Do You Know Your Why? Your Content Marketing Success Depends on It

content-marketers-what-doesnt-matter-why-lackingEditor’s note: You may have missed this article when we published it last year. We’re sharing it now because it’s a critical reminder of the key ingredient for any successful content marketing program.

After listening to This Old Marketing Episode 116, Professor Marc Resnick from Bentley University responded shortly before his death with the following commentary:

“Which would energize me (or anyone) more as a creative business professional?

  1. Creating content that has the primary purpose of driving the sales pipeline and a secondary purpose of improving the life of my user.
  2. Creating content that has the primary purpose of improving the life of my user and a secondary purpose of driving the sales pipeline.

“Clearly the second one.

“I find this to be a great value proposition for why organizations should use your content marketing approach. Having energized employees is great for productivity. It is touted as the Holy Grail for millennial generation employees. And unlike other management hypes, this one really works.”

I believe most marketers would agree with Marc in theory but not in practice.

Switching the mission

In the documentary The Story of Content: Rise of the New Marketing, River Pools & Spas co-owner Marcus Sheridan shares the following about the company’s turnaround from near bankruptcy to becoming the global leader in Fiberglass pool education (26:54 mark):

The moment we stopped saying, ‘We’re pool builders,’ and started saying, ‘We are the best teachers in the world about Fiberglass pools and we just happen to install them as well,’ … that was one of the most prosperous days of our lives.

Before this, River Pools was like every other pool company – it installed pools. What became the difference in River’s success was moving the product from primary to secondary in the mission.

Success of @RiverPoolsBlog happened when it moved the product from primary to secondary in mission. @JoePulizzi
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What do you sell? Most likely, what you sell is primary to your company’s mission, which is then passed down to your content marketing mission. Do you know what this creates? Self-serving content that does nothing for the audience and wastes time and resources of the brand.

Let’s consider a large enterprise like 3M as an example of what you should be doing. Over the next five years, the majority of 3M sales will come from new products. If 3M focused its mission around specific products and services, it would not only be impossible (3M provides thousands of products), its mission would constantly change because the products change.

In reality, 3M’s mission is all about helping people live a better life through advancements in science. This is a noble mission on which to base the direction of its content – focused on the needs of the audience with a specific content tilt (science).

More than ourselves

Most marketers are so terrible at content creation because the “why” to them is about driving demand and selling more widgets.

Kirk Cheyfitz, CEO of Story Worldwide, says that “like a decent human being, brands need to be about more than themselves.”

Like a decent human being, brands need to be about more than themselves, says @KirkCheyfitz. #contentmarketing
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It seems too simple, but almost all brands get this wrong. We focus on what our organizational goal is and create content we believe drives that organizational goal. This works in advertising, why shouldn’t it work in content marketing?

Sadly, it doesn’t.

Sure, the organizational goal (e.g., sales, savings, customer loyalty) is important, but to hit that goal we must focus on the needs and wants of the audience. How can we be so useful and impactful to the audience outside of the products and services we sell?

To reach the organizational goal, we must focus on the needs and wants of the audience, says @JoePulizzi.
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To Marc’s earlier point, the primary goal must be focused totally on the audience, and the business goal needs to be secondary. Or, maybe better said, you can’t reach the business goal without first serving the needs of the audience. Once we deliver consistent value to our audience – and they begin to know, like, and trust us – then we can extract value from that relationship.

Do you want a better lead-generation program? Then focus all your energy on building ongoing subscribers to your content, and THEN create leads from your subscriber base. We’ve worked with hundreds of B2B companies in the past seven years and literally no one does this.

Let’s take CMI for example. We believe in Marc’s point in both theory and practice. Our mission is to advance the practice of content marketing so that enterprise marketers can be more successful in their jobs – getting buy-in for the practice, showing return for the investment, and organizing the approach so they are successful.

That’s the primary focus for CMI. How do we “show” return for our efforts? We build an audience of subscribers to the content itself. Once we have an ongoing relationship with them (around their needs), and they begin to know, like, and trust us, then (and only then) do we present products (like Content Marketing World) in front of them that align with that audience need and help CMI’s bottom line.

Marriott believes that if it can solve its audience’s travel problems consistently, that audience will be more likely to stay at a Marriott. Indium believes that if it can solve its audience’s needs around industrial soldering equipment, the audience will be more likely to buy Indium’s soldering equipment.

In contrast, if the real why to creating your content is an internal business goal, odds are 99-1 against success.

If real “why” to create your content is an internal business goal, odds are 99-1 against success. @JoePulizzi
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Your ‘why’ affects your ‘what’

You may be asking why this is so important. Here it is.

