By Joe Pulizzi published July 19, 2017

Ditch the Term ‘Content Marketing’ … Unless You’re Talking to Marketers

ditch-term-content-marketingNote: This article is totally inside baseball. It will not help you at all in creating better or more customers, so if you skip it, no worries on my end.

In a long line of past articles, this one popped into my Twitter feed a few weeks back. For almost 10 years now, I’ve seen hundreds like it. But here we are, again, talking about why “content marketing” is a terrible term for the approach of creating valuable and compelling information over time to maintain or change an audience behavior.

Let’s talk about it.

Feel free to go ahead and read and/or skim the article at this time. No really, I’ll wait.
Thanks. I’m glad you made it back.


I started working at Penton Media in 2000. At that time, Penton was the largest publicly owned B2B media company. It included hundreds of magazines, events. and web properties from manufacturing to organic foods.

I was hired in Penton’s custom media division, where I oversaw custom content projects as an account executive. Penton Custom Media was a small division where we worked on custom print magazines for large B2B enterprises as well as a few associations. As far as new business was concerned, we received leads from the advertising-sales team only when they couldn’t sell a page, booth, or banner. In other words, we got the scraps.

Everything changed after Sept. 11, 2001, when Penton went from a $30 publicly traded stock to 7 cents per share (look it up, it’s true). Amid massive debt, Penton scrounged for every dime. It made massive cutbacks in spending and ALL revenue options were considered viable … even custom media.

In 2001, there were eight people in the reporting structure between myself and the CEO. By 2002, I was reporting directly to the CEO and responsible for the custom media division (simply put, I was what they could afford at the time).

Without a sales team, it was my responsibility to go out and bring in new business. Twenty-eight years old and with barely a clue, I traveled around the country to visit chief marketing officers and vice presidents of marketing at mid-to-large B2B companies.

It was a massive failure. At the sheer mention of custom media, custom publishing, customer media, brand publishing, branded content, and custom content (I tried them all) I was summarily dismissed. It became harder and harder to even get 10 minutes of face time to discuss how a different approach might work better than just advertising.

Sheer mentions of custom media, custom publishing, brand publishing got @JoePulizzi dismissed by prospects. Click To Tweet

And then, I went to visit a large B2B technology company in Silicon Valley and scored a visit with the communications director. As I entered her office, I tried out a new term and asked her “what kind of success was she having with her content marketing initiatives?”

For the first time, the person I was meeting with scooted up in their seat a bit. She actually seemed interested in the conversation. I struck a chord for the very first time.

I then proceeded to talk about some of their initiatives (their custom magazine and digital articles) and how that was part of a content marketing approach, and went on to talk about what I’ve seen other companies accomplish with content marketing.

From that discussion, I sold a custom magazine program valued at almost $1 million (it was an amazing score for us). From that moment on “content marketing” became my go-to phrase for the industry.

Great epiphany

It was an epiphany for me. After that meeting, I did some research on the marketing industry in general. All the separate disciplines that marketers were spending time on had “marketing” in the phrase – direct marketing, search marketing, email marketing, event marketing, guerilla marketing, cause marketing. Oh, it all seemed so simple now.

“If you are talking to marketers and want to convince them of an approach they should use or consider, you better call it some-kind-of marketing,” my internal dialogue said.

“To convince marketers of an approach, you better call it some-kind-of marketing,” says @JoePulizzi. Click To Tweet

That simple truth (which still exists today) changed my future, so much so that I put everything into one basket, ultimately left Penton, and started what became the Content Marketing Institute. Switching on the proverbial light switch made everything much easier. It became easier to get appointments, easier to sell the concept internally, and easier to get actual business.

Know thy audience

It’s fine if you don’t like the term “content marketing.” I know many amazing and talented people who absolutely loathe the term. Everybody is entitled to their opinion.

But I would ask you this: Who are you targeting and how are you using the term with that audience?

You see, if you work for an agency and you want to use branded content or brand publishing internally, by all means go right ahead. If you are a content strategist and you can’t bring yourself to use content marketing, it’s probably fine … unless you are talking to marketers. Marketing decision-makers won’t take you seriously unless you are talking about some kind of marketing.

Of course, you are talking about building a relationship with an audience. About building an editorial calendar. About creating amazing content over time, with a distinct opinion. Those are all good things to do, but don’t ever, ever forget what you are really doing. If you are a media company, an agency, a large corporate enterprise, you are and will always be … marketing.

If you hate the term “content marketing” and want to change it to something else, I’d be happy to take a look at it. But the term better have “marketing” in it if you are talking to marketers or you are wasting everyone’s time.

If you hate the term #contentmarketing, you better choose another one w/ “marketing’ in it, says @JoePulizzi. Click To Tweet

Since you’re a marketer, Content MARKETING World applies to what you do, how you do it, and how to gain success. Register today and use BLOG100 to save $100.

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

  • Tom Davis

    I listen to your podcasts often. I see the term “content marketing” as the process of using the myriad types of content in a marketing strategy – it’s the umbrella term. We are a publisher of local online newspapers. We also have a division called Nativeworks Publishing that specialized in branded articles (among other names), and it is by all means content marketing.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks Tom…appreciate all the support.

  • Jeremy Jones 🌤️

    I believe the term “content marketing” describes a mindset that is absolutely critical for any existing marketer to get clear on. Of course, we are doing marketing. But to say that goes without saying stresses a fundamental misunderstanding of marketing: if we’re not clear on our message, people will fill in the gaps.

    So if we don’t use the word “marketing” in our term, we run the risk of sounding a bit out there.

