By Michele Linn published December 9, 2011

Favorite Content Marketing Lessons from 2011

One of the things I love about content marketing is that there is always something to learn. Each year — in fact, each month, week or even day — I discover some new nugget of knowledge that helps me to my job better. So, I asked our contributors, “What is the most useful thing you learned about content marketing in 2011?” Read on to learn what they had to say (in order the contributions were received), and add your favorite lesson from the year in the comments.

I already knew this, but we’re starting to see it happen more and more because of recent articles by Rob and Joe: content marketing does not equal inbound marketing.  They are complementary. There is so much confusion on this.

Darryl Praill  @ohpinion8ted

“We” always beats “me.” Co-creation is the single most important strategy a content marketer can undertake. It improves quality, adds credibility, increases diversity and ensures a broader distribution channel.

Joe Chernov  @jchernov

People have less time and, even though people understand the benefits of content marketing more than they did a year ago, the squeeze on resources seems to have outweighed any intention to engage in properly planned and executed content marketing initiatives.

John Bottom  @basebot

Quality trumps quantity.  Coming from the SEO world, I held on to the belief that more is better for longer than most.  However, I have scaled back and increased quality with my clients, and I have seen tremendous results.  Sometimes more is just more.

Russ Henneberry  @RussHenneberry

My most important lesson for 2011 is that there is no silver bullet and there is always room for improvement!  Even though content marketing has been around for years, marketers have only really focused on it perhaps for the last decade.  As a result, there is so much to learn.  My one bit of advice is to take time to document a solid strategy around your goals and target audience before diving in to any execution.

Amanda Maksymiw  @amandamaks

I’ve always said the most important thing you can do is stay the course of your strategy. There were so many things that happened during 2011—Google Panda, Google +, the changing face of Facebook—and yet, I still feel that strategies I wrote at the end of last year still hold up today. Of course, we need to add in the new technologies and ways of deploying them, but great strategies are not based on predicting the future—they are based on knowing what type of work you have to do to get to great.

Ahava Leibtag  @ahaval

It’s getting harder to stand out from the fire hose of content that’s being generated these days.  Content marketing has passed the tipping point, so it’s no longer enough to have a decent eBook on your website.  B2B marketers need to generate more content and better content then find new ways to earn an audience for each piece.

Doug Kessler  @dougkessler

I’d have to say that the most useful thing I’ve learned is more of a reminder, than a new lesson.  I’ve seen with “new eyes” how content marketing is almost literally everywhere.  It’s in just about every arena and it has a wide variety of practical applications.  It’s a lesson that has reinforced my belief in how needed content marketing is today.

Scott Aughtmon @rampbusinesses

Companies, regardless of size, need the role of the chief content officer.  Someone in the organization needs to be responsible for how the company (and customer) story needs to be told.

Joe Pulizzi  @juntajoe

Your content needs a mobile home. Content needs to be seen and shared—meaning, you’re doing your program a disservice if someone can’t find your content and share it socially.  Your content needs a central repository with tools that allow people to share it out.  This can either be your blog or a resources section on your web site, for example.  This gives your content a longer life.

Jessica Eastman @JessicaEastman

It’s not just about the writing. I’ve come to appreciate how a team of people with diverse talents develop a better product. This year I dedicated a lot of budget to two areas, design and photography, and the results have been fantastic. No matter what type of content – infographics, banners, brochures, presentations, letters, business cards, white papers, case studies – a dedicated designer will make your content ‘pop’ and provide continuity throughout the project. It’s a relatively small investment for a huge return. I now bring a designer onto a project at the same time I engage a writer, at the very beginning.

Sarah Mitchell  @globalcopywrite

2011, particularly with the launch of Google+, really proved to me the necessity to evaluate the relevancy and ROI of specific marketing channels. The proliferation of digital channels, particularly social channels, has forced brands to pick and choose where they spend their marketing resources. This means that listening to your audience and understanding where they live and where they’re most likely to engage with your brand is of utmost importance. Otherwise, you may be pouring dollars into the hottest new marketing channel, only to be talking to an empty room.

– Jon Thomas (@Story_Jon)

In order for brands to create relevant content as a social publisher, they have to consume it.

– James Gross (@James_Gross)



A lot of what we do for clients is work with them to generate content ideas. Oftentimes, the road block to new content is coming up with the topic to write about or create content around. We have developed a several step process to generate content ideas and two of the most useful sites are and In fact, my buddy Lee Odden pointed one of them out to me at a conference. With both tools, you simply enter a keyword phrase and the tool will drop down a list of related keyword phrases. Great for getting the ideas flowing.

– Arnie Kuenn (@ArnieK)

Content marketing is NOT a do-it-once-and-forget-about-it initiative. Once you start using content marketing, you must consistently create and distribute quality content in a variety of formats across platforms while continuing to engage in the conversation around your existing content. For most marketers, the challenge is how to continually fuel the content engine with new, effective content. To help you, here are 56 ways to extend your content marketing.

Heidi Cohen (@heidicohen)

More traditional marketers have been in the mindset of more finite campaigns. Content marketers at all levels on the other hand, need to think more like radio station program directors, building editorial calendars that leverage consistent timing and frequency into their publishing and distribution.  The consistency and frequency of content breeds regular viewers or readers among the target audience, causing them to adjust their consumption habits based on expectations for fresh, relevant and compelling content.  If content is king, consistency is the mighty queen.

