By Joe Pulizzi published January 30, 2016

This Week in Content Marketing: Stop It! Content Marketing is NOT a Game of Traffic


PNR: This Old Marketing with Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose can be found on both iTunes and Stitcher.

In this week’s episode, Robert and I discuss the recent exodus of top executives at Twitter and what it says about the social network’s likely fate. Next, we ponder the thinking behind IBM’s purchase of Ustream and the formation of a cloud business unit. Could this be part of a marketing technology play? We then analyze an opinion piece that unleashes a tidal wave of hate against brand marketing, and we explain why the author’s logic is flawed. Finally, we get excited about Gartner’s predictions about the future of intelligent marketing technology. Rants and raves include Marcus Sheridan’s and Ryan Hanley’s new podcast, The Hot Seat; Kevin Spacey’s thoughts on technology firms acquiring media companies; and a video that does a spectacular job of revealing the immense power wielded by the “Gang of Four” (Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Apple). We wrap up the show with a #ThisOldMarketing example of the week from WTWH Media.

This week’s show

(Recorded live January 25, 2016; Length: 56:12)

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1. Content marketing in the news

  • The revolving door of Twitter executives (5:43): Five of Twitter’s top execs are leaving the company. Twitter’s SVP of Product Kevin Weil, Vice President of Global Media Katie Jacobs Stanton, Senior Vice President of Engineering Alex Roetter, Vice President of Human Resources Brian Schipper, and Vine General Manager Jason Toff are all leaving the company, according to Business Insider. I walk through four possible scenarios for the future of Twitter. In Robert’s opinion, these executive departures can only mean one thing.
  • IBM acquires Ustream (12:18): IBM has acquired video conferencing service Ustream. With several other cloud video acquisitions in tow, the company also announced it is forming a new cloud video services unit. I believe IBM is strengthening its suite of marketing technology products; it already owns SilverPop for marketing automation. Robert and I predict it will make several more acquisitions in 2016 (possibly to further strengthen its marketing tool set and to drive growth.
  • Why the “brands as publishers” trend is utter nonsense (19:13): Mark Higginson, writing on Econsultancy, calls brand publishing a fad. He claims that the majority of content published to major brand websites costs much more to produce and share than the modest amount of traffic it receives. In his mind, content marketing is all about collecting eyeballs, links, and shares; he refuses to acknowledge that any organizations have been successful with it. Robert and I agree that content marketing is about driving business growth, not a myopic focus on viral content, as Higginson suggests. To counter Higginson’s argument, Robert lists big brands that have achieved significant business value from their content marketing initiatives.
  • Gartner identifies the top 10 strategic technology trends for 2016 (32:32): In less than three years, advances in marketing technology will move beyond human intervention to streamlining and scaling activities that currently require manual interactions with audiences, Gartner predicts. Intelligent technologies will investigate, evaluate, and make decisions on behalf of both marketers and customers. Robert and I love these predictions, but believe it will be several years before most marketers are ready to use such autonomous tools.

2. Sponsor (39:47)

  • Demandbase: Today’s B2B marketers face a wealth of challenges. Even with marketing technologies to help them reach prospects and track results, most marketers end up focusing on tactics for execution and not the strategies those tools support. Fortunately, there’s a better path forward; it’s called account-based marketing (ABM). In this new e-book from Demandbase, you’ll learn actionable insights on how account-based marketing can pull together disparate resources into something that makes everyone in your company say “Wow!” To learn more about ABM, visit


3. Rants and raves (41:50)

  • Joe’s raves: I love the Hot Seat podcast on, which is hosted by Marcus Sheridan and Ryan Hanley. It has a format similar to This Old Marketing, but covering slightly different subjects.

    My other rave is this TechCrunch article, in which Kevin Spacey predicts at least one large technology firm will purchase a movie studio, following Netflix’s lead in transforming itself from an entertainment portal to a content producer.

  • Robert’s rave: Robert loves this video from the DLD Conference, where Scott Galloway, a professor of Marketing and Brand Strategy at the NYU Stern School of Business, discusses “The Gang of Four” (Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon) and their incredible size and power in global commerce. The numbers he shares are astounding. Galloway also predicts the demise of huge ad conglomerates in the near future, and he cites the growth of niche consumer products that are being promoted in non-traditional ways as an alternative.

