By Joe Pulizzi published February 7, 2017

One Thing Is Killing Content Marketing and Everyone Is Ignoring It


Editor’s note: Most marketers are searching for the answers on how to make their content marketing more successful. This update of a previously published post shares one answer.

In 2016, I led a workshop on content marketing for about 50 small-business CEOs and operations managers. They came from all different industries. Some were consultants. There was a plumber and also a representative from an HVAC company present. Pest management? Check. A few small manufacturing companies, a nonprofit, and a jewelry store rounded it out. In other words, it was a diverse group of companies.

What wasn’t diverse was the way they were marketing their companies. Most had e-newsletters. All of them had Facebook pages. Every one of these senior leaders was concerned about search engine rankings.

Another consistent characteristic? Not one of them was happy with their marketing. This is not unusual. It’s predictable that senior leaders are often disappointed with their marketing. Why? Mostly because they believe it should be easier than it is. Others believe the product should sell itself. They also feel that they are just one secret-sauce answer away from Utopia. I mean, how hard could it really be? (Don’t answer that.)

And that’s what I heard about their content efforts as well. Their blog posts weren’t getting much traffic or converting. Their email newsletters weren’t getting opened. Their customers were ignoring them on social media. Finding themselves on the first page on a search engine listing was equally hard.

Changing course

I’d heard enough. After the last complaint, I stopped my presentation. This is something I don’t normally do. I’ve been doing this particular workshop for a while, and the flow works well with small businesses. The last thing I wanted to do was alter course.

But I did alter it with this one simple question, “Is the content you are creating and distributing for your customers any different than anything else out there?”

Is the content you create and distribute different than anything else out there, asks @JoePulizzi. Click To Tweet

I looked around at the business leaders. You could have heard a pin drop.

I repeated the question.

“Is the content you are creating and distributing for your customers any different than anything else out there?”

I then rephrased and asked the question to each one directly. I asked the jewelry store executive with the e-newsletter if what they sent to customers was any different. They sent coupons and articles that you could find literally anywhere.

I asked the plumber. He promoted content from the manufacturer on his YouTube page and his blog. I also found out that about 300 other plumbers used that same content.

I asked the financial consultant. He said he purposely kept his articles general because he didn’t want to give away any intellectual property without compensation. “How’s that working for you?” I asked.

“Not very well,” was his response.

At one point in the workshop, I told them that if they don’t take this seriously, they all should just go out and buy advertising (and I meant it).  They should definitely stop wasting any more time on creating and distributing original content.

Why should your customers care?

For the rest of the morning, we focused on answering one simple question: “Why should my customers care?”

That e-newsletter you are sending out. Why should they care?

Your Facebook post? Why should they care?

Your blog post, video or (God help us all) Snapchat?

You get the point.

Why should your customers care about your e-newsletter, Facebook post, blog or video, asks @JoePulizzi. Click To Tweet

Our job, as marketers, is not to create more content. It has never been about that. It’s about creating the minimum amount of content with the maximum amount of behavior change in our customers (hat tip to Robert Rose). For that to be possible, what you are creating has to be valuable, useful, compelling and, yes, different.

Create the min amount of #content w/ the max amount of behavior change in your customers. @JoePulizzi Click To Tweet

The content tilt

Somewhere along the line, we marketers became infatuated with the tools and less concerned about what we put inside them. This, my friends, has got to change.

Of the six-step process of the Content Inc. model (from my book), the most important step is the second, the content tilt.

The content tilt is that area of little to no competition on the web that actually gives you a fighter’s chance of breaking through and becoming relevant. It’s not only what makes you different, it’s so different that you get noticed by your audience. That audience rewards you with their attention.

The content tilt is what will separate you from everyone else in your market area. Andrew Davis, author of Town Inc., calls this “the hook” – a simple twist on a familiar theme designed to entrap or ensnare your audience. Without “tilting” your content just enough to truly have a different story to tell, your content will fade into the rest of the clutter and be forgotten.

How to find your tilt

The real goal of this little story was to get you to ask the question – is my content different? The majority, like over 99% of marketers, do not have differentiated content. They are not telling stories that are different.

If you are like most marketers, then, your next question is “How do I make it different?”

One ? marketers should ask before creating #content: Is my content different from my competition? @JoePulizzi. Click To Tweet

This is easier said than done, but it is possible to tell a different and compelling story looking at different data points. Here are some things to consider:


Are you really niche enough with your audience? “Pet owners” is too broad as a target audience. What about “homeowners who like to travel with a dog in their recreational vehicle and live in southwest Florida”? That may be too niche, but probably not. To be truly relevant with your story, you need to focus on a very specific reader. As Stephen Kings says in his book On Writing, you should think about this person every time you create content.

