Chances are good you’ve read an email newsletter or blog post with content that left you scratching your head. Why did they bother with that? What did any of it have to do with me? Why do I care?

Unfortunately, far too many marketing professionals (and small-business owners doing DIY marketing) send out content that isn’t interesting, actionable, or in anyway useful to their target market. Why? It’s not malicious, of course. Instead, it’s typically just a lack of understanding about content marketing.

What is content marketing?

Simply put, content marketing is the act of sharing information that will educate, entertain, and connect with prospects and customers. The term usually refers to digital/online assets, including blogs, white papers, case studies—pretty much everything on your website or that you share via social media. This high-level definition is fine, but it fails to truly drive home the most important aspect of content marketing.

[Tweet “Content marketing is about your customers, not you. “]

And that’s where far too many businesses fail. They think content marketing is an opportunity to sell, sell, sell. Why would you share a message with your target market that doesn’t explain what you do, why you’re the best, or how they can buy from you?

There’s a good answer to that question but before that, here are some basics.

Marketing is a business’ comprehensive strategy for reaching prospects and customers. It includes a variety of tactics, two of which are advertising (paid self promotion) and content marketing (see above). Each of these tactics is different (in both intent and execution) and each is valuable. Too often, though, people treat all marketing efforts as advertising and that’s a mistake.

Advertising is an important awareness-raising tool that can have short-term benefits (ie, you see an ad for Taco Bell that gets your mouth watering, so you go grab it for dinner. You regret it later, of course, but damn that crunchwrap sure looked tasty on TV!).

Content marketing serves a distinctly different and equally important role. Its aim is to establish the business as a trusted authority in its industry.