    Of course, the word “content” drives the focus of the approach toward generating assets of value to the audience in question, rather to the organization.

    So the term “content marketing” clarifies one aspect, and I would argue the lead aspect, of strategy. Generate valuable assets for the target audience(s), and then provide those assets to the market as a means of introducing your brand, and creating credibility and trust.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Nice Jeremy. Thanks

  • FansGain📢

    Hey JOE,
    I follow your content because it’s about me and my business. Content marketing is all about psychology of reader.
    If you understand your reader and your reader listen to you. then you are doing it right.

  • NenadSenic

    Let’s not forget that content marketing initiatives in some parts of the world are not carried out or driven by marketing departments, rather by corporate communication or PR departments. 🙂

    • Joe Pulizzi

      True that my friend…what would you call it when pitching to a corporate communication group?

      • NenadSenic

        It’s what it’s called. Content marketing. 🙂 Whether I prefer any other name is irrelevant. It’s just when you two (I mean Robert) talk you always say marketers and I get why, nonetheless, it sounds like you’re excluding a big chunk of professionals who do content marketing but are not marketers. 🙂 Do you remember how revolting it was to many members of the biggest European content marketing association when they reluctantly changed into the Content Marketing Forum from previous Corporate Publishing? 🙂

        • Joe Pulizzi

          Good point!

  • Sean Bolivar

    Hi Joe,

    I always appreciate your insights. Thanks so much for all the invaluable help I’ve received from your articles and “content” along the way.

    In my writing business, I’m often dealing with newer small business owners and entrepreneurs. Sometimes they’re not familiar with conventional terms such as content marketing. When that’s the case, I find that calling it relationship-based marketing helps them to get their heads around it better. Still requires a bit of explanation, of course. But in my experience, focusing on the “relationship” part of the equation really helps them to get the mindset behind the strategy.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks Sean…really appreciate all the support. Great take.

  • Brian Driggs

    Oh wow. Really enjoyed this one. Thanks for sharing, Joe.

    You know, I took a month off podcasts between jobs (no commute!), so I’m just getting caught back up with This Old Marketing. I didn’t see this article until after hearing the CMO-should-probably-be-CEO conversation in “The Best Episode Ever.” I had it on my radar and thought, “I probably just missed one of the most significant changes in content marketing in the last decade.”

    But this piece? It turned out to be just something really nice. Thank you. I can empathize with the epiphany, and appreciate the frequent reminders to consider the audience and intent.

    Here’s to the next 10 years, sir.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Man Brian…thanks for this, and for listening. Really appreciate it.

      • Brian Driggs

        Of course, Joe. I wouldn’t be where I am today were it not for CMI.

  • Vee Modha

    Hi Joe,

    I am an avid follower of CMI, and I’ve learned much from your podcasts and articles over the years.

    You’ve shared a great insight here and it got me thinking, I like the term ‘content marketing’ because I feel it best describes the art of planning, strategising, promoting and publishing content.

    I think the problem is the way in which the term content marketing is used by marketers and how we describe this discipline in our own community and to those outside of it.

    In my mind content marketing is multi-disciplinary in that it requires a sense of creative, analytical and technical understanding.

    Often the term content marketing is misused by marketers themselves and I think the lines are quite blurred in terms of what this discipline involves.

    I also think that the concept of content marketing is still relatively new to business organisations and they are trying to understand what this really means – the role, the responsibility and the overall value that content marketing brings.

    Many organisations today are building content marketing teams and making space for Director or Head of Content Marketing on their organisation charts.

    I see this happening all the time, so I think we need to continue using the term or phrase ‘content marketing’ but I also feel that as marketers we have a responsibility to better define this concept so that it is cemented as a core function of marketing in the work place.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Love the feedback Vee. Thanks!

  • Rayi Pasca

    Hi, Joe
    I’m an undergraduate students, who works on my thesis about this kind of marketing. After read your article, I’m still have a lot of questions on my mind. Would you like to give me the detail explanation about what are the differences about advertorial, content marketing, and native marketing as well as give me examples for each? Since I found many sources that defines those things in different way.

    Thank you in advance!

    • Lisa Dougherty

      Hi Rayi! Here are a few articles that may help you with your thesis: (How Does Native Advertising Fit in a Content Marketing Strategy) and (How to Explain Content Marketing to Anyone) and (The Only 10 Ways to Make Money From Content Marketing) Hope they help!

      • Rayi Pasca

        Hi, Lisa! Thank you so much for your reply. It’ll help me a lot.
        But, may I ask you one more thing? If an online marketplace, create the editorial to engage with the user and at the end of those editorials, they put the related catalog, hopefully the reader will buy those products, what is the name of this kind of marketing approach? Since the catalog that being attached is not paid by the seller. Then, I’m a bit confused about this.

        Thank you in advance!

        • Lisa Dougherty

          If I’m understanding your question correctly, this may help: While content marketing focuses on education, informing, or entertaining the audience to build a trusted or valuable relationship, it also can include calls to action to engage the reader/viewer further. If you provided a piece of educational content and included a link or encouraged people to read the catalog, that would be a call to action within content marketing. Cheers, Lisa

  • Benoit Grangier

    Hi, Joe
    You right, we need a universal term to make poeple understand worldwide our discipline. (even if it’s also your job – and you know it better than anyone else – to define Content Marketing as correct term)
    In France, I struggle evreyday to make marketers use this term. (should have a BLOG1000 code 🙂
    Still have a lot to do.
    Look at, for Moz not enough data yet and CMI ranks 5 even if it’s not translated in French
    Thanks for your wonderful job at CMI .