Are you really niche enough with your audience, asks @JoePulizzi. Click To Tweet

How you tell the story

Content marketing has been around for years and has been called many different things. But we at the Content Marketing Institute were the first to call it content marketing. That made a difference in how the audience responded.


One of the HVAC contractors in the workshop told me there are a thousand blog posts a day on energy efficiency. We also learned that there were few, if any, podcasts about saving energy. Opportunity? I’m not sure, but it’s worth a look.

Subject matter

Using tools like Google Trends, you can uncover breakout terms for which there are few instructional resources. Take this quote from Jay Baer as an example:

”It’s like, ‘Hey I like knitting, and I’m going to start a knitting blog.’ Really! There are 27 other knitting blogs. Why would anybody read yours? What is different? What is unique? What is interesting? Why would anyone stop reading the knitting blog that they’ve been reading for the last three years and read yours ever? And if you can’t articulate that, you need to go back to the drawing board. And most people I find who haven’t been doing this for a while just don’t go through that competitive calculus, and it’s dangerous.”

From the subject-matter standpoint, knitting might be too broad. Are there certain types of knitting that are underserved, where you could be the leading expert in the world?

What if your content was gone?

Let’s end with this thought.

Let’s say someone rounded up all your content and placed it in a box like it never existed. Would anyone miss it? Would you leave a gap in the marketplace?

If the answer to this is no, then you have a problem (and this article is directed at you, bub).

We want customers and prospects needing … no, longing for our content. It becomes part of their lives … their jobs.

Today, it’s harder and harder to buy attention. You have to earn it. Earn it today, tomorrow, and five years from now by delivering the most impactful information your customers could ever ask for. “Good enough” won’t win the battle for customer attention. Be great.

Joe shares a fresh insight in a letter each week available only to CMI newsletter subscribers. Make sure you’re on the list.

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.

Other posts by Joe Pulizzi

  • Will Scott

    Thanks, Joe! Super-valuable and timely.

  • Peter Van Puyvelde

    Creativity has to make its entry in content like it once did in advertising.

    • Alec Kinnear

      Entry. Disagree. Return. There used to be wonderful magazines which published creative, informative and entertaining articles people were willing to pay to obtain.

  • Franklin Morris II

    “Is the content you are creating and distributing for your customers any different than anything else out there?”

    That’s a great question to really ponder! Thanks for this article!

  • heidicohen

    Joe-Audience is still the key to quality content. If you write for everyone, you write for no one. Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen – Actionable Marketing Guide

    • Joan

      Heidi, agreed. There’s a human being on the receiving end of the content. I just don’t get it why this is so hard to figure out. Communication on the web is person to person.

  • Augustine Jones

    One of my problems is getting people to stay with you, everyone is looking for somethings else, like what? No one knows, no even the viewers. Content Marketing is important to everyone in business but you send us information every day, it’s hard when you are trying to put food on the table and write your own information, find customers that don’t know what they are looking for, some days I just want to avoid the office. Do you remember when you got more leads from sitting at the local Bar? Remember! You are not “Ignored”

  • tejones

    I was just talking with someone about this today. .. Great stuff as always Joe!

  • Pieter Konink

    Having a persona you keep in the back of your mind as the person who you’re creating for is a valuable piece of advice. Every piece of content you make is like a love letter to this person.

  • icecodepro

    Joe, “why would someone read your content”, well, why do you not watch the same porn scene, or do you change out the image of the model that is reading your script. For the most part, everything has been said, documented, or reviewed, what makes it different. How to cook a chicken is the same as its been done for hundreds of years. But still, there are new videos and instructions every day about how to cook.

    The words content marketing used to be called “Sponsored by Maytag” in the 1940’s. I believe in this case, it isn’t the content, it is the people unwilling to pay to promote that content. The digital media people want it for free, and I say, you have to pay to promote.

  • Juan Israel Ortiz

    I think it goes beyond the “niching” of your content. When people are surfing through the net, or watching TV, they are looking for something that gets their attention. Now, you can get the right niche and subject matter, but if you don’t know how to present your content to them in a way that gets their attention, it still wouldn’t matter. To master any market, I believe, you have to be willing (and know how) to educate, inform, and entertain. Otherwise, you won’t keep your audience – even if it’s given to you with a ribbon on top.


    I got paid $104000 in last twelve months by doing an online job from my house and I did that by wor­king in my own time f­­o­­r few h on daily basis. I’m using work opportunity I stumbled upon from this website i found online and I am amazed that i earned so much extra income. It’s really newbie friendly and I am just so blessed that i discovered it. This is what i did… STATICTAB.COM/8cx4rgs

  • Marc Ruel

    Spot on about uniqueness.

    We run a B2B blog in the construction industry. We use mini surveys (before Qualaroo, now HotJar) on the customer’s site to ask people what type of content they would like to see. The vast majority want to read about installation details and practical applications of the product. So that is what we write about and that is what has been working best over the past year and a half.

