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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. Share on X

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. Share on X

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. Share on X

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute