Content Marketing Sucks & Other Marketing Myths


Over at Marketing Pilgrim, our good friend Joe Hall is trying to sell readers on a dangerous marketing myth, arguing that Content Marketing is B#$*!t. He believes that if you’re selling an amazing product, you don’t need to worry about content or actually trying to get the word out. Your product will simply “sell itself”. Isn’t that adorable?! He even uses his grandmother and the Kitchen-Aid mixer her husband bought for her in the 1940s as an example.

Dude, unfair! How am I supposed to argue with Joe Hall’s dear old grandmother?

I can’t. I guess I’ll just focus on Joe.

Joe’s too smart of a guy to be all wrong. I agree with him that the core of any business should focus on producing a great product, NOT producing a great marketing campaign. In fact, in 2009 I wrote that A Great Product Needs No Advertising.

But you know what? I was wrong then and Joe’s wrong now.

Before we fight about it, what is “content marketing” anyway?

The folks at Copyblogger worked up a great definition for content marketing. So instead of rewriting the wheel, I’ll poach theirs.

According to them, Content Marketing means:

Creating and freely sharing informative content as a means of converting prospects into customers and customers into repeat buyers… Repeated and regular exposure builds a relevant relationship that provides multiple opportunities for conversion, rather than a “one-shot” all-or-nothing sales approach.

Perhaps said simpler, it’s about attracting customers by giving them something they want before selling them on something they need. Whether that’s a video, a blog post, a tutorial, or a personal story about how your product changed someone’s life, its content designed with a marketing purpose.

Will all that content marketing stuff replace the satisfaction or pure joy a customer will receive from a truly awesome product? No. Not at all. If that’s your goal, do everyone a favor and get out of a business now. And that’s what I was hinting at in my post from 2009. But where I was wrong back then and where Joe is wrong now is implying that the great product is ALL you need to be successful.

That’s where the fallacy lies.

Your great product (much like your great unique content) DIES without your ability to promote and market it. A good product doesn’t erase the need for promotion – it increases the odds someone else (your audience) will help do that promotion for you.

In Joe’s original post he argues that the reason “some” [I guess he couldn’t find a more vague measurement ;) ] of Apple’s audience is obsessed with their products isn’t because of content marketing, but because of the awesomeness of Apple products.

I’m no Apple evangelist (I like my Dell and my BlackBerry), but that’s fine. I’m fairly certain that “some” people don’t notice the content marketing and simply buy because it’s Apple. But (a) something had to exist to get them to that point and (b) does that mean Apple doesn’t use content marketing to sell its products?

Look closer.

  • What about the massive Apple launch events that take place every time Apple has another product announcement or when former Apple CEO Steve Jobs offered a keynote?
  • Or as Keenan Steel says in the comments of Joe’s post at Marketing Pilgrim, what about Apple’s 36 million+ YouTube views? Or any of the other content they put out – the blog posts, the site copy, the media passes they give out so people can liveblog their events?

These are all examples of how Apple successfully uses content marketing.

As the Web becomes a more dominant force in helping businesses grow and attract customers, the idea of content marketing only becomes more important. Content marketing is what allows you to be found in a sea of noisy competitors and to build a relationship with customers that you’ll be able to profit off later.

To say that we don’t need that step is essentially telling business owners that great products market themselves.

Need examples of how that’s NOT true:

  • Take a look at all the small businesses in your area that sell amazing products but go out of business in less than six months because no one ever knew they existed.
  • Think of all the local restaurants you don’t hear about until they’re closing their doors due to lack of business.

You don’t make people give a damn simply by showing up. You need to give them a reason to care.

Sure, everything starts with having a great core product or service. You’re not going to find anyone who disagrees with Joe there, but it’s arrogant to think that’s the only step in the marketing process. It’s arrogant to think that all you need to do is Be Awesome and people will flock to you.

If that was the case, you wouldn’t need marketing or SEO or PR at all. We could all just rely on the Good Idea Faeries to do the work for us. Until then, we need to lay the groundwork ourselves.

For someone to buy from you, they need to:

  • Know you exist.
  • Know how to find you.
  • Trust your brand.
  • Have an understanding of how your product or service will enrich their live or business.
  • Know of other people who have successfully interacted with you.

You do that via content marketing.

Content marketing is that bridge that opens up that relationship with your customer. Content marketing flavors like webinars, videos, long-form content, How To guides, etc, are vital to your marketing mix because they allow someone to connect the dots from their need to your product. They make people give a damn about your brand.  Without them, you’re locking your awesome service in the basement for no one to ever find it.

A great product may absolutely dazzle your audience once you put it on stage for them to see and fall in love with it. But let’s not forget, content marketing is how you build the stage.

Your Comments

  • Bob Reed

    Does content marketing work? Good grief. That’s like asking if McDonald’s sells hamburgers. Yes, content marketing works, but it takes a consistent, laser-like focus. As we say to our clients, social marketing is where your company’s answers to your prospects’ questions intersect.

    • Lisa Barone

      That “laser-like focus” part is really important. Many times people just throw out pages and pages of content and call it “content marketing” even when there’s no real purpose behind it. Then they get frustrated and say it doesn’t work or hasn’t brought them ROI. Content marketing is content with a purpose. If you’re not establishing that purpose, well, that’s on you. ;)

      • Abby Gilmore

        Bob and Lisa,

        I agree – it is the “laser-like focus” that so many miss. Successful content marketing is extremely hard work and I believe many don’t realize it takes more than throwing content out there and hoping it goes “viral.”

        • Bob Reed

          Abby, I would contend content marketing is a customer attractor when coordinated with good key words and a solid understanding what kind of information people are looking for when searching for a product or service.

          • Abby Gilmore

            I agree with you, Bob. I’m just saying that many companies do not go through all of the effort it takes for content marketing to be successful, like targeting the correct keywords and thoroughly researching what information their audience wants.

  • Jon DiPietro

    From John D. Rockafeller: “Next to doing the right thing, the most important thing is to let people know you are doing the right thing.” Content marketing is a good way to do that.

  • AJ Kohn

    I agree and I disagree.

    Here’s the thing, this term ‘content marketing’ is made up. It’s a bunch of puffery. Content marketing is … marketing.

    Sometimes you’re marketing content, other times you’re marketing features, other times benefits, sometimes brand. Content sometimes overlaps with all of these things.

    This has been happening for ages offline. Go to your local Farmer’s Market, what do they do, give out samples. Go to a movie and you wind up watching previews for other movies. People offer free classes on a wide variety of topics, most of which you can find pinned to the cork board of your local coffee shop.


    Nearly all products needs marketing. It’s a rare, rare product that doesn’t need it at all. Some need less than others. But we don’t need a new term for marketing that just confuses the issue.

    • Rhea Drysdale

      Heh, I agree, but I think the key is that it’s difficult for some business owners to translate those traditional marketing/PR tactics to online marketing. When we aren’t in meat space, it’s like our brains get too bogged down by the complexities of the Internet to think of ways to promote ourselves. At least that’s been my experience with many businesses. So, it’s easier to label it “content marketing” meaning something tangible whether it’s truly content or another digital asset. But yes, they’re all buzz words for: find what you’ve got and work it.

      • AJ Kohn

        Great to hear from you Rhea.

        I don’t know, a lot of those small business owners already seem circumspect about anything to do with online marketing. They know it should work but the jargon often seems to throw them off.

        “Keywords? Why would I bid on keywords? I just want to advertise to the people in my neighborhood.”

        So I worry when an ‘Online Marketing Guru’ walks in talking about ‘content marketing’ and ‘inbound marketing’, making it seem like something new and amazing that they simply must do in order to succeed.

        These folks put coupons in their local mailers (which still works.) They might sponsor the local baseball team. They’re at the local home and garden show giving free demonstrations.

        You’re right though, somehow we haven’t translated that stuff into the online world. It gets all twisted up. Does naming it something different makes it easier to convince folks to: film a how-to video; or answer questions on Quora and LinkedIn; or create helpful SlideShare decks.

        You or Lisa could talk about ‘content marketing’ and you’d make it work for those folks. You get it and you can translate it.

        I worry about the others who think it’s just about marketing ‘content’ and cranking that out, without much thought on conversion rate optimization or the greater marketing picture.

