How to Be a Better Content Marketer with Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose

This blog is part of Brandpoint’s ongoing interview series where we talk with marketing professionals about their career, unique perspectives on the industry and some key advice they’ve learned along the way.

For two people who need no introduction, here’s a short introduction:

Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose are two of the preeminent names in content marketing.

A little over 10 years ago, Joe founded Content Marketing Institute, the content marketing industry’s most widely used how-to resource. Robert joined a few years later as the chief strategy adviser, also helping launch the Content Advisory, CMI’s educational branch.

Since then, they’ve become co-hosts of the highly acclaimed This Old Marketing podcast and they founded Content Marketing World, the biggest content marketing conference in the world. Now, they’re co-authors of a new book, “Killing Marketing.” In it, they challenge some long-held assumptions about marketing and discuss how some savvy organizations are turning their content marketing programs into profit centers.

Amidst the frenzy of Content Marketing World at the beginning of September, Joe and Robert answered some questions concerning overrated marketing tactics, common misconceptions and where content marketing is headed.

Nels: Joe, when you coined the term “content marketing” back in 2001, did you ever expect it to take on the life it has?

Joe: First off, I can’t take credit for coining the term — there were a couple people in the ’90s that used the two together. But we probably did the most to popularize it.

To be honest, all I was trying to do is get senior marketing executives to understand the power behind the practice, and calling it custom publishing, custom media or branded content wasn’t getting me anywhere. By 2007 I felt that if the industry was going to progress, we needed to come together under one term. I’m very happy it worked.

N: In your new book, “Killing Marketing,” the biggest takeaway I see is the importance of building a loyal audience; that your ability to monetize your content is limited only by the size of your audience. What are your go-to tactics to understanding who your audience is and what they really value?

J: First, audience size doesn’t matter. A B2B company could have an audience of 100 loyal followers and do well. From there, I believe the opportunity is not to go big, but to go small.

Go after the niche audience and topic that you can be the world’s leading expert in. Everybody wants to have huge audiences, but no one wants to be the amazing source for a very small group. Start small and then expand.

Robert: Rather than equating it to “size” of the audience, I would rather equate it to “depth,” or really, trust, in your audience.

What I mean by that is that you can have 500,000 email addresses and those are valuable. But, if you have 100,000 email addresses, with names, physical addresses, the content they prefer, their behavioral data and their answers to poll questions, etc., you have a MUCH more valuable asset. And that’s the key to developing the tactics. The more we can focus on architecting trust and value with our audience, the more they will give us. That in turn helps develop value for the business in so many ways.

[RELATED: How to Build a Bulletproof Buyer Persona]

N: What are the most common content marketing principles you see organizations struggle with?

J: The major ones are:

  1. Most companies try to target more than one audience at a time.
  2. Even if they target one audience, that audience is usually too broad.
  3. They focus on what they want to say more than what the audience needs to hear.
  4. The content they create is not truly differentiated.
  5. The majority of companies don’t deliver content consistently to an audience over a long period of time.

R: The biggest challenge is making content marketing an investment in an actual strategic function in the business. Most — in fact, by our latest survey, just over half — of businesses still only have one, or maybe two, people working on content as their focused job.

However, they may well be investing in a huge amount of content. You see, investing in the finished assets is NOT the same as investing in the strategy and change management process that will truly make content a successful strategy.

N: What do you think is the most damaging misconception about what content marketing is?

J: That more content is always better. In some cases, less is more. Simple is actually preferred. Instead of delivering your content everywhere your customers are, we’ve seen more success with focusing on one content type and one platform until a loyal audience is formed.

R: That it’s a replacement for advertising. This is where disappointment lies. Content is, and always will be, more expensive, harder and more complex than advertising. Thus, if the only measurement of content is “how much more efficient is it than advertising” then it will always fail.

Ads are cheap these days; content is not. So, we must focus on how content development adds value in multiple ways across the business. And, the only way it does that is by building the true asset: an audience.

N: According to CMI’s 2017 B2B Content Marketing Trends Report, 28 percent of marketers aren’t measuring content marketing ROI. How would you advise they start measuring the results of their work?

