“So obviously your authors will get to know our product before they write for our blog, I’m assuming?”
If I had a dime for every time I’ve fielded this question… I’d actually only have a couple of dollars, come to think of it.  But while that’s not overwhelming in magnitude or my hypothetical bank account, it does mean that Hit Subscribe’s customersoften technical co-foundershave asked me this question 20 or 30 times.  And that’s a pretty decent sample size.
What’s going on here, exactly?
Well, here’s the scene.  I run a content and content strategy agency aimed specifically at companies that market to software engineers.   And early stage employees (often also software engineers by trade) pose this question to me when we’re discussing Hit Subscribe helping them with content for their blogs.  They envision their company’s blog as a series of posts talking about how great the product is.
I then find myself in the awkward, sometimes sales-killing position of having to say, “no, we don’t generally ask authors to learn your product, and it’s probably not a good idea anyway.”

A Weekly Written Commercial: Understandable Misuse of Your Blog

I can empathize with the mindset that prompts this question.  Having logged many, many years as a software engineer, I viewed marketing as a sort of peripheral activity that just slightly sped up the essential truth of, “if you build it, they will come.”
Build a good piece of software with a good use case, and everything else is just kind of details.  Once people understand that your software is good and serves their needs, logic will simply take over and they will immediately purchase it.  Thus the blog is just a vehicle for explaining the logic behind the product, over and over again.
It’s a seemingly pretty sound argument.  The only trouble is that when most people stumble across your blog while reading Reddit or googling a tutorial, they don’t have their wallets out, actively thinking, “what can I buy right now?”  They’re not in the mood for your pitch.
If you commission this type of “we’re awesome” content for your blog, nobody is going to care.  You’ll be able to achieve deep, peaceful sleep every night just by listening to the soothing sound of crickets coming from the blog you’re asking me to help you build.

There Are Two Kinds of Content, And You Need Both

I don’t come from a marketing background.  I’m an engineer that backed into content marketing by stumbling upon a niche and then filling it.
And, because of this outsider status, I recognize how vague definitions of marketing terms can be.  Go look up the definition of something like “product marketing” and count the seconds until your eyes unfocus.  It won’t take very many.
So let’s dispense with that and with any kind of formal definitions.  Instead, let’s talk about two different kinds of content that you can create:

  1. Content that tells your prospective customers what you want them to know about your product and about your views on the world.
  2. Content that interests your prospective customers.

I’m not making a passive aggressive point here, and I’m not trying to be snide.  I’m not saying that your messaging and being interesting to your customers are mutually exclusive.  Rather, I’m saying that your customers default to not knowing anything about you or your product, so how could they possibly be interested?
Before your messaging can resonate and before you can dazzle them with the feature-richness of your offering for a low, low price, you need to get their attention and, ideally, earn their trust.  And you don’t do either one by writing a bunch of blog posts about your own awesomeness.
You have to help them solve their problems, on their terms, before they trust you enough to give you money.

Product Marketing vs. Content Marketing, Conceptually

And herein lies the difference between product marketing and content marketing.  Consider each corresponding to the type of content that I mentioned above.

  1. Product marketing creates content that educates your prospects about your brand, your offering, and how you can help them.
  2. Content marketing creates content that entertains or educates your prospects on their terms, thus earning their trust.

You’re going to want both styles of content for your blog, especially when you’re new to the market and people are unlikely to have heard of you previously through other channels.
What does having both look like, in practical terms?
The easiest way to help you understand this is to imagine two buckets of content.  The most natural content for you to create is your product marketing, and you’ll probably do this internally.
Why should people care that you exist?  What differentiates you from other solutions? How can you help users?  What makes your product awesome.  Your product marketing answers all of these questions and more.
But before readers care about any of that, you need to prime them to care.  And that’s where content marketing comes in.
Think of content marketing as building a bridge between indifferent potential customers and receptiveness to your product marketing.  If you write a tutorial that helps them troubleshoot an issue, or you define a term related to your offering that they’re googling, you bank a little capital with them.
And, after a few touches like this, their mindset shifts a little.  They start to think, subconsciously, “alright, you’ve helped me a few times, so maybe it’s worth learning what you’re all about.”

Product Marketing vs. Content Marketing, A Real (And Meta) Example

If you want to experience this distinction in real time to help you grok, consider this post that you’re reading, right now.  This post is content marketing.
You’re almost certainly here because you’re interested in learning the difference between these two terms, or else you already know and you’re looking to see how I phrase it.
Whatever your interest, you probably didn’t come here to buy content and content strategy for developer tools companies.  Do you have your wallet out, right now, getting ready to pay for some blog posts?  Are you searching around for how you can schedule a sales call with us?
Don’t get me wrongI’d love it if you were.  But something tells me you’re not.
That’s because this is a content marketing post.  Our hope is that, by creating content like this, you’ll bookmark our site or come back in the future to look things up or poke around.
And maybe, just maybe, when you’re ready and sufficiently interested, you’ll have a look at our offerings or team pages to hear more about what we’re all about.  Those pages, our case studies/results, and any future blog posts that we write about how to work with us are examples of product marketing.
This section of this post is an example of how product marketing and content marketing work together.  We’re offering a free piece of generally interesting (I hope), educational content with no expectation from you out of it.  Our only hope is to plant the seed with the links in the last paragraph so that if you’re ever in more of a “buying content” kind of mood, you’ll think of us.

Creating a Holistic Digital Content Strategy

I’ll close with some general guidance as to how to create a unified marketing strategy that incorporates both product and content marketing.  In the broadest strokes, here’s how you do that, in sequential order.

    1. Create landing pages that showcase your features and reasons to buy your offering. (product marketing)
    2. Build and publish case studies of how you’ve helped customers, as well as informational content about how customers can use your offerings to solve their problems. (product marketing)
    3. Define opinions about your niche that make you and your company unique, and that would resonate with potential buyers. (product marketing)
    4. With all of that in place, start to brainstorm broadly interesting content that casts a wide net and exposes people to your product marketing.  For instance:
      • Publish opinion pieces on social media to go for shares
      • Create broadly appealing tutorials and information posts about topics related to your users, in the hopes of bringing organic search traffic.
      • Run ads to drive traffic to your product marketing
    5. Define a strategy for steering folks from your content marketing to your product marketing.

This is obviously just the tip of the iceberg, but it should give you a decent working framework for what the mix of these pieces of content look like.  And, tying it back to the introduction, it also gives you some idea of who would be well qualified to write the content (probably influential employees for your company’s opinions and product marketing, versus a broader pool of authors for content marketing).
Digital content is an excellent strategy for creating leads, but it’s also a long-haul one.  If you’re planning a blog that’s just a series of commercials for your product, you’re better off just buying advertising.
But if you want to build a lasting, dependable source of inbound leads, you need content that they like as well as content that you like.  You need content marketing and product marketing.