Content marketing is a form of marketing focused on creating, publishing, and distributing relevant and informative content to current and prospective customers. Content marketing is not a new phenomenon, but it has exploded in recent years thanks to the relative ease of distribution provided by the internet.

Early adopters of content marketing include John Deere and Procter & Gamble. In 1895, John Deere launched a magazine, The Furrow, that provided farmers with information on how to be more profitable. Safe to say it was successful, The Furrow is still in circulation today. In 1933, P&G developed a radio serial drama to promote their Oxydol soap powder. Use of the product was woven into storylines. It proved to be an effective technique for building brand loyalty among the target audience, while also giving birth to the term “soap opera.” Am I the only one who just learned that?

Today’s content marketers enjoy a much easier path into the world of publishing. It can be as simple as starting a blog. But just because it’s easy to publish doesn’t mean that effective content marketing is easy to execute. Creating great content that an audience wants to consume can be elusive for even the most seasoned marketers because it doesn’t necessarily play to their strengths. More on that later.

The rise of the internet has empowered consumers and B2B buyers like never before. They have the ability to get important information about a purchase decision without having to rely on a salesperson or a company’s marketing material. This is both a threat and an opportunity for marketers.

The opportunity lies in becoming the resource the decision maker is actively pursuing. The key here is being a resource. Effective content marketers share information that enriches the lives of their target audience. They equip them with knowledge. Often in their time of need. This sometimes means providing information your company wouldn’t typically give away for free.

If this is your first exposure to the concept of content marketing, it might seem like a poor business model. It takes time to produce great content and time is money. It doesn’t take an MBA from the Simon Business School to understand that giving things away that cost money is only sustainable if your last name is Pegula.

Content marketing is an initiative that marketers use when they understand the importance of playing the long game. If you’re looking for a quick return this is not the avenue for you. As a wise Jedi master once said, “Patience you must have.”

Good things come to those who wait. According to a recent study by Kapost, the cost per lead from content marketing was 41 percent less per lead than paid search advertising for medium- and large-sized businesses. The average customer acquisition cost dropped from $108 to $64. The study found that hiring a content marketing team takes more time than launching a paid search campaign, but generated over four times more leads within 36 months.

When you create content that’s valuable to the user, you can often get value back in return. Specifically, many content marketers will share resources like white papers or buying guides in exchange for the reader’s contact information. This is why content marketing is an excellent tactic for generating leads. It not only delivers potential customers, it also gives the marketing and sales teams insights into the prospects’ interests and pain points. Having this information makes it easier to effectively nurture the leads and convert them into customers.

The ability to generate quality leads cost effectively makes content marketing appealing for many companies. It’s a way to sell without selling. In fact, selling will not work here. The information you share should position your company as a trusted resource. Mixing in sales-y and promotional information is a sure fire way to lose credibility. Great content is not about you. It’s about the prospect or customer and their needs. That’s why for many marketers, content marketing is hard. Talking about ourselves is the thing we like to do more than anything else in the world. Anyone who remembers Jeff Hayzlett’s time as the CMO of Kodak knows what I’m talking about.

Often times the development of content occurs outside of the marketing department. The marketing team sets the strategy but the pieces are developed by the people with product or subject matter expertise. Marketers need to ensure that this content is created with the end-user in mind. Collaboration is crucial to effectively execute a content marketing program.

In case you’re wondering, I’m aware of how meta this entire column has been. And, by the way, if you want a PDF version of this piece, I’ll gladly provide it. Just send me your email address and phone number.

Originally published by the Rochester Business Journal