By Joe Pulizzi published March 1, 2012

Why Content Marketing (as a term) Is All the Rage

content-marketing-beginning-egg-228x230NOTE: There have been a few articles recently (one on content marketing hype and one on the term “content marketing” in particular) that motivated me to write this post.

In the Beginning, It Wasn’t Content Marketing

Back in 2001, I started selling content marketing services as part of Penton Media’s custom media division. For the most part, we sold custom magazines and printed newsletters to large B2B organizations. We were just beginning to sell things like online white papers and webinars.

At that time, there was no such thing as the term/phrase content marketing. Custom publishing had always been the term for what is now the content marketing industry. In the late 90s, custom media started to replace custom publishing as the industry term in response to the digital content phenomenon.

We at Penton Custom Media, as a group, believed in the idea that marketing should be an asset and that delivering original, relevant information to customers was critical. Yes, there was a place for advertising, but we sold on the idea that when the advertising worked, buyers wanted more information.  Without that critical information that would help buyers make decisions, the buyer may end up going elsewhere or relying on someone else for their informational needs.  We also believed that customer retention was the most under-served part of the marketing goal set, and that consistent content to customers (ala a media company) was the answer to turn customers into evangelists for the brand.

That said, this was a new concept to most of our customers, even though the idea of brands telling stories have been around for centuries.

Selling Content

Content marketing was never an easy sell. 10 years ago, senior marketers were still enthralled with the banner, the button and the direct email. Content creation was literally the last thing on their mind.

But we persevered. When we used the phrase “custom publishing” marketers thought print or books.

Custom  media, custom content? Can you be more specific?

Brand journalism…hey, we’re not publishers. Corporate content/media…is that for the employee magazine?

Customer media…that’s so European.

Brand storytelling…is this fiction?

It was truly a sales challenge because our industry went by dozens of names and it took so long to explain what the heck we were actually selling.

Content Marketing – Maybe

One day I was in a sales call and asked the VP of Marketing for a large manufacturing company, “What’s your content marketing strategy?” He looked a bit quizzical at me (as you can imagine), but leaned forward and asked “Can you explain?”

Ha, content marketing…we may be onto something.

“Content marketing is creating your own valuable, relevant and compelling content to position yourself as the true industry expert.  When you do that, your prospects and customers trust you more and are more willing to buy from you.  It’s almost like becoming the media company for your industry, but instead of selling advertising against your content, you are engaging customers with the belief that they will buy more of your products and services from you or create a better opportunity to keep them as customersContent marketing can take many forms, like custom printed magazines, advertorials, white papers, print newsletters and even webinars and web content.”

Although this VP of marketing was intrigued, and even asked for a proposal, ultimately he didn’t buy content (He bought a 6x print advertising program instead). But, ultimately, I liked his response to the “content marketing”.

From 2001 to 2007 I continued to try a number of phrases and received different directions on sales calls. More and more, as the years went on, content marketing seemed to resonate more than the others. By 2005/2006, I began to believe that content marketing was going to be the industry phrase.

The Rise of Content Marketing

In 2007, when we launched what is now the Content Marketing Institute, we based the entire business model on the belief that content marketing would become the phrase for organizations acting like media companies. So, on April 26th, 2007, Why Content Marketing? was written as my first of over 600 blog posts.

Apart from some amazing good fortune and a boatload of content that we developed around the idea and practice of content marketing, I believe it became the industry term because:

  1. It’s simple (think Apple): “You mean marketing through the creation of content?” Most marketers could figure out the term with just a few seconds of thought.
  2. No baggage: Custom publishing, custom media and even brand journalism created sometimes negative or completely wrong notions of what the industry was.  Content marketing was a fresh new phrase that had no negative past to it.
  3. It contained “marketing”: People with marketing titles pay more attention to anything with the word “marketing” in it.

I’ve read a dozen posts about how content marketing as a phrase isn’t the right term or that the idea of an industry term for what we do is just silly.  My contention is that, even through content marketing has been around for hundreds of years, one of the reasons it didn’t move faster as a core marketing discipline was because marketers simply couldn’t have an intelligent conversation about it. Since everyone was calling it something different, progress was hard to come by (think Tower of Babel).

Content Marketing vs. Custom Publishing

Content Marketing vs. Custom Publishing Search Trends Over the Years

The Industry Is Growing…Together

Regardless of whether you love or hate the term content marketing, the industry is coming together and we are learning the discipline together (see this Altimeter content marketing report and this CMI/MarketingProfs report for more).  Yes, we have a long way to go, but we are all headed in the right direction. And the amazing news is, even though we have come so far so fast, if content marketing were a baseball game, we’d just be getting out of the dugout for the first inning.  The new marketing department is now part marketing, part publishing.  This type of evolution will take some time, especially for very large organizations.

