By Joe Pulizzi published September 29, 2014

Two Critical Actions That Distinguish Great Content Marketers

pen with papers-written lettersFor a long time, I didn’t feel successful — though perhaps it’s more accurate to say that I didn’t really know what success was.

I graduated from Bowling Green State University (just south of Toledo, Ohio) with a degree in interpersonal communications. My major had been “undecided,” until the beginning of my junior year.  The only reason I chose Interpersonal Communications at that point was it was the only degree where I could actually graduate on time (with a few additional courses).

As I came close to graduation, I felt like sports marketing was something I’d be good at. I was lucky enough to get an internship with the Cleveland Cavaliers after graduation. But after finding out that all the money went to the players (the operations team works very long hours for very little pay), I decided to go to graduate school.

With two weeks left before fall semester, someone dropped out of the teaching assistantship program at Penn State University, leaving an opening for yours truly. I taught four semesters of public speaking and ended up with a master’s degree in communications.

Overeducated and under-experienced, I traveled to Cleveland to find a job. After sending out hundreds of resumes with no luck, I actually took the master’s degree off my resume and started to do temp work. After a few month-long work engagements, I ended up getting full-time work at an insurance company working on internal communications projects.

It was shortly thereafter that I read the book Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. It made a huge impact on how I defined success and what I really wanted to do with my life. Though I read the entire book, cover to cover, there was one passage that I felt particularly compelled to remember:

“Opportunity has spread its wares before you. Step up to the front, select what you want, create your plan, put the plan into action, and follow through with persistence.”

It was then that I started to set goals for my life.

Next, I read 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. The second habit listed is “Begin with the End in Mind,” which means:

“… to begin each day, task, or project with a clear vision of your desired direction and destination, and then continue by flexing your proactive muscles to make things happen.”

It was then that I started to write down my goals for the first time.

Fast forward to 2007. I decided to leave my role at Penton Media (where I was Vice President of Custom Media) because I didn’t feel I had influence over the direction of the company after a recent merger (one of my written goals was to have influence at whatever job I was currently in). It was then (April 2, 2007) that I started what was to become the Content Marketing Institute.

In that same year, research conducted by Dr. Gail Matthews from Dominican University showed that people who wrote down their goals, shared this information with a friend, and sent weekly updates to that friend were on average 33 percent more successful in accomplishing their stated goals than those who merely formulated goals.

It was at that time that I started to share my goals with others; but more importantly, I reviewed those goals on a daily basis. That’s right, every day I would read my goals, making sure I was staying on track.

A few years later, after reading the book, The 10X Rule by Grant Cardone, I separated my goals into the following six categories:

  • Financial
  • Family
  • Spiritual
  • Mental
  • Physical
  • Philanthropic

The difference in the direction my life took from that point on is beyond remarkable to me.

Two actions, and their impact on content marketing

I’ve been blessed with more than my fair share of fortune for many years, but in thinking back, I’ve found that those two daily behaviors I mentioned have likely made all the difference: writing down my goals, and consistently reviewing those goals.

Why am I telling you this, and what does it have to do with content marketing? Well, everything.

In the next few weeks, we will be releasing our first (of many) Content Marketing Institute/ MarketingProfs content marketing benchmark reports for 2015. I can’t share all the details yet, but there are two key findings I can share a preview of:

Upon getting the initial results, we looked deep into the data to see if we could determine what differentiates the great content marketers (those who state they are effective with content marketing) from everyone else. While many characteristics came to the surface, we only found two critical differentiators. Great content marketers do two things differently than the rest:

  • They document their content marketing strategy in some way (written, electronic, etc.).
  • They review and consistently refer to the plan on a regular basis.

It seems so simple, yet I’m amazed that I still find that so few marketers are doing these two things consistently. If you are struggling with your content marketing effectiveness, perhaps you aren’t doing them, either.

What’s even more amazing to me, though, is that they are the same two actions that made all the difference in my life’s successes, both personally and professionally.

Take the next step now. Get that strategy out of your head and get it on paper. Then review that plan consistently, and be sure to share it with your team.

I’m excited to be able to share the full results of our research with you in the next few weeks.  Until then, I hope you’ll take my advice on these two actions to heart.

Couldn’t make it to Content Marketing World this year? You can still catch up on the biggest issues, ideas, and innovations in Content Marketing. Check out our Video on Demand portal for more info.  

Cover image by bloomingmimosa via

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

  • Jeff Herrmann

    Great post Joe. Grant Cardone? He’s quite a unique (and motivating) individual. He’s my second choice on the elliptical after PNR ThisOldMarketing. What have you done to calibrate his style to your own?

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks Jeff…I love the 10x rule. After reading that book, I separated my goals into different parts – spiritual, financial, philanthropic, etc. It’s a game changer. And thanks again for listening to #ThisOldMarketing

  • Owen Hemsath

    Joe thank you for this article. I am a video content guy and ive been asking the question: does content marketing work for no-names like me? I feel like this article is very honest and quantifiable. I needed to hear this right now at this exact moment.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks Owen! Yes!

  • Christina (Smith) Green

    I echo Owen’s sentiments about this article. I appreciate you sharing your background and how it took you some time to find your passion.

    Content marketing also provides work for a lot of writers who would otherwise be floundering in jobs that were less appealing to them just to pay the bills. Content Marketing and e-publishing may be the only thing keeping the written word alive. (Sometimes I’m prone to over-exaggeration.)

    Thanks. Love your stuff. I attended Content Marketing World two years ago. One of the best conferences I’ve attended.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks so much Christina…really appreciate all the support and being at #cmworld. See you next year!