4. This Old Marketing example of the week (49:09)

  • WTWH Media: In 2006, Scott McCafferty and Mike Emich founded WTWH Media, a publisher of technical websites and print trade magazines, with a focus on design engineering. As part of his efforts to grow the company, Scott approached social acquaintance David Murdock, the chairman and CEO of Dole Food Company, to learn his method of buying and selling companies. It was surprisingly simple: Murdock would make a list of the industries in which he wanted to focus, and the firms within them that he was interested in acquiring. He then contacted the CEO of each company to assess their interest in selling to Dole. Scott has used this method to close five deals in the last eight years for WTWH. His criteria? Look for web sites that are community-based, with an active user group, and which are owned and operated by a sole proprietor who views the business as a hobby. I have used this same approach at CMI to make three acquisitions. The lesson for listeners: You don’t need to be a large company to acquire complementary businesses – any size firm can do it. This is an excellent example of #ThisOldMarketing.


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For a full list of PNR archives, go to the main This Old Marketing page.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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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

  • NenadSenic

    Ah, sth similar happened in Slovenia this week. A person posted a LinkedIn post where he argued sth to be true, sth so revelatory concerning content marketing. However, the stuff he was writing about has been true for at least 3 years, for at least 3 years we’ve been talking about it and it’s nothing new or revolutionary in content marketing. What even bothered me more was that this was already the second article in Slovenia in the last month that sees content marketing only as production of content that’s why it’s becoming more and more clear it’s a weak tactic… (rolling my eyes with lenses) Now, what’s even more frustrating is that “important” marketing figures (marketing directors of big Slovene firms) talk about and share these texts as sth special, revolutionary… Painful 🙂

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Get ready for more of this to happen. Traditional marketing is not going to give up that easy. There are livelihoods on the line.

  • Mark Higginson

    I suppose I should thank you for featuring my article on your podcast — but you deliberately misrepresent my argument.

    Nowhere do I say “marketing is all about collecting eyeballs, links, and shares”. This is false. What I said was that because of the lack of hard data available we are forced to use links and shares as a proxy for attention received. That is to say a SUBSTITUTE for the real information. It’s all we have.

    I think listeners should mark your reaction to this — all I’m doing is querying how we should ascertain what content “is relevant and compelling” and you mock this, so I’m intrigued if you can provide a testable measure we can apply to your generalised assertions. The trend I and anyone else can observe is that while the odd piece of content marketing does well the majority receives no attention whatsoever. Not ‘a modest amount of traffic’. Close to zero attention. To be able to cherry pick the odd top performer requires massive investment right the way down the line — and it’s the worth of this I question in the specific form I highlight. Which is a completely valid question to raise.

    Curious that if ‘content marketing’ is so successful as a generalised form of promotion it’s impossible to find anyone who is willing to provide independently audited data that proves this to be the case. What your consultancy / speaking business uses as ‘evidence’ are either one-off examples or anecdotes from the marketers who run these projects. Neither can be properly substantiated.

    I didn’t do “a cursory Google search that took twenty minutes” as you did to find a few anecdotes that confirm my preconceptions. I did some actual repeatable research based on the most robust method I could think of to question if what we’re told is true. Through experimentation we advance our understanding.

    As someone commented on my article the emphasis shouldn’t be on me to prove a negative but on those encouraging their clients to spend money on this to prove the positive. Woe betide an organisation that brings this trojan horse into a board level positon — and no surprise that those who make money off boosting ‘content marketing’ as an amorphous concept advocate exactly this.

    Livelihoods are on the line — namely those who’ve been riding this bandwagon — and there’s money to be made from commonly held misperceptions.

    The astute listener / reader will take the time to absorb what has been said, test the proposition, and make up their own mind.

    It does seem you can hack this process however — one can write a hundred bland listicles and get nowhere but write one critical piece and you can start a riot 😉

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks for the comment Mark. I believe my comments on the other blog covered most of what you are asking. Success for content marketing is determined by the behavior change in the audience receiving the content, and generally leads to business outcomes of increased revenue and/or customer loyalty. Those are the measures we look at for success. On this site, on the podcast, and in my book there are a couple hundred solid cases of substantial revenue growth. Thanks again for stopping by.

  • Nick Palmer

    While I really usually enjoy the pod I must say I took exception to the overly sarcastic dismissal of Mark Higginson’s article. Yes, some of the provocations were deliberately inflammatory and exaggerated (like much of the hyperbole surrounding Content Marketing) and the methodology flawed. But some of the points were pertinent.

