Q&A: Joe Pulizzi of Content Marketing Institute

By Kathryn Hawkins Monday, July 8, 2013

As CEO of the Content Marketing Institute, Joe Pulizzi has done more to champion the cause of content marketing—marketing to prospects by developing compelling and helpful content—than just about anyone else.

His organization publishes daily blogs and tutorials on how large and small businesses can make use of content marketing. He also spearheads an annual conference, Content Marketing World, where participants can get a firsthand look at the strategy behind successful brands’ content marketing campaigns.

Pulizzi took the time to share some valuable insights on how small businesses can create their own winning content strategies.

How would you define content marketing in a nutshell?

Content marketing is the marketing and business process for creating and distributing valuable and compelling content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience, with the objective of driving profitable customer action.

Content Marketing is owning, as opposed to renting media. It’s a marketing process to attract and retain customers by consistently creating and curating content in order to change or enhance a consumer behavior.

Such content can be defined as:

Compelling content that informs, engages or amuses.

What makes content marketing different than simple content is that content marketing must do something for the business.

“…with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”

How should businesses decide what types of content to focus on, and what subject areas to cover?

Content marketing is not the act of creating content, but a business strategy, approach and process. There are many steps to a great content marketing plan.  The first is, "what are the key pain points or passion triggers of my audience". That focuses us on our audience. From that, we need to develop our content marketing mission statement. This is basically the "why" we, as a business, create content in the first place. So many businesses fill channel buckets (content for Facebook, Twitter, etc.) without understanding what's in it for the reader. For businesses to be successful in content marketing, there needs to be a clear "why,",for a particular content niche, to a very defined audience.

That, and the understanding that our customers don't care about us, or products or our services, is the best place to start. We often think that it's enough to have great products. Today, we need to develop passionate subscribers to our brand because, simply put, our customers can easily ignore us unless we are interesting to them. We become interesting be developing consistent, epic content in multiple forms.

What’s the benefit of providing content that doesn’t directly promote your company?

I'll give you an example: At our company, the Content Marketing Institute, any piece of content we deliver that is product-related and not helpful information gets about 20% of our normal traffic. Content that is self-serving isn't shared. It doesn't create an emotional connection. It isn't searched for in Google.

So, there is nothing wrong with talking about our products and services—there is a time for that.  But what about 99% of the other parts of the buying cycle when our customers aren't ready to buy, or they are already customers and need inspiration?  That needs to be truly helpful and inspirational content.  Search, social and lead generation doesn't work when the content isn't focused on the customers' needs.

For business owners, how does content marketing fit in with digital advertising? Do you think that it makes sense for most businesses to invest in content marketing instead of advertising, or should they maintain a mix?

Well-rounded companies spend on both content marketing and advertising. The problem today is that most organizations spend so much more on traditional advertising than on content marketing. We are in a correction of sorts, and spend is starting to get more in line with real life—which is why we are seeing a spending shift to content marketing.

Content marketing can be an important part of digital advertising. As content marketers, our goal is to develop subscribers. We can use online advertising to drive people to our content, and then get them to subscribe to our content products. Then, when they are ready to buy, they'll buy from us...since we are delivering amazing content solutions to them. Paid to Owned content strategies can work incredibly well. American Express Open Forum does this quite well, paying to promote their educational content to drive new subscribers and credit card signups.

What are some of the most innovative examples of content marketing that you’ve come across recently?

Content 2020 from Coca-Cola is a must watch. It basically lays out Coke's content strategy. Red Bull is a content marketing master (check out Red Bulletin), as it P&G and their content sites HomeMadeSimple.com, BeingGirl.com among others. On the B2B side, I love Indium's blog and Openview Labs from OpenView Venture Partners. I look at content innovation over a long period of time. One-off viral hits don't really mean much to me—those are more campaign-focused than program-focused.

Why did you develop the Content Marketing Institute? What role do you hope it will play for businesses interested in getting involved in content marketing?

Most brands are terrible at creating and distributing compelling stories.  Most brands are creating content in multiple silos in the organization and it's a holy mess. We created CMI to help make sense of all this and work to advance the practice of content marketing. Also, with Content Marketing World, our annual event, now marketers with similar roles can get together and network. Many of these brand content positions in the organization are brand new, and the individuals need support.

Let's face it: There is a ton of horrible content out there. If we can work with enterprise brands and help them create value instead of destruction, then we feel we are doing some good in the world.

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