By Joe Pulizzi published July 13, 2013

5 Major Content Marketing Problems (with 5 Helpful Solutions)

We have met the enemy, and he is us.” —Pogo (by Walt Kelly)

content marketing problems, solutionsDon’t get me wrong: Content marketing can be extremely complex. But in my opinion, there should be no doubt that marketers themselves are to blame for most of the problems they encounter.

Here are five issues that I’ve noticed have been bubbling to the top recently — and a few solutions that can keep them from hindering your ability to create epic content.

Problem #1: You have “jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none” syndrome

The average enterprise uses 17 different content types as part of its content marketing programs.

Odds are you are feeling overwhelmed by the number of channels you are creating content for — be it email, webinars, blogs, content for social media… and even print and in-person channels. It’s always more, more, more.

Solution: Choose one channel and be great at it. Work toward the goal of being the leading provider of information for your customers on that particular platform. It could be podcasts, like Mitch Joel’s focal point; you can concentrate your efforts on research, like IBM does; or print magazines, like John Deere’s “The Furrow.” Whatever you choose as your best option (depending on your audience, and its needs and usage patterns), put most of your energy into that channel.

Now that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be active on multiple other channels, but it does mean that your “center of gravity” should exist on your core platform (CMI’s platform of choice is the blog.) You’ll be amazed what will happen when you leverage this kind of focus.

Problem #2: You have content performance issues

If we only had a little blue pill to aid in our content performance.

Me-first content. Mediocre content. Content that is not reaching customers or helping customers in any way that you can measure. It’s a rampant problem.

Solution: Get laser-focused on your customers’ desired outcomes. Instead of primarily writing about products or services you are trying to pitch, focus first on what the reader is looking to get out of the content you provide.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Who is the exact person I’m communicating with for this story?
  • After they engage in this piece of content, what will they be able to do better or be better at?
  • Would customers engaging in this content be crazy not to share it with others?

Need a push start? Create your content marketing mission statement first.

Problem #3: You have lots of content, but no audience

It happens to all of us. We get so focused on creating our content that we forget that our audience development strategy should come first. According to CMI’s own content strategy framework, audience consideration should come immediately after content planning. Note: If you are creating content and don’t have an audience yet, please stop creating content (you may want to repeat that in your head).

Solution: Develop an audience acquisition program that combines organic and paid strategies. Here are some thoughts that will help:

  • Focus on subscriptions as a goal: If I have one regret as a content marketer, it’s that I didn’t focus early enough on generating subscribers. It took us years of experimenting, but we finally found our “Moneyball number:” the subscriber. We’ve found that once someone has subscribed to CMI’s content, they do different things than non-subscribers — things that lead to greater revenue for us. Instead of trying to drive our audience from consuming our content to an immediate sales opportunity, we’ve found success by leading them from one piece of content to additional content. (For more on subscribers, please check out these outstanding reports from ExactTarget — a great example of content marketing in action.)
  • Start with an influencer list: Build your influencer hit list and execute this strategy. Done right, your network of influencers will help you build an audience.
  • Embrace guest posting: You have to give to get. Guest posting and guest contributions should be a major part of your strategy for growing your subscriber base.

Problem #4: You’re hamstrung by legal and compliance issues

Just a few weeks ago, I met with a Fortune 500 company that is experiencing a common problem: It is unable to publish content without having to move each piece through a complex chain of organizational approval processes and legal sign-offs.

To succeed in a real-time content world, content marketers need to be able to move fast when it comes to producing content — sometimes even within minutes to stay current and ahead of the competition.

Solution: Before you start executing on your content marketing strategy, create a “rules” document that both content team members and your legal and compliance teams agree to. Keep in mind that legal/compliance departments are paid to overreact to any potential liabilities that may result from content, so the way to put them at ease is to clearly define, in advance, what your content/social team will and will not do with the company’s publicly available content.

Problem #5: You have big plans, but few resources

I hear it all the time: “We don’t have the resources to do content marketing ‘right.’ 

Regardless of the fact that this comment is the worst of all possible excuses, organizations always feel like the only available options are to create every piece of their content themselves (or with their agencies), or not create content at all. This is a huge misconception!

Solution: Co-creation, or what Andrew Davis calls Brandscaping. The idea is this: Find noncompetitive companies that are also targeting the same customers as you, and work together to develop compelling stories (here’s an example). CMI has done this with Jay Baer’s “Convince & Convert,” as well as through our partnerships with Eloqua & PR Newswire.

If you are an HVAC company, partner with a plumber. If you are a CPG company, partner with a grocer. Find a combination that works best for your business. An added bonus of this strategy is that both partners can leverage each other’s databases to distribute the content to new networks of consumers. Now that’s a solution that I would give two thumbs up to!

Joe Pulizzi’s latest book, “Epic Content Marketing,” will be released in September 2013. Preorder it now on 

Cover image via Bigstock

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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  • Randy Milanovic

    Agreed. Audience development is a crucial component. There’s no sound in a vacuum.

  • Web Development Company

    Nice post and i like that all points this is necessary content marketing problems and with helpful solution best match to both that factors.

  • Tamar Weiss

    Hi Joe, I love the quote in the beginning of this post! I would flush out #2 a bit more and suggest that B2B use personas to focus on which content will provide the best performance. Tamar, Insightera

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks Tamar! Agreed re: buyer personas.


    Lots of content and no audience. That really rhymes for industries in the machinery sector where people have very little interest in reading content.

  • Modern Marketeur

    Re #2, I find that people don’t realize that social media profiles within their brand will have different audiences with different needs. Once you figure out who you want your audience to be, identifying where you’ll find them within your network should be next.

  • tpldrew

    Thanks so much for the great post (and for including Brandscaping) as a great approach to finding resources for your big plans!
    Really appreciate it!
    Can’t wait for Content Marketing World and to see you and the gang again!

  • Shoplet Promos

    It’s a little scary to think of doing audience development before you have any content. What if the content isn’t good? What if it doesn’t get done? It’s easy to try and create content to give yourself a sense of security. Of course – it’s still the wrong way of thinking. I wish I thought of that concept before I started writing.

  • Don Montgomery

    Boy, that #4 pops up a lot more than it should. You make a terrific point there, “Keep in mind that legal/compliance departments are paid to overreact to any potential liabilities”. We had an experience where we created a white paper on spec for a potential client and the VP of marketing and the CEO loved it and loved our entire approach (We’re a content marketing agency that does turnkey content marketing) but the corporate counsel threw up every roadblock he could conceive. Finally the CEO exploded and yelled at the lawyer something to the effect of “Our sales are down 30%, these guys just proposed a very impressive way of helping us get back on track, and you’re trying to kill the entire effort over the idea that the FTC might interpret one sentence in this paper as an advertising claim? I’ll pay the damn fine! If we’re not going to invest in this marketing plan, it sure as heck won’t be because some pencil-pusher said so!”

    Your idea of having a pre-approved “rules” document will go a very long way. Marketing should have the legal guidelines manual right next to the style guide at all times.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Wow…great story Don. Thanks

  • Fluid Advertising

    Funny we’ve heard these before from somewhere….. thanks for putting this together. Very true.

  • We have no marketing staff

    #4 was a major one at the firm I used to work for. They could have a project completed which fitted perfectly with stories in the media, but it would take two weeks at least to get a press release approved, by which time the media had moved on. In the meantime, the project could not be discussed with the media until the press release was completed.

    I now work for myself as a director of a small company, we have no marketing department, I handle marketing in a small portion of my day, and without the difficulties from anyone trained in marketing, we can react quickly to news stories and publicize ourselves. We are doing very well!