By Joe Pulizzi published October 6, 2010

The 80/20 Rule of Corporate Content

80/20 Rule for Content MarketingI was reading a book last night with my two boys right before bedtime. In the story was a girl named Jan. Jan was new at school and was trying to make friends with the other children.

Unfortunately, no one wanted to play with Jan, as she was left alone on the swing by herself during playtime. Why? Jan only talked about herself. She told the other children what a nice house she had; how many video games she had; about her cool dog who could do tricks; about how she was the most popular girl in her former school.

It was all about Jan. And the kids didn’t just ignore her, they went out of their way to avoid her.

It’s obvious, right? Marketers inherently know that the more they talk about themselves the more they are ignored by customers. And yet, even though we know this, most companies actually do talk about themselves.

The 80/20 Rule of Content

The more we work with brands the more we find this to be true.  Let me explain.

80% of the information (content) we develop inside companies is about our customers. We write proposals trying to solve customer challenges. We develop customer service FAQs to answer questions. We pen emails across the enterprise about how this customer needs this and that customer needs that.

20% of the content we create is sales-related content. It talks about our products and features and how wonderful we are. This is Jan.

So, the internal content we develop on a daily basis is almost exclusively focused on our customer.

Then a horrible thing happens. Before we let all that 80% of goodness be shared with our customers (through traditional/social media and other distribution outlets), a marketing expert strategically blocks it to focus on how wonderful we (the brand) are.

So, even though 80% of our content is actually about our customers and will help solve their challenges, live better lives, do better at work – in reality, the real 80% of content we share is about us and how great we are.

It still amazes me why companies don’t understand why their social media programs are ineffective.

Are you Jan? Are customers trying to avoid you?

Want to learn more?  Try this free white paper on attracting and retaining customers with content marketing.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

Author: Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi is the Founder of Content Marketing Institute, a UBM company, the leading education and training organization for content marketing, which includes the largest in-person content marketing event in the world, Content Marketing World. Joe is the winner of the 2014 John Caldwell Lifetime Achievement Award from the Content Council. Joe’s the author of five books, including his latest, Killing Marketing. His third book, Epic Content Marketing was named one of “Five Must Read Business Books of 2013” by Fortune Magazine. If you ever see Joe in person, he’ll be wearing orange. Follow him on Twitter @JoePulizzi.

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  • Christine

    HaHa! This story of Jan is perhaps the best, simplest, yet most clearly illustrated example of why it is so important to be customer-centric with your messages.
    Even in that 20% that you talk about, there are still probably ways to frame how your knowledge/ experience/ accomplishments are a customer benefit. (We’ve worked with hundreds of clients over the years and what that means for you is… )
    Thanks for this Joe – I love it! What ever happened to Jan? Did she eventually change her ways?

  • Patricia Martin

    Clever use of narrative to lead into your harder hitting message. It’s so true. I suppose the 80/20 formula was always true, but social media empowered the user and gave their eyeballs someplace else to go for the content they do want. Now brands are forced to engage and listen.

  • Joe Pulizzi

    Thanks Christine and Patricia!
    @Christine…I’ll find out tonight when we finish the book. I sure hope she does or it’s going to be a sad ending.

  • Rachel Nislick

    Great post Joe. Keep it super simple like that and it demystifies content marketing for those who are new to it.

  • K. Mayer

    It is that simple. Get other people talking about you — they’ll do the selling! Do you have any idea how hard it is to convince old schoolers of this? AGGH. I’m done trying. Screw ’em, can’t let him hold me back. Am taking what I’m learning and applying it to myself and letting bossman stand by his branding identity rules. See ya, cuz guess what? People are talking about me. Oooh, this is good. I like this. A lot.

  • Steve Kirstein

    Don’t forget about the common variant:
    “But enough about me, let’s talk about YOU. What do YOU think of me?”
    Thanks for the timely reminder.

  • Eddie

    This is a great comparison to a great point. Thanks for sharing.

  • Frank Dale

    Joe, well said! This is a consistent issue with many of the marketers I speak to around the country. As the wise Mike Bloxham says the best perspective to take is “why should they (he customer or prospective customer) care about you?”

  • Jason Dea

    Great post as always. Focus on customers rather than staring at your own bellybutton is what someone I know likes to say.

    But please everyone out there. Please use the correct terminology it’s called the “Pareto Principle” not the 80/20 rule! 🙂

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks Jason. Will do!

  • David

    Hi Joe. Good post. Was two years ago and I’m wondering if you’ve seen any improvement since then. Thanks!

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Hi David….yes, I think so…but still a ways to go.

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