By Michele Linn published June 23, 2015

The One Content Marketing Question You Need to Ask (That May Scare You)


“The latest issue of CCO didn’t arrive. Can you please verify that I am still on your list?”

While this comment may seem problematic, I can’t think of a better compliment. Someone is missing the content we are publishing.

Today’s post is a short but important one.

How would you answer this question?

Would anyone miss your content if you did not publish it?

This is a question Joe Pulizzi has asked – and it’s something he talks about in his upcoming book, Content Inc. As Joe explains:

Let’s say someone rounded up all your content and placed it in a box like it never existed. Would anyone miss it? Would you leave a gap in the marketplace?

If the answer is no, then we’ve got a problem, Houston.

We want customers and prospects needing … no, longing for our content. It becomes part of their lives … their jobs.

I think of this as “content anticipation,” a term I borrow from others. This is not a new concept – in fact, I vividly remember reading a post from Frank Reed on content anticipation years ago, and the concept has stuck with me. Andrew Davis also wrote about this concept and provided a great example of content that people anticipate from Joseph Kalinowski, CMI’s very own creative director. But content anticipation isn’t something on which most marketers are focused.

Anticipation goes beyond subscription

One of the most important metrics you should track is your number of subscribers. Building subscribers is an essential goal – are you taking this a step further – to where people actually are looking forward to getting your content? Content anticipation means more than subscribers (and certainly more than social shares).

Anticipation is key to loyalty and advocacy

Why do you want people to anticipate your content? These people are loyal readers – and loyal to your brand. While content marketing is useful in helping you build awareness and impact revenue, it’s so powerful because it can help you build a better customer. If you have loyal readers, chances are you have people who are excited about your brand – and want to share it with others.

How to create content your audience will crave

Of course, the question becomes: How do I create content that my audience craves?

Before we look at some things that you could do, here are some reasons why people may not miss your content:

  • It does not truly answer questions.
  • It covers a topic too broadly.
  • It is me-too content that sounds like any other brand.
  • It is dull – and people do not want  to read it (even though they should read it).
  • It’s not in the format someone wants to use.
  • It reads like an advertisement or promotional post.

So what can you do? Think about the content that you love, both in your industry as well as in general.

Study those authors, designers, and videographers and try to figure out why you love them and why you look forward to viewing their content.

  • Is it their tone?
  • The way they make their points?
  • The headlines?
  • The length?
  • The design?
  • The format?
  • The spin on a topic?

Your intent is not to copy what others are doing, but to truly study – and reverse-engineer – what works well. At the very least, you’ll get some ideas on how you can better create and design content for your audience.


Infographic source

An example of crave-worthy content

In a recent CMI newsletter, Joe shared some stats from The Skimm, a newsletter that presents the day’s news. It has 1.5 million active users per month and a 45% daily open rate. (Its founders just received a $6 million investment to continue growing the company.)


I’m a recent subscriber, and I admit that I find myself reading the vast majority of these emails. What impresses me so much about this is that they cover a common topic – the news – but they do so in such a useful and niche way.

Would people miss The Skimm’s content if it were gone? Chances are, they would.

I’d love to hear from you: What content would you miss if it were gone? Anything is fair game – it does not need to be from a brand. You can use this list to get inspired to create content that your audience will truly love.

Want to learn more about creating content-driven and crave-worthy experiences for your customers? CMI’s step-by-step workbook will show you how.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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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  • CLopez

    Forgive my mild pessimism …. but im beginning to feel content marketing might either fail or evolve at some point. Target audiences are being over-loaded with so many pieces of well optimized content that they would’nt know what to choose or how to react to these content pieces …. which eventually would lead to them not missing your content. Even though one may take a lot of pains and efforts to keep them relevant. While Content Marketing is enjoying it’s good days of attention ….. maybe the industry needs a new approach! It is reaching a crossroads! It will be interesting to watch what happens!

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Hi C…I know a lot of people that feel like you. Just a couple thoughts. Content marketing had been around for centuries, but it is evolving. Most organizations are just at the very beginning of understanding the power of this type of communication. I think what you are bringing up is that too many businesses are saying the same things, which won’t work. There is always room for a different story, we just have to find it.