– Nate Riggs (@nateriggs)

The most useful thing I learned about content marketing in 2011 is content promotion. There are two big components to content marketing. The first is content production. You have to produce great content. But even the best content will fail if you don’t promote it to drive traffic to it because if no one reads your content, what’s the point? The second, equally important component is content promotion. I learned this best from a publisher who told me that he asked his content team to reduce the amount of content produced by 40% and then put that time into promoting their content. To him, each and every piece of content should have a miniature marketing campaign targeting key topic influencers with the objective to win links from them. The effort should be managed authentically by the actual authors themselves. While he reduced his quantity of content by 40%, he increased his overall results (page views, etc.) by over 300%. He got more quality links, which improved his SEO rank, driving more traffic. Produce great content, but that’s only half the battle. You have to promote it too.

– Toby Murdock (@tobymurdock)

The most useful thing I learned about content marketing in 2011 is this: a little bit really does go a long way.  It sounds very obvious, I know, but this is a powerful thing to remember when you are faced with building a case for content marketing. When building this case, you will have zero resources, and you may even be starting off in the hole – meaning, folks are not even interested in this idea of “content marketing” and you have to change their minds. Trying to pull out of that situation with a concept to completion strategy pitch will almost guarantee utter failure and you’ll most likely drive yourself into madness. Build your foundation by starting slow.  Show them what can be done by adding a little content to the marketing stew, one pinch at a time.  You’ll see that folks will really start to acquire a taste for it especially if you bring some closed-loop reporting to the table. (Sorry for the food references, I haven’t had breakfast yet.)- David Huffman (@davemhuffman)

Focus. Sometimes it is more useful to create content to dominate a single channel than try to address them all. This is particularly true for small business or those with tighter budgets.

– Katie McCaskey (@KatieMcCaskey)

Never forget you’re producing content for a specific well-defined target audience whether they are your prospects, existing customers, employees, business partners, donors, association members, etc. What you like or think is important may not apply to them, too. I have to remind myself this all the time. I’ll never forget Mr. Magazine’s words from this year’s Valentine’s Day: “Romancing our customers should be our first and major mission while we are creating any medium. Falling in love with our customers and not our machines should be our goal for 2011 and beyond.” This is a recipe for success. It’s not about us, it’s about them!

– Nenad Senic (@NenadSenic)

Creative often happens after a team has completed the marketing strategy and product messaging, which leaves little time for development.  I learned we need to move content planning and creative development upstream and make it part of the overall marketing strategy.  In addition, do a great job briefing the creative team.  Clients need tobe fully invested in the development process in order to create compelling content. Check out my blog: Content is King, Creative is Queen: How to Keep the King and Queen in the Whole Game.– Pam Didner (@pdidner)

This year, more businesses read about how inbound tactics like content marketing are driving web traffic and creating lead capture opportunities. But instead of looking at the movement and asking, “What’s the best way to capitalize on the customer mindset and adapt this tactic to fit our story, and what customers want to know?” some are producing web pages and thought pieces written very similar to the push marketing of yesteryear.  It’s the same self-serving “I” statements. Even while employing some SEO strategy – presumably using keywords important to the audiences during their search – those companies failed to find the sweet spot, the place where marketing creates interest because what’s being said meets needs and solves problems.

What I’ve learned from this is that we’re creating legacy in our content marketing. We’re not producing content that serves a purpose strictly for today’s business scenario like a down quarter. We’re producing communications material that should serve the interests of our brand’s audiences in as evergreen a manner as possible.When your customer’s needs and interests are at the center of your product/service and your communications, evergreen isn’t something you have to think about much. The content marketing you produce just is.

– Heather Rast (@heatherrast)

My favorite content marketing lesson in 2011 comes from Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman in their book, Content Rules: reimagine content (don’t recycle). The idea is to not simply repurpose content in new formats, but to build a content ecosystem by which large pieces of content — such as ebooks, white papers, and case studies — become new and ongoing sources for content marketing. Smart thinking! For me, this strategic approach ensures that new content relates to broader established themes in support of communication goals.

– Rick Allen (@epublishmedia)

We learned that personality and attitude really do matter when it comes to content marketing.  The days of clinical white papers and tedious, audio-only webinars are numbered.  Prospects are looking for “interesting”, not just “informative”.  We learned that the more we could put a face on our communications, the more connected and engaged our prospects felt.  And the more open they’ll be to the next campaign.  As a result, our marketing content is getting shorter and crisper, our copywriting is getting more friendly, and we’re not afraid to let our personalities shine through.  Video is critical to this; soon we’ll all be teaching our landing pages to talk and we’ll finally be experiencing webinar guests who like to talk with their hands.

– Michael Kolowich (@MichaelKolowich)

Author: Michele Linn

Michele is the Vice President of Content at the Content Marketing Institute. She is one of those people who truly loves what she does and who she works with. You can follow her on Twitter at @michelelinn.

Other posts by Michele Linn

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  • Jeff Miller, WATT

    Great summary – I will print it out and highlight the suggestions that provide the most help to our strategic initiatives.

  • Anonymous


    What wonderful content marketing lessons! In 2011, I heard [and met] content marketer Ardath Albee discuss storytelling in business. She was mesmerizing and intensely practical in her advice about content. Content marketing needs to tell a story to engage, because  
    Storytelling humanizes content.
    Stories are how we justify everything that happens in our lives.
    A story represents a narrative that educates, entertains, and engages.
    A story should always be told from the buyer’s perspective. The beginning of the story is about the buyer, who becomes aware of a problem, and feels pain escalates. The middle of the story is about seeing resolution, encountering obstacles, and finding expertise. In the end, the buyer overcomes challenges, solves problems, and emerges as hero of the story.
    [My notes about Ardath’s presentation are captured in this blog article:]Best,CB

    • Michele Linn

      A great addition, CB!

  • Marcus Sheridan

    Michele, what a tremendous job you did here. Thanks for the awesome work. :)

    • Michele Linn

      My job is easy — a big thanks to our contributors!