Even as the practice of content marketing has matured, there remains a debate about what content marketing actually is. In discussions around it, people use the same words but mean different things, which is problematic.

Content marketing should have a streamlined definition—otherwise, everything could be considered content marketing. For example, everyone who ever put together an ad campaign could tell you it’s made up of “content,” so it’s content marketing. And if everything is content marketing, then nothing is.

So, how do we define content marketing? Better yet, how does the industry define it? Here are seven definitions.

1. Content Marketing Institute

Content Marketing Institute (CMI) defines content marketing as “a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience—and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

This is a broad definition that better defines plain old “marketing” than “content marketing.” We believe it should be more precise than this.

2. Wikipedia

“Content marketing is a form of marketing focused on creating, publishing and distributing content for a targeted audience online.”

This definition is also a bit broad. The idea of content marketing is that it pulls, rather than pushes, and we don’t think this definition shows enough of that. Yes, it’s important that content is created for a specific target, but it’s got to be helpful and it shouldn’t interrupt.

3. Copyblogger

“Content Marketing means creating and sharing valuable free content to attract and convert prospects into customers, and customers into repeat buyers. The type of content you share is closely related to what you sell; in other words, you’re educating people so that they know, like, and trust you enough to do business with you.”

This is a solid definition. We like that it explains how effective content should be educational and build trust. We also like that customers become repeat buyers—this reflects the idea of developing content for each part of the Buyer’s Journey.

4. Jay Baer, Convince and Convert

“Content marketing is a device used by companies to educate, inform or entertain customers or prospects by creating attention or causing behavior that results in leads, sales or advocacy.”

Again, content should educate an audience and pull them toward a brand to help them make the right decision when they are ready to buy. And the idea of “causing behavior” that results in sales also implies that content should move a buyer through the sales funnel.

5. Michael Brenner, Marketing Insider Group

“Content marketing is the process of continuously publishing content that people want (vs. advertising that attempts to interrupt the content people want) to help connect your brand to its audience.” 

Michael Brenner’s addition of the word “continuously” reminds us that content marketing is not typically a one-and-done type of deal. Creating a steady stream of content that raises awareness is key. And of course, his overt, parenthetical note calls out advertising’s interruption problem.

6. Rebecca Lieb, Altimeter Group Analyst

“Content marketing is the practice of creating and publishing in owned media channels, as opposed to advertising, for which media is always rented time or space. A radical shift in marketing budgets is occurring as companies shift spend from a legacy focus on advertising to investments in content. The trend is toward “pull” rather than “push” marketing and has been greatly accelerated by an explosion of owned media channels — both those “fully owned” (e.g., websites and blogs) and social media channels in which brands largely control their presence and must continually feed with fresh content.”

We love this notion of “’pull’ rather than ‘push.’” Also of note is Lieb’s focus on owned media channels, which creates a separation between content marketing, and native advertising and syndication. With so much content floating out there, native advertising and syndication can be important tactics for reaching the right audience with your content. At the very least, they’re pieces of the promotion puzzle and can be an integral part of a broader content marketing initiative.

7. Scribewise

“The creation and distribution of journalistic, helpful, audience-focused material that ultimately increases customer acquisition.”

That’s what we think. The word journalistic raises the bar on quality by implying a more rigorous approach to content creation, based upon research and interviews. Audience-focused takes out the self-promotional content that some other definitions include – again, to us, that’s just marketing as it’s always been.