Last Thursday Impress Labs hosted a salon-style discussion to examine the current state of content marketing. Often regarded as little more than another marketing buzz word, Content Marketing went under the microscope in an attempt to pinpoint what makes this practice successful, and how companies can use it to their advantage while maintaining a healthy ROI.

The discussion was moderated by longtime Silicon Valley journalist, Tom Foremski, and driven by a panel of marketing professionals and content creators: Steve FarnsworthErin Robbins O’Brien, and Jason Miller.

After an hour of introductions, libations and light bites, Foremski corralled the attendees to the couch-laden corner of the Impress Labs office to begin what promised to be a lively debate.

“The biggest problem with content marketing is the term itself, because it’s so ill-defined,” said Steve Farnsworth, kicking things off. “Content marketing needs to pass an initial ‘trust test’ with its readers. People aren’t dumb; they can tell when they’re reading an article produced by someone with a vested interest. It needs to be genuine and add value to the person who is consuming that content.”

“Content Marketing” is defined by the Content Marketing Institute as “any marketing format that involves the creation and sharing of media and publishing content in order to acquire customers.

Ten minutes into the discussion, it became clear that the definition was just as nebulous as we had expected.

Perhaps the most distinguished description of content marketing came from one of the founding members of WIRED magazine, Fred Davis, in the form of a metaphor: “If content marketing came to your door, what would you do? If it’s a friend that you trust, you invite it in. You curl up with it on your tablet, spending your time and attention. But if it’s about sales, you shut the door in its face and lock the door.”

This sentiment remained intact throughout the evening, and indeed boiled down into the following key takeaways of the evening:

  • Successful content marketing is genuine, relevant and engaging
  • Readers that subscribe to a company as an information resource is seeking entertainment or knowledge
  • Audiences are much smarter than marketers think
  • Content that promotes biased opinions is easily sniffed out by readers, and damages the trust and credibility that brands work so hard to earn

Good content marketing isn’t free and it doesn’t happen overnight, but with a bit of strategy and a lot of gusto, your company can earn an audience of brand advocates.

For pictures and snippets of Thursday’s event, check out the Impress Labs Facebook page, or follow us on Twitter. We’ll be hosting more events like this in the future, so be sure to check back regularly for more information.