        Perhaps it’s better to call it ‘content marketing’ so if it gets sullied we can keep on using good ol’ marketing techniques.

        Because we can both agree that nearly every product and service can benefit from marketing.

        • Rhea Drysdale

          Because we can both agree that nearly every product and service can benefit from marketing.

          That we do! :)

          Also agree on the importance of translation. Simply relating “scary” online marketing concepts to traditional marketing. It dawned on me the other day that sales professionals that make commission are the basis for affiliate marketing. This may seem like nothing new, but it just hit me. Both are selling a product for commission. Simple stuff, but for some reason affiliate marketing is scary because it’s online and there are networks and cookies, oh my!

  • Joe Hall

    Lets talk about content….

    To quote the amazing folks at Copyblogger:

    “sharing informative content as a means of converting prospects”

    REALLY? Informative?? Lisa answer me this: When was the last time you saw a piece of content on the web and said, “Wow I learned a lot from that! I am going to buy this product because of it.”

    Ok so maybe you did that yesterday because you only read good stuff. But the vast majority of the so called, “informative content” is garbage, pure and simple. Hell, even really well done content usually ends up being meaningless. Sometimes I feel like the few examples of good informative content are so noticeable because they sit on top of a giant pile of poop. (yes, I went there again.)

    Some of the well done content can make us laugh, or cry, or heaven forbid….think. But who cares if the product sucks?? It just cheapens the content that went into marketing it!

    And whats sad is that so many amazing creative people that create epic content, end up buying into this role of a content producer for marketing. When they could be making their own products….and ya know be the one that reaps the rewards, not the one that creates them.

    The only time that content marketing actually does what it claims to do, is when the content itself is the product. Then we are delivering on its promise.

    Oh and by the way, my grandmother is awesome!

    • Lisa Barone

      So your point is since there’s so few examples of good content marketing that it’s bullshit and doesn’t matter? Would you like me to pick apart the holes in that argument by topic or alphabetically?

      I’m not arguing that people should be focusing on building great products, instead of feeding the content engine, but that still doesn’t erase the need for it, it’s effectiveness or how awesome I’m sure your grandmother is. :)

      • Joe Hall

        So your point is since there’s so few examples of good content marketing that it’s bullshit and doesn’t matter? Would you like me to pick apart the holes in that argument by topic or alphabetically?

        Yes that’s correct, alphabetically please.

        • Arnie Kuenn

          Are you just messing with all of us? In every business in every industry there is good marketing and crappy marketing. Radio, TV, print, online, doesn’t matter. But I have seen content marketing work over and over again for us and for clients. So I am not buying your side of the argument.

          I wrote a blog post about a company that went from $1M to $24M in 5 years all on the back of content marketing (videos). I’d link to it, but don’t want anyone think that is the reason I stopped to comment here :-).

          They did it by “sharing informative content as a means of converting prospects” — and I was one of converts. I watched a video, then bought a $150 part for my TV from them.

          When I see you in Charlotte, I’ll tell you the whole story.

    • Bob Reed

      Content that is useful, helpful, and informative can help shorten the sales cycle. Marcus Sheridan’s experience bears this out.

    • MikeTek

      Joe, I’ve purchased products from Copyblogger, for example, and was more ready with my wallet because I trust them not to put out garbage. Doesn’t mean I didn’t evaluate the product for its merits, but I was pre-sold, I’d say, because I trusted them to make/sell something of value. And they did.

      You can’t sell a crap product (not for long anyway) on the back of great content, but you’re building up trust in your brand. I don’t think we have to look too hard to find examples of businesses who sell more than they otherwise would on the back of publishing excellent (and yes, informative) content and building an audience with it.

      • Joe Hall

        I own a handful of products from Copyblogger as well. Each one is awesome, my comment above was in response to Lisa’s quote in the article. Not directed at Copyblogger, they are AWESOME.

        • MikeTek

          Oh I didn’t mean it to defend Copyblogger, I meant it as a perfect example of content marketing that leads to purchases – wherein the product is not the content. The content built the brand, the products came along after.

