Three Tenets of Content Marketing

This post is about content marketing, which is a hot topic these days and one that I fear is a bit nebulous to people. Tom Critchlow recently wrote The Time for Content Marketing is Now on the Distilled blog, where he gave some very inspirational and actionable insights into content marketing. I read this post by Michael Hyatt recently as well, and while it does not go nearly as in-depth as I would have liked, he’s on the right path. Great content before traffic and rankings.

I’ve also recently been disheartened by the amount of low-quality content that many people online seem intent on creating. Whether it’s bad infographics, recycled blog posts, or content for the sake of content because someone’s been told to “have a blog” and “update it frequently”, we are inundated with an overload of content that adds nothing to the global conversation.

I also saw this tweet from Russ (who I GREATLY respect as an SEO and a friend):

That’s what this post is about. Showing what great content is outside of video (but including it as well). Adding to the content marketing conversation.

After a number of conversations with my boss Tom, we came to the realization that content marketing can be broken down into three main tenets:

  1. Produce less
  2. Produce it better
  3. Have a purpose or stance

It’s not enough to say this though. Let’s look at some other factors of content marketing first, then we’ll explore the above three tenets, or characteristics, of content marketing.

Great Content is Hard

First, great content is insanely hard to create. You must realize that creating this content is going to take a lot out of you. You’re going to have to dig deep and tap into that emotional wheelhouse that most of us are scared of tapping into for fear that doing so will exhaust us and that ultimately we will fail. I loved this post recently by Seth Godin, wherein he said:

Time doesn’t scale
But bravery does.

I think this is spot on. When you tap into that place that you are scared to go, when you take a risk, you risk failure. But if you’re risking failure, that also means that you are risking success.

I recently was hurting for inspiration, and was also trying to figure out how to inspire my clients to create great content. While talking it over with Ron Garrett, our sales exec, he told me:

You know how I think about great content? I tell people to go away and do their best. Then I review it and get them to try harder. When they come back with the best work that they feel like they can do, that’s where we start.

This has greatly impacted me. We don’t start with what we normally do. Amazing content starts when we feel like we’ve done our absolute best, then go beyond it to create something truly remarkable.

Great Content is Inspiring

When is the last time that you were inspired? I’ve noticed that I am most inspired when I am watching amazing content, feats that I did not think were possible or content that absolutely blows me away.

Tell me this doesn’t inspire you:


Tell me Ed Fry’s Linkbait Guide doesn’t inspire you (if you are an SEO).

I was inspired yesterday by this video from Coke about their content marketing (which in and of itself is phenomenal content):

Exceptional content makes you say “I want to do that.” It’s the kind of content that makes you go join a climbing gym, or write an ebook, or shift your thinking about marketing, or have you embark on creating your first community website. In fact, it inspires you to be brave.

Great Content is Unique (or Immensely Better)

Thirdly, the kind of content you want to create to be successful with content marketing is unique. This content is something that no one has done before, or that you do so superbly better that your content makes others forget about the other content.

For example, Zappos has been creating videos of their products for years. has been creating product reviews for a while as well. But today I was on looking at outdoor equipment and saw this video:

It works seemlessly into the design, is informative and well produced, and captivated my attention. This is another key part of content marketing:

Great content marketing works itself naturally into your brand.

This is not to say that you can’t start building a brand based off of great content. In fact, Salesforce has recently started to recreate itself with this social media guide. In fact, their whole Social Success section is an amazing resource for social media marketers!

Other people creating amazing content and receiving recognition for it are:

The Atlantic InFocus Section

RedBull on Youtube

The Verge, especially since the decline of TechCrunch.

The Three Characteristic of Content Marketing

As I said earlier in this post, great content marketing has three main tenets:

  1. Produce less
  2. Produce it better
  3. Have a purpose or stance

Let’s explore these three a bit more.

Produce Less

Sometimes people become so caught up in the “need to create content” that we put out low quality stuff just to “ship something”. I’m a fan of shipping, and sometimes I do think that you just need to publish, but this does not mean every day, or necessarily even every week. An editorial calendar is a good thing, yet not when it makes you create low quality content.

Think about it: would you rather publish 5 posts a week that each gets 10 shares, or 2 posts a week that each gets 50 shares? Personally, I’d take the latter. Consider this from an SEO content perspective: eHow and Mahalo were producing massive amounts of content for years, but did they earn your respect? No, because it was and is basic content that no one really cares about.

As Tom cited in his Content Marketing post, is a great example of producing less and getting more. They’re a news organization, so they’re in the business of creating content, but check out what he said:

We’re actually publishing, on average, roughly one-third fewer posts on Salon than we were a year ago (from 848 to 572 in December; 943 to 602 in January). So: 33 percent fewer posts; 40 percent greater traffic.

It sounds simple, maybe obvious, but: We’ve gone back to our primary mission and have been focusing on originality. And it’s working.