    In a game where you (at CMI) openly admit that we have more failures than successes (I believe the number you reference is 7 in 10 fail; although I don’t have the time to double check – I have my job as a Content Marketing expert to get back to – you can call me lazy if you like) and preach that success is built long term (totally agree) what short term measures should I use to ensure that we’re on the right track if not web traffic and shares? An indicator of volume and popularity of my content approach – usually to a board with little patience and even less time for details?

    Yes, in the long term we’re looking at behaviour change that creates more valuable customers, but, in most cases, behaviour change at a scale that is meaningful to a business. For most brands short term indicators such as volume and shares are often needed not just to justify continued funding but to fulfil very traditional short term communication objectives.

    Moreover, to dismiss suggestions that “no one wants to have a relationship with” publishers like the Guardian ironically misses the point of building a loyal audience. I expected more from you. That’s exactly what people do. That’s exactly why people download The Guardian app. That’s why people follow The Guardian journalists on Twitter. In the same way that’s exactly why people subscribe to your Podcast – because we do a want a ‘relationship’ with the content. For me it’s exactly what the premise of good content marketing is – building an audience of people who are slightly more predisposed to your content than someone else’s because they intuitively know that it’s more entertaining / interesting / valuable.

    Because we, as people (as well documented) only have a finite number of hours in the day in which we can consume content and my choice will often be between say, The Guardian and a brand trying it’s hand at content marketing. Without creating an audience expectation of quality you know who is going to win that battle for attention (even if the brand content is actually rather good).

    We therefore have to judge ourselves against these publishers; which is why the premise of ‘brand as publishers’ is flawed for so many brands – and the examples of success are the anomalies. Brands generally aren’t as interesting as publishers whose entire business is based on being interesting and there isn’t an ulterior motive for publishers publishing.

    Which is not to say that ‘content marketing’ in different guises is the wrong approach to follow. The approach you adopt is extremely relevant for some brands – probably more than are pursuing it at the moment. But it’s not the only way. Perhaps for example, sometimes, focusing on ‘borrowed land’ that amasses immediate scale is the correct strategy to pursue if content marketing is manifesting as an modern day incarnation of an effective advertising strategy. At which point eyeballs become extremely pertinent. Because for all the Emperors New Clothes (many of which are both stylish and highly functional – probably wearables) there is a body of historical marketing knowledge that can’t be forgotten for many sectors – of which being seen by many is usually absolutely fundamental.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Hi Nick..I think we are more on the same page than not. First off, I don’t want to be dismissive of Mr. Higginson’s commentary. I actually like when people bring up issues like this. It helps us all grow.

      Yes, social shares and website traffic can be indicators of success, but they not success itself. For publishers, it can be success, since those eyeballs can be monetized. For brands, it may not even matter. For instance, if I’m a B2B enterprise targeting 400 people, the content I’m sending may not ever be freely available. I don’t care at all if it’s shared or gets traffic (if it’s a web initiative). If I’m Marriott, then I care much more.

      When I first started in this business, no one even knew about all the content marketing programs around the world because they were mostly print or events that were targeted to very specific people. Today it’s different because we can see it on the web. This is a relatively new phenomenon.

      You are correct. Content marketing is not the only way. That would be silly. It’s just one approach that’s been ignored by most for the last 50 years. The point is this – as brands, don’t we want to communicate directly to our customers, without having to communicate through media companies? The answer is a resounding yes. So it’s probably worth the effort.

      If, as Mr. Higginson says, that maybe it’s pointless for brands to continue publishing, what’s the alternative? More ads? Better PR?

      Thanks for the comment Nick…really appreciate it.

      • Nick Palmer

        Thanks for taking the time to respond Joe – and totally appreciate that your response to the original article was as strong because of it’s antagonistic nature. You’re right, we’re more or less on the same page. As a practitioner in the Content space I really enjoy these sort of discussions, as a broader marketing practitioner I love to apply the theories (especially behavioural) that we have years of proof behind to all the emerging forms of communication; whether they be programatic media buying or content and as someone who is fiercely pragmatic I like to not get lost in hyperbole!

        Great work chaps – your (quite singular!) vision and examples have definitely influenced my overall opinion on the landscape.

        • Joe Pulizzi

          Thanks my friend. Really appreciate the insight and kind words.