Marketers have made leaps and bounds in the last few years in getting content marketing engrained in their vocabulary and that of their companies. But it’s one situation in which "fake it ‘till you make it" may be causing more harm than good.

Forrester Research predicts that unstructured enterprise content volume is growing at a rate of 200 percent annually. Enterprises now function as content factories. However, how much that acts as a differentiator — or a weight that hinders forward progress — depends on how well the content is managed.

Most brands focus on the same thing: purely generating content.

And therein lies the problem.

Content ≠ Content Marketing

Buying a pair of pants doesn’t make you a fashion model. Flying on a plane doesn’t make you a pilot. Eating an incredible meal doesn’t make you a chef. And publishing content does not make you a content marketing success.

I hear brands talk about how they bought into content marketing and it hasn’t done squat for them. I ask them about the purpose of their program, what objectives they set and if I can see their documented strategy.

Awkward silence.


Here it comes. Almost every single time. Pick one.

  • We don’t need a content mission, we just need to raise brand awareness. How can you raise awareness for a company that can’t articulate how they’re different?
  • We knew what we were doing so we didn’t really need a strategy. Let’s use some common sense based on human behavior. Go to the grocery store without a list and see what happens. Yep, you leave $100 later and forgot to buy what you went there for. Again
  • We want to be known as a thought leader for (fill in the blank). In order to… ? They hadn’t really thought that one through, but once they become a thought leader the next step will become clear. And as to how they’ll actually get there, see the previous bullet
  • What business objectives does your program support? Business objectives? No, they’re in marketing, they tell me. It doesn’t matter what you do in any company, if you’re not showing up every day to move the business forward, then what you do doesn’t add value. It doesn’t take a genius to compute your corresponding job security
  • Who are you trying to engage… specifically? Of all the things that stump me, this is one of the biggest. How can you not know who you’re talking to? That’s just ridiculous. If you’re invited to dinner or out to a party, what’s the first thing you ask. Who’s going to be there? You want to spend your time with people who matter to you. Content marketing will never be relevant unless marketers know what’s meaningful to their audience

Driven by Purpose

People ask questions about how to make their content marketing program effective, and they want tactical answers. Tighten this. Move that to the right. Now restart the engine. While no program can succeed without consistent execution, tactics won’t matter if the content strategy lacks purpose.

Marketing’s the only group that touches every department in any organization; it’s the common function that connects everyone with audiences. Because of that, marketers have an incredible opportunity to serve as the conduit between the customer and the company. But that requires looking at our charge from a different perspective.

Marketers have to put this purpose first and foremost — building audiences and creating differentiating experiences. To do this means changing how you look at content. It’s not a project, it’s a process. With that, marketers need to create a repeatable, manageable and scalable framework in order to develop a storytelling-focused organization.

The Ultimate Destination

In order to build audiences and create differentiating experiences, marketers have to get away from push-based outbound marketing. That’s the root of frustration for many content marketers. “We’re doing all of this stuff, but nothing’s happening.”

The problem is with the question. Here’s what we should be asking: How can my brand become the premier destination for my target audience so that I can deliver value and make their life easier? This means that marketers have to earn their audience’s attention, not just buy it. And they have to reach and engage new audiences, and then convert them into revenue-generating customers.

Successful content marketing doesn’t come from talking about content. Brands who are killing it are the ones creating value through content outside of the products and services that they sell. They’re creating a portfolio of differentiating content-driven experiences and then managing them as valuable assets.

In order to stand out in a deluge of content sameness, marketers have to be willing to create actual value for customers, not just talk about the value of what they sell.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by  pedrosimoes7