In a landscape of growing online consumer/firm interactions, digital content marketing (DCM) which aims to foster consumers' brand engagement and trust, is on the rise. However, despite significant practitioner interest, academic DCM research is lagging, resulting in an important knowledge gap. Based on an extensive review, we conceptualize DCM as the creation and dissemination of relevant, valuable brand-related content to current or prospective customers on digital platforms to develop their favorable brand engagement, trust, and relationships (vs. directly persuading consumers to purchase). We also develop a conceptual framework that identifies important consumer-based DCM antecedents, including uses-and-gratifications (U&G)-informed functional, hedonic, and authenticity-based motives for DCM interactions. DCM's first-tier, intra-interaction consequences include consumers' cognitive, emotional, and behavioral engagement that foster brand-related sense-making, identification, and citizenship behaviors, respectively. These in turn trigger DCM's second-tier, extra-interaction consequences of brand trust and attitude, which successively contribute to the development of DCM's third-tier, value-based consequences of consumer and firm-based brand equity. We summarize our findings in a set of Fundamental Propositions (FPs) of DCM and conclude by deriving key implications from our analyses.
With companies like Rolex, Nike, Coca-Cola, New York Times, and Random House successfully implementing digital content marketing (DCM) initiatives, DCM represents an important and growing vehicle for fostering consumer awareness (Carranza 2017), engagement (Ashley and Tuten 2015; Raso 2016), sales lead conversion (Kakkar 2017), trust (Duhon 2015), and loyalty (Roggio 2017: Wang et al. 2017). Correspondingly, global DCM revenue, which has risen from $87.2b in 2009 to $144.8b in 2014, is forecast to grow further to $313.4b by 2019 (Statista 2017). DCM, which has been defined as “the management process responsible for identifying, anticipating, and satisfying customer requirements profitably” through relevant digital content (Rowley 2008, p. 522), is thus heralded as an important relationship marketing tool. That is, it has been viewed to aid the development of consumer connections and attachment to brands, thereby contributing to firm performance (Carranza 2017; Kakkar 2017). With “70% of consumers [indicating they] want to learn about products through [e.g. blog-based] content, as opposed to traditional advertising” (MGDA 2014), DCM's growing importance is evident (Carmody 2017; Hollebeek and Brodie 2016). Contrary to advertising that is designed to persuade consumers to purchase focal offerings, DCM focuses on increasing (potential) customers' appreciation of the brand or firm by adding value to their lives, such as by educating them about the brand (e.g. via e-newsletters, ebooks, quizzes, blogs, or podcasts; Järvinen and Taiminen 2016). That is, while advertising aims to foster sales in the short run, DCM is “the art of communicating with [prospective] customers without selling products” either overtly or directly (Bicks 2016).