      • Scott Aughtmon

        Hi C. What you are describing is the problem I’d call “generic content overload.”

        Online content was once a rare thing. Now it has become a commodity. A person (or business) can’t just post any-old, average content and expect to see results.

        But that DOESN’T mean that content marketing and content creation are a waste of time. In fact, I would say they are needed more than ever.

        The good news is that even though content is now a commodity, unique content is in demand more than ever.

        In fact, I’d say that if you’re going to create content, then it has to be original. It has to stand out. It has to have personality. Otherwise it’s a waste of time.

        That’s why I agree with Joe. There is always room for great content that tells a different story… or tells a common story in a different way.

    • Michele Linn

      Hi C — I agree with Joe and Scott. I think the issue is too much “me too” content, which is why I think marketers really need to ask the question posed in the post. Not to pitch Joe’s upcoming book, Content Inc., but in it he writes about the concepts of finding your sweet spot and the content tilt. These exercises will make your content focused and unique for your audience — and your target audience will want to read / view your content.

  • rogercparker

    This is one of those articles where I don’t know which I like better: the writing or the graphics. A fine balance. Provocative use of the word “anticipation.”

    • Michele Linn

      Thanks, Roger!

  • Scott Aughtmon

    Hi Michele,

    I really like the idea of “content anticipation” and I think it’s an important concept that should be considered and mastered by anyone who wants to create effective content. I think Seth Godin is a master at this, because people fiend for his books and blog posts like an addict looking for another hit! :)

    P.S. Thanks for including my “21 Types of Content We Crave” in this post. I really appreciate it.

  • issuemagazineplus

    Hi Michele,

    Very good article. This article came across at the right time when we are working on content for our new start-up. It clearly provides direction on what to write and how to represent.

  • Mike Myers

    Great stuff, Michele! It reminds me of another point Andrew Davis makes about making an appointment with your audience…and keeping it. He has talked about Say Daily, a site that uses venn diagrams to look at the world in their feature called the week in venn. Moz also does this well with their Whiteboard Friday feature. Like The Skimm, these examples don’t take a lot of your time, but I do believe people would miss them. To your point, people definitely anticipate their content. Now the rest of us need to find a way to do exactly that. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Michele Linn

      I like the connection you make between appointment marketing and anticipation marketing, Mike. Great point!

  • russellsparkman

    How to become indispensable? A brand that answers that question in their product or service category, rules the category. You can be indispensable by sending the promised content that comes weekly. Or, it can be the one epic content experience that provides value for years, even without constant updates. Tapping into your brand purpose (your reason for existing, beyond profit), is one way to unlock the key to creating indispensable content.

    • Michele Linn

      Great perspective, Russell. Thanks for chiming in.

      • russellsparkman

        You’re very welcome, Michele.

        In Built to Last, Good to Great (Jim Collins & Jerry Porras), this little data point is shared:

        Purpose and value driven organizations outperform the market by 15:1.

        If you connect this little insight to the inevitability that brand competition is no longer about product/service features and benefits, but is also about offering indispensable, quality content, you can grasp why purpose is such an important (and potent) wellspring of content ideas.

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  • Tap Analytic

    If you
    write Content or Prepare something for an audience. Then there is no point of
    keeping it to yourself as A Meal not eaten is Nothing but waste of resources
    and time.

  • Phil Smith

    Some great insights but many content marketers never get anywhere near the point of building an audience. There are two major problems. The first of which has already been commented on – content (or should I say repetitive or poor quality content) overload. The second is content (often great, insightful content) never reaches its potential audience. Content delivery and placement is a key skill that is often missed.

    • Michele Linn

      I think you hit on an issue, Phil: If you aren’t building an audience, why are you investing time in content marketing? And I completely agree: “Content delivery and placement is a key skill that is often missed.” When you have that great content, you need to market it so it gets in front of the right people (which in turn helps you build your audience). Thanks for commenting!