By Joe Pulizzi published February 2, 2015

You Are Publishing Too Much (and Failing)

CMI_YouArePublishingTooMuch_Pulizzi-01

“The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.” – Michael Porter

More than anything else, this quote has been in my mind lately. I think all of us content marketers need to be mindful of this.

As many of you know, I’ve been working with the team on my latest book Content Inc., which will be released at Content Marketing World 2015 in September. In the book, I’m working on dissecting the business models of enormously successful entrepreneurs who grew an audience through content before launching a product (my initial Content Inc. podcast is now available).

At this point, I’m not going to get specific about the individual companies (I’ll leave that for the book and podcast), but we’ve discovered something interesting. In almost all cases, these successful content marketing-driven companies put all their energy into one channel. It was just a blog, just a series of videos, or just a podcast. Then, after many months and years of success, they began to diversify the content offerings. There’s something about building a loyal audience on one channel before giving them additional options.

Now hold that thought.

Just look at the greatest media brands of all time – The New York Times, ESPN, The Huffington Post … you get the idea. Each one of them started out by dominating through one channel (in this case, a printed newspaper, cable television, political blog) before launching additional channels.

One channel, then diversify

It’s unclear how long it takes or how large an audience needs to be to create a tipping point, but there is overwhelming evidence that there is a standard formula that works – completely focus on one core channel and grow a loyal audience over time before adding additional channels.

When B2B marketers have it wrong

OK, now let’s take a look at a few stats from our latest 2015 B2B research. (While I share B2B statistics, the same holds true for B2C and nonprofits.) Of all respondents, 62% said they were not currently effective with their content marketing. Of those, they:

  • Published content using an average of 12 tactics
  • Distributed content on an average of five social channels

I think it’s safe to assume that these “less-effective” content marketers are not launching beloved brands like The Huffington Post. They are not developing loyal, opt-in audiences by becoming the leading informational providers in their industries.

Let’s take a closer look. These marketers think they are failing. At the same time they are publishing content using an average of 12 channel types. This means they are blogging, podcasting, creating webinars, producing eBooks, creating in-person events, distributing a print newsletter … and the list goes on.

Everything in my gut AND the research tells us that this is the wrong strategy.

The prescription

I say in presentations all the time that “there is no silver bullet for effective content marketing.” I’ve seen it work in a hundred different ways. I’ve also seen it fail in a hundred ways as well. That said, you are probably doing it wrong (sorry).

Odds are that you:

  • Produce lackluster content in too many channels
  • Have not built a truly loyal audience in any one channel
  • Target too many audiences with your content

Is this you? This is what the research is telling us. B2B marketers are creating a lot of content (and planning to create even more) in a lot of channels with not a lot of results.

My advice? Start making decisions on what you are not going to do.

A few years back, LEGO killed its popular LEGO Universe platform to focus on other initiatives. At the time, I thought it was shortsighted. More than a million kids had signed up for the platform and it looked like a huge success. Little did I know what LEGO had in the works (uh, LEGO Movie anyone?). Sometimes, to succeed in one area, you need to say no and pare back.

And look at 2014 Content Marketing Award overall winner Guitar Center. Its singular focus on “helping musicians improve their craft by delivering inspiring musical experiences and performances” has been paying off … as it is adding thousands of subscribers each week to its YouTube channel (oh, and blatant pitch here…Content Marketing Award submissions are now open).

Guitar-Center-YouTube

Be honest in your own analysis about what isn’t working and start killing stuff off. At the same time, reinvest and refocus your efforts on what you believe can make the most impact on your customers.

With today’s technology, we can publish in literally thousands of places to reach our audiences. But that doesn’t mean we should. In 2015, less is more. Focus on your audience and be great … first in one channel … and then you can see what’s next. OK?

Are you ahead of this curve? Are you focusing on your audience and having content marketing success? We’d love to know about it. Submit it to the Content Marketing Awards by May 1. 

