I Used These 3 Content Marketing Buzzwords Interchangeably. Until I Realized They Meant Different Things.

2013 was the year that everyone fell in love with content marketing. Or maybe it was the year native advertising became big business. Or was it the year that brand journalism grew up?

It all really depends upon which industry you work with as a content professional, because while all these terms might get lumped together, they are individually embraced in very different disciplines and mean significantly different things. They’re used as synonyms, but they’re not synonyms. Let’s break it down:


What is it? Content marketing stands in contrast to traditional marketing tactics such as direct mail or lead generation. Because it is a tactic to solve marketing problems, it is almost always about a brand’s products (or the context for those products) and often powers vehicles like email newsletters or brand blogs focused on “incoming lead generation” through SEO.

Who uses it? Marketers.

Why’s it confusing? Because marketers tend to lump everything under content marketing, making it hard to figure out what they’re specifically talking about.


What is it? Brand publishing stands in contrast to traditional corporate communication tactics such as CRM or public relations. Basically, it’s brands reporting on themselves by absorbing some of the principles of journalism to communicate transparently, manage crises or react quickly to changing conditions, much like a newsroom.

Who uses it? PR professionals. They tend to make everything about brand journalism.

Why’s it confusing? Brand journalism is often used interchangeably with content marketing or “brand publishing,” but it’s really the specific act of brands reporting on themselves, like GE did when its nuclear reactor melted down in Japan.


What is it? In a publishing environment, native advertising stands in contrast to traditional paid media tactics such as advertising or sponsorship. It changes the relationship between brands and publishers into that of co-publishers, and works best when it focuses on something the brand and the readers share an interest in. You see them all over sites like Mashable, Buzzfeed, and The Atlantic.

Who uses it? Advertisers and publishers.

Why’s it confusing? They tend to put everything else in this bucket.

It is fairly intuitive to most people that marketing, advertising and public relations are very different disciplines that work together rather than replace each other. Far too often, though, brands don’t extend that thinking to this new language of content because those three silos are often using each other’s language interchangeably. That’s when the problems and inefficiencies start to appear.

For example, if you think of native advertising as just a way to distribute their product-focused content marketing to more eyeballs, you can easily fall into the classic trap of the ineffective advertorial. Or, if you adopt just the surface tone of brand journalism to advance a biased perspective, it can misfire and feel like lobbying or propaganda.

Ideally, brands are best served by using this as an opportunity to integrate marketing, advertising and public relations in new ways: Each of those efforts should have content as a part of their tactics, and those three efforts should unify into a content strategy that integrates them in meaningful ways.

Brian Clark (@gmdclark) is the Founder/CEO of experience design lab GMD Studios (, the former Publisher of independent film news IndieWire ( and a partner in brand content production studio Mastheading ( His brand content clients have included global campaigns for Ford, Microsoft, Qualcomm and Amplify.

What’s the deal with the Content Strategist? It’s something we created at Contently because we believe in a world where marketing is helpful, and businesses grow by telling stories that people love. Take advantage of our tools and talent and come build that world with us.

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