reduce the friction at hand-off points in the customer journey.

When we talked to vendors in our Market Guide for Content Marketing Platforms (CMP) (subscription required) this year, we asked them whether their clients use them for content marketing only, or both content marketing and marketing content. More than 80% of them said both for at least some of their clients. The vendors who really understood this distinction shared that their most successful and sophisticated clients are the ones that use a CMP for both. That means that in several businesses, the lines between content marketing and marketing content are blurring and teams are embracing the ethos of helpful storytelling across the entire journey.

Won’t you do it too?

The Gartner Blog Network provides an opportunity for Gartner analysts to test ideas and move research forward. Because the content posted by Gartner analysts on this site does not undergo our standard editorial review, all comments or opinions expressed hereunder are those of the individual contributors and do not represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management.

Leave a Comment


  • Kerry Anderson says:

    Very informative & IMHO an accurate forward view of a sophisticated & worthwhile approach to ‘Sales’.
    Thank you.

  • Hi Kirsten,

    this is a great explanation and a great reminder for marketers that all the important bits and pieces need to fit together and that each published piece must be high quality. Thanks for sharing your insights.

  • Robert Rose says:

    Yes! Thank you Kirsten. I’m so very glad to see this. It’s truly one of the more misunderstood approaches in business today – and to see Gartner illuminate it like this is heartening.

  • Frank Strong says:

    I think a lot of tech marketing leaders that have been nodding their heads north-south about “content marketing” but don’t really understand what it means. I hope this helps clear it up because it is the future of marketing, and more importantly, the divide between the “haves” and “have-nots” is going to be really wide.