Gini Dietrich

Content Marketing Most Certainly is Not Dead

By: Gini Dietrich | January 28, 2016 | 

Content Marketing Most Certainly is Not DeadBy Gini Dietrich

Yesterday, I was recording a podcast with David Reimherr (which, at the end, we argue about Making a Murderer so stay tuned!) and I told the story of how, when I graduated from college and went into PR, my dad said something along the lines of, “I can’t believe you’re not going to be a writer.”

Fast forward to today and let’s just say I figured out how to take that passion and turn it into not only a career, but a business.

And, not only have I figured out how to make it a business, but a pretty, darn good one. Content has become the center of pretty much everything we do.

Heck, this very blog is a great example. Who would have thought, just 10 years ago, we would live in a world where bloggers could write about the things they love and make money doing it, too?

That was reserved for the journalists and everyone else had to rely on them.

No longer! It’s a beautiful, beautiful world in which we live.

Where We Are in the Hype Cycle

That’s why I get a little frustrated when I hear things such as “content marketing is dead” or “content marketing doesn’t work” or “we have content shock and that’s why it’s not sustainable.”

The 2016 Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends research from Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs, shows that business-to-business organizations have seen a decrease in the effectiveness (from 38 percent in 2015 to 30 percent in 2016) of content marketing.

This does give great fodder for people brushing it aside and saying it doesn’t work. I mean, it decreased by eight percent! But, let’s be real, only 38 percent saying it’s effective to begin with is still a failing grade.

Yes, I agree we are overly saturated. I agree a good majority of the content isn’t good. But that doesn’t mean it’s dead or doesn’t work. It doesn’t even mean no one is paying attention.

It means we must do better.

In Joe Pulizzi’s editorial for the December issue of Chief Content Officer, he shows the five-step hype cycle that shows the adoption curve of any disruptive technology.

Gartner's Five-Step Hype Cycle

Before last year, we were at the “peak of inflated expectations” level and, starting around the time Mark Schaefer wrote about content shock 18 months ago, we began to hit the “trough of disillusionment,” which is where I believe we still sit.

But you can see we’ll be coming out of that soon to the “slope of enlightenment” and then to “productivity.”

Content Marketing Must Be Honed

It always makes me laugh to hear marketers and executives complain about all the junk in their inboxes, in their RSS feeds, in their Flipboard accounts, and on the web, in general, but when they get behind their computer screens at work they contribute to the gross mess.

They buy lists and spam via email. They only talk about themselves and their latest sale or their latest hire or their latest award. Their content is dull and has no personality. They quote industry experts, but never offer an opinion of their own. They’re scared to put anything out there because it might mean their competitors will copy them.

And so we sit in the trough of disillusionment, wondering if all this time and all of those resources around content marketing were worth it.

Sure, that kind of content marketing doesn’t work because NO ONE CARES.

Think about the kind of content you read or watch or listen to and can’t get enough of.

Let’s take the aforementioned Making a Murderer (to the two of you who don’t have Netflix, you can watch it for free online with a free month’s subscription…chop, chop!).

Tony Gnau wrote a great piece here, not about the show, but about how the video work, the production style, and the storytelling got much, much better with every episode.

If you’ve seen the show, you likely remember the first episode where people were walking into the camera, the shots weren’t set up at all, the lighting was horrendous, and it made you a little motion sick to watch.

In fact, it was so bad, I almost didn’t make it to episode three, but kept watching because everyone said, “Just wait until episode four.” (And, yes, just wait until episode four.)

The point is that they didn’t stop telling the story because they weren’t any good at it in the beginning. They told the story because they believed there was something to it and they honed their craft as they went along…and took us with them.

The Slope of Enlightenment is Coming

Every September, I republish our very first blog post both to remind myself how far we’ve come (I’m really bad at stopping to smell the roses) and to show all of you that overnight success takes years and years of honing your craft.

It’s not pretty. In fact, I’m embarrassed just thinking about it.

It’s almost as embarrassing as getting your Facebook memories or Timehop mentions from seven years ago when we still spoke about ourselves in third person.

I roll my eyes nearly every day at how bad it was.

But we got better. Though I wouldn’t call posting on Facebook a craft, with practice, we all figured out how to use it (and how not to use it).

We will hit the slope of enlightenment with content marketing and it’s coming soon.

Be in that 30 percent of organizations that content marketing works for because you’ve honed your craft, you’ve put yourself out there, you’ve told a story people care about, and you didn’t give up.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • Ah, so many things to say on this topic… 🙂

    The first “argument”, of you like, is the term content marketing itself.
    We’ve had a lot of discussions about this, and I wrote on why the term is a misnomer a couple of years ago. Simple fact is, it’s marketing, pure and simple – content is simply another tactic in the bigger arsenal. So it makes sense to hear people say “content marketing is dead”, because people are fixation on a very minute description.

    With regards “content shock”, I won’t go too deep into that, as it’s also a misnomer. Nice soundbite, but that’s about it. It’s not “content shock”
    that’s to blame for whatever is being blamed, more shocking content. And bloggers that continue to write post after post about content shock are merely adding to that noise.

