Why We’re Setting the Bar Way Too High in the Content Marketing Industry

by Marcus Sheridan

setting the bar too high

As I was drifting in cyberspace the other day, I came across a Google + comment that went something like this:

“I’m sick and tired of seeing the same content again and again. Just stop it already. If someone else has said it, you don’t need to say it too.  So unless you’re going to add some value to the conversation, don’t hit publish!”

Let me firmly drive my stake in the ground by saying this is the dumbest, most counter-productive marketing advice I’ve ever heard, and sadly it’s being advocated by many in the world of content marketing today. For some rather odd reason, it seems to be cool to play the “content marketing police” these days, which is why I feel prompted to remind those that espouse this belief that they’ve grossly lost their way—in my opinion.

To make my point, let’s just look at the facts for a minute:

1. Since the beginning of time, man has repeated what man has already said.

2. Since the beginning of time, man did not “come out the womb” with the ability to write and communicate with incredible proficiency. For the masses, this has meant that “practice makes better.”

3. Since the beginning of time, the process of putting one’s thoughts to pen has helped man distill his or her thoughts, beliefs, doctrines, etc.

4. Since the beginning of time, what was “good content” for some was “bad content” for others. In other words, these things we call “opinions” are as old as dirt itself.

The 4 facts above will never change. They will never go away.  And they’re as applicable today  as they’ve ever been.

And they’re incredibly relevant to that thing we like to call “content marketing.”

Content Marketing is an Equal Opportunity Employer

As I look at this industry, I see something interesting happening:

Some leaders in this space are pushing the expectation bar too high, causing a “rich get richer and poor get poorer” phenomena.

Personally, when I talk and teach about content marketing done right, I want the message to be such that anyone reading or listening feels they can take part in the game. And not only do I want them to feel like they can take part, but also that they can make a huge difference—ultimately impacting whatever thing/niche/industry they decide to verbalize their thoughts about.

The bottom line is content marketing is an equal opportunity employer.

For every Coke, there is a River Pools and Spas.

Both are doing great things—in their own way—by the means in which they’re able. That’s why I think we need to shine more light on the “little guys” doing big things in this industry. This is what the common person and business owner needs to hear. This is what they need to read about. This is what will make them nod their head and say, “Yes, we can do this too.”

So let’s be willing to embrace imperfection, shall we? Let’s allow the artist to learn as he or she goes. Let’s applaud what appears to be “mediocrity” when in reality the piece of art that was created may just have been the start of something very, very special for the creator.

Your Turn:

So what’s your take on this? Do you feel there is too  much chatter about “don’t say it unless it’s better/unique/different than the next guy” or are you more along the lines of “practice makes better”? Either way, I’d love to know your thoughts.

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{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeremy Abel December 7, 2013 at

Hi Marcus,

Great topic for discussion, and I’m not at all surprised at your position on this one in light of your persevering drive and optimism. I couldn’t agree more with the belief that everyone must take the time to share their opinion on a topic in order to make change happen and help others- regardless of an industry’s CSI or the writer’s skill level.

Step back from content for a moment and imagine if a home building company took the alternative, limiting mindset and applied it to their work. If they said, “I can’t build an X-style house because that other home building company has already built that type of house,” then they’re missing the point completely. The prospect isn’t just looking for a particular style of housing- they want you to help build their *home*. If they wanted that exact house built by the other guys then they would have gone to the other home building company, but they’re choosing you because you’ve done something to earn their trust and their business, and *this* is the opportunity that you as a home builder have been looking for to say (and prove), “I started this business because I know I can [insert mission here] better.”

Bringing this back to content, our audience isn’t always looking for the golden opinion (article) to solve all subsequent dilemmas- rather, they’re looking for us to help them in light of our expertise, background and unique perspective. We can’t let the word of others dominate a given topic if we disagree with it or can build upon their position (article), but if we fail to take action and bottle our opinions inside, then we are in-part the ones to blame for the actions of potential clients – shoppers who merely relied upon the information that was made available.

Loved this article Marcus- thank you so much for sharing!