This, of course, ties back to my earlier point of great content is unique. No one wants to read another post about becoming a Twitter ninja. No one wants to read another post that comes through the #seo hashtag (seriously, that content is baaaaad). We want to read posts like Mike King’s recent The New SEO Process or Jon Cooper’s Link Building Strategies post.

Produce Better

This point ties back to my earlier point about great content is hard, but it’s worth it. When you are under less pressure to publish or create results, you free yourself up to do things better and of higher quality. Forget the editorial calendar, is what I want to tell some people. Stop posting a short post every day is what I want to tell others.

When you produce better content than usual, you also get more links, more visits, more customers, more readers. I spent many hours on my author search post last weekend, and it is my most shared post on this blog. In fact, when I look at the posts that have been the most popular here, they are all the posts that I’ve spent the most time on.

Invest in quality and take the time to push youself harder than you thought possible, and you’ll go further.

Have an Agenda

Finally, have a reason for creating great content. I recently listened to an interview on Mixergy with Rand, where he was talking about the launch of and why he and Dharmesh set out to create it. He said that they created because they were excited about it and wanted to add value to the online marketing community and surface great content.

For some, your agenda is going to be a thought leader. For others, it’s going to be to get more subscribers to your site. For others, it’s to get links and therefore have better rankings and earn more traffic and earn more money online.

Whatever it is, you must have an agenda. Creating content with no focus is a sure way to fail. I have come across too many businesses recently, mostly in the B2B space, who are creating fun and silly content because they just feel the need to create content, or they’ve been told to create content.

NO NO NO. You create content to further a vision, to further an aim. At Distilled, we create great content constantly because we want to keep pushing the SEO and online marketing communities forwards. SEOmoz creates great content on their blog with the intention of bettering the name and industry of SEO and inbound marketing.

If you don’t have a vision, you are doing it wrong.

Has what I said resonated with you? Do you think that content marketing is the way forward? If not, what do you think is the way forward? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

13 thoughts on “Three Tenets of Content Marketing

  1. John, I love this: Exceptional content makes you say “I want to do that.” — That’s right on. I remember back in the day, I would sit down and try to squeeze out blog posts, even when I wasn’t feeling inspired. If I’m not feeling inspired, there’s no way in hell that I’m going to inspire someone else with my content. That must mean that I was producing some pretty crappy content.

    Before I post something, I ask myself, “Is this going to edify anyone else?” If it doesn’t, I leave it in the draft to edit later or it gets trashed.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Kevin, and good words. I love your line “Before I post something, I ask myself, “Is this going to edify anyone else?” If it doesn’t, I leave it in the draft to edit later or it gets trashed.”

  2. Hey John, nice post! I appreciate the time you’ve taken to put some thought into a thorough, well-produced article.

    First, I wholeheartedly agree with the idea that you shouldn’t create content without a purpose. Adding noise to the Internet isn’t helping anyone.

    In an ideal situation, we wouldn’t have content that’s produced for the sake of producing content. However, consistent publishing is never going to result in a home run every time, so there’s inevitably going to be a post here and there that sucks.

    I agree with your points, but the concept behind it is a little too… idealistic. Sure, I’d love to thoroughly research a topic and create an exhaustive post on it with facts that challenge norms and all of that, but unless you’ve got a staff of researchers and can write a book in two weeks like Stephen King, you’re going to have a rather inconsistent blog. And even with great content, you’re not going to get a whole lot of reader loyalty if you publish once every two weeks.

    I dunno, my two cents on the topic. I liked the post, though. Oh! And I love your header font. So pretty.

    1. Hey Mitch –

      Thanks for the comment and stopping by to read! I agree that sometimes we are going to publish content that sucks. It happens. I’ve done it and you’ve done it.

      But I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have an editorial calendar or publish regularly. But just because you are publishing regularly does not mean you cannot create an awesome piece of content every now and then, something that’s way more exceptional than what you or I normally do.

      I guess I’m trying get people out of the “If it’ll only take me an hour, why not do it?” mentality, and instead think about how you can create awesome content more often. And this may take trimming back on the amount that you publish, so that what you DO publish is better.

  3. Great post, John. I really like your perspective of speaking from inside our marketing industry out, directing attention to a need for exceptional content rather than content for content’s sake.

    A brand benefits both internally and augments its industry with good content; as we see in the SEO space, bad content weakens consumer satisfaction and faith in an industry overall.

    Ironically, I think the quest for SERP supremacy likely hurt a lot of brands and industries (indirectly), that are now faced with a new landscape and must modify online approaches.

    Also, I like how you point out that ‘content’ is not necessarily text. There was a Moz post a few days ago by a gent who suggested all internal employees do two blog posts..I know comments were addressing his written suggestions, but I was surprised the conversation did not take a turn to include other forms of online content.

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