While some may just be waking up to the idea of content marketing, Joe Pulizzi has been preaching the benefits since 2001. As the recognized authority on all things content, Joe has made a name for himself as the founder of Content Marketing Institute and the author of three books on the subject. The opportunity to catch up with Joe and chat about the industry from his perspective was a truly unique experience for us, and in our interview he offered some insights that all marketers can learn from.

You’ve been using the phrase “content marketing” since 2001. How have you seen the definition of the term evolve over the last 13 years?

The industry used to be called custom publishing in most circles, and customer media in Europe. Content marketing, as a phrase, really took off in 2010, as marketers really won’t own a term of any kind unless there is “marketing” in the phrase. Over the past five years, we’ve seen content marketing in an organization move from a stand-alone program in an enterprise to becoming more integrated with all marketing as search and social media have taken center stage (because search and social is pretty much impossible without amazing, consistent content generation and distribution).

Is there a point in time that you can identify where the idea of content marketing crossed the threshold from being a concept that was taking root to becoming a standard marketing practice that was here to stay? What will keep content marketing from “jumping the shark”?

It really doesn’t matter what the industry or practitioners call it. What we know for sure is that consumers are in complete control of how they learn and what they engage in, and interruptive advertising, while it still works in many cases, can only take us so far. I cannot see any scenario where smart brands cannot position themselves as expert resources of information in particular niches. It’s a different muscle in the organization, and one enterprises are starting to get better at. I don’t see us “jumping the shark” with the practice area since we are still at the very beginning of this movement, even though cm has been around for over 100 years.

For a brand that has little experience with creating compelling content, what’s step one?

What’s the why? Why are you creating content in the first place? Is it to generate sales, save costs, or create more loyal customers? Those are the only three reasons to take a content marketing approach. I’ve seen so many brands start to implement content marketing without having a strategic idea for why they do it (most organizations do not have any kind of documented content marketing strategy).images (1)

How should brands balance branding and content in the content they’re creating? Coca-Cola’s Journey and Dell’s Tech Page One address this balance very differently, so how should a brand that’s new to content marketing choose an example to follow?

While there is no one right way to do it (Coca-Cola brands themselves in the content while P&G lightly brands their content in most cases), the best course is to make sure that customers know the content is coming from the brand. How are we going to position ourselves as expert resources without telling them who it’s from?

What does a successful content program look like? What metrics should content marketers be measuring?

Again, there are many ways to do this depending on what the goals are. Is it to create more qualified leads? Is it to keep customers longer? Is it to get customers to buy more? All that said, my favorite metric is the subscriber. Once we start a content marketing approach, what is the difference between those people that subscribe to our content versus those that do not? While this takes many months to find out what the difference in, building an owned audience and having an understanding of what behaviors are different because of the content is, perhaps, the most critical indicator.

How long does it typically take for a brand to get a content program off the ground and what type of resources should they be prepared to commit to it?

12-18 months is minimum. If your timeline is only six months, you are better off advertising. The biggest reason why brands fail at content marketing is because they stop. It’s that simple. Setting expectations with the C-level is imperative to making content marketing work. Fact is, it takes a long time to build a relationship with readers through content. Patience.

What mistakes do you see brands making as they execute their content strategies? What would you like to see a forward-thinking brand try with its content?

  • Not consistent enough.
  • Not focused on filling an information need for the audience.
  • Not niche enough (going too broad).
  • No one owns content marketing in the organization.
  • The content doesn’t have a particular point of view.

I’d like to see brands focus on one persona with one niche area and become the leading provider of content in a certain area. With so many consumer choices, how can we differentiate our content from the rest of the clutter if it’s not the best in the industry.

Who are the brands that you point to as content marketing visionaries?

On the consumer side, Coca-Cola, Red Bull, LEGO and Jyske Bank (Denmark). On the B2B side, TD Ameritrade, Openview Venture Partners, Indium Corporation, Miller Electric.

How does social media fit into content marketing? Are there channels besides the major social networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube) that brands should be leveraging?

The channels all depend on where your audience is hanging out…but content marketing needs to come first. Who’s the audience? What’s the need? How can our content be useful? What’s the goal? Then once we get all that information, we can start to look at which social media chan
nels make the most sense. Sometimes, discussion forums in certain industries are perfect. Sometimes creating your own platform makes sense (like Navyformoms.com). For one particular channel, I believe SlideShare and podcasting are particular opportunities.

What does does content marketing look like three years from now? How will that be reflected by Content Marketing World three years from now?

Content marketing probably looks like marketing. I believe it will be so infused in what brands are doing that we might just call it marketing. And, instead of brands sponsoring big events or programs like in the past, we will see those brands developing their own programs. Oscar winners, Emmy winners will come more from brands (like we are seeing with Chipotle’s “Farmed and Dangerous” or the LEGO Movie.