    Besides, everything is dead. Didn’t you see that white giraffe? Clear sign of the apocalypse…

    • Ok…but let’s say it’s not content marketing and it’s PR or email or search or whatever. The point is that we are exhausted with all there is out there, and most of it is not good. It’s not because it’s dead or doesn’t work. It’s because we have to get better at producing it.

      • I think it’s marketers and people in the bubble that are “exhausted”. For the rest of the users of the web, they [probably] don’t care, and nor should they.

        • I don’t think that’s true. I hear from a lot of executives who say they just can’t keep up…with the news, with sports, with industry stuff.

          • I think that comes down to how we’re defining content, and separating what’s important. Is sports content? Is news content? Or is content something different?

            It’s about filtering what you want to read. You like sports – is that all sports? Probably not – so simply subscribe to the sports that matter to you. Same with news. Same with anything.

            I’d love to do a massive, “real people” poll and ask them if they know what content marketing is, and if they think there’s too much content. I may be wrong, but I can’t help but feel they’d mostly offer a blank stare (and that includes execs, business people, etc.)

            Let’s not forget, most – if not the majority – of the bloggers and consultants, etc, that write about their being too much content rarely include the growth of web usage in their arguments.

            In 2015 alone, web usage saw an increase of 350 million – 350 MILLION (source: Internet World Stats). On average, another 4% of the world’s population is accessing the web for the first time on a year-to-year basis.
            Are we really saying there’s so much content on the web that these new users will immediately be overwhelmed by it all? I find that incredibly hard to buy into.

  • Mark W. Schaefer

    Here is where I think there is a possible disconnect in the logic presented by you and Joe. The hype cycle largely has to do with adoption. There are early adopters that buy into the hype, problems are found, problems are corrected, and then the curve goes back up again.

    The trough we are in right now is not really one of adoption — I think the number is something like 80% + are now doing a form of content marketing? It is an issue of performance. You could rightly judge that we are in a trough because of the lack of measurable performance. To get out of that trough, we have to think through — is the ability to measure performance going to improve?

    The simple fact is that we are moving beyond the time when content was a novelty and easily made an impact on results. In this era of exploding content density, our ability to realize economic benefit from content continues to go down, not up, so in fact, we have not yet reached the bottom of the trough and the trend pushing it down — an ability to achieve results (as the data states) is probably not going to improve soon.

    It’s like this. Is VW in the trough of disillusionment? no. They have a performance problem. Unless they fix the problem, there will not be an upturn. The problem with content marketing is not a hurdle to adoption, it is a hurdle to measurement and performance that will likely continue to depress the trend.

    BTW, content has always been at the center of marketing and will continue to be. Nothing is dead. We have to evolve.

  • Love the photo used with this blog post. Timely and correct.

    • Canva, for the win! I cracked myself up when I created it in there this morning.

  • Oops, I missed the email. I didn’t know that content was dead. Dumby me I thought it was reaching its adolescence.

  • Hey… thanks for that shout-out! 🙂
    –Tony Gnau

  • Yes! Just because so many people/companies are doing it wrong doesn’t mean it doesn’t work or is dead. It just means those that do understand how to use content to improve their customers and potential customers lives or work have an edge in the ongoing battle for attention, no matter how much content is being pushed out there.

    • And it does require us to get much, much better. To continue to have our edge, so to speak.

  • The reason why some say “content marketing” is dead is because “content marketing” was never a thing in the first place — and people are becoming to realize that it’s just a buzzword. (And why are we trusting anything that the Content Marketing Institute says? They are not a neutral source — they making money off of making “content marketing” a thing.)

    All marketing is the creation of a message, the insertion of that message into a piece of content, and the transmission of that content over a channel to an audience. All marketing is “content marketing” because all marketing uses “content.”

    Remember the promotion mix (direct marketing, advertising, publicity, sales promotions, and personal selling). Content is the e-mails or sales catalogues that go out in direct marketing campaigns. Content is the advertisements that in advertising campaigns. Content is the creatives that are used in publicity campaigns. Content is the sales collateral such as webinars guides that is used in sales promotions and personal selling activities.

    “Content marketing” is not a thing.

    • Exactly, Samuel. Thank you. 🙂

      • This is the same debate Danny and I have so I will put it to you this way: Let’s say this blog post is about marketing, in general. Do we not have to get better?

        • Every industry always has room for improvement. Marketing is no different.
          But when we muddy the waters with buzzwords that mean little in the bigger picture, it takes away the focus from where it should be getting pointed.

          • Samuel Scott


            If we’re doing “content marketing” that is advertising by another name, we need to admit what we’re doing and then study advertising best practices to make it better. If we’re doing “content marketing” that is publicity by another name, that we should admit that we’re doing publicity and then study publicity best practices.

            That’s what we need to do to do better marketing.

          • Samuel Scott


            If we’re doing “content marketing” that is advertising by another name, we need to admit what we’re doing and then study advertising best practices to make it better. If we’re doing “content marketing” that is publicity by another name, that we should admit that we’re doing publicity and then study publicity best practices.

            That’s what we need to do to do better marketing.