Keep changing lives,

Jeremy

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Marcus Sheridan December 7, 2013 at

Jeremy, I’m always blown away with your way of putting words bud. Really, this was tremendous and I absolutely love the analogy of the builder. WELL SAID my friend and thank you!

Marcus

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Max Traylor December 7, 2013 at

Marcus,
Agreed on the equal opportunity employer. However, I think the expectations for the use and payback of the content need to change based on your willingness to go above and beyond. If you are creating your own content based on the publications of others, you may not get thousands of new readers and attract serial content consumers, but you will have incredible assets for your sales process, validation in writing of your business ideals and strengths.

You also get up on the learning curve, to your point, which I believe is the only way great content writers can ever find their voice. Practice makes perfect, and no artist starts out as a master of his craft.

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Marcus Sheridan December 7, 2013 at

Max, I know you see this principle day in and day out, and I really appreciate you adding your thoughts.

There’s no question, people must understand the return on this will only correlate with their efforts, skills, consistency, etc. But I also think if folks like you and me explain that, people will still go into the process knowing the good, the bad, and ugly—and go into the process eyes wide open.

Thanks for dropping by bud and hope your weekend is an excellent one.

Marcus

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Serges December 7, 2013 at

Marcus,

Thank you, it’s about time someone said it. We can’t all be Coke but even Coke started out small.
I think Theodore Roosevelt said it best and when I get negative comments about what I’m doing I always think of his quote:
Press On, no matter what they say to you, victory is not always about winning, but is really about doing. The Spirit of entrepreneurship, do it, fall, get up again and do it again.
What I’ve noticed in life is most of the time the people that are telling everyone what they should not be doing or that what they are doing is wrong are themselves doing nothing.
Hell, I’ts a lot more fun doing than sitting around critiquing other people’s effort’s.
Serges

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Marcus Sheridan December 7, 2013 at

Serges, anyone that brings Theodore Rex into the conversation is a good man in my book. ;-)

Very well said my friend, thanks so much for your thoughts and hope your weekend is a great one,

Marcus

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Marshall Ponzi December 7, 2013 at

Hi Marcus. Well said, as usual.

As the old saying goes, “There’s nothing new under the sun.”

Earlier in life, I was an architect. We used to joke that there’s no such thing as “new” design. Everything had already been done by the ancient Egyptians and Greeks, Romans (and Babylonians??). Good design is a matter of creatively putting together the ancient principles using new pieces and parts.

But more importantly, good design must address the unique needs of each client (whether homeowner or corporation). It’s the uniqueness of each client that drives variety, interest,innovation and enduring appeal. Otherwise it’s just sculpture.

Applying that same concept to content marketing. Good content creatively communicates the unique abilities of its creators AND speaks to the unique needs of its audience.

As for equal opportunity… We all have those unique needs to absorb content. And anyone with any level of expertise, potentially has a unique ability to use it to help others.

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Ryan Biddulph December 7, 2013 at

Hi Marcus,

I hate that BS line.

EVERYBODY should get in the game and do their best job possible. Abundance! Any critic has repeated the same concepts HUNDREDS of times, so they are hypocrites, and should be ignored.

I encourage. I do not tear down. This makes me happy.

Thanks for sharing!

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Paul D December 7, 2013 at

Being “truly original” is a way to make new content marketers intimidated and to drive competition for readers’ eyeballs down. How much “original” content is out there? How many times have novelists /screenplay writers / songwriters derived their content from Shakespeare? Ulysses? Jane Austin? Mozart? The Beatles? If you can put a thought, idea, concept into your own words, even if it’s been said many times before, that’s original content. Because not everyone understands a concept explained one way. The internet and easy blogging platforms have totally leveled the playing field for all, making everyone accessible, and giving them the opportunity to make them heard and engage with others.

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Jamie Alexander December 7, 2013 at

Hey Marcus,

I think what you’ve said is right. People shouldn’t be afraid to teach their audience something even if it’s been covered before.

There are some things wrong with it. I enjoy reading blogs, but after a while if I realize someone is just going around plucking topics from other blogs I’ll stop listening to them. I also think giving out advice you’ve read somewhere else but haven’t experienced is also dangerous, just because it wastes people’s time if anything.