From my blog post five years ago:

One thing is for sure, it is the organizations, not individual users or publishers, that have the greatest opportunity (and possibly learning curve) to create valuable content that makes an impact on people. Smart organizations are doing it now. More will come. Things are going to get interesting.

On with the content marketing revolution!

Image courtesy of 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.

Other posts by Joe Pulizzi

  • Amie Marse

    Great stuff. I agree the current marketplace is in its adolescence and the end consumer is a sponge. Just like children, our clients are highly adaptable to change. Which is fantastic for us, as long as we don’t go after every new shiny project.

    BTW, just got the latest CCO and it rocks, as usual. Especially the 2015 spread. Thanks!

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Awesome Amie…glad you liked Chief Content Officer magazine. The team did a great job!

  • Michelle Hill

    Well said Joe!

    I was quite frustrated (maybe even a little angry) when I read that article ‘why I hate the term content marketing’. Personally I don’t mind what it’s called but the main thing is that it has finally brought focus to the actual activity across the world. People are talking about it, businesses are doing it and it is being proven as a highly effective marketing technique.

    Since our launch, every single one of our customers has come on board as a result of reading our content whilst doing research online. When it works to that extent, the last thing people should be worried about is what it’s called!


    • Joe Pulizzi

      Hi Michelle…I don’t get phased by those articles anymore. The fact that they exist mean we are doing something right.

      I agree, it doesn’t matter what we call it, as long as we do it. If content marketing resonates the most, so be it. If it changes in a couple years, then that’s where we go so more people adopt those practices. Either way, it’s all good.

      Thanks for everything you do around content marketing Michelle!

  • Eleanor

    Exactly. I’ve seen these “stop calling it content marketing” posts going around, and not one has made any sense to me.

  • Bobby Ray Burns

    Thank you for this, Joe! I love clarity and fundamental concepts. And this hits the mark. As recovering copywriter who struggled to grasp the distincitions between mere copy and images versus “content” and content marketing, I so appreciate your stance on this. It IS an industry and it is the emerging reality for any business. I strive to share this with my clients and have found that my own evolution of thinking has helped me to guide their own change of mind in regards to traditional advertising and content marketing.

  • Stephen Bateman

    I’ve been a lifelong marketer and publisher, and the ethics of publishing have always appealed to me more than the gobbledygook of advertising, for which I’ve never had any time. Now that consumers can uncover every facet of a businesses operations online and businesses can no longer hide behind hyperbole, it’s gratifying to reconcile publishing and marketing and to help non-media businesses find their true, authentic voice: the one that resonates with their customers. There’s something really gratifying about being employed by a business to help them produce content that reinforces the authentic brand identity and builds long lasting sustainable customer relationships. Long may it last and thank you Joe for working in such a heartfelt and diligent way to make this such a powerful and well articulated movement. It’s good to be a part of it 🙂

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Amazing words Stephen. Thanks so much!

  • Jack Jenkins

    Love your comment, “He looked a bit quizzical at me.”
    I was recently on a conference call with the CEO of an IT company and asked “What do you see as your content strategy moving forward?”
    The awkard silence was indeed quizzical. There’s always opportunity to educate.
    Keep up the great work!

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Ha…thanks Jack! Indeed!

  • Stephen Barnes

    Joe. I became a content marketeer (now there’s a term!) by accident in 1996.

    The book I wrote on the Hong Kong visa process lost its publisher in the Asian economic crisis and this new medium called the Internet seemed be be all the rage.

    I remember logging onto the www (remember when you had to ‘log on’) and seeing all these web pages and thinking, gee, this is just like looking at a load of discarded pamphlet handouts lying on the floor outside the exit to a subway station. There was nothing compelling about the content and I could see no reason for actually wanting to visit any of those sites.

    So, with a fully written ‘how to’ book (with a Japanese translation to boot) and no traditional media outlet for the work, I decided to put it on the Internet – and the results were incredible. This is what followed:

    1 – We dispensed with our ‘free consultation’ – this one hour loss leader was no longer needed. The information on our website had taught our prospects everything they needed to know before they ever set foot in our office.

    2 – Tyre kickers just melted away – the leads we generated came from self-qualified prospects and our enquiry to conversion rate sky-rocketed.

