Great Content Is Not Enough

There’s a serious, but neglected, problem at the heart of content marketing.

Marketers and agencies have invested large sums to create quality content, but – in many cases – it’s not getting discovered. Audiences are neither finding nor sharing it. It’s not going viral. It’s not going anywhere. One CEO at a company that helps with distribution told me how he finds new clients: He looks for brands on YouTube with great videos but miserable viewing numbers. “Not hard at all,” he said.

How did visibility become such a problem?

Agencies, bloggers, and search experts counsel marketers to publish truly great content, regularly, to win search rankings and social shares and thus draw traffic. For many marketers, however, that organic discovery isn’t happening as quickly or reliably as they need.

Outgoing Content Marketer of the Year Joe Chernov (VP of marketing at Kinvey, and previously VP – content marketing at Eloqua) told me:

Marketers always ask me how to make more or better content, and it’s almost always the wrong question. The right question is: “How do I get my content in front of the right people?”

That will include paid placement and amplification, but it turns out this kind of promotion is only one part of a multiphase approach.

I just published a report on distribution of branded content. A few remarkable findings:

  • Brands can actually step down content production and step up distribution to get better results.
  • An ecosystem of vendors have cropped up to help marketers drive distribution of branded content.
  • The most effective promotions often come from doubling-down on past successes.
  • Better distribution improves content’s quality, as the feedback cycle accelerates.

“Content is king, but distribution is queen and she wears the pants.” (I wish I could claim the quote; it was Jonathan Perelman of BuzzFeed.) I argue that marketers haven’t given the issue due focus. What’s your take? I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments.

There’s a huge opportunity here, for marketers who will tackle a common problem head-on.


Good points Ryan. Many

Good points Ryan.

Many marketers (or more accurately, many bloggers) seem to equate content marketing solely with inbound marketing – or else with social marketing.

They take the view that their content is awesome and who wouldn't share it? The thing is, even when their content *is* awesome, unless they're in a niche market or are a first mover, there's always a ton of pretty crappy content keeping it off the radar.

While 'outbound' has become a somewhat dirty word, the truth is that outbound content marketing (ie with distribution front and centre in the strategy) outperforms pretty much all other options (especially in B2B).

Until more companies recognise this (and look at more research and less op-ed pieces) they're pretty much destined to be disappointed.

The Inbound Fallacy?

The fact that content has to perform in an increasingly crowded market was one that I alluded to in the report. That is, you're not only competing against rising tides of blah content; you're competing against rising tides of GOOD content.

By "outbound content marketing", I think you're pretty squarely honed in on email. That's one of the key channels for brands to escalate early interest. And, yes, I also believe it's a performer when managed well.

Thanks for the comment, Jay!

not sure I see that much truly great content

Ryan I agree with some of this,

And especially in the B2C space it is very easy to crank out content and get very few views.

I disagree with the commenter who says it's tougher to reach audiences in B2B. In B2B, if you build a community around your brand and the respect your expertise, they are likely to consume and share your content.

But my question for you is: while I agree that distribution of content is important, I run into plenty of companies with good distribution but very little content that is compelling to share.

I agree the content bar is getting higher and that there is more good content out there to compete with, but is there really that much truly GREAT memorable content out there?

I don't see it. I believe memorable content does get shared - without that much effort. That doesn't mean distribution doesn't matter, but I know plenty of companies that know how to manage email lists - few of them know how to create engaging content and narratives that are not about pushing their brand at every opportunity.

With that in mind, I would appreciate seeing a few examples of great content that is not getting attention. I don't mean a single piece, but for example a YouTube channel with truly excellent content that is not getting views.

I'm guessing my definition of great content may be different than others.

On first-order and second-order problems

Thanks for your comment, Jon.

One of the premises of this particular piece of research was that we were talking about fundamentally good content. That is, even when the content is good, the mechanisms that are supposed to distribute it to your audience, don't work that well.

Now I can see how that would seem like a second-order problem to "but what if our content isn't even good." And, yes, definitely important to get that sorted out. But, as I mention in the report, good distribution can often actually help with that too. It accelerates the learning cycle (that is, you force more feedback and learn quicker what "good" looks like). Many marketers - particularly in B2B - struggle with that fundamental question: What does good look like?

So, you could say that solving the second-order problem can be the fastest way to solve the first-order problem.

It's always a bit tricky calling out content (and thus marketers) as underperformers. But I can point to the example the vendor I interviewed mentioned when he said he found new customers with poor performance on YouTube. He cited the "Altoids" YouTube channel. Good videos, I think, but low viewership (for a consumer brand). I think if you look up a few big names in the B2B marketing vendor space, then you'll find many more with good video content that underperforms.

