Q&A with Joe Pulizzi, founder, Content Marketing Institute

Joe Pulizzi likes the colour orange. In fact, the founder of the Content Marketing Institute likes it so much so he opened Content Marketing World 2011, the Institute’s annual conference, sporting an orange astronaut suit.

Two years on, there is a further World held in New York, and now, for the first time, Content Marketing World is coming to Sydney. In ten days the Harbour City will host the biggest gathering of content marketing experts and those eager to learn.

We caught up with Pulizzi ahead of his trip down under to ask why Australia, just what is content marketing and why is everyone talking about it.

Marketing: This being the first time Content Marketing World in Australia, we’re interested to know what the trigger was to bring it down under at this time?

Pulizzi: Honestly, we were surprised by the amount of reactions from Australia, and we had a number of Australian attendees at Content Marketing World in the States. We actually have our third highest traffic on the website coming from Australia and New Zealand, and it was as big a surprise to me as anyone else.

I think if you look at, traditionally, content marketing, especially in print, there has always been a good uptake on the Australian side, but now we’re seeing a real clear move over to digital. It’s almost like this seems the perfect time for content marketing in Australia, and just by the reception we’ve got so far, we’re happy to be coming over in March.

So what can Australian marketers expect to get out of Content Marketing World?

I think the most important thing, first of all, we’re going to talk about the research and have a little bit of a look between what’s going on in Australia as it pertains to content marketing, and differentiate that with what’s happening in the UK as well as what’s happening in the US. We have that research coming out, and in the next couple of weeks we’ll talk about that.

But I think, more than anything else, it’s important for the people that are handling content on the brand side to start getting together and networking with other people that are doing the same thing. In most cases they’re new jobs, mostly new roles. They’re marketing people that are taking on creation roles, who are hiring on editors and journalists. We haven’t seen that happen before, and we’re doing new things.

This is not traditional vanity publishing, like ‘Here’s our custom magazine’. This is, ‘What are we doing with our blogs and our white papers and ebooks, and how are we integrating it and how do we measure it?’

So really, we’re trying to get together and ask: what are the problems? What are the challenges in this industry? Because, there is a lot of opportunities, where do we take it next? And I’m excited about seeing some of the best and brightest from both the States as well as Australia come together and talk about these issues.

What are those main challenges you’re hearing about?

Look, we can talk about ‘How do we measure this thing? How do we create enough content? How do we create engaging content?’ I think, honestly, a lot of it is integration and the understanding that this is the way we need to market now. This is not a ‘nice to have’ type of thing. This is stuff we have to have, because if you want to be found in Google, if you want to drive leads, and if you want to have your social media channels work for you, you have to have a compelling story at the centre of that. You have to. And I think a lot of companies are just becoming aware of that, and that’s the most important thing.

I’d look at integration, buy in, and I think the bigger issue that we see is a lot of companies come and say, ‘Hey, we need more content’, and I’m always like, ‘No, you don’t need more content, you need best of breed content that’s going to work for your readers, your customers, and drive business for you.’ It’s a new world we’re living in now.

We saw your blog post the other week about basically putting an end to ‘more for the sake of more’ content. What triggered that? Just from the number of comments you get?

I’ve been railing about that all year long. When our North American study came out, we talked to 2000-plus corporate marketers from around North America, and we asked them what’s your biggest content marketing challenge? And number one on the list was producing enough content. That had taken over producing engaging content. And honestly, I was disappointed by that because we’re so used to getting in the mindset of having to fill channels, and it’s not about filling channels, it’s about asking why we’re creating this content in the first place, and how we’re going to make a difference in our customers’ lives. And if we do that properly, we’re going to get more business, we’re going to get more loyalty, we’re going to get more emotion.

I think a lot of marketers were like, ‘We need content for Facebook, we need content for Twitter, we need content for a blog, we need content for our white papers,’ and we’re starting to think of it more like filling holes rather than looking at the customer experience I think the way we’re supposed to do. So I’m always like you can always use more great content. I just see a lot of mediocre content out there, and I think that’s a problem.