I think some of the people who are against regurgitated content probably hate the two exemptions I’ve mentioned. But nobody looking to give their customers great advice should ever worry about scanning the internet to make sure it’s not been covered before.

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Marcus Sheridan December 12, 2013 at

Jamie, good to see you bud, and thanks for adding your thoughts. Hope you’re doing well and continued success my friend,

Marcus

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Gary Korisko December 7, 2013 at

Hey Marcus:

I look at it this way: How many sales books have been written? How many books about writing? About diet and nutrition?

There are very few new ideas. But old topics become new when written or spoken from a unique perspective. As consumers of content, sometime we need the right teacher to appear and present the message one more time – in a slightly different way that only they can present it – for it to *click* for us.

Iteration and evolution are good things. They’re how ideas, mature.

Good stuff, Marcus. Thanks.

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Marcus Sheridan December 12, 2013 at

Well said Gary. Appreciate your thoughts and the analogy.

Let’s just keep producing, shall we? ;-)

Marcus

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Darnell Jackson December 7, 2013 at

Good topic Marcus.

I think the best way to measure content marketing is to look at how “the best” content marketers promote their big “content marketing” events.

Do they rely on “epic” content to drive sales and fill seats at their events? Nope.

They run PPC ads and send emails to their massive lists.

So I agree with you many are setting the content marketing bar too high.

Especially if you’re talking about sales conversions when it comes to content marketing “aint no body got time fo dat”.

It’s all about old school advertising and split testing.

There’s nothing new under the sun.

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Carrie Gallagher December 7, 2013 at

Marcus, I’m so glad you wrote on this topic! I’ll start by saying I can kind of see where the naysayer you quoted was coming from. After all, with people like you, HubSpot, Ryan Hanley, etc., creating great stuff on a constant basis, those of us living in the marketing bubble can easily be discouraged to get in on the conversation. Maybe they had writer’s block that day and wanted to blame it on someone.

As marketers we must remind ourselves that we have a rainbow of niches and audiences. Inbound marketing is a community we learn from, but for most of us these aren’t the same people we need to reach in order to pay the bills. For example, my buyer personas are teens, who know little about the world of blogging, self-hosted WordPress, and inbound. As a marketer who loves all three, it’s my obligation to take the knowledge gained from my sources, spin it in a way that makes sense to them, and show them how to apply it to their college goals. Even if they can find variations of the same information through Google…I want them to come to me!

Whenever I feel stuck, I go back to something you said at Inbound ’13 this summer: “They Ask. You Answer.”

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Andrea H. December 7, 2013 at

Marcus, I agree, to a certain point. While we can’t be all originals and a different way to say the same thing can make a huge difference, think about different teachers at school, I also agree a bit with that comment.

The web is full of websites reinventing the wheel and after having found the website which resonates the most with you probably there is no need to get another one on the same field; most of the times at least.

Think about Google’s updates, in a week everyone talks about them but to understand what happens you just need to read about it once, and you delete immediately all those other posts with a similar topic.

I would say also that it has a lot to do on the specific field we are talking about: the information might be the same but how it’s presented differs. And sometimes repetition makes perfection. But time is short.

There are thousands of books on self improvement yet 99 percent of them are copies of those written by people like Dale Carnegie, Napoleon Hill and such. But how things are presented make a difference. The Secret is a perfect example, nothing new under the Sun but presented as something new. It works just once though probably.

And after you’ve read classics you don’t really need to read the rest, except a couple of them just because they present things in another way but if they just reinvent the wheel, well, it’s just money wasted.

So you’re right, in part. :)

Have a great weekend!

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Brian Jensen December 7, 2013 at

Great post, Marcus. I couldn’t agree more – it’s almost impossible to be 100% original. Taking a thought, tip, idea or concept, and expanding on it to make it unique enough that it’s yours still provides value to new audiences. Even if the idea may not be new, chances are, it’s still new to someone.