    • Mike Black

      I actually bought some of copyblogger media’s products (genesis/theme/scribe) precisely because of their content marketing. In fact, not only did I buy their products, I am moving my entire website from a Joomla CMS to WordPress because I trust copyblogger to help me do a better job marketing…because I read and listen to their content. I’m also posting here because of that content.

      I hope it works as well on my customers as it did to me:)

  • Jill Whalen

    I actually agree with *both* of you!

    I think whether or not a company website needs content marketing depends on what they’re trying to sell. Not every site needs to have articles, yet that’s exactly what many SEO companies are trying to sell them.

    This is not to say that all companies don’t need to advertise or market themselves in some way. They just don’t always need to do it by writing articles. When they think they do, most end up writing stupid keyword stuffed crap!

    But I do agree with Lisa that it’s important to build a relationship with potential customers and existing customers even when they’re not ready to purchase. And that’s certainly where great, helpful and informative content comes in handy.

    • Lisa Barone

      I think where I disagree is the idea that “content marketing” equals “articles”. I’d argue that all of the “events” Apple gives for each of its products is, again, content marketing.

      • Jill Whalen

        Yes, I agree with that. Content has certainly evolved to be much more than just articles. Unfortunately, the average SEO hasn’t caught on to that yet and are still telling each and every client to create a bunch of keyword stuffed articles because that’s what SEO is. #sigh

        I hear this all the time from clients and potential clients of those supposed SEO companies. So I understand where Joe is coming from, although he’s being a bit dramatic about it in order to make a point. I often do the same thing on this sort of topic as it seems like you have to sound extreme to get people to notice that what “every other SEO says” isn’t always correct.

        I really don’t think you and Joe are all that far off in your beliefs and practices either.

  • MikeTek

    If your products/services are crap, the content won’t save you.

    But you can build the best shit in the world and if you don’t tell the world about it you get nowhere.

    Kitchen-Aid didn’t sell Joe’s grandpa with content marketing. They probably did it with cheesy ads like this one, because that’s what worked in those days. Great product, absolutely, but promoted? You bet your ass.

  • Jon-Mikel Bailey

    Thank you for posting a response to Joe’s post. He needed it. Although I do like the idea of Good Idea Faeries.

  • Sonia Simone

    Kitchen-Aid has a very good product (not, frankly, as good as it used to be), but they have a huge brand equity that already exists because they did a hell of a lot of marketing.

    But if you’re BlendTec and you have a great blender you want to get the word out about, you may not have the money and existing brand recognition that a Kitchen-Aid does. That’s where content marketing (“Will it blend”) comes in.

    I don’t think content marketing is a synonym for marketing. There’s a lot of traditional image advertising done that probably has some effectiveness, but it’s not content marketing.

    But it’s also true that content marketing is not new — some of the best direct mail copywriters have been doing it for a long time. We mine brilliant old-school direct response copywriters (like Gary Bencivenga, Joe Sugarman, and going way back to John Caples) heavily on Copyblogger for ideas. :)

    • Jon DiPietro

      This is a good point. Back in my engineering days (late 80’s) there was a company called Omega Engineering who sold a huge assortment of process instrumentation (thermocouples, flow meters, embedded controllers) and their catalogs weren’t merely catalogs; they were what I called “engineering cookbooks.” They were gigantic, color books with tons of “how to” articles, equations for calculating stuff and sample system designs. It was truly content marketing in the B2B space 30 years ago.

  • Jerry McCarthy

    Hi Lisa,
    The idea that content marketing isn’t a necessity for your business is more than a stretch! The only thing that separates content marketing from any other form of marketing is the word “content” in front of it. It’s a younger form of marketing but it’s here to stay. That’s like saying that back before television (when there were only radios) that you didn’t need the platform to expand your reach. Hello? Business is about duplicating whats already proven effective from trendsetters before you. If the Apples of the world are doing it; shouldn’t you? Thanks Lisa…you seriously rock my brain every time (you make me sick!! :-)

  • Joshua

    Where would all of today’s popular blogs, companies and big brands be without content marketing?

    They didn’t just wake up one day and be this highly recognized brand that people love and trust.

    They first started with an idea. Once the idea is created they have to get it out to the masses.

    No business survives without marketing or content marketing whatever tpe of marketing you want to call it.