I’ll let comedian Michael Jr. explain. It’s worth the 3 minutes. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

When people talk about their content marketing, they talk about the WHAT … the blogs, the podcasts, the videos, the events, the social posts. But the WHAT doesn’t matter if the WHY is lacking.

The WHAT doesn’t matter if the WHY is lacking.

The WHAT doesn’t matter if the WHY is lacking, says @JoePulizzi. #contentmarketing
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Nobody cares about your products or services. If your why is based on selling more shoes or consulting services or routers, your WHAT will have no soul. Your content will be wanting.
Why you exist is not your product. Your why is the problem your product solves.

Next steps

If you are reading this far, odds are you are in this exact situation. Changing your WHY is desperately challenging. It’s a cultural shift, which always takes time. IT MUST BE DONE.
Start slowly but begin now. Presenting a visual content audit could be a solid first step. Just place samples of your content in front of your executive team and have them engage with the content you produce. Is the content in line with your brand’s deeper mission or does your content exist solely to pitch your product?

Your findings may uncover that some of your WHAT should cease to exist until you can get your WHY straightened out. Good luck.

Want to learn more and be inspired by businesses that follow a subscriber-first model? Check out Joe’s book, Content Inc. Want to be inspired by great speakers like Michael Jr.? Register today to attend Content Marketing World 2017. Use code BLOG100 to save $100 on registration.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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This Week in Content Marketing: The Solution to Facebook’s Fake News Problem

PNR_Episode191-01PNR: This Old Marketing with Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose can be found on both iTunes and Stitcher. If you enjoy our show, we would love it if you would rate it or post a review on iTunes.

In this week’s episode

Robert ponders how we can illuminate our paths forward in the face of unpredictable change. On the news front, we actually arrive at a viable solution to Facebook’s fake news problem. If only Mr. Zuckerberg were listening. We also discuss research findings on artificial intelligence and marketing, and why media companies are lousy at audience development. Our rants and raves include agency changes and more AI; then we close with an example of the week from the U.S. Postal Service.

Download this week’s PNR: This Old Marketing podcast

Content love from our sponsor: Content Marketing World (39:50)

Content Marketing World 2017 – The largest content marketing event in the world returns to Cleveland on September 5–8. This year’s conference will feature over 120 sessions and workshops presented by leading brand marketers, as well as a keynote address from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Colson Whitehead. You’ll come away from this event with new insights, tips, and tools that will help you create epically successful content. But our discounted summer registration rates are coming to an end on July 21, so register today. And don’t forget to use coupon code PNR100 to save $100 on the cost of registration.
Colson whitehead

Show details

  • (00:01): An advertising blast from the past: “I’d Love to Be an Oscar Mayer Wiener”
  • (00:20): Robert muses on this week’s theme: The nature of inevitable change
  • (05:56): Welcome to Episode 190: Recorded live on July 8, 2017 (Running time: 57:17)

The PNR perspective on notable news and trends

Rants and raves

  • (42:50): Robert’s rave No. 1: Robert came across an article in Harvard Business Review that he feels does an excellent job of describing the challenges today’s chief marketing officers face, and explaining why this position experiences the highest turnover in the C-suite.
  • (45:40): Robert’s rave No. 2: Robert also praises this AdAge piece for its insightful look at how Unilever is eliminating waste in the agency equation, including the changes it has made in its production processes, hiring practices, and compensation structure.
  • (47:05): Joe’s rave: With this week’s discussion so heavily steeped in AI, I wanted to give a shout-out to our good friend of the CMI family, Paul Roetzer, who launched the Marketing Artificial Intelligence Institute a year ago. If you don’t understand the implications of this technology on today’s marketing function, I urge you to subscribe to the institute’s e-newsletter.

This Old Marketing example of the week

(50:00): U.S. Postal Service: One of Robert’s friends, who is an actor, recently mentioned that he was auditioning for a kids television show called The Inspectors. Robert did a little digging, and discovered that the show – a CSI-style procedural in which (fictional) postal inspectors investigate mail-related crimes – has a unique tie to content marketing: It’s the only commercial television show currently being funded by the U.S. Government. As this Deadline profile piece points out, the show is fully funded by the U.S. Postal Service – but no taxpayer dollars are used to support it. Instead, the show’s budget is generated through asset forfeiture and sales of merchandise confiscated from crimes like the ones the show investigates. With each episode featuring a message from the real-life chief inspector of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, it’s an intriguing This Old Marketing example of how to use entertainment content to raise public awareness about some serious real-world crimes.

the-inspectors1Image via CBS

For a full list of PNR archives, go to the main This Old Marketing page.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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Ditch the Term ‘Content Marketing’ … Unless You’re Talking to Marketers

ditch-term-content-marketingNote: This article is totally inside baseball. It will not help you at all in creating better or more customers, so if you skip it, no worries on my end.

