One Hundred Dollar Bill by Getty Images/Tetra Images. Comp by Ad Age.
If you're looking for someone to credit, or blame, for the term 'content marketing,' Joe Pulizzi, founder of Content Marketing Institute, may be your man.
Benjamin Franklin was one of the original content marketers.
Back in 1732, when he published "Poor Richard's Almanack," his
purpose was to get people interested in publishing.
Some 283 years later, content sometimes seems to have taken over
marketing, to the point that it's surprisingly hard to define or
distinguish from many other activities. It arguably encompasses not
just branded entertainment and native advertising but in various
ways social media, search ads, events, product placement, digital
video and much more. In fact, you could make the case that all
advertising is content, and vice versa.
Procter & Gamble Global Brand Officer
Marc Pritchard, speaking at Cannes in June, described the term
"content marketing" as "overused and under-defined," saying he'd
prefer to just call it all advertising, based on the Latin root
"advert," which is to "turn people toward" your product.
"That's what we do," Mr. Pritchard said. "It's just now the
beauty is you have so many ways to express that."
1739 edition of 'Poor Richard's Almanack'
Content marketing comprises $26.5 billion in global spending if
you're just counting outside vendors' work for brands, according to
PQ Media. It's as much as $144 billion if you measure marketers'
own vast, internally generated content activities, like those of
Red Bull and its Red Bull Media House. And continued double-digit
percentage growth worldwide will push content marketing to $313
billion, all in, by the end of the decade, PQ Media said.
The overall U.S. market for content marketing was more than $67
billion in 2014, according to PQ Media. By way of comparison, the
U.S. TV ad market is around $70 billion.
In part, the same things that make content hard to measure or
define are fueling the growth because so many constituencies are
pushing content marketing.
"One of the biggest drivers of content marketing is the
challenge of getting awareness through other traditional channels,"
said Forrester analyst Ryan Skinner. "Pay-per-click costs have gone
up and up. Organic and paid search teams are clamoring for content
to improve search visibility. Social teams have been shouting for
content. That, combined with people on both PR and media teams
wanting to supplement their more traditional roles with valuable
content, that draws traffic, interest and attention."
Because everyone has or wants a piece of it, the term becomes so
all-encompassing that Mr. Skinner and Forrester won't even venture
a stab at quantifying the market.
But for what it's worth, Forrester defines content marketing as
"producing, curating and sharing content that is based upon
customers' needs and delivers visible value." Realistically, Mr.
Skinner said, "It becomes something the marketer has to define for
If you're looking for someone to credit, or blame, for the term
"content marketing," Joe Pulizzi may be your man. As VP of Penton
Media's Custom Media Group in the early 2000s, "I started playing
around with the term 'content marketing,'" he said. Calling what he
did custom publishing, custom media, branded content or custom
content never seemed to resonate with chief marketing officers. "I
would talk about content marketing, and immediately CMOs would sit
up in their chairs."
He left Penton in 2007 and started the Content Marketing
Institute, which spawned Chief Content Officer Marketing magazine,
the Content Marketing World trade show, books that include "Content
Inc." and even a
documentary on the history of content marketing. In other
words, a lot of content.
Here's Mr. Pulizzi's definition of content marketing: "an
approach where instead of distracting our audience with advertising
that's not relevant to them, we're going to create valuable,
compelling and relevant content on a consistent basis and build an
audience over that time in order to see some profitable customer
And that profitable action doesn't have to be sales. It could be
increased loyalty, advocacy or something else, depending on the
strategy. Consider Dynamic Signal, which sells a platform that
streamlines "employee advocacy" by making it easier to share
employer-generated content quickly across social networks and
measure the reach and effectiveness. It counts such companies as
Mindshare, Deloitte, SAP and Humana as users.
Humana started using Dynamic Signal's system to channel content
through staff on a voluntary basis in August and has seen employee
advocacy grow to 8% of its brand mentions in social media,
according to Jason Spencer, senior manager on the enterprise social
media team. A lot of the content focuses on health and well-being
tips, offering a clear potential benefit to a company that pays
medical bills, brand impact aside.
"I get people in the content marketing industry who hate the
term," Mr. Pulizzi said. "I say, 'Look, business is good isn't it?
So why are you complaining? If there's a better term that comes
along, we would be the first ones to look at it.'"
And business is good, he said, including signs of growth in
print, such as the recent launch of Airbnb and Uber magazines, and
the marketers pouncing on the rebound of podcasts. Trends could, of
course, reverse themselves. Mr. Pulizzi points to the Gartner Hype
Cycle for Digital Marketing, which places content marketing "past
the peak of inflated expectations" and on its way toward the
"trough of disillusionment," though Gartner predicts continued
growth and gives it another two to five years before it
Perhaps more ominously, nine out of 10 businesses are doing
content marketing in some way, but their success rate is only about
30%, according to the Content Marketing Institute's annual
research. Mr. Pulizzi called that result "tragic."
