By Joe Pulizzi published September 15, 2015

Two Words Sum Up Content Marketing World


Just before Nick Offerman and I chatted and snacked on bacon on stage, I posed this question – a paraphrase of Jay Baer – to the thousands at Content Marketing World:

Are you just going to go back and make some content, or are you going to make a difference?

I issue the question as a challenge to all in the content marketing community – whether or not you were one of the 3,500 people from 53 countries who made the trip to Cleveland, Ohio, for an amazing week to learn from more than 150 speakers, John Cleese, Nick Offerman, the Barenaked Ladies, and the world premiere of the first content marketing documentary, The Story of Content.

Do you and your brand use content to make a positive difference in people’s lives?

You have more opportunity to change the word than most. This is your moment.

Throughout the week, the presenters and attendees engaged in discussions about how to make a difference with your content marketing that varied from the practical to the inspirational. What I realized is that all their counsel, tips, anecdotes, etc., can be boiled down to two words:

Be authentic.

Be real. Be genuine. Don’t be false or copied. Be true. Be accurate. Be an original.

That should be the mantra for you and your brand. It requires you to focus on the core of what matters – from how to create content that truly resonates with members of your audience (they can see through content designed only to get them to open their wallets) to how to know what metrics truly affect your business goals (“likes” and traffic probably aren’t it).

Start with this question

In her keynote presentation, Kristina Halvorson offered a single question which, if you have yet to ask it, will revolutionize your content marketing: “Why are we doing this in the first place?” If you don’t start by asking “Why?”, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to deliver relevant content to the right audience when they need it.

She shared the story of a company which wanted to grow its content marketing program so it became known as “the Red Bull of paper towels” – a reference to the gold standard of a flashy, creative, multimedia company that sells energy drinks. Yet, when Kristina asked what drove its customers to interact with the company, the answer was coupons on its website.

Don’t try to create content for what you and the executives want your brand to be, create content for what your audience members want your brand to be to them.

Kristina offered this pointed reminder: Remember that the people who are on the other side of the screen don’t follow the hashtags of the brands they use every day. They don’t think about how they “engage” with the brands. They have real problems that need solving. They have genuine stories and images they want to share. They are real people.

Put the ‘why’ in writing

Kristina explained that answering “why” is essential to creating purpose-driven content. I also contend that putting the “why” in writing is essential for successful content marketing. Our 2016 research will roll out at the end of this month, but I shared a glimpse of it. Once again, those with a documented strategy found their content marketing to be effective – four times more so than those without a written strategy.

As Doug Kessler says, “If you don’t write it down, it doesn’t exist.”

Embrace the power of less

A recurring theme was to do more with less with your content marketing. It was covered in the quality-versus-quantity discussions, the recommendations to find what content works well and do more of that (and less of what doesn’t work), and the suggestions on how to manage a team with limited resources.

In her keynote, Kristina said that too many brands want to be everywhere, but you don’t have to be.

The takeaways from these speakers are similar: Don’t try to do so much with your content that your core voice can’t be heard. Don’t focus so much on productivity numbers that you ignore the power of the stories, selective distribution, and proper promotion.

Being selective and deliberate not only gives you more focus, it can free time so you can follow the advice of John Cleese.

Be true to your creativity

Cleese may have surprised some in the audience who expected to witness the silly walk or only be entertained by the English actor and comedian. While he brought his humor, he was more thought-provoking, sharing insight into why you can’t just create something and be done with it.

He discussed the research of social scientists who study the process of creativity and reinforced their findings with his own experiences such as the time he lost a sketch script written by him and his writing partner. John rewrote the script from memory. Of course, he found the original version and when he compared the two, he realized the second one was much better.

His point? Don’t just create content in one sitting and think you’re done. Walk away. Play. Noodle the ideas. Go to sleep. Meditative thinking makes the best use of your brain power – and you can’t tap into your intelligent unconscious if you don’t take the time when you create.

Passion is a requisite for success

In his keynote presentation, Jay Baer shared what I also consider an essential element to success: passion.

As Jay explained, the explosion of content has created so much competition that competency has become commoditized. How can your content stand out? Passion. That’s the differentiator. More than any tactic, passion sets your content apart.

Content is the emotional and informational bridge between commerce and consumer. Building that bridge requires more than budget and an editorial calendar and analytics, and a strategy … It requires people who love content and what it can do. –Jay Baer

Journalist turned content marketer

Rajiv Chandrasekaran followed his passion this past year when the award-winning journalist left The Washington Post to move to Seattle and launch a media start-up backed by Starbucks. Rajiv said the CMWorld audience was the first with whom he shared his story.


Photo credit: Fallon’s Photography/Content Marketing Institute

Rajiv’s move from traditional media to a corporate-backed venture germinated when he and Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz wrote For Love of Country: What Our Veterans Can Teach Us About Citizenship, Heroism, and Sacrifice to share the stories of veterans in the United States. Starbucks went beyond selling the book in its 7,000 stores. It created a more thorough context around the issue of veterans – committing to hiring veterans, donating millions to veterans’ organizations, and more. As Rajiv explained, it wasn’t about selling more coffee or even a book, the initiative created an authentic context around social justice. It wasn’t a marketing ploy.

Read more about Rajiv’s story in this Chief Content Officer article

Rajiv also revealed his simple steps to creating social-impact content. It’s a process that all brands should follow – whether you’re talking about social issues or paper towels:

  • Choose authentic subjects and find authentic stories.
  • Partner with authentic storytellers.
  • Take an authentic point of view (avoid least common denominator).
  • Have an authentic call to action.