But for brands that may not have the resources to create really great content, surely some is better than nothing.

I would say that some mediocre content is not better than nothing, in my opinion. I would never use that excuse – I don’t think you can be too small to create great content. I think we’re looking at it the wrong way. I understand why, because you’ve been marketing this way all along, but really, you need to be publishing. You need to be publishers now. These are new skills. These are things that we’re not used to doing. We’re not used to thinking this way about our marketing.

We’re used to thinking about it in these silos of PR and newer silos of search engine optimisation and social media. We’re not looking at our customers and what their informational pain points are, which I think is really important. We sort of look past that, and you, as a journalist being in publishing, you see that. I see that because I’ve grown up in publishing. But when we talk to marketing executives, they don’t see that. They’re thinking first about the sale, and if we’re going to be successful online, you can’t think first about the sale, you absolutely can’t do that.

You have to first think about what your customers’ needs are from an informational standpoint, what media companies have been doing forever. So I get frustrated about this stuff, but I think because there is so much opportunity in small companies, mid-sized companies, large brands. Do large brands have more capabilities because they can do more with outsourcing, they can do more video? Absolutely. But there is no reason why a very, very small business can’t create great content. You just have to think a little bit differently about it.

Taking it right back to basics, how you define content marketing?

Content marketing… I’ll give you the book definition. Content marketing is the creation of valuable, relevant and compelling content on a consistent basis to your customers or to your target customer, to do something, to attract or retain that customer, to create some type of profitable customer action.

The easier way to think about it is instead of telling my customers I’m great, I’m going to show them I’m great because I’m going to teach them or I’m going to entertain them.

Even simpler to understand would be to think about yourself as a media company and less about a product and service company. What do media companies do? They satisfy the informational needs of their readers. That’s where we’re heading. And I think because the consumer is so in control, and they’re so bombarded with messages of any kind, if we don’t create something that’s interesting to them, they’re going to forget all about us, they’re going to go somewhere else.

We’re trying to work with businesses all over the world, all different sizes. We’re trying to say, ‘Look, you need to create some type of a compelling story. That needs to be at the centre of your marketing.’ It’s not that advertising is going away – we just had Super Bowl over here. We know that advertising is not going away. But I think what you’re seeing smart companies do is they’re looking at their advertising and they’re saying, ‘Look, we also need to tell these really compelling stories, and if we can do that and integrate that together, that’s going to make the leap up from the competition.’

We’re at a paradigm shift. I think we need to make that now and there’s a huge opportunity for companies to get it. I think that’s where we’re at right now in Australia, because it’s first-mover advantage – the companies that are really taking this seriously are moving forward, and they’re going to have a great advantage over their competitors.

We’re interested to know the differences in what you’re seeing as the most commonly implemented types of content plans – are there big differences across industries and across B2B and B2C brands?

There are – let’s look at the difference between B2B and B2C. B2B is heavy whitepapers. B2C brands don’t use white papers at all. They’re more on your ebook side. If you’re looking at social media tools for distribution, B2B is heavier in SlideShare, while B2C it’s almost non-existent. Which, by the way, I don’t think is correct. SlideShare is a great opportunity for B to B and B to C companies.

Even though there are some really great examples from American Express and from Coca-Cola and Red Bull, great consumer examples of content marketing, I’m seeing a lot of excitement going around about B2B because in B2B you’re able to really fine tune on the buying cycle.

And then we’re looking at what type of piece of content is going to take us from here to here… if you believe in the funnel at all, which some people don’t.

We wanted to ask about changes over time and what you’re seeing now compared to five years ago? What’s happening in the States?

It’s hard to keep up. Every few months it seems like the industry is changing. Content marketing, as a phrase itself, is a big deal to me personally, just for the fact that we’re starting to call it the same thing. The book I wrote Get Content, Get Customers, with Newt Barrett in 2008, that was our first chapter. We’re like, this industry is called 30 different things: custom media, custom publishing, branded content, branded storytelling, you’ve got native advertising in there, all kinds of stuff. The problem is we’re all talking different languages. What I like now when I go to a chief marketing officer and I say ‘content marketing’, even though there is a little bit of differentiation with what they feel it is, we’re starting from the same point usually. This is a huge deal, because now in whatever country you’re in, you’re talking about content marketing, you understand that I’m marketing a little bit differently and what that means, and that’s the biggest thing going forward.

It’s interesting – and you touched on it – that it’s not exactly a new concept, really. Is it basically just that agreement on language that makes it seem resurgent in the last couple of years?

There’s a couple of things. This industry is over 100 years old. The Furrow Magazine started in 1895, which is the largest circulated farming magazine in the world, and it’s done by a company called John Deere. So that’s kind of the famous start to the industry, and then you can use Procter & Gamble as examples down the road, you can use Lego down the road, all some really good examples. Some events, but mostly in print.

Now, what’s happened since 2000, 2007, 8, 9, what you have is you have brands that are saying, ‘Now we can communicate directly with our audiences because basically there is no barrier to entry. There is no consumer barrier, there is no business barrier. What are we going to tell them?’

Your customers have hundreds of different channels they can go through to get information. The best story wins, and if we’re not telling a good story, they’re not going to like us on Facebook or check out anything we have to say on Twitter, or look at our whitepaper or anything. It’s got to be really helpful to them.

Generally what we’ve thought about our content, which is still the case by the way, 95% of the content in most companies is about its own products and services. We’re going to see that flip in the next five years and 90% is not going to be about them, it’s going to be what media companies have been doing for years and years – not that media companies are going away, it’s a completely separate issue.

But the fact is that brands know they have to be helpful, they have to get attention in some way and have to build that relationship, they’re going to do it through great content, useful applications. Think about mobile. What works in mobile? Very useful applications, nothing self-serving. So the biggest thing that’s happened is you’ve got to fill these social media buckets – strategy aside, by the way, because that’s a whole other conversation – they just know they have all these buckets they have to fill. What are they going to do? Better start looking at what our content is, and I think that’s been the biggest push forward in why content marketing is on the forefront now.

You mentioned a couple of big brands before. Are there any little guys that not many people would have heard of that deserve some recognition for how they’ve gone about it?

You’re right. I use the big examples. I look at Red Bull. Red Bull is a media company that just happens to sell energy drinks. I’ve believed that for a long time. Coca-Cola has got a great content strategy up. They’re doing the best they can or what they think. American Express is another good example.

From a small company standpoint, one of my favourites is OpenView Venture Partners. What I like is that this is a small company, had virtually no budget, and was a venture capital company which traditionally had been terrible at creating content like this. They’ve been able to create a dominant force online through video, through audio, through text, through photos, and create a real resource that is answering their customers’ questions and that’s cut the sales cycle in half. They’re getting almost all their new leads directly through their email newsletter sign up, which is really good content. And they don’t have to go out and traditionally do what they’ve done and focus on referrals at trade shows and connections. They don’t have to do that anymore because everyone is coming to them, and with almost no budget. They have their own audio studio. They have their own video studio in-house.

That’s what gets me excited – you don’t have to be Goliath anymore. You can be David. And you can dominate an industry niche if you’re smart about keeping track of what your customers are dealing with on a day to day basis.


Joe Pulizzi will be at Content Marketing World Sydney to keynote the conference, taking place 4-6 March. Niche Media, publisher of Marketing magazine, is proud to be a partner of the event. If you’re attending too, we’d love to see you there at our booth. 

And if you haven’t decided yet, as a reward just for being a Marketing reader you can get $200 off your ticket by using the code NICHE200 when registering. Online registrations close on Friday 1 March. For more details head to sydney.contentmarketingworld.com