Everybody says they’re using content marketing.  Last fall, Content Marketing Institute and Marketing Profs put out their annual survey on content marketing. One of the key statistics from it is that 93 percent of B2B companies use content marketing. But, of course, that isn’t true; 93 percent of B2B firms may say they use content marketing, but go to any random sampling of company websites and tell me if 93 percent of them offer audience-focused content. It’s not even close. The problem – I believe – is that the definition of content marketing is way too broad.

Not all content is content marketing.

This is not content marketing

I think it’s important to have this discussion so that we can have conversations with each other in which we’re actually communicating, rather than merely saying the same words. So many agencies and clients and marketers are rambling on about content marketing, but I really don’t believe we’re all on the same page.

Here’s a painful example: Last year, we won a new client that had tired of the inability of their SEO firm to help them break through with their audience. They were looking for something fresher, something that would catch fire. We had great conversations; we agreed that content marketing was what they needed. However, while we used all the same words, we meant different things. The relationship did not last long because neither one of us was happy.

At Scribewise, we define content marketing as the creation and distribution of audience focused, journalistic content.


So that means that there is some very good content being produced that really isn’t content marketing. It doesn’t mean it’s bad marketing… just that it isn’t content marketing.

So, with that in mind, these marketing forms and tactics are not content marketing – at least in our book:

Press releases. Those press releases are about your organization – your latest client win, the update to your flagship product, etc. They are touting something you did. They are not “news you can use” for the audience. They are not content marketing. (Importantly, each of these tactics could be content marketing, but traditionally are not because they’re focused on the creating organization rather than the audience.)

Advertising. I had a conversation last year with a veteran ad agency owner. My buddy and I were talking about content marketing. He looked at us like we had two heads, saying I create content; isn’t it all content marketing? Yes – he creates content: print ads, TV ads, collateral materials and other promotional materials. No, it isn’t content marketing. Because everything he’s producing for his clients is about his clients; it isn’t audience-focused. Here’s some gray area – native advertising, which is still emerging, is closer to content marketing than it is to traditional advertising. It obviously is a paid placement, but paying to place the native ad is merely content distribution – if the content itself is focused on the audience rather than the advertiser, it qualifies by our definition.

Email marketing. This is a great way to distribute content marketing, but it is not automatically content marketing. Email marketing is the distribution vehicle.

Social media. This gets to be another gray area. It depends on how you use social media. Certainly, there are some effective content strategies being executed on Facebook, but most organizations are simply using social media as promotional vehicles. Again, this is fine, but that isn’t truly helping the audience. Dunkin Donuts is great on social media; Dunkin Donuts is not using content marketing.

The famous Oreo Dunk in the Dark tweet was not content marketing. It was brilliant, it was real time marketing and it was social media, but it was not content marketing.

Oreo Dunk in the Dark

Again, it’s the nature of the content that makes something true content marketing.

SEO. Search Engine Optimization is something you do to your content; it isn’t content itself. It’s important, but it isn’t content marketing of and by itself.

True content marketing is not about your organization; it’s about the audience. It’s about helping, not selling. It’s about what Jay Baer calls Youtility.

The tactics above can be very effective marketing, and you should use them. But let’s not lump them into content marketing.

Do you agree with my definition? Or do you find it too narrow? Please let me know in the comments below.