By Joe Pulizzi published August 10, 2015

Why Startups Trump Large Enterprises in Content Marketing Every Time


For the past 15 years, I’ve focused most of my content marketing time on the largest of large businesses. This means dealing with politics, silos, budget issues, and agency relations. In large enterprises, content marketing is a complex beast, hard to move without significant culture change. The hardest part? Doing something differently from how they’ve done it in the past (which is mostly paid media).

Enter the research for my new book, Content Inc. In preparation, Clare McDermott, editor of Chief Content Officer magazine, and I interviewed dozens of entrepreneurs. In almost every case, the entrepreneur started the business “content-first.” This simply means that they identified a content niche, built a loyal audience around that niche, and THEN developed products and services to sell.

Most had few resources, especially compared to a large business. What they did have was passion and patience, and that made all the difference. In the following examples, and the 20 examples included in the SlideShare below, each focuses on the same simple formula:

  • One content type (textual content, audio content, or video content) as primary
  • One main platform (a blog, YouTube, iTunes, etc.)
  • Consistent delivery (no campaigns, just a commitment to deliver amazing information on a regular basis)
  • Time (the average time to monetization was well over 12 months)

It’s so simple, yet so hard for even mid-sized companies to do this. With financial expectations on a quarterly basis at best, few larger companies have the patience to build a loyal relationship with an audience. In addition, budgets are set up as time-based campaigns, where short-term objectives take priority. That means the business tries to monetize the content program before the audience is ready (a big mistake).

It’s either funny or tragic … even with all the resources in the world, compared to startups, large enterprises usually can’t compete with a one-man band because of these short-term constraints. Something has to change.

6 examples to get you thinking

Matthew Patrick 

Today: Matthew Patrick’s Game Theory YouTube network boasts millions of subscribers and billions of views. He’s turned a simple YouTube channel into a million-dollar enterprise, and even consults directly for YouTube.

It may surprise you: Matthew started Game Theory (a YouTube show about video games) as a resume builder. Over 4 million subscribers and Matthew doesn’t need to look for a job anymore.

NOTE: Matthew (MatPat) is speaking at Content Marketing World.

CCO-cover-matpat-image 2

Joy Cho

Today: Joy Cho has designed and co-produced products for such brands as Target and Microsoft, and she has developed stationery lines, wallpaper, bedding, diaper bags, and even computer accessories. She recently debuted a line of Band-Aid bandages from Johnson & Johnson, which are almost certain to sell out in a similar fashion to her Target line. Joy’s revenues are diverse, from direct client-engagement revenues to product sales to sponsorship to licensing deals.

It may surprise you: Joy started as a simple design blog in 2005. When Pinterest launched, she grew her Pinterest following into more than 13 million followers.

ohjoy-website-image 3


Today: What if I told you one of the most successful entrepreneurs on YouTube is 9 years old? Evan from consistently reviews toys on his YouTube channel, amassing over 1 million subscribers and a staggering 1 billion views in just a few years. According to ESPN, Evan generated $1.3 million in revenue last year. Wow!

It may surprise you: In 2011, EvanTube started as a father-son claymation project about the Angry Birds game. The initial video has garnered more than 20 million views.

evantubehd-image 4


Today: The business of Glossier is thriving, with founder Emily Weiss recently raising $8.4 million from Thrive Capital and other investors.

It may surprise you: Emily began the company as a simple blog. Now, 200,000 followers on Instagram and 60,000 Facebook fans later, Glossier has become one of the leading online retailers for skin-care products.

glossier-example-image 5

EntrepreneurOnFire (EOF)

Today: Fire Nation (as founder John Lee Dumas likes to call it), has become a multimillion-dollar podcasting empire in the last few years. EOF is consistently rated as one of the top podcasts in the startup space.

It may surprise you: Every month, John releases a podcast to his fans that details where every dollar of revenue comes from. And you know what? Business is doing really well.