Authenticity really works

I love the simplicity in Doug Kessler’s six statements about why insane honesty is the way to go for content marketers:



Let me conclude by thanking the thousands who attended, spoke, and worked to make Content Marketing World a truly authentic event. Together, we can make a difference in the future of the content marketing industry – and more importantly, in the future of the people who come in contact with us, our brands, and our content. It just requires us all to be real.

Oh, and yes, this was real too – the bacon and beer are what made it truly authentic.

We will be bringing you a lot more from Content Marketing World over the coming weeks. Subscribe to our newsletter so you don’t miss anything.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing World

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

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  • Mike Allton

    Thanks Joe. Stellar job throughout the week by everyone involved. I’m having fun processing and incorporating these Big Ideas, and looking forward to continued conversations and evolving relationships.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks so much Mike. Glad we had two seconds to chat. Appreciate the support.

      • Mike Myers

        Thank you, Joe. Anytime you want to chat on stage, I’m game 🙂

        I’m sure you know this, but the CMI team does such a great job not only getting people to the show, but also taking care of them at CMWorld…you have assembled a great bunch of folks!

        • Mike Myers

          Oops. Put this in the wrong place. #Fail.

  • Mike Myers

    Wow. Great summary. The trick nowadays with authenticity is that it’s becoming a buzz word…is it possible to shoot for authentic authenticity? I’m making it worse, aren’t I?

    • Joe Pulizzi

      You may be right. Do you have another word for it? I don’t. btw, super congrats on your award. Well deserved.

  • aboer

    Congratulations on the terrific conference Joe. Great to see CMWorld grow from its modest roots to one of Cleveland’s brightest stars. I missed it this year; went to Inbound — the contrast between the two events was kind of interesting. Inbound’s buzzword were also “authenticity” and “honesty” and “vulnerability”.

    Like Mike Myers below I am, of late, uneasy with”authenticity”.

    As you have often pointed out, content marketing is not new. So if authenticity/honesty *always* worked, then it would have long ago been crowned the only winning strategy. Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas’s folksy commercials would have only spawned imitation by Burger King and McDonalds. Everyone would be Mark Twain.

    But it isn’t the case. Sometimes the culture wants fantasy. Sometimes humor or satire. Sometimes bombast (“Dollar Shave Club”) or deliberate artificiality (Fake Steve Jobs) is refreshing. Sometimes we crave melodrama. Sometimes not only do we not want the truth, but also we demand to be lied to as brazenly as possible (PT Barnum/Trump).

    No, content marketing doesn’t have to be real. It just has to be new.

    Authenticity is drawing us in today because because as readers 1) we are craving a personal connection (to strangers) in a disconnected world, and 2) social media interactions are a very potent way to maintain the illusion of connection, and 3) authenticity is something that many of us can do convincingly well. The timeworn advice of a creative writing teacher to amateurs is to “write what you know”. But you won’t become China Mieville with that approach.

    I recently read a blog post from a marketer where he drew a few lessons from the terminal illness of his two year old daughter. He demonstrated how his authentic story of losing everything created engagement and traffic for his corporate blog. His story stuck with me. Crushed me. I empathized and engaged.
    But I didn’t buy his products, and I don’t even know what they were. But I do know this — my feelings for Sally Struthers/Sarah McLaughlin commercials eventually moved from empathy to distaste to contempt.

    Content, including content marketing, lives for ever. Our world demands constant escalation to get our attention. Our jobs depend on getting that attention. Authenticity isn’t the only way to get attention, but it might be the most personally risky.

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  • Jean Gianfagna

    Hi, Joe: Great summary of an excellent conference. I thought Rick Short’s presentation on Power Blogging was outstanding – in fact, it was so good, I just published a post about it on my Smart Marketing Strategy blog.

  • fusionspark

    Hey Joe,

    I woke up this AM thinking of the idea that if you have to declare you’re creative, you’re probably not. That’s the same issue that I’ve had with “authenticity.” You either are authentically something, or you’re not.

    So, stating “be authentic” (or even “be real”) suggests attaching something that’s not there, for marketing reasons, whereas “tap into your authentic self” is a lot more in line with your own recommendations of finding your Sweet Spot / Content Tilt. You either have the passion or authority, “authentically,” or you don’t

    I don’t know if your final words at CM World were planned or spontaneous, but you did say (paraphrasing) something along the lines of find a purpose, and improve people’s lives. But, the same holds true with purpose. You either have a brand purpose, or you don’t. If you do, you have a potentially powerful spring board for creating content experiences that truly engage at an emotional level.

    Here’s words that I think are connective tissue between Jay’s, Kristina’s and Rajiv’s presentations:

    Find Your Purpose
    Be Meaningful
    Show You Care
    Be Trustworthy

    All of the above, if kept in mind during content strategy development, should lead a content marketer to content that has Practical Value or Greater Good Value, or both, for customers and prospects.

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  • aboer

    I finally wrote down my thoughts on authenticity, which I guess I have been mulling over for two months. Thats pretty good for a comment, right?

    My conclusion: “Be authentic” sounds great in principle, but it is impossible advice to follow. Posting here to close the loop 🙂 /the-impossibility-of-authenticity-in-content-marketing-8d93d25cb667