One reason is lack of strategy. Another is brands largely using
content the same way they use advertising, to convey, at best,
thinly veiled product pitches.
For all that, a recent Forrester Wave survey shows a post-hype
bounce on the way. Only 10% of respondents planned to cut their
content budgets this year, down from the 23% who planned to do so
in 2013. Of the 90% planning to increase content-marketing budgets,
more than half plan to do so by 20% or more (see p. 24).
Shareablee, which tracks content posted by the top 100,000 North
American brands on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, found more than
10 million such posts in the third quarter alone, up 17% from a
year ago. And people aren't sick of them yet: They interacted with
those posts through likes, shares, favorites or comments nearly 21
billion times, up 30% from a year ago.
Interestingly enough, all this may actually help more
traditional paid advertising: Even where brands aren't getting
organic reach for their content, they're increasingly willing to
buy it. Take beauty videos, a popular genre where the vast majority
of 45 billion views generated to date on YouTube went to beauty
bloggers or other individual reviewers, according to
But brand-produced beauty video views grew 85% from January 2014
to April 2015, the analytics firm also found, well ahead of the
category's 50% growth overall. And 10 of the top 25 beauty videos
by views were brand-produced in the first four months of 2015 --
driven mainly by paid views.
So while brands are getting more visibility for content, their
dream of free distribution is fading, making it more natural to
conflate "content" with "advertising," as Mr. Pritchard does.
That may only be stoked further by Nielsen's Total Audience
Measurement, due out by year-end, which will assign gross rating
points, the age- and gender-denominated currency long used to trade
TV, to all manner of content, including video, audio, photos and
text, whether they're traditional commercials, free social
placements or media owned by the marketer. Marketers are likely to
keep feeding the marketing-mix analytics grinder with gross ratings
points, even if they measure work that's a far cry from the old
But paying for attention still has limitations. Laston Charriez,
senior VP-Americas marketing at Western Union, said content
marketing should aspire to create a "two-way communication with
consumers," crucial in an age of ad blockers and Netflix
subscriptions. "My son is 24," Mr. Charriez said. "He doesn't watch
TV. I can't reach him if I don't create content he wants to connect
For Western Union, that's meant everything from
a three-minute paid skit on ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live" to
launching an Avengers comic book in partnership with Marvel at
Comic-Con and using recipes in a social media campaign to remind
immigrants in the U.S. to send money back home.
Content marketing, while growing in importance, isn't a line
item in Western Union's marketing budget. But maybe it's the whole
thing. "It's embedded into everything we do," Mr. Charriez said.
"So you could say it's everything."
Cleveland is rocking content
What could draw 3,500 people from 53 countries in September to
Cleveland, where they paid four figures plus airfare or ground
transportation and surge hotel pricing? It's definitely not the
Browns, but it does wear orange.
Content Marketing World, marked by its bright orange trade
dress, is now the largest recurring business event in the city,
according to Content Marketing Institute founder Joe Pulizzi.
But why Cleveland?
"One, it's our headquarters city," said Mr. Pulizzi, a former
Penton Media executive who founded CMI in 2007. "And it's a heck of
a lot cheaper to run an event in Cleveland" than Las Vegas or New
Cleveland doesn't scream "junket" the way that locales in
Florida, California or Arizona might. But Cleveland works because
the city gets behind CMW much like Austin, Texas, gets behind SXSW.
Event banners fly downtown. Cabbies wear pins. And the airport has
a "Welcome to the Content Marketing Capital of the World"
Many attendees are former journalists in a world where waves of
layoffs keep hitting traditional media as content-marketing firms
Bob Gilbreath, president of Cincinnati-based Ahalogy, which
specializes in content marketing on Pinterest, was a first-time
speaker and attendee this year. "I've been to so many conferences,"
he said, "and this is a very unique and superior experience," which
included a detailed rating and feedback on his presentation unlike
anything he's previously seen from other conferences.
But David Germano, VP-content marketing at Empower MediaMarketing, who's been to CMW
each of the past four years, said he did not see as many senior
marketers this year or hear much new information, and he believes
the surge in attendance came largely from first-timers. "This is a
good show," he said. "But if anything, this year I was flat-out
bored." –JACK NEFF
Jack Neff, editor at large, covers household and personal-care marketers, Walmart and market research. He's based near Cincinnati and has previously written for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Bloomberg, and trade publications covering the food, woodworking and graphic design industries and worked in corporate communications for the E.W. Scripps Co.