Frustrated with your company’s content marketing efforts? It seems you’re not alone.

At Content Marketing World 2015, Joe Pulizzi announced that content marketing was sliding into the trough of disillusionment on Gartner’s Hype Cycle, and this summer, Gartner confirmed that the industry is saddled firmly in the trough.


The Hype Cycle was created to help people understand whether or not they should invest in new technologies.

For content marketing, being in the trough generally means that some companies that were eager to launch a content marketing program are having trouble sticking with it and seeing results. Here’s how Gartner defines the trough of disillusionment:

“Inevitably, impatience for results begins to replace the original excitement about potential value. Problems in performance, slower-than-expected adoption or a failure to create revenue in the time anticipated all lead to disappointment and the hype wanes.”


Content marketing has already been through the innovation trigger and the peak of inflated expectations (filled with plenty of buzz—and tons of content). And after we emerge from the trough, we’ll graduate to the slope of enlightenment and finally reach the plateau of productivity.

You could make the argument that Gartner’s Hype Cycle (and their Magic Quadrant) doesn’t hold weight because it’s not based on data. However, it’s fair to say that there are some issues with content marketing right now.

What Is The Trough of Disillusionment?

The “Trough of Disillusionment” is a term from Gartner’s Hype Cycle, a model used to represent the adoption, maturity, and social application of specific technologies.

This model is structured in several stages:

  1. Technology Trigger: A potential technology breakthrough kicks things off. Early proof-of-concept stories and media interest trigger significant publicity. Often no usable products exist, and commercial viability is unproven.
  2. Peak of Inflated Expectations: Early publicity produces a number of success stories—often accompanied by scores of failures. Some companies take action; many do not.
  3. Trough of Disillusionment: Interest wanes as experiments and implementations fail to deliver. Producers of the technology shake out or fail. Investment continues only if the surviving providers improve their products to the satisfaction of early adopters.
  4. Slope of Enlightenment: More instances of how the technology can benefit the enterprise start to crystallize and become more widely understood. Second- and third-generation products appear from technology providers.
  5. Plateau of Productivity: Mainstream adoption starts to take off. Criteria for assessing provider viability are more clearly defined. The technology’s broad market applicability and relevance are clearly paying off.

The Trough of Disillusionment specifically refers to the stage where the initial excitement about a new technology has waned due to failed experiments or unmet high expectations.

It’s a period where interest and enthusiasm decline, and the limitations and challenges of the technology become more apparent.

However, it is also a critical phase where persistent innovation and refinement can lead to more mature and viable solutions, guiding the technology towards wider acceptance and practical applications.

Impatience for Results

Content marketing is hard work. Developing (and documenting) a strategy; actually writing blogs, articles, infographics, video scripts; and distributing them through email, on your own blog and with a paid push all takes time—at least six months, according to most.

This means that, if your goal is to increase your on-site traffic or start building a subscriber list for your blog, you likely won’t see a big lift in traffic overnight.

Instead, you’ll see a gradual rise over time.

Problems in Performance

If your content marketing program isn’t performing, here are a few questions to ask yourself: Is my content strategy documented? Have I set clear goals?

Am I distributing content effectively?

We know that content marketing programs are much more effective when there’s a documented strategy that outlines why the program exists, details about the audience, buyer personas, goals and how you plan to distribute content. Share your strategy with everyone—even people who might not be directly involved with the program.

Another reason you might experience problems in performance is team-based.

As we’ve mentioned previously, the roles you need on your marketing team today are not the roles you needed ten years ago. If you’re using content to drive marketing, you need people who understand how to tell a story well.

These same marketers need to create content that your audience craves.

Questions about Potential Value

Companies who have been at it for a little while know that to see the best value in a content marketing program, you have to get the most out of a piece of content.

This means atomizing content using the bricks and feathers approach, which most often means creating one larger piece of content (a brick) such as an eBook, and spinning out several smaller pieces of content like social posts, graphics, short videos or blog posts (feathers) that help tell your story and drive your point home.

When you use this approach, you’ll find more value in the time you spend crafting content and working with subject matter experts in your company.

For any marketing team feeling they’re in the trough of disillusionment, struggling to find their way out of these murky waters, you’re not alone. But there are clear ways to get out of the trough and on to the slope of enlightenment.

For companies looking to launch content marketing, don’t be turned off by content marketing’s current place in the trough.

As others are giving up, this is the time to move ahead. If you wait until content marketing is all the way through the Hype Cycle, you’ll likely be left behind by your competitors.