How to Explain Content Marketing to Non-Content People
Marketing Content Strategy

How to Explain Content Marketing to Non-Content People

“What do you do?” It’s a simple question that kicks off conversations at networking events, parties, and family gatherings—but it can be deceptively difficult to answer. How do you respond when non-content people ask you what your job’s about? Do you slip into marketing jargon? Do you stutter through a long-winded reply? If your attempt to explain content marketing returns blank stares and dismissive nods, then your layman’s interpretation is falling short.

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As marketers, we know that a message has to be customized for its intended audience. And since your audience has little to no exposure to content marketing, you must cater your explanation accordingly. Use these four tactics to help you educate and impress industry outsiders:

1. The One-Liner

Commit a one-liner to memory that succinctly summarizes content marketing. This will satisfy the polite but disinterested questioner enough to keep your conversation flowing, or invite someone more curious to launch a more in-depth discussion. Here are a few angles to consider:

The Definition: Being straightforward allows people to grasp the concept of content marketing in simple terms.

“Content marketing is the creation and sharing of digital content, such as articles and videos, that informs, educates, or entertains you.”

“Content marketing is a digital marketing technique that allows brands to attract customers through articles and videos.”

The Comparison: For uninitiated ears, it can be effective to explain content marketing by comparing it to what it is not: advertising.

“Instead of interrupting your online browsing with an ad, content marketing gives you valuable information through articles and videos that you choose to view.”

“While digital advertising focuses on promoting a brand, content marketing focuses on giving you helpful information that you want to see online.”

2. The Example

If your one-liner sparks a deeper conversation, further explain content marketing with a relatable example. Specificity allows people to picture concepts in action. You can bring content marketing to life with the case study of a household brand. Here’s an example based off Colgate’s content hub:

Colgate’s website features articles that help educate you about oral and dental health. Instead of directly promoting its toothpaste products, the articles focus on topics that people are searching for and talking about online, such as teeth whitening, bad breath, and braces. Sharing helpful information shows that Colgate cares about your needs and wants, not just toothpaste sales. It also shows Colgate is an authority and helps it stand out from its competitors. That way, the next time you’re in the market for toothpaste, hopefully you’ll be inclined to choose Colgate.”


3. The Elevator Pitch

Are you really trying to impress someone with the coolness of your job? Then craft an elevator pitch that glorifies content marketing. You’re a marketer, so go ahead and shamelessly market what you do. Take a benefits-first approach that highlights how content marketing helps the end user:

“Content marketing is a form of digital marketing that is actually useful to you. While advertising takes a hard-sell approach by blasting brand messages that beg you to click, content marketing takes a soft-sell approach by giving you valuable information through content you choose to engage with. Whether that information takes the form of an article, video, or infographic, it focuses on your interests and needs as they relate to a brand’s products and services. While content marketing helps you, it also helps brands since you form positive associations after receiving valuable information and are more likely to become a customer.”

4. The Story

Since the human brain is wired to remember stories, tell a story with your listener as the main character to explain content marketing. Make the story personally relevant by incorporating one of their favorite brands or activities. Here’s an example of how I would tell a story about content marketing to a friend who is an avid hiker:

“Let’s say you’re planning a hiking trip and need a new backpack. You go to Google and type ‘best hiking backpacks.’ One of the first results is an article entitled ‘How to Choose a Backpack – REI Expert Advice‘ on REI’s website.

REI article with expert advice for choosing a backpack

“You click since it promises to help solve your problem and you trust REI as an established outdoor brand. The article gives you helpful information about choosing a backpack based on your trip length, backpacking style, and body type.

REI page for article about choosing a backpack

“After reading it, you feel prepared pick the ideal backpack with all the features you need. Since you’re on REI’s website, you decide to check out the backpacks it sells, and you end up buying one. It’s a win-win situation—you got the information and item you needed, and REI got a sale.”

The next time a non-content person asks what you do, be prepared to respond with a one-liner, example, elevator pitch, or story that clearly describes content marketing. Take off your marketing hat and share a jargon-free explanation that can be comprehended, remembered, and repeated.

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  • Hey Christine,

    Your post couldn’t have come at a better time.

    I’ve been to a lot of family events recently and I get the same blank look, you talked about, every time I tell someone that I’m a content marketer.

    Feels good to know I’m not alone in this :)

    You’ve made some great points. Personally, I’ve found that the “Example” approach works best with most people.


    • Christine Warner

      I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it, Jawad! Explaining content marketing to family members can definitely be challenging, so I’m happy you found my tips useful.

  • Great piece Christine, love the idea of the one-liner.


    • Christine Warner

      Thanks for sharing it, Jakk!

  • JustinSteinbaum

    Thanks for the great article, Christine. I think you’d enjoy our upcoming webinar on innovation and technology in Content Marketing with Robert Rose of the Content Marketing Institute and Matt Kumin of PublishThis. Join us on Dec. 10:

    • Christine Warner

      Thanks for the webinar recommendation, Justin! I’ll be sure to check it out.

  • Kudos. I’ve been struggling with the small business market in my area to push content — this is beautiful. Thanks Christine… this is going to get shared with and emailed to every prospect. What are your rules around curation on other blogs?

  • Board Thamrongwatana

    This is awesome! Thank you.

  • Patricia Chaney

    Thanks for this! I always struggle to explain what I do. Usually, I call myself a freelance writer, but then struggle to explain the publications and websites I write for because it’s usually for healthcare industry insiders, sometimes consumers. I probably have a 50/50 split between article writing and content marketing. I think talking about what I do from a marketing angle would help me better answer the question of what I do and help more people relate.

  • MrWetherby

    Great read! Thanks Christine!

  • Just found this article and it is excellent…

    Since my focus is teaching small business owners on getting online, even if they have NO tech experience, the blank looks are a worry!

    Keeping it simple and also offering a variety of ways to tell the story will work…

    Yup just subscribed to your newsletter-great content!

    Thanks Christine!

    PS Read the thread here..obviously missed the Dec. 10th, 2014 webinar with Robert Rose….is it recorded and available?

  • Vijesh Pillai

    everybody likes stories and its easy to understand and memorize. I am not a content marketer but loved this piece of article, Christine.