In a long line of past articles, this one popped into my Twitter feed a few weeks back. For almost 10 years now, I’ve seen hundreds like it. But here we are, again, talking about why “content marketing” is a terrible term for the approach of creating valuable and compelling information over time to maintain or change an audience behavior.

Let’s talk about it.

Feel free to go ahead and read and/or skim the article at this time. No really, I’ll wait.
Thanks. I’m glad you made it back.


I started working at Penton Media in 2000. At that time, Penton was the largest publicly owned B2B media company. It included hundreds of magazines, events. and web properties from manufacturing to organic foods.

I was hired in Penton’s custom media division, where I oversaw custom content projects as an account executive. Penton Custom Media was a small division where we worked on custom print magazines for large B2B enterprises as well as a few associations. As far as new business was concerned, we received leads from the advertising-sales team only when they couldn’t sell a page, booth, or banner. In other words, we got the scraps.

Everything changed after Sept. 11, 2001, when Penton went from a $30 publicly traded stock to 7 cents per share (look it up, it’s true). Amid massive debt, Penton scrounged for every dime. It made massive cutbacks in spending and ALL revenue options were considered viable … even custom media.

In 2001, there were eight people in the reporting structure between myself and the CEO. By 2002, I was reporting directly to the CEO and responsible for the custom media division (simply put, I was what they could afford at the time).

Without a sales team, it was my responsibility to go out and bring in new business. Twenty-eight years old and with barely a clue, I traveled around the country to visit chief marketing officers and vice presidents of marketing at mid-to-large B2B companies.

It was a massive failure. At the sheer mention of custom media, custom publishing, customer media, brand publishing, branded content, and custom content (I tried them all) I was summarily dismissed. It became harder and harder to even get 10 minutes of face time to discuss how a different approach might work better than just advertising.

Sheer mentions of custom media, custom publishing, brand publishing got @JoePulizzi dismissed by prospects.
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And then, I went to visit a large B2B technology company in Silicon Valley and scored a visit with the communications director. As I entered her office, I tried out a new term and asked her “what kind of success was she having with her content marketing initiatives?”

For the first time, the person I was meeting with scooted up in their seat a bit. She actually seemed interested in the conversation. I struck a chord for the very first time.

I then proceeded to talk about some of their initiatives (their custom magazine and digital articles) and how that was part of a content marketing approach, and went on to talk about what I’ve seen other companies accomplish with content marketing.

From that discussion, I sold a custom magazine program valued at almost $1 million (it was an amazing score for us). From that moment on “content marketing” became my go-to phrase for the industry.

Great epiphany

It was an epiphany for me. After that meeting, I did some research on the marketing industry in general. All the separate disciplines that marketers were spending time on had “marketing” in the phrase – direct marketing, search marketing, email marketing, event marketing, guerilla marketing, cause marketing. Oh, it all seemed so simple now.

“If you are talking to marketers and want to convince them of an approach they should use or consider, you better call it some-kind-of marketing,” my internal dialogue said.

“To convince marketers of an approach, you better call it some-kind-of marketing,” says @JoePulizzi.
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That simple truth (which still exists today) changed my future, so much so that I put everything into one basket, ultimately left Penton, and started what became the Content Marketing Institute. Switching on the proverbial light switch made everything much easier. It became easier to get appointments, easier to sell the concept internally, and easier to get actual business.

Know thy audience

It’s fine if you don’t like the term “content marketing.” I know many amazing and talented people who absolutely loathe the term. Everybody is entitled to their opinion.

But I would ask you this: Who are you targeting and how are you using the term with that audience?

You see, if you work for an agency and you want to use branded content or brand publishing internally, by all means go right ahead. If you are a content strategist and you can’t bring yourself to use content marketing, it’s probably fine … unless you are talking to marketers. Marketing decision-makers won’t take you seriously unless you are talking about some kind of marketing.

Of course, you are talking about building a relationship with an audience. About building an editorial calendar. About creating amazing content over time, with a distinct opinion. Those are all good things to do, but don’t ever, ever forget what you are really doing. If you are a media company, an agency, a large corporate enterprise, you are and will always be … marketing.

If you hate the term “content marketing” and want to change it to something else, I’d be happy to take a look at it. But the term better have “marketing” in it if you are talking to marketers or you are wasting everyone’s time.

If you hate the term #contentmarketing, you better choose another one w/ “marketing’ in it, says @JoePulizzi.
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Since you’re a marketer, Content MARKETING World applies to what you do, how you do it, and how to gain success. Register today and use BLOG100 to save $100.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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