    3 – We DOMINATED the early search engine results pages – with multiple entries on the first pages of all the (myriad) search engines of the day, before Google eat their lunch. Our sales increased 5-6 times in the space of 12 months.

    4 – We achieved international reach – which for an immigration services provider with a niche practice in Hong Kong, was like arriving in Eldorado. Now we could catch our prospect clients BEFORE they arrived in Hong Kong which meant we had stolen a march on the competition on the ground in Hong Kong who had not yet woken up to the reality of the potential of the Internet.

    5 – It put my practice and me personally firmly on the map – establishing my credentials as the expert in the Hong Kong visa and immigration space leading to a regular guest slot on the government owned English language radio station answering questions line on air from listeners who called in and being invited to teach the Continuing Professional Development programmes to the legal community of Hong Kong.

    6 – It led to the eventual acquisition of the business in 2000 which went on to become the founding practice in the world’s (now) second largest business immigration firm.

    Just 12 months ago, without realising that such a business was founded entirely on a “content marketing” strategy, I rewrote the book from scratch, but this time using all the really neat web tools that are available to make the experience engaging
    – and built an 100% internet service delivery to support the content. The commercial results have been spectacular for an entirely new consulting services business which one year prior was really only just an idea – and in my ignorance about how customer engagement works, we have only recently realised the need to start collecting email addresses and providing ever more valuable, segmented content for free – and the role of the Blog in all of this (which we are embarking on now).

    And it is down to guys like you and all the other key players and opinion leaders in this space that I have been able to ‘wake up’ to the reality of the business that I am actually in – publishing content and selling services in support – that I have an amazing business, am miles ahead of our competitors and am quickly building content barriers to entry that will eventually prove exceptionally difficult to overcome due to the sheer investment of resources, knowledge, time and expertise into excellent content.

    Content marketing, as you have couched it, is THE future of the internet.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Amazing example Stephen. Thanks for sharing.

  • Sklep motocyklowy

    well now everything is changing and people know what is the content and they demand from us quality of words, articules, marketing and so on…

  • andrew

    Great post, Joe. An interesting read as always.

    To tie in to your “it’s simple” point, I think you’ve nailed it right there: content marketing is more accessible as a term to the common person – “custom publishing” sounds difficult and complicated. So, I think you’ve got more solo artists jumping into the game, because the barrier to entry seems lower.

    For me, I don’t mind the term “custom publishing” or even just “brand publishing,” which may be most accurate. “Publish” is still the button I hit every time I put together a blog post, so it’s not like the word is thaaaaat old-sounding. But anyway, it’s totally a nitpick and completely a distraction from actually getting the work done (instead of deciding what the word should be).

    Looking forward to seeing how the game has changed by the time we get to the 7th inning stretch!

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Great take Andrew…definitely see (and know) your point. I agree, it doesn’t matter…whatever gets us there.

  • Jeff Miller

    Hi Joe, I am Tweeting your post and providing the link to our sales staff for review. Your personal story about the history of Content Marketing will helps our team understand there is much work still to be done but the effort is worth it! Each day I see more evidence that “content marketing” is being accepted as a business term …globally! A direct quote from a Belgium customer just last week: “As content marketing is hotter than ever, the sooner we meet the better.” Music to my ears.

    Thanks again Joe – we are in this together and together we will succeed.

  • Jeff Miller

    Edited version below – sorry I type too fast and do not thoroughly these days!

    Hi Joe, I am Tweeting your post and providing the link to our sales staff for review. Your personal story about the history of Content Marketing helps our team understand there is much work still to be done but the effort is worth it! Each day I see more evidence that “content marketing” is being accepted as a business term …globally! A direct quote from a Belgium customer just last week: “As content marketing is hotter than ever, the sooner we meet the better.” Music to my ears.

    Thanks again Joe – we are in this together and together we will succeed.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Jeff…thanks so much for all your support. Truly appreciate it!

  • Evan Jacobs

    Thanks for this awesome overview of content marketing’s “origins” 🙂

    It was kind of funny to read the progression of phraseology you explored to arrive at “content marketing” – we have a lot of similar conversations here at Brafton about the most intuitive way to explain the concept and communicate its value.

    We do see “brand journalism” starting to trend though as more businesses become versed in content marketing best practices and utilize it as a vehicle for brand awareness.

  • Joakim Ditlev

    Great story Joe. I think we all know how important a common terminology is – thanks to Google.
    I got curious: Did that VP of Marketing ever buy from you later on, or is he still a happy ad spender?

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Now that’s a question. I left Penton shortly after, but was still happily spending ad money when I left. Interesting, huh.