By Joe Pulizzi published June 16, 2014

If Your Content Marketing is for Everybody, It’s for Nobody

audience-for-content-marketingQuick test: Who’s the audience for your blog? How about your eNewsletter? Your podcast? If you are like most enterprises that sell multiple product lines to multiple audiences, you may have two, three, four or more different audiences you are trying to target with the same content initiative. How’s that working for you?

Two case studies

Large technology company. While Robert Rose and I were in Toronto for the LinkedIn Content Marketing Master Class, one attendee had a question about buyer personas. More details revealed this large technology company (a Fortune 100 company) had precisely 18 different audiences they were targeting with their single blog. Needless to say, the blog wasn’t working very well for them. Who is the audience for Forbes? According to Forbes Media, the site targets the world’s affluent business leaders with insights and information. OK, that’s a bit broad, but I can live with that. But with a quick look at articles, it’s clear to see that targets the audience known as “the entire planet.” Not only can you find what to wear to a regional small business conference, but you can also find which historic cemeteries have outdoor music performances. Hmmm. Even worse, while some content of Forbes AdVoice (its native advertising program) is relevant, much of the paid content is pretty useless for just about everybody. I believe this is why Forbes is having a tough time selling the company. Forbes is asking for an estimated $400 million for the brand, but reports are that is an unrealistic number.  Why? Because it’s incredibly hard to monetize an audience of everybody.

Four questions

Whether your goal is to sell more software or advertising, you need to get focused on your core audience. If you haven’t already, answer these questions and make sure your entire content marketing team pastes them to their foreheads.

  1. Who? Who is the audience for each piece of content (fill in the blank, i.e., blog)? Who is the specific buyer persona you are targeting with this platform?
  2. Why? Why are you doing this? What is the behavior change that you must see to call this content initiative a success? (Do you need to drive sales, save costs, or drive customer loyalty?)
  3. Outcome? What’s in it for the reader? How are you making their lives better or jobs easier in some way? What’s the pain point you are solving for them?
  4. Replacement factor? If you didn’t provide this kind of information for your audience, would they care — or notice? Could they find the information elsewhere? Is what you are saying really that important?

While all these questions are important, if you have multiple responses to “who,” the other questions are almost impossible to answer. Having multiple audiences waters down the content, has less impact and will be almost impossible for you to accomplish your marketing goals.

Two that do it right

Indium Corp.: Indium Blog.

Audience target: Engineers with questions around industrial soldering equipment.

Indium Blog Indium has become the de facto expert on all things industrial solders because that’s all they cover–specifically for engineers.

OpenView Venture Partners: OpenView Labs Blog

Audience target: Growth-minded entrepreneurs seeking early-stage funding

Screen Shot 2014-06-11 at 4.42.47 PM

This “value-added” venture-capital company commits a number of internal resources to becoming THE resource for early-stage company executives.

Next steps

Don’t get overly complicated with the solutions. This is as simple as doing the analysis, getting your team together and discussing.  Many times, branded content initiatives start with a singular audience focus but expand over time to multiple audiences. If that is the case, start with your poor-performing initiatives first. This fix may be that you focus on your core audience, and use another platform or initiative to communicate with your secondary audience.

And one last reminder: You may not need a content marketing initiative targeted to every audience.

Good luck and stay focused.

Ready to make content marketing an integral part of your business operations? Download our workbook to learn how to Launch Your Own Content Marketing Program

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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  • brad sands

    “And” is the enemy of success. This is intuitively recognised by most. But it does require conviction and discipline to focus on an audience and not be distracted by broader opportunities.

  • tpldrew

    I like to say: Get Rich. Target a niche. You can’t be everything to everyone. Be something to someone.

    • JR

      And in this age of social media, that can be enough to get your message before a much broader audience without targeting that broad audience.

    • Joe Pulizzi


  • Adam P. Newton

    Thanks for this article! I appreciate the reminder that shaping the “Why?” of my content is crucial to content success.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks for stopping by Adam!

  • Pamela Muldoon

    On of my marketing phrases is “the more focused you are, the more money you make”. Thanks for the reminder, Joe!

    • tpldrew

      That’s a good one! Love it.

  • Virpi Wahlman

    Good reminder on how you can get tangled with the need to be heard, but really not recognizing who is the audience. And if you have multiple target groups, use segments and reflect all this with business strategies!

  • Simple [A] Team

    Audience is everything! BTW the audio version of Epic Content Marketing is great for long road trips. Even better than caffeine!

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Now that’s saying something. Thanks so much!

  • Jade Davis

    Audience is so important! I loved reading this. If you make your reader feel like you’re trying to cover everything, they’ll get nothing out of it. Besides, nobody wants to read something that sounds like you’re just shouting into a crowded room. You have to take people aside and talk directly to them. Only then will you start to see results!