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Marcus Sheridan December 12, 2013 at

Well said Brian, and thanks for stopping by, I do appreciate it! :)

Marcus

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Ed Marsh December 8, 2013 at

And it’s not just about the creators of the content – but more importantly the consumers. Each consumer finds, processes and absorbs content a little differently – and content which happens to be accessible to to them could well be the 178th similar version, presented slightly differently.

But maybe we could all agree that some of the truisms can be rested and the hyperbole omitted. How many truly “definitive” guides to XXX can there be? And with all due respect to Joe Pulizzi, how much of what is produced is really “epic”?

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Marcus Sheridan December 12, 2013 at

Well that’s the thing Ed. The answers to your questions are always going to be “relative.”

We simply do not know. And because we don’t know, we can only leave the benefit of doubt up to the creator.

Really appreciate your thoughts and you stopping by,

Marcus

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Sohil Memon December 8, 2013 at

I simple say a line that “Content is the king and what we try to make it aware around the people is the marketing”. Keep it ORIGINAL man!

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Jon Loomer December 8, 2013 at

You’re absolutely correct, Marcus. No matter what you publish today, someone else has or had the exact same idea. You can always put your own spin on it and add your value. And just because it’s been done before doesn’t mean your audience has seen it.

That said — and I don’t know if this is what the commenter meant — I’m sick of the same CRAPPY articles. All with the same, fluffy, SEO-friendly titles and the same, shallow, numbered lists that provide very little.

So, sure. Feel free to cover a topic that’s been covered before. But we as an industry can certainly do better at prioritizing value to the reader over the search engine.

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Marcus Sheridan December 12, 2013 at

I see what you’re saying Jon, but crappy content and titles just doesn’t bother me. I say this for two main reasons:

1. It doesn’t affect me.
2. I don’t know the person’s intentions behind the article.

For those two reasons, I still hold fast to the belief that those that are pushing publish are better for it, even if it’s only to realize they’re spending their time doing the wrong thing.

Cheers brother,

Marcus

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Jeevan Jacob John December 8, 2013 at

Hey Marcus,

I have felt it, and I have advocated it in the past. But, now I understand why we should repeat ourselves.

Because not everyone has learned! Everyday more and more people join the content marketing bandwagon, and it is important that we help them too (since they are the ones that require most help).

To an extent, I think it also depends upon our target audience. For example: If we are a blogger writing about content marketing and if our target audience is established bloggers (or perhaps a psychologist writing to other psychologists), well then, we should strive to provide ‘better’ content, right? Since, the basic tips will be common knowledge among our audience.

Of course, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t publish the same content. The way we tell the story, the way we present it can make all the difference (it’s not like everyone learns it the first time; people need reminders).

Hope you had an enjoyable weekend! Thanks again for the wonderful topic :)

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Marcus Sheridan December 12, 2013 at

Jeevan, glad you found this useful my friend. But yes, our greatest learning tool, often times, is repetition. This holds true for us and all our readers, no doubt.

Thanks again, Marcus.

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Laura Click December 9, 2013 at

You know, this mindset really throttled me for a long time. I thought I had to create something totally new and different every single time. It took me a little while to realize that I just need to write MY perspective on a given topic – even if it had been written about before.

Yes, there is a lot of “me-too” content out there. Simply copying other people’s ideas won’t get you anywhere. You have to write your take on it. There’s only one YOU. We have to give people permission to be themselves. And yes, it won’t always be perfect coming out of the gate. But, I’d rather see someone publish something and try than be held back by the idea they must have perfection before they publish.

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Adam Kielich December 9, 2013 at

I see both sides of the debate. The original post plus several of the comments have explored the different positions in the debate. We could probably all agree that some content marketers/writers/bloggers/etc. just take content from around the internet and repackage in their own space in a way that truly adds nothing to the discussion and only exists to fill space. Often the repackaging is so worthless and stripped of usefulness that it’s hard to call it anything other than garbage content. When I see people make the complaints expressed in the post above I tend to think it applies to this filler garbage rather than somebody who is merely saying what somebody else has already said. Maybe I am interpreting the complaints too liberally.

