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This Week in Content Marketing: Is Content Marketing Actually a Thing?


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 a contrarian article that claims content marketing is a meaningless buzzword. Its author also counsels marketers to ignore the continuing evolution of marketing, which is flat-out bad advice. A companion article reminds us that we ought to focus on the needs of our customers, not on writing to justify the practice of content marketing to our peers. Next, we ponder the emergence of a new position at large publishers, the e-commerce editor, and explain how it fits into the evolution of media business models. Finally, we interpret BuzzFeed’s disastrous last quarter. Does it point to fundamental problems at the huge online publisher or simply a market correction for an over-valued company? Rants and raves include Dan Lyons’ tell-all tale about BuzzFeed and a must-read HBR article about the end of solution sales. This week’s This Old Marketing example: Ripley’s Believe It or Not.

This week’s show

(Recorded live April 17, 2016; Length: 1:01:39)

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1. Content marketing in the news

  • Everything the tech world says about marketing is wrong (4:40): The biggest problem in marketing in the tech world today is that too many marketers do not know the first thing about marketing, claims TechCrunch contributor Samuel Scott. He believes that digital marketers have fallen into an echo chamber of meaningless buzzwords, including content marketing and inbound marketing. Robert and I shake our heads as yet another author plays fast and loose with definitions of terms and “examples” of content marketing. The author also counsels marketers to ignore the continuing evolution of marketing, which we think is just bad advice. This article is paired with the next one from Marketing Land.
  • Content marketing’s echo chamber (16:59): Is content marketing doomed to go the way of the traditional agency model? Not if we align our priorities with those of our customers, says Patrick Armitage in this Marketing Land article. His warning: As content marketers, we spend too much time and effort trying to be vetted, accepted and acknowledged by our peers instead of focusing on our customers. Robert and I agree. At many companies, content quantity and lead-based metrics tend to encourage the production of mediocre content. That has to change.
  • Newest rainmaker at publishers: E-commerce editors (25:32): With online advertising under pressure from all sides, publishers are increasingly looking to commerce to bolster revenue. That’s given rise to a new class of employee: The e-commerce editor, reports Digiday. Robert and I agree that affiliate links are just baby steps in this direction; publishers need to develop a suite of products they can sell, and then overlay them with a content model that provides useful information to the audience and recommends products to them. We acknowledge it’s a much different mindset for publishers to adopt. This may take some time!
  • BuzzFeed cuts prospects (33:37): BuzzFeed missed its internal financial targets in 2015 and had to substantially cut its projected revenue by about half, according to The Guardian. The company has been forced to cut its 2016 revenue target from $500 million to $250 million after missing its 2015 target by more than $80 million. As I see it, BuzzFeed is facing two big problems: building its business on social channels it doesn’t own, and trying to be successful with such broad content. Robert believes that BuzzFeed has been overvalued for some time and was overdue for a correction.

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3. Rants and raves (42:24)

  • Joe’s raves: I’ve been reading Dan Lyons’ tell-all book about HubSpot, Disrupted. It makes me feel a bit uncomfortable that I know almost everyone he talks about in the book, as Lyons tells less than flattering stories about many of them, which were probably embellished for the book. On the plus side, HubSpot is an extraordinary success story. It invented a new category of marketing and proclaimed itself the thought leader of that category, which is quite impressive. The book also contains some great insights for content marketers.
  • Robert’s rave: Robert is a big fan of an article from Harvard Business Review that’s titled The End of Solution Sales. It talks about the decline of traditional sales lead scoring, and how the best of today’s salespeople are using new criteria to uncover sales opportunities. Robert also touches on the role of change agents in the new worlds of sales and marketers and why they’re important. This article is required reading for marketers.

4. This Old Marketing example of the week (55:01)

  • Ripley’s Believe It or Not: Ripley’s, founded by Robert Ripley, deals with bizarre events that are so unusual, they are hard to believe, but are supposedly true. Ripley started penning his cartoon series in 1918 under the name Champs and Chumps. It appeared in the New York Globe, and focused on sports. He soon started including other topics in his cartoons; in 1919, he rechristened it Believe It or Not. As its popularity grew, Ripley syndicated his cartoons, eventually reaching more than 80 million viewers. Ripley started publishing books in 1929 and brought Believe It or Not to radio in 1930. He accomplished a number of firsts with this then-new broadcast medium, including being the first to broadcast nationwide from mid-ocean and underground. The shows included sponsored advertising from companies like Palmolive and General Foods. The radio show ended in 1948, when it made the transition to television. Today, Ripley Entertainment is a global company, and its attractions serve more than 12 million guests per year. It also operates a publishing and broadcast division that oversees a syndicated TV series, newspaper cartoon panels, books, posters, and games. It’s an excellent example of This Old Marketing.


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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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