    The fact that Apple releases a product every year IS MARKETING! They have to stay in front on the spot light.

    Joshua the ZamuraiBlogger

  • Derek Edmond

    Nice post and I am a firm believer in content marketing (or whatever it is being called today). I would agree with an earlier comment that content marketing goes well beyond articles and into the assets a company develops to build awareness and demonstrate expertise. That could be articles and blog posts but it could also be video, research, seminars, etc.

    At an entry level, I feel content marketing assets draw visitors that might become prospects or customers, but at least start a conversation or generate “top of the funnel” opportunities (email address or Twitter follows perhaps).

    As an organization demonstrates their worth or expertise, a deeper level of content marketing asset is then required to bring the more casual prospect deeper into the sales funnel (perhaps a webinar or networking event). Those types of assets bring in more qualified leads, closer to the actual sale.

    Note that his kind of idea assumes a more complex sales process and perhaps is less appropriate in certain circumstances.

  • janwong

    Where would search engines be without content? Content marketing prevails and will continue to be so as long people are looking for information. Content marketing allows businesses to position themselves as experts in the field and consumers to make better buying decisions.
    Also I think with the introduction of social media, content becomes even more important as content becomes the driving factor across social networks. Weak content gets buried, great ones float. Content marketing has definitely become important today.

  • Andrew

    Damn. It’s called Content Marketing? And all these years I just thought it was good PR…

  • Ted Kolovos

    Insightful post Lisa. I’m new to this blog and enjoyed it.

    I think that content marketing that isn’t planned well and lacks focus does suck! For example an article on “how to play guitar” isn’t going to make me buy a Gibson Les Paul – that’s for sure :)

    Good content marketing that influences an audience to take action is very useful. In fact, old print ads relied on this very technique to sell things like (you guessed it) Kitchen-Aid appliances.

    Regarding great products selling themselves – that sometimes works if you’re a well-known brand, but for unknown businesses obscurity is one of their leading problems

  • Michelle Lowery

    Content marketing is not new, nor is it isolated to the Internet. One of the best examples of content marketing is advertising cookbooks (, which have been produced since at least the 1940s. Browse any antique store’s cookbook section, and you’ll find these books, usually small paperbacks, from large food brands like Borden, Eagle, Jell-O, Crisco, Hershey…the list goes on. The recipe for the rum cake I make every Christmas came from a Bacardi advertising cookbook. And do I buy Bacardi rum to make it? Absolutely. And it kills every time. :-)

    The difference is that now, all those recipes and product ideas are most often found on companies’ Web sites rather than in printed pamphlets.

    Just FYI, I have no stake in that site I mentioned. It simply illustrates my point.

  • Christopher Neetz

    Well said, content marketing is key. One has to be careful not to oversell as well. You don’t want to paint a picture of your product or service that you can’t deliver. You might want to attract all kinds of attention, but you don’t want to lose that momentum to over expectations. Well written, I like your blog format.

  • Mitch Mitchell

    I’m not sure I like the term “content marketing”, but I do like the concept of content driving sales, no matter what the product is. For me, no matter how cool something looks or how much I think I might need it, if I can’t read about it to know what it offers I’m not buying it. And it doesn’t mean the content needs to be a tome; it just needs to be informative and answer whatever I might need to ask.

  • Scot Combs

    Hi Guys,

    Love the discussion, the opinions and all but we’re stuck in minutia here and it doesn’t mean anything unless the company selling a product or service receives a benefit. This year, using content marketing practices (including a TON of video), one of our clients received a 324% increase in ROI when compared to the same period last year. Their product is fantastic but their web presence was awful and potential clients were not convinced to even call them. Now their numbers are up across the board; visitors, time on site, page views … the bounce rate was cut in half. Does content marketing work? Absolutely. Unless you want to argue that all the new customers are phantoms.

    I’ve worked with companies who had great products that nobody knew about and the businesses died. I’ve seen companies with so-so products flourish because everybody’s expectations were in the right place such as the BETA vs. VHS video cassette contest. BETA was far and away the superior product but the market didn’t want to pay the price for BETA so VHS won and won big … until DVDs came out. So it simply isn’t true that a great product will always win out. The product that meets the markets needs and expectations will win.