contentmarketingDon’t take this the wrong way. We can still be friends and all, but if you think you are doing content marketing, you may need to think again.

After an 18-month hiatus from marketing events, I recently rejoined the circuit, when an observation startled me like a locker room towel-snap: There’s more talk of content marketing than ever before, but fewer actual results.

I’m beginning to think companies have a “find-and-replace”-deep commitment to the practice: They dust off their old presentations and substitute the words “content marketing” for whatever the PR or social buzzword was contained in the original deck. Voila! Insta-content marketer.

The thing is, yes these presenters are delivering content -- they publish a stray infographic here, a wayward ebook (with influencer commentary!) there -- yet unless those assets are integrated into the broader set of growth-driving activities, it’s not content marketing. Sure, it makes a good presentation. Good creative always impresses an audience. Maybe it’ll even get the creator featured on a list somewhere. But we shouldn’t be in the business of impressing one another or jockeying for our own PR. We should be shoveling coal into our companies’ sales engines.

Someone I admire recently said, “Everyone is waiting to see what you pull out of your hat at HubSpot.” If I were cleverer, I’d have responded, “Leads.” But the perfect comeback always arrives a little too late. Instead I explained that my goal is to grow the business. If in doing so, I happen to impress the broader marketing community, great. In other words, a killer case study should be an output, not an input.

Today it seems like marketers are optimizing for the personal case study by producing one-off pieces of content that aren’t part of a holistic inbound strategy. So we see presentations filled with examples of cool creative, but no substantive business metrics because they are disconnected from marketing itself. They’re long on content, short on marketing.

My theory is that content marketing is being run outside of the core demand generation team. So we’re seeing PR, social, and corporate marketing take ownership of the role, and those groups aren’t historically the most data-centric marketing functions. Over time, this could be a real threat to the trade. The greater the distance between content marketing and demand generation, the more difficult it becomes to prove business value. There’s a word for marketing trends that never establish business value: fad.

So what can marketers do put the “marketing” back into “content marketing”? To begin, we need to be less afraid of being boring. With a few exceptions, your company’s core audience isn’t likely to be content marketers. So stop trying to impress them. Instead, try to deliver value to the audience you do serve. While you’re at it, move the role closer to the hub of the marketing wheel: demand generation. At the very least, content should have a dotted line to demand. Finally, we as an industry should cheer results at least as loudly as we applaud creative. Because it’s results -- lead generating, cycle accelerating, revenue-driving results -- that ensures a thriving career for all of us.

Originally published Jun 16, 2014 8:00:00 AM, updated January 18 2023