    But this can’t be done without talking to the customer’s experts. It is highly technical and their guidance is required in the writing. As a writer, you’d better be ready to learn, too.

    The posts that get the most attention are the customer’s “first-hand accounts” of what happened with their customer and how they solved the problem.

    We tried different subjects to find out which can « push the button » for the readers. We tried between 25 and 30 subjects and have been finding that there is a core 5-6 that are dependable and create some engagement. Not MEGA engagement, but consistent, at least.

    As far as dealing with the tidal wave of all the rest of the content/news/opinion out there, the best that can be done is to have a very specific opinion (the customer’s opinion) on whatever you decide to talk about. Don’t bother just reporting the news. That may sometimes give traction on a social media post but not on a Website blog.

  • DesDrec

    I find the most engaging content is based on story-telling and from a 1st person perspective.

    For example, in your first paragraph Joe you didn’t jump right into answering the question your title posed. Rather, you led from a personal viewpoint. I think that’s where a lot of companies are going wrong.

    “How To” articles are OK, but unfortunately they’ve been done to death. I’m not saying they don’t work. It’s just refreshing when someone writes from a different angle and perspective.

    What has been interesting, is writing with shorter paragraphs and making sure the content has the right headers and sub headers etc. Since most readers are now viewing our content on mobile devices we’ve had to change both the structure and flow of our content to match their reading preferences.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Great take. Thanks!

  • Gabriel Hale

    I got paid 104000 dollars in last 12 months by working online from my house a­n­d I manage to accomplish that by work­ing in my own time for 3 or sometimes more h on daily basis. I used a money making model I was introduced by this company i found online and I am thrilled that i made so much extra income. It’s really newbie-friendly and I’m just so thankful that i found this. Here is what i do… STATICTAB.COM/gpfvgtj

  • Mark Baker

    So herein lies the problem. The one thing that makes content stand out is the one thing that you cannot measure. In a metrics obsessed culture, one is invariably led down the path of sameness.

    • Joe Pulizzi


    • Mysti Berry

      Well, Joe used one measure (who else is using that content?) ‘How different’ is a qualitative thing, as is platform (joe calls it tilt), but fiction writers have been pursuing that dream for over a decade now, and some of them are quite good at it. I try to answer the question–what’s my version of The Lego Movie? And use metrics to answer that question.

  • Mysti Berry

    Uniquely valuable. Uniqueness for its own sake is nearly as dull as ubiquitous content.

  • Jon Tsourakis

    Damn this hits home. Great points that I try to share with my clients. You just gave me the tools to do it. Thanks, Joe.

  • Ameer Ahmad

    Sincere content is good enough but not as good as content that’s adjusting with the audience. Great tips and guidelines. I will share this with my colleagues. Great read.

  • Dave Worrall

    Is this article not committing the same sins as those you beseech your paying customers not to make? There are literally hundreds of articles out there about the relative uniqueness of content, while the advice stands true, what’s gaining your visibility is in the title of your content, the “clickbait” as it’s known. Frankly, I’m not sure anyone is ignoring the fact that their content should be unique, the content of the article certainly makes no waves, what does make waves is your title. That’s the only thing. Time to start telling it like it is.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Hi Dave…thanks for the comment. I wish you were right. I’ve had the opportunity of meeting with Fortune 5000 companies around the country. Most organizations actually are not creating unique content and have no plans to do so. So we feel we need to get this message out as much as possible because the majority of companies are creating and distributing content that, frankly, is just a waste of everyone’s time. Thanks again for stopping by.

  • Shahid Khan

    Right, content needs to be unique in some way and offer insight that’s of value to our users.

  • briankenn

    Content marketing consultants have a gym membership problem. If all members used the gym everyday, the gym could not exist. If all marketing content students found a niche, the niche – any niche – would soon be filled.

  • Kristin Austin

    I think I love you Joe!! And I totally agree that “Somewhere along the line, we marketers became infatuated with the tools and less concerned about what we put inside them.” And it diminished the value of the work of marketing – because it became all about the technology. Except it really didn’t. It’s never all about the technology. Great marketing, content or otherwise, works because it puts the customer first and there are strategies and plans in place to meet them where they are and provide what they need. Not just because stuff was flung into the ether with fingers crossed. Thanks for the reminder Joe.

  • Dara Lin

    Every entrepreneur knows that it’s really hard to catch and to have your customers full attention. Always give content having fact, valuable, different among other competitors and informative enough to answer your customers need. Content marketing has been used around by most in the business so, make a story that would mark and leave a difference and always make sure to care your customers, your Facebook and blog posts as what have been stated in the article. Great to have this one Joe! Thanks for this 🙂

  • Jyoti

    Content should be relate to audience. let them decide quality of the content not us