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Paula Luke December 9, 2013 at

Nice article I discovered via Twitter. I’m in complete agreement – the naysayer whose article you reference is wrong. There is time, place and scope for content to be used, re-used and re-used again; where it’s relevant to the reader and adds value to the original and credits the originator. And this is my main gripe – as you rightly say, people fish around for content which they repackage as their own adding no value – that’s just plagiarism. But taking inspiration from other content, re-thinking it and using it for your own audience, in language they understand is a valid strategy. Why re-invent the wheel, just add it to your own cart and roll on!

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TaeWoo Kim December 9, 2013 at

Hey Marcus
I wholeheartedly agree with your comments.

First off, there are way too many naysayers who don’t have an ounce of wisdom to say (let alone his/her own blog).

Same thing said in different context can have different meanings. For example, “never give up”… so if I as an entrepreneur hit the same wall over and over again, does it mean I should keep pounding it? When I was a noob entrepreneur, I thought that’s what people meant because I keep hearing it over and over. Of course, when I read and understood”cut your losses and move on”, that’s when I “got it”. So now when I read “don’t give up”, i look for the content marketer’s context /reason for saying that.

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Brent Carnduff December 9, 2013 at

Well said Marcus – totally agree. If nothing else, not all blog posting is/should be about joining a national conversation or developing a national persona. Sometimes its just a message to your clients and perspective clients, who may or may not read other blogs. Cheers!

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Jonathan Wong December 9, 2013 at

I think people are disillusioned by media because businesses have a tendency to repeat what works. They see all of this repetition everywhere: blockbuster sequels in Hollywood, large numbers of first person shooters in console games, news reporting the same stories over and over because they think their audience wants to see it, smartphones that don’t seem to advance beyond already what is established, etc. It’s obvious that people see the big names doing this, thus the desire to see something different. They’re just throwing some of that pent-up frustration at the blogsphere IMO. If a blog feels the need to repeat information for the benefits of their current audience there is nothing wrong with that.

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Don Stanley December 10, 2013 at

I love this part, “Personally, when I talk and teach about content marketing done right, I want the message to be such that anyone reading or listening feels they can take part in the game. And not only do I want them to feel like they can take part, but also that they can make a huge difference—ultimately impacting whatever thing/niche/industry they decide to verbalize their thoughts about.” It’s what makes you a great teacher and empowers others to be great teachers in their industries.

Part of the process of content marketing is self-discovery to me. We refine who we are, what we do and who we help with our work. For this reason alone I think we all need to be engage in content marketing at some love.

Keep killing it bro!

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Marcus Sheridan December 12, 2013 at

Appreciate it bud.And btw, I’ll be shooting you an email soon, I’m finally starting to feel a little better after what has seemed like the never-ending flu/sinus infection/etc.

Talk soon,

Marcus

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Neha Chauhan December 13, 2013 at

Really nice article about marketing Industry, But i wanna say, one thing about marketing, Website content is the best way to promote the product online,
Overall awesome article i world sat

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Matt Smith December 13, 2013 at

Nice article Marcus!

I’ve always been of the opinion that it’s not really about “what” you say, it’s “how” you say it that really counts. Like you say, more or less everything has already been said and is out there online, but that doesn’t make it good. There are countless topics that are presented in a dull, complicated, nonsensical way. The good writers simply take these subjects and make them interesting and engaging for people to read.

I can kind of get where some of these “content police” people are coming from, but they forget that there are millions of people around the world seeking to learn the information like this. If anything, competition for good quality content helps to keep improving information and setting the bar that little bit higher.

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Stan Eigi December 30, 2013 at

I totally agree with you. It’s not like someone will stick a knife in your eye if you say something that has already been said. With every cycle, every time said, information refines, evolves and eventually turns in a useful resource. Repetition is a starting point for Perfection.

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Rolf Preuss December 31, 2013 at

I experienced it far too often that colleagues feel uncomfortable to create specific content because they produced somehow simular content a couple of years ago. I always claim that the content might be well known by themselve but not for the majority of our customers or prospects. But still it’s hard to make them believe.

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Granville Conkwright April 15, 2014 at

Very nice post. I simply stumbled upon your blog and wanted to mention that I have truly
loved surfing around your weblog posts. After all I’ll be subscribing in your
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