"Good" content and "poor" performance are subjective, I know, but there's still a broadly important point I'm trying to make with this.

good versus great content - a key distinction

Ryan thanks.

I'm not sure if we disagree or agree, I think a bit of both.

I'm not going to argue against investing in distribution...but it's a problem you can throw money at. Example: invest in an email opt-in management and platform, or invest in a sponsored content channel on a high volume web site and embed your videos in blog posts to get more exposure.

What I'm saying is that I think that poor versus good content isn't the issue anymore. There's too much good content out there. The struggle has shifted to: how do I produce great content? (and/or controversial/viral content which I'd argue is often a backfire unless it truly reinforces brand values).

I'll agree with you that if your content is good, but not exceptional, then distribution is the top issue (getting exposure for that good content). There's so much good content out there now you need to push it, especially to opt-in audiences.

But the top priority for content marketing is truly great, compelling content. Or if not top priority, the most pressing issue to solve.

Awesome content doesn't need as big a push - users push it. Creating "top of sales funnel" content that is not about your brand but about real problems in the world and how they are getting solved is the toughest thing and the biggest content marketing challenge.

Why? Because unlike distribution you can't just throw money at it. It's also a culture problem. Many companies have trouble engaging in conversations that are transparent and not about the wonderfulness of their brands and products. That creates a block to creating the content, sometimes called "thought leader content" (though I loath the phrase), that pulls in new audiences.

Or: telling great stories and setting a narrative for viewers that pulls them in. That takes talent and an ability, usually, to rise above brand narratives.

I don't see many companies able to do that. So, while distribution may be an issue, I don't believe the content problem is solved.

To cite a B2C example, Acura's brilliant "Comedians in Car Getting Coffee" with Jerry Seinfeld is still the exception, not the rule. That content got tons of traction and I heard about it not from some distribution (I'm not opted into Acura at all) but from word of mouth.

Creating that kind of content is where I think companies are in dire need of help. They weren't in the media entertainment and/or "thought leadership" business, and now they are - if they want to have effective marketing that is driven by ideas and content and not mass marketing media buys.

Where I think the two issues come together is around brand communities. Sticky communities around your brand are a big key to better distribution. There are culture issues invoked there as well, given that as soon as you start censoring posts and managing the tone of such communities, that distribution channel is hampered.

So perhaps in the end there is a limit to how much money you can throw at that problem also. :)

Thanks for sharing your research!

Even great content requires a little push

You've got good points, all. But even great, great, great content - the likes of the Red Bull videos, the Oreo dunk in the dark and the Dove Real Beauty sketches, huge viral hits - all benefited from pro-active promotion.

Yes, there's the occasional (quite rare) piece of great content from a company that goes viral and gets seen by everyone, but that's fleetingly rare. Hardly something to build a strategy on.

Even great content will benefit from, even require, some pushing, if marketers want to get the benefit they're after with it.

Market your Marketing

Nice post Ryan. Several comments:

1. How much great content is really out there?
I understand the earlier comment questioning whether there really is a lot of good content out there. I believe that there is, however, it is too difficult to find.. . .hence the opportunity for improved distribution by the content marketer.

2. Creating great content is more fun than its distribution.
Too many companies over-invest in creation versus distribution. Not only is it more fun for marketers to work on the next initiative, but they also lack an understanding of the time and effort needed for a marketing campaign to be absorbed by a market. I especially like your guidance to "double-down on past successes" as way to focus on getting more mileage out of existing content.

3. “Content is king, but distribution is queen and she wears the pants.”
Gotta love these "content is king" quotes. Check out this blog summarizing 70+ "If Content is King, then. . " quotes for a good laugh.

Lots of great comments on

Lots of great comments on content, but I do agree distribution is key, as a B2B marketer it is vital you know your audience, understand how they like to receive information and then to repurpose your content in a fashion which will gain greatest traction with your potential clients.

When you are working with a Target Account Model of no more than 200 companies (which we do), we know who we need to get to but the challenge is to pinpoint the distribution channel for each individual, sounds easy but it isn’t, it is also knowing which part of the buying cycle your potential client is in, being intelligent and understanding your clients is the key to getting the right content to the right individual at the right time in the buying cycle.

If only marketing was that easy

Marketing our Marketing

You've all given me food for thought. I woke up one day and discovered that I now have to be a developer, publisher and movie-maker - along with being a marketer. And add to this the fact that now I have to market and promote my marketing and promotions - Yikes! Not enough hours in the day!
But we are forgetting something else that's important-- like us, our target audiences only have so much time and attention to spare. Given the current trend, even excellent content can be passed over because of sheer volume, and little time.