The Great Content Marketing Swindle

/The Great Content Marketing Swindle

The Great Content Marketing Swindle

The first time I saw a measurable return on investment in content marketing was in 1996. No one was calling it ‘content marketing’ then but that’s what I was doing. I was writing case studies, magazine articles, and fact sheets to support products I was selling. It was easy to measure ROI because I had a big quota. The content was instrumental in convincing customers to sign contracts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and a few deals well into the millions of dollars.

Content marketing works and you can measure it

If content marketing hadn’t worked, believe me, I would have stopped doing it. But it did work. Not only was I getting anecdotal evidence to support the value of the content, my customers were including case studies in their purchasing recommendations. In one instance, the procurement officer from a major financial institution requested a case study I’d written as part of his due diligence on approving a deal worth more than $9 million.

So don’t tell me it doesn’t work, because content marketing put a lot of commission money in my bank account. Since 2009, I’ve been working with organisations to develop their own strategic content marketing initiatives. I’ve written a lot of strategies, produced a lot of content, and given countless hours of education to businesses so they could experience the benefits of content marketing. And it’s worked for them, too.

Content marketing haters and interlopers

But lately I’ve been furious at allegations about content marketing and its lack of effectiveness. The hype has turned into backlash and the haters are enjoying the spoils. Listen to Robert Rose and Joe Pulizzi discuss this with more patience than I can muster in episode 92 of the This Old Marketing podcast. Start at 15:40 to hear the whole conversation or 18:57 to cut to Robert’s explanation of the situation.

There’s no denying a lot of businesses are losing money on content marketing. Why? Far too many people have labeled themselves content marketers or content marketing agencies when they’re not providing anything like content marketing. These interlopers have muddied the waters, tried to redefine the term to suit their own needs and are now declaring content marketing a lost cause because they didn’t get results.

Am I worried about them? No.

Do they irritate me? Like nobody’s business.

Why do I care? When done well, content marketing turns your marketing expense into a long-term business asset. It’s a highly effective way to attract an audience and build trust with your customers and prospects. It’s less expensive than traditional marketing and advertising methods – a lot less expensive. If decision makers and budget holders think content marketing doesn’t work, they vote for the easy alternative – advertising and traditional marketing. Both are less effective and leave you with no asset from your expenditure.

Why the content marketing swindle happens

Content marketing is hard. It takes grit. You have to give it time to develop and achieve results. Isn’t that true of any undertaking providing exceptional value or high return on investment? The haters are disappointed they didn’t get a quick win. I suspect many of them feel threatened because you can’t buy a better content marketing game. Some of them haven’t been willing to re-skill and hoped a rebranding exercise of their old offering would be sufficient. It’s hard to look a customer in the face and admit you haven’t done a great job. It’s probably harder to look in the mirror and admit to yourself you’ve swindled your customers or your employer even if it was unintentional.

girl in boots walking on ice

Whether it’s happened out of ignorance, laziness or intent, a lot of swindling is going on and it has to stop. If you’re investing in content marketing or considering a content marketing initiative for your company, here’s what you need to know to avoid being swindled.

How the content marketing swindle works

Content marketing is a broad discipline dependent on many different factors working together. You can’t implement a portion of content marketing and expect fabulous results. Luckily, there are clear indicators to determine if a swindle is in play. Here are some of the bigger ones:

1. Content marketing must start with a document strategy to be effective. If you’re buying into content marketing without taking the time to develop a strategy, you’re being swindled.
2. If you’re not producing original content – and advertising is not considered content – you’re being swindled.
3. If you’re engaging in content marketing without a goal to build your own subscriber list on your own terms for use when and where you choose, you’re being swindled.
4. If your content marketing is focused on social media with no plan to convert or move your audience off the social channel, you’re being swindled.
5. If your content strategy is not focused on building long-term assets, you’re being swindled.
6. If you’re not building a content brand that provides additional value and stands on its own, you’re being swindled.
7. If your strategy has not considered distribution methods like social media and email, you’re being swindled.
8. If your content marketing strategy consists of social networking with no original content attached to it, you’re being swindled.
9. If your content marketing is set up and run like a campaign, you’re being swindled.
10. If your content is full of industry jargon with no consideration for the search habits of your audience, you’re being swindled.
11. If you have no amplification strategy for your content, you’re being swindled.
12. If your content marketing strategy consists of buying AdWords, Facebook ads, and LinkedIn ads, you’re being swindled.
13. If your only goal is to get more traffic to your website but there’s no way for them to take positive action when they get there, you’re being swindled.
14. If your content has no call to action or a clear indication what the reader should do next, you’re being swindled.
15. If your content is of poor quality, has no substance or doesn’t support your brand, you’re being swindled.
16. If your content marketing strategy doesn’t support your business objectives, you’re being swindled.
17. If your content is plagiarised, copied or scraped, you’re being swindled.
18. If your content marketing is limited to advertising, you’re being swindled.
19. If your content marketing is limited to PR, you’re being swindled.
20. If you’re content marketing is limited to search engine optimisation (SEO), you’re being swindled.
21. If you have disparate content pieces not attached to a strategy or integrated with other content, you’re being swindled.
22. If your content is not optimised properly with the right keywords, phrases, and meta descriptions to attract your audience, you’re being swindled.
23. If your content is not focused on your audience or of interest to your audience, you’re being swindled.
24. If your content is not published on a consistent basis or with the same frequency, you’re being swindled
25. If there’s no plan on how to measure your effectiveness, you’re being swindled.