  • Rob TheGenie Toth

    The “trouble” with a truly mind-blowing volume of content being easily accessible (and growing tremendously every day)… is that if the content isn’t written to match the voice in my head and doesn’t hone in on my interests, you’d have to fight hard to keep my attention. And you’d likely lose because my attention span and, more importantly, my ability to find an alternate source of more targeted content feels almost infinite in many cases.

    It’s getting to the point where soon I’d want articles written for personal profiles and business models and interests that eerily parallel me. (And, in fact, I think with big-data combining with a media serving platform tied into content producers, that’s not far from a reality).

  • Jitendra Padmashali

    Great, According to me with more and more companies developing a content marketing plan for their business, it’s important to understand how you’re performing against industry standards.

  • Luke Miller

    Great article! Now I know!

  • Diego V

    I don’t understand why people get so hung up on this (btw – this is not an attack) I just don’t get why everyone jumps in the target bandwagon.

    You (for example) don’t write “Content Marketing (FOR) ……….” you just write “Content Marketing” (period!) – in other words, your content is for everyone!! Same as Dan Kennedy, it’s for everyone, yet most of you must have read a book that said to target a specific group of people ONLY, and you missed the part where it actually says why.

    Target Marketing is only for those that can’t afford (time or money) to talk to everyone. It simplifies YOUR content and YOUR sales process as oppose to making someone feel special. It’s about YOU, not the client, customer, patient, etc. Yes, I do get why a “Dentist” would want to listen to someone whose specialty is “Dentists”, but this is what I meant with the “can’t afford (time or money)” part above.

    I don’t need to feel special or babied when you talk to me, I just need great content and smart ideas


    • Joe Pulizzi

      Hi Diego…no offense taken, but I cannot disagree more with you. Our audience is enterprise marketers. That’s who we right for. If I was writing for engineers, the content would be much different. Or distributors or non-profits.

      The more your content is for multiple audiences, the less relevant it will be. It’s that simple. I don’t know of any successful publishers who do not target a particular audience. As far as Dan Kennedy, from what I know, he really targets affiliate marketers…so he does indeed have a particular target.

      If you don’t have someone particular in mind as your audience, how can you be a real solution provider? My two cents.

    • tpldrew

      I’m so glad you said this. Thanks so much. I hear this often. Here’s the difference.

      I’m not sure what business you’re in… but for fun, let’s say you’re a Travel Agent. If you’re interested in Content Marketing I guarantee my Travel Content Marketing content would be more relevant and more useful to you than all the content on the CMI blog. Make sense? In fact, while the CMI content is free, I might even be able to convince you to pay for access to my very specific content (that’s how valuable it is.)

      I appreciate your perspective, but if you want to gain access to the highest value audience, get rich by targeting a niche.

      Thanks again!
      Great point!

  • Mike Myers

    Joe: This is great. I particularly like the idea of a ‘replacement factor’ as a filter. Awesome stuff. Thanks.

  • disqus_W4KjfaOksA

    Thanks for the post, Joe. It often amazes me how many businesses target almost everyone. I think it’s because they don’t want to miss out. However, as you say, if you’re not specific, you’ll achieve very little.

  • Kevin Kowalke

    Joe, your 4 questions are a simple, yet very effective guide for staying relevant. Great article to share!

  • Steve Offsey

    Thanks for addressing this topic, Joe. An inability to focus is a common startup disease and often extends beyond content marketing. To understand why and what you can do about it, I invite everyone to read this post on how to sharpen your target market to build a better demand generation machine at

  • James Ellis

    Joe, if you’re looking for more data to back this up (and I agree with your arguement), you might want to take a look at

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks James!

  • tracydiziere

    Incredible post, as always, Joe! I know you write for the enterprise marketer but as a small business marketer, my burning question is: How can we manage/map buyer personae to multiple channels given limited bandwidth and without creating confusion with respect to brand? Perhaps this is a big business concern too or addressed elsewhere within CMI and I just haven’t come across it yet? I realize it may be a longer answer than can be addressed in comments so if there is existing content addressing the question, please LMK.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Tracy…yes, this is a small business and large business issue. Believe it or not, we talk to enterprise marketers all the time that say they have limited resources (we all think that, no matter how big we are).

      My take: you don’t need a content marketing approach for every audience. Pick the one goal and one audience that you can make the most impact. Sometimes, that may be top of the funnel content approach for one audience, and a retention approach for another audience. The key is to start with the strategy first. I’m surprised by the number of small businesses that don’t know why they are creating content for every channel. Also, maybe start with a few areas of the buyer’s journey, and then fill in the content gaps as you go (but not at launch). Hope that helps.

  • Cheryl Ann

    The content drift you describe plagues trade shows and television programming as well.