When you tell people what your profession or job title is, do they understand what you do with no extra explanation?

If you’re a content marketer, probably not. And the funny thing is that as good as we are with words, we’re hard pressed to come up with the right ones to quickly explain what it is we actually do.

Maybe that’s why in an auditorium full of hundreds of people who share this job title (or work on a team that includes a content marketing pro), the first question we’re asked to consider is: what is content marketing?

It makes sense that NewsCred head of strategy Michael Brenner kicked his company’s ThinkContent summit off by breaking the phrase content marketing down and offered fresh insight on what content is, what marketing is, and ultimately what the relationship is between them.

Content Marketing: Let’s Rethink Content

A more familiar way to say content is storytelling. As Michael emphasised in his talk, our job isn’t to tell people what to do, it’s to tell the stories they love. Intuitively, we all have a sense of what stories are and why people are drawn to them. Key qualities of a good story are that they’re memorable, they focus people’s attention, and they help people get their minds off of whatever it is they’re worried about at that moment. Thinking about this last one finally helped me understand the ubiquity of kittens online. Their cuteness is a palate cleanser. Their baffling but knowing looks take my mind off my worries and get me in the mindset of happy, fairytale endings. Personally I don’t actually care about kittens. But I now understand why people love to share pics of their favorite ones. It’s the same mindset and impulse to share that marketers would love to re-create with their own content.

Content Marketing: Let’s Rethink Marketing

As marketers are quick to point out, it’s not only about stories though. This is a serious profession and it’s all about strategy. As Michael explains, the big shift in marketing today—the reason we’re all at this conference to regroup and gain some consensus on what it is we do—is social media. With multiple digital channels for two-way communication (one or more of which just about every consumer in the world is now engaged in), our job with content marketing is to earn our audience’s attention, not buy it.

Let’s not forget that as excited as a room full of marketers might be to talk about their chosen profession, there are a lot of people who aren’t so into what we do. I imagine people thinking: Marketers try to get me to do things I don’t really want to do, like spend my money on things I don’t really need. I might fall under their spell from time to time, but there’s a good chance I end up regretting it.

Content Marketing: Bringing It All Together

Michael Brenner has a simple solution for these negative associations: Marketers need to stop creating things that people don’t want. What this means to me is that we need to start thinking about marketing as a product in and of itself (or an essential component of the product). This brings us back to Michael’s initial mandate: Tell people the stories they love. Offer them inspiration and creativity. Help them imagine new experiences and new ways to be.

So where does this fall within a results-driven marketing strategy? Instead of paying to interrupt your audience, earn their attention through common interests. Then, inspire them to take action. And finally, spark the creativity that will ultimately drive them to become advocates. In sum, take the brand out of your story, and instead, put the customer at its center.

PS: As a good storyteller, I should circle back to the opening premise of this article, which was to answer the question: what should we say when someone asks what a content marketer does? Honestly I don’t know that there is a short answer, limited to one or two verbs that encapsulates what my job is. But I’m always open to suggestions. Please share if you have one.