It’s not a rant; it’s the truth

Unfortunately, this is not a comprehensive list. These are pervasive and common causes for people to conclude content marketing doesn’t work. An internal marketing department or an external agency can instigate these problems. The swindle is just as likely to happen with in-house projects as it is outsourced projects.

This list only addresses things that are going to render your content marketing ineffective. It doesn’t begin to address the issues of lackluster content, ineffective messaging or under-resourced marketing departments to name a few other ways to limit your results with content marketing.

It’s time to change

Yes, content marketing is hard, but it’s here to stay whether you want to admit it or not. Consumer behavior has changed and so have consumer values. Consumers demand quality, transparency and an authentic experience. There’s no quick way to achieve success. Businesses dedicating themselves to the hard yards of content marketing will be rewarded. I’ve experienced it too many times in too many diverse environments to say differently.

The times have changed for marketing. It’s time for marketing to change. And it’s damned time to quit swindling our own companies and our customers.

For content marketing help (or rehabilitation)

If you’ve been swindled and want help with your content marketing, give us a call. If you’re a swindler looking for redemption, give us a call too. We’ll help you get sorted and on your way to an honest-to-goodness content marketing success story. If you’re not quite ready to get on the path of content marketing truth and light, sign up to our newsletter or start listening to the Brand Newsroom podcast. Lush Digital Media gives content marketing secret sauce away with every bit of marketing we produce.

By Sarah Mitchell

What would you add to the great content marketing swindle list?

By | 2018-03-17T05:23:58+00:00 August 24th, 2015|Categories: Content Marketing|53 Comments

About the Author:

Sarah Mitchell is Director of Content Strategy at Lush. She develops content marketing and community engagement strategies for clients in a variety of industries. Sarah frequently speaks on topics related to Content Marketing, Brand Storytelling and Social Media. She's a co-host of the Brand Newsroom podcast and the Australian editor for Chief Content Officer magazine. Follow her on Twitter: @SarahMitchellOz.


  1. Monica (@TheBigMeeow) Aug 24, 2015 at 11:58 am

    *nods enthusiastically*

    Yes, yes, and yes!

    Substitute “social media” for “content marketing” and you have exactly what I was ranting about all last week!

    It drives me bonkers.

    • Sarah Mitchell Aug 24, 2015 at 12:03 pm

      Well that’s one of the problems, isn’t it Monica? The waters have become so muddied about what many of these terms mean. Glad to hear we’re on the same ranty path.

  2. Louise Forster Aug 24, 2015 at 12:32 pm

    No one wants to be swindled, and thanks to you Sarah, we have a checklist to (hopefully) ensure we aren’t and won’t. I’ve always loved writing but only recently discovered my passion for content marketing. I can also attest for the dividends content marketing pays, as we grow our network at CommunityWest and hear positive responses from stakeholders, about the value of our content. I will keep an ear and eye out for anyone in need of rehab or redemption and send them your way!

    • Sarah Mitchell Aug 24, 2015 at 12:41 pm

      Hi Louise,

      I’m sure the checklist isn’t comprehensive. Once I started writing, the points seemed to appear on the page quite effortlessly. Too many people declare content marketing ineffective before they’ve really given it a fair go. I’m so glad to hear you’re getting dividends from your efforts at CommunityWest.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Nick Aug 24, 2015 at 12:41 pm

    Hi Sarah,

    Spot on. We produced a mini-series called The 9 Great Walks of NZ in 2012 for the Department of Conservation. 3 years later they are getting more organic traffic from video assets that when first published, have record numbers of walkers on their tracks, 500k+ organic views, and just signed a $1m deal with Air NZ to repurpose the content. They didn’t just dabble. They went all in, made some authentic content which was released over a year through a clever strategy. Also the Global Head of Digital of Coca-Cola told me 60% of their YouTube video views come 6 months after release. Content Marketing is like buying blue-chip stocks and reinvesting the dividends. Its the Warren Buffett style of marketing. Quick wins with viral videos is the equivalent of investing in penny stocks