  • Paul Chaney

    Thank you for sharing your story Joe. You put content marketing on the map. It’s been a privilege watching you realize your life goals. Keep up the good work. You are an inspiration to those of us with entrepreneurial aspirations.

    • Roger C. Parker

      Dear Paul:
      In your comment, you said everything to Joe that I was going to say. Well said!


  • Roger C. Parker

    Dear Joe:
    This was masterfully written. Any chance of sharing you sharing your writing process (outlines?) as well as the amount of time you put into your landmark post that tells a story as well as builds anticipation?


    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks Roger. Actually, I share a lot of that in Epic Content Marketing, but you are right, I should probably share more of that. Maybe in the next book???

  • Virpi Wahlman

    Thank you for this eyes-opening article. Sounds very simple, indeed, but what if you struggle in a situation where you cannot make yourself heard no matter how you try? When you look back, Joe, what would you say has been the critical factor that has helped you to make a decision on your career?

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Hi Virpi…thanks for the comment. Well, to start with, I set the initial goal of making sure I have some influence in the overall direction of whatever company I’m working with. When that changed at Penton Media, that’s when I decided to leave (because I had that written down as a goal). I guess that’s the biggest part…knowing what I wanted to do and then tweaking the goals every day/week/year. That’s where I would start.

  • Scott Isbell

    I was blessed to hear Joe speak on this topic a couple of weeks ago. It was a huge motivation for me. Thank you Joe! Since then I’ve put a plan in place and have been following the 2 steps. It’s great to now have the wisdom here in writing. Life changing stuff!

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Love to hear this Scott. Thank you for sharing!

  • Kostas Chiotis

    I couldn’t agree more Joe – it is all about the planning and making sure you have that in front of you. I would be lost without my editorial calendar.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Editorial calendars are so underrated, and SO important. Thanks for sharing.

  • Colleen

    Great piece. Thank you for drawing parallels between the personal with the professional – rings very true and contains extremely worthwhile advice. Nice sharepoint as well. Thank you!

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks Colleen…everything in business is personal today, right? I appreciate the comment.

  • Scott Aughtmon

    Loved learning some of your backstory and I really like how you tied it into the two actions that impact content marketing. Thanks for starting CMI!

    • Joe Pulizzi

      You are a part of it my friend. Thanks for all that you do.

  • Usman

    Great Joe, absolutely right, 2 things I always find working is to write and define goals and second to keep them in from of your eyes, the difficult thing and the real difference between successful and an unsuccessful person is of execution and consistency. Thanks.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks for the comment Usman!

  • Carla Dewing

    It continues to astound me that so many CM’s I’ve met have also read Napoleon Hill, Steven Covey and many other leading business, marketing and technology authors. Surely this means the best CM’s are also prolific story consumers / readers? But most of all that successful CM’s are influenced by successful business people. I still believe that if we do our job right, we improve the way businesses reach out to their consumers. Great story Joe 🙂

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Same here Carla…I believe we can create better customers through better marketing. Thanks for sharing.

  • Bernadette Jiwa

    Thanks for sharing your story and for the work that you do Joe.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks for chiming in Bernadette. See you in Sydney!

  • Danicajohanne

    You had me at 7 Habits…
    I grew up in Ohio and graduated with an arts degree from an Ohio university. After working in education, I transitioned to work in content marketing (now in Australia). One year for Christmas I bought everyone on my list the book 7 Habits. Small world, really. I second your recommendation of 7 Habits. Not just for CMs, but everyone needing more focus and direction. Cheers.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Great story. Thanks for sharing Danica! OU is a great school.

  • Claire Barker

    “One of my written goals was to have influence at whatever job I was currently in.” Well that resonated! Recent research has shown that organisations undergo major change about once every three years, and that within that cycle of major change is an almost constant swirl of minor change. Reading this I realised that reactions to changes can be so much more positive if those changes align to the goals we have set. As Stephen Covey notes, “begin with the end in mind”. If you know where you want to be in, say 10 years, then any changes along the way can either be embraced because they are part of the journey or altered because they are not. Either way, being in control – your own influencer – is so much better than the emotional stress of just feeling like someone else’s resource. Brilliant article Joe – already forwarded to all of my team 🙂

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Love it Claire…thanks so much for the comment.

  • Jet

    Let me go out on a limb here and plead ignorance. I’m a content provider (or so I’m told). I own a production company and for the last 4 years we’ve been interviewing retired Major League Baseball greats. We have over 90 hours of compelling interviews from 70 players so far. They’re basically 30-45 minute biographies complete with opening and closing credits, music, chapters, and vintage b-roll consisiting of personal photos, home movies, yearbook pics, wedding photos, etc.
    I’m told our content is gold. Professionally produced, culturally relevent, already packaged and just about ready for broadcast – but looking for a home. Industry folks have said that content distributors are looking for this kind of content to sell to networks, cable outlets, etc. We’ve been encouraged to attend NAPTE but know nothing about it. How do i find a reputable agent to sell this content on our behalf. Am i barking up the wrong tree here. My apologies if I’ve wasted your time and blog space. Just looking for some help or direction….from anyone….that matters that is. If you can point me in the right direction…

    • Jet

      I’m a dolt. It’s airlinerj@gmail. The J is at the back, not the front. sheesh.

      • Joe Pulizzi

        Thanks Jet…sounds like you have a pretty unique situation, so I’ll shoot you an email. Thanks again for the comment and support.

  • Jet

    One more thing….i’m responding here because after all the articles i’ve read online about content distribution, Joe makes the most sense, has the best articles/commetns and articulates well. But again…if i’m playing in the wrong sandbox, i’ll take my pail and go. But if someone could just point me in the right direction, i’ll leave my shovel and sifter. Valued tools in sandboxdom. 🙂