Note: John Lee Dumas is speaking at Content Marketing World.

entrepreneursonfire-website-image 6

Andy Schneider

Today: Andy Schneider (aka “The Chicken Whisperer”) is the world’s leading expert in backyard poultry, boasting the leading book, top magazine, and most popular radio show about raising chickens in your backyard.

It may surprise you: Andy turned his hobby into a regular meet-up group after so many of his friends wanted to raise chickens as well. Those regular meet-ups turned into a podcast with over 20,000 listeners a week. The rest is (chicken) history.

the-chicken-whisperer-image 1

Call to arms

Look, I know this isn’t easy. I’ve been there. I know the challenges and pressures you have as a marketer … the metrics, the ROI concerns … and of course, the politics. But this is your time now. A decade ago, we didn’t have the examples and case studies that proved content marketing works. A decade ago, a number of barriers stopped us from creating loyal audiences and, ultimately, better customers.

Today, the only thing stopping us is … well … us. Do whatever you must to convince upper management that this is a sound, if not critical business approach. Call it a pilot if you need to. Use fear as a motivator to make change happen.

If that doesn’t work, and you’ve done everything you can … maybe it’s time to leave.

Want to hear directly from some of these inspiring entrepreneurs? Register today for Content Marketing World this September. Use code CMI100 to save $100. Joe’s book, Content Inc., also will be released the same week.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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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  • Ron W

    Great post, Joe and it does uncover a weakness within corporate marketing efforts: the old school campaign and ROI measurements that have been used for decades. Do you think there’s any element of content marketing that ties more neatly into agile marketing philosophy?

    My thought is that content marketing is a bit more free-form and responsive rather than a big-bang type roll-out and launch that was seen more in more traditional broadcast type ad campaigns.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Hi Ron…although there is no one right way to do this, I believe you are right. The startups we interviewed set out to start a business, not market a specific product…so responsiveness was key.

  • Ben Brausen

    It’s certainly easier to push all types of programs in organizations where there’s less/loosened requirement to show real results from the efforts, such as is very common in startups compared to large enterprise. We see the same happen with most efforts within startups. Comparing the two is difficult as they both have such different requirements to answer to.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Absolutely Ben. Hard to compare the two for sure…but as we know it takes time to build a loyal audience. That investment in content over time to a targeted audience makes all the difference, big company or not.

  • NenadSenic

    And now I am working with the biggest or leading institutions in my home country. But I am prepared and kind of a bit more patient than I used to be. So many floors, so many interests, instead of integrating many go backwards into more silos… 🙂

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Patience my son! It’s tough in larger organizations. Keep the faith.

  • Bill Roth

    Nice post, Joe. I’ll be pre-ordering Content, Inc. 🙂

    I think what all of these examples have in common is the flexibility to steer their product dev to sync with the content that was resonating. In several examples, they are one in the same. They built compelling platforms of advice or entertainment first, then figured out how to monetize with compelling products/services.

    By nature, larger companies begin with product first, and content to sell (second). But many are still caught in that trap of creating ads and calling it content marketing.

    Content at it’s core, is a passion to share. It’s hard for a big company to replicate the passion you started CMI with in 2007. You took a risk of time/energy for several years without a path to profitability. That freedom and incentive just doesn’t exist in big companies.

    Not telling you anything you don’t already know! Looking forward to CM World…

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Very true Bill…but look at a company like River Pools & Spas. They made the decision to be the leading informational expert/problem solver on fiberglass pools and (oh by the well) installs them as well. I think that mentality can work for a larger enterprise. I think all companies should think that way.

      Appreciate the input for sure Bill.

      • Bill Roth

        Great point, Joe. With River Pools & Spas, the product definitely preceded the content. Marcus just KILLED IT with his commitment and execution.

  • Peter Enns

    Thank you so much for creating that post. The main thing that surprised my was how long we have to wait before we should start monetizing.

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  • Leo

    Thanks Joe! Bookmarked!