Why I (Still) Hate the Term “Content Marketing”

Mar 29, 2017

A few years back, I made a minor ripple on the internet okay, make that a very minor ripple when I dashed off a plaintive lament about the use of the word “content” in content marketing. As I noted at the time, the industry couldn’t have picked a more lifeless word to describe using interesting, informative, persuasive information to educate prospects and turn them into buyers.

Three years later, I feel exactly the same as I did in my original rant, reprinted below:

If there is one profession that should understand above all others that messaging matters, it’s the field of marketing. So why on earth have we all collectively agreed to label our messaging as “content” which brings to mind nothing more than inert filler, largely there just to take up space?

If you don’t think buying into this phrase won’t have an actual effect on your messaging, just look at some of the advice out there from the “content marketing” experts.

Over and over I see the suggestion that marketers repurpose older web copy and blog posts to use for other “content marketing” pieces like brochures and white papers. Never does this recommendation remind marketers to heed the target audience’s current stage in the buying process, the audience’s level of technical understanding, or for that matter, any other qualifiers.

No, this is standalone advice, often among the first offered, which is giving marketers the impression that as long as they put something out there for prospects to read on a regular basis, the qualified leads will follow.

That’s a perception that just cheapens the value of your marketing message. And if you don’t value your own message, do you honestly think prospects will?

Incidentally, it also makes the deadly mistake of over-estimating the ease of capturing your prospects interest.

Here’s another irony: one of the key jobs of a marketing communications professional is to bring clarity to a subject, yet confusion reigns in the field as to what “content” marketing actually means. Really, ask a number of marketers to define the phrase. I assure you, you’re going to get a number of different answers.

The term is just a vague and vapid generality; nothing more. And as a writer, that especially makes me shudder.

My complaint was hardly an original one; as Ryan Skinner from Forrester noted at the time, I wasn’t the first and wouldn’t be the last to have a gripe with a term. Still, it caught some attention, and even some hearty applause from people like Jeff Molander, who emphatically agreed the term doesn’t do us marketers any favors.

So imagine my dismay when four years later, we’re still using it! Well, like I said, my ripple was just that, a ripple.

But I still hold that “content” marketing is a completely inadequate term. It implies quantity over quality, which is a serious misrepresentation of how this form of marketing works. Yes, the typical B2b prospect intensively researches before buying, and yes, having a widely-distributed library of information to satisfy that research is important.

But it’s not going to get widely read if it’s not actually readable. Quality matters. I don’t just say that as a writer, but as a buyer. I do plenty of research online before I make certain purchases, too .we all do now, for small and big ticket items alike. I’m not too likely to buy from a company that puts out badly explained “content.”

What does content marketing even mean?

It’s also worth noting that confusion still reigns on the right definition of “content” marketing. My colleague Tim Boivin does a nice job explaining it and clearing up some common misconceptions.

However, for a relatively mainstream method, it’s amazing to me that there is still a level of confusion surrounding it all these years later. I lay a good part of the blame on the meaningless name. Think about it. Is there the same widespread confusion about what public relations is? Or branding? Or even social media marketing? No because their names are insightfully specific.

It’s a shame because content marketing really is an effective means for nurturing interest and trust in a company’s offerings – and generating good leads. It’s also one of our specialties here at Amendola. I love the strategy; it gives me a chance to write meaningful information that helps guide people to making an informed buying decision. But I think that it deserves a better name.

Some proposed replacements for the term “content marketing”

So what should we call this method of marketing instead? After making such a fuss about changing the name, I admit I understand why the word “content” was settled on it’s a catch-all expression for the articles, infographics, guides, videos and more that are used to catch a prospect’s interest and hold this interest throughout the buying cycle.

“Demand generation” and “inbound marketing” are sometimes used interchangeably for content marketing. But they shouldn’t be – they’re not the same thing. With that, here are some substitute terms I like but am not in love with:

  • Brand journalism
  • Editorial marketing
  • Company journalism
  • Informational marketing
  • Guided buying/Guide marketing
  • Knowledge marketing

If you have a great idea for a replacement, let me know I will personally make it my mission to make it stick!

Stephanie Janard

Stephanie Janard has over a decade of experience as a professional communicator in the business-to-business technology arena, with additional background as a newspaper column and features writer. Stephanie began her career as a marketing and public relations manager for a software company and then went on to become a freelance writer for a diverse set of clients and industries. Stephanie has written for media outlets including the Raleigh News & Observer and The Daily Courier in Forest City, North Carolina, where her weekly column is in its third year of print and online publication.