Cover image courtesy of Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi considers himself the poster boy for content marketing. Founder of the Content Marketing Institute , Joe evangelizes content marketing around the world through keynotes, articles, tweets and his books, including best-selling Epic Content Marketing (McGraw-Hill) and the new book, Content Inc. Check out Joe's two podcasts. If you want to get on his good side, send him something orange. For more on Joe, check out his personal site or follow him on Twitter @JoePulizzi.

Other posts by Joe Pulizzi

  • heidicohen

    Joe–

    I agree with your point that as a business you have proactivity choose what is important to do to succeed for the long term.That said, your market doesn’t stay static. You must continue to evolve.

    I would disagree with your media examples. CNN, not ESPN, was the media entity that changed cable. It made a small cable channel a major news force in 1991 with its reporting of Desert Storm. The problem: It didn’t continue to evolve and improve.

    Happy marketing,
    Heidi Cohen
    Actionable Marketing Guide

    • http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Joe Pulizzi

      Great point on CNN Heidi…the point I’m trying to make is that ESPN became successful first by focusing on just cable…then they launched all the other platforms (radio, magazine, events) much, much later. Thanks for the comment.

      • heidicohen

        Joe–

        To expand on your point about ESPN, they selected a strong niche in a new way. Think Sports Illustrated for cable. Luckily for them, SI and Time Inc never thought about extending into cable.

        Sports unlike the general news ALWAYS has fresh, relevant content. There are different major sports all year long.

        By contrast, the general news depends on major events (which don’t happen every day.) You need strong reporters to transform the ordinary into interesting content. (It’s one of the reasons Ann Handley is such an expert content creator.)

        Happy marketing,
        Heidi Cohen

  • ccjourn

    I am French, so sorry for my english first of all.
    I am a journalist trying to develop a media content website. After producing for about 5 years content, I realize that it’s simply not possible to be on high position in google if you do not have enough money to have others partners to work with you. Because as a journalist, i am able to write, to recommend, to analize a situation but I am not a pro to have a camera and to be recording for a web tv for instance. I spent years of my life, totally stupid to be working on so much for simply nothing ! Thank YOU so much for this article and best regards for google as well.

    • http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Joe Pulizzi

      Thank YOU for reading and commenting!

  • http://www.imaginepub.com/our-thinking Alex Braun

    Essentially the article argues that businesses are focusing on too many platforms, but the headline implies that they’re just publishing too much in general. I agree with the former, but not necessarily the latter.

    “Do one thing, and do it well” is always a smart place to begin if your budget is constricted. People are much more likely to evangelize one stellar resource than 10 mediocre ones.

    • http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Joe Pulizzi

      I see how you could read that Alex…great point at the end.

  • http://www.imaginepub.com/our-thinking Alex Braun

    Essentially the article argues that businesses are focusing on too many platforms, but the headline implies that they’re just publishing too much in general. I agree with the former, but not necessarily the latter.

    “Do one thing, and do it well” is always a smart place to begin if your budget is constricted. People are much more likely to evangelize one stellar resource than 10 mediocre ones.

  • rogercparker

    Good provocative article to encourage thinking. Your article sparks the “quality” versus “quantity” topic I often think about.

    Specifically, and especially for resource-limited firms: Is it better to be consistent or is it better to be less visible but “go deeper?”

    I think of Andy @crestodina’s blog posts for @orbitmedia: there aren’t that many each month, but when they appear, they fresh, well-researched, and relevant. They’re “evergreen” and widely shared. Same thing, with Scott Aughtmon @rampbusiness.

    Of course, with a strong editorial calendar, it might be possible to (Step 1) create a “signature” or “pillar” topic each month, and (Step 2) follow-up and expand on it 2 or 3 times by “going deeper” on selected aspects of the original post.

    Anyway, thanks for sparking a topic that needs attention at all levels. The challenge is to balance “depth” with sustainable consistency.
    Roger

    • http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks Roger. Andy is a great example. I think Andy is on to something. I just wish he would be more consistent in that strategy.

      • Andy Crestodina

        Thank you for the mention, Roger! Yes, I publish twice per month. But I do slow down a bit during the holidays.