J: Focus everything on building subscribers that opt-in to receive your content. Then, when you have a minimum viable audience, find out what behaviors are different between those that engage with your content and those that don’t. Monetization will come, but most companies rush the process.

R: Start with looking at what kind of loyal, subscribed, engaged audience you’re building. Then, look at the various business and marketing goals that can be achieved by leveraging that relationship with an audience. That’s true measurement. The KPIs such as traffic, shares, CTRs, etc., are all simple metrics that tell us how we are doing against the goals we set.

N: What role should content promotion play in, or throughout, the content marketing process?

J: Critical. If you have no audience and you are creating content, you better be leveraging paid avenues, influencers and anything else you have in your arsenal to get the content in front of your “soon-to-be” audience. If a tree falls …

R: It’s huge. This is why looking at content marketing as a simple replacement for advertising is misplaced. If we believe that an audience is an asset worth building, then it stands to reason that the thing that builds that audience deserves its own promotional budget.

I love targeted, paid media and great public relations that help to drive audience acquisition. This is also why successful content marketing resembles much more of a product development methodology than a campaign-centric one. If we’re building a content product, it deserves to be promoted.

N: How are marketing automation and tools like Pardot and Marketo changing content marketing?

J: I love all the new marketing technologies coming out, especially marketing automation, but most brands rush to automation before they actually develop a documented content marketing strategy. My advice is to get your strategy in order and then you can look at technology. No amount of tech in the world is going to help inconsistent, irrelevant content.

R: In so many ways they’re not. Marketing automation tools offer great promise to help us build an audience worth measuring. Sadly, most companies that deploy marketing automation simply use it as a spam gun to send email to unsuspecting prospects that are scanned in at trade show booths.

Truly, the question we should be answering is how does our strategy change the marketing automation systems? Instead of letting the newest features of the technology drive our strategy, it should be the other way around.

[RELATED: A Quick Snapshot of Marketing Automation]

N: What trends do you see affecting content marketing in the future?

J: We are going to start seeing a TON of acquisitions on the brand side … of media companies, events, influencer sites and bloggers. Today it’s rarely happening, but in five years there will be more media acquisitions by non-media companies than media companies.

R: On the positive side, I really see an expansion of the types of content-driven experiences we can develop to build audiences. I think VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality) hold especially interesting capabilities. I think IoT (Internet of Things) will be a VERY interesting development in helping us develop more capabilities around deepening our relationship with audiences.

On the negative side, it’s going to be a frustrating ride for many. Understanding the right balance of how to build, utilize and optimize content strategies will be difficult. And many company leaders will simply say “not on my watch.” The myopic focus that businesses have on quarterly results doesn’t fit well with the long-term value investment that content is. It will be a challenge for sure.

N: What’s your favorite content marketing tool?

J: Email. Email. Email. It’s still the best way to build an opt-in audience. I also like printed magazines as an option through the post office. That’s probably not what you are asking, but that’s what I think of.

R: Well, this is self-serving but I’m a huge fan of the new audience development framework that I’ve been working on with my team, The Content Advisory, for some time. There’s a video at

N: Which content marketing tactic is the most overrated?

J: Social media is rented land and outside companies control the algorithms. A lot of money has been wasted on social. By all means leverage social, but make sure you know you have no control over the connections you build in any way.

R: The listicle post.

N: You’ve got a new book coming out, you’ve got Content Marketing World in the rearview mirror. What’s next for you?

J: Lots and lots of book promotion and speeches. Robert Rose and I have an eight-city Content Marketing Master Class tour coming up as well. The teaching never stops.

R: After the book and the event, I’ll be primarily focused on the Winter Master Classes and really rolling out my Audience Valuation framework to students and clients. That will take me well into 2018. After that, it’s hard to say.

N: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

J: When you first get started in your career, say yes to everything. You never know where your lottery ticket is going to turn up at. When you get some success, say no to literally everything. Only say yes to things that truly excite and challenge you.

R: Negotiate for what you want, not what you think you can get. My grandfather taught me that.

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