        Thanks for the nudge, Joe. And thanks for this post. It’s a super important topic. I often give this advice to B2B marketers…

        Tune your publishing frequency to the length of the sales cycle. Ask yourself this: how long would it take your audience to meet, fall in love with and hire your competitor? Make sure you publish more often than that.

        For our industry (web design) it takes at least a month to select a vendor. So bi-weekly works for us. Make sense? Those are my $.02!

        • http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Joe Pulizzi

          Great point Andy…it always depends upon the objectives. I think if your goal was to be the leading informational resource on a particular topic, which would drive your business in a different direction, your publishing schedule would change. Thanks for stopping by my friend.

  • Rainee Carlson

    Thanks Joe, this actually clarified my direction and helped me get unstuck. I am in the process of building a blog that will launch in early Spring 2015. The point you made about directing your focus with specific content and providing more value this way (plus not spreading yourself too thin by producing too much content that isn’t working), hit the nail on the head.

    • http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks Rainee. Good luck!

  • Cathy

    Hi Joe,

    This was the best advice I ever got about content marketing. It indeed makes so much sense! All the major news papers first succeeded through print media before they made forays into other platforms. Working hard and establishing a brand values in a focused way through one channel is the key.

    Cathy Mayhue
    OzmentMedia.com

    • http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks so much Cathy!

  • Clare Alice

    Oh…gosh…. I just finished preparing an awesome multicolour super dooper 57-channel-content-planner-spreadsheet….

    At least I haven’t actually started enacting the plan yet…
    Back to the drawing board…

    • http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Joe Pulizzi

      Hi Clare…hey, you could be right…this is just what we are finding with long-term content brands that succeed. Remember, it depends on your goals.

  • Scott Aughtmon

    Hi rogercparker. Thanks for the kind mention. I really appreciate it.

    Hi Joe Pulizzi – Very interesting post. You might be interested in these facts that I discovered about ESPN and NYT …

    ESPN – They were able to build a strong primary channel because cable didn’t want anything to do with them early on. They instead connected with RCA, which had experience in satellite communication, a concept that was still new in the United States at that time. They originally planned to focus on cable and regional sports, but the ability to reach the whole country by satellite caused them to change their strategy. They pivoted their strategy and decided to get the rights to rebroadcast NCAA college sporting events. They were able to do this and lock in 2 year deals.

    This gave them their own sort of monopoly and allowed them to establish a strong primary channel.

    NYT – The Times was established by Henry Jarvis Raymond and George Jones in 1841. In 1856 the Associated Press is formally organized, with Raymond as a director. In 1859 NYT got a major jump on some important news that year that other papers missed. Later in 1861, The Times, as a leading member of the A.P., arranges for the agency to be the official receiver of all war news from the government. Before this happened, the government had dispensed news to a few favored papers.

    Again they seemed to have had a monopoly to build a strong primary channel.

    And I am pretty sure that when Arianna Huffington started the Huffington Post she got high profile friends to write for her and promote it, so that allowed her to get a greater head start on other online publications.

    Do you think that maybe if B2B marketers are going to focus on, and establish, a strong primary channel that the best way to do that is to find a small enough niche that they can monopolize and dominate?

    • http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Joe Pulizzi

      Love this Scott. I knew about ESPN, but not the NYTimes. Fascinating. And yes, to your last point…that is 100% correct (and possible).

    • Tariq Hassan

      Scott.. I think you’ve uncovered an important catalyst in this content strategy and business recipe.

      And it’s an important part of the puzzle – otherwise you could be working your butt off and wondering why no results. I do believe you have to find some advantage for your efforts to be sucessful.

      • Scott Aughtmon

        Thanks, Tariq. I am glad it was helpful to you. I think that building some sort of channel in an overlooked arena or sub-niche that you can dominate in is a key factor in building an effective primary channel. I also believe that any channel type you add to the mix should be strategically chosen to ultimately build and validate that primary channel.

  • Melissa Eggleston

    Thank you, Joe, for this sane article that I could share with clients, who throw themselves into various communication channels because someone told them they “have to be on XYZ social network” or “have to produce videos” and so on. We need less fear-based marketing and more targeted, high-quality content. Let’s all raise our content standards!

    • http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Joe Pulizzi

      Wonderful news Melissa. Thanks so much.

  • Jennifer Le Roux

    Great article. I am currently working on my content marketing strategy for 2015 so good timing too! I found Roger’s comment interesting:

    “Of course, with a strong editorial calendar, it might be possible to (Step 1) create a “signature” or “pillar” topic each month, and (Step 2) follow-up and expand on it 2 or 3 times by “going deeper” on selected aspects of the original post.”

    I am thinking of theming months or weeks and doing above but also repurposing content in visual ways. I.e. linkedin pulse articles into ezine for issuu.com and infographics etc. Webinars can also stay on the themed topic.

    My concern is the duplicate content issue as we are still migrating websites following our acquisition and don’t have website ‘home’ to focus on.

    How does everyone feel about repurposing content via different channels and media?

  • Harry Adu

    I totally agree with not doing everything just because you can OR because everyone is doing it. Focusing on just one channel in this era?? However, I feel focusing on your audience(using analytics) will help you decide where you should be. I feel the other thing content producers are getting wrong is not tailoring the content to the medium. I have been talking a lot about delivering relevant(to the recipient) content at the right time in the right format.

  • http://www.jakdzialainternet.pl Agnieszka Karch

    Great article – thanks! This was my mistake when I first started creating stuff online. With my new website in Polish, http://www.jakdzialainternet.pl , the vast majority of my traffic comes from two sources (discussions on an industry forum and Twitter). I need to constantly remind myself to not spread myself too thin, though!

  • http://twitter.com/neomammalian Danny Ashton

    Even the largest innovative companies like LEGO have to make hard choices on where they put their attention.

    It’s seems to be a natural tendency we all have is to think we need to be in every channel – as if by not even doing something you are sadly missing out on all those precious leads other people are grabbing.

    When Twitter first arrived it was enough to just get an account and post a few tweets and hope… we are now finally realizing that whilst you might feel like it’s useful you can see clearly that it’s not driving leads if it’s just one of 10 channels your working on in a day.

    Totally agree that you should find one channel – excel and then move out. But it’s hard because you have to accept that we all have natural tendency to jump onto the next shiny object – everyone remember the Pinterest craze digital marketers went through (myself fully included)!

    Maybe a post it note on your monitor with “first in one channel … and then you can see what’s next. OK?”

  • Amy Butcher

    Me too, I’m definitely going to share this with my nonprofit clients. It’s too easy to read casual, tactic-based advice online somewhere: “get on Pinterest!” “start a YouTube channel!” It takes two seconds to read that advice and potentially years to properly execute on each platform. I am always itching to start a podcast and have to kind of slap myself in the face each time I think of it, as I have other content areas, like blogging, to focus on. Love the post!

  • http://www.opentaps.com Si Chen

    Yep, this sounds like me. Thanks for pointing it out.

  • Jon Wuebben

    Really wise and sage advice Joe…and in a way, goes against some people’s conventional wisdom. More is always better, right? Being everywhere people are is better, right? usually not….because you are spreading your resources too thin (usually)…budget and people…these are the important resources. and smaller companies are forced to be more nimble and judicious with how they use them…thus, they focus on 1 really solid channel and hit it super hard. I know for me, I was making this mistake as well..from 2008-2011, I was trying to be everywhere and do everything…and it wasn’t really going anywhere. but then I decided to double down on just one thing: my new book, Content is Currency. I put almost all time, resources and budget into it and 12 months later, everything had changed. It worked. Focusing on one thing, building a base and letting your influence spread almost always leads to good things. thanks for the article Joe 😉

    • http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks so much for the insight Jon…great stuff!

  • Terri Zora

    Great article. In today’s world, however, I think it can be difficult to determine just where to focus your attention. Especially for companies that aren’t primarily a content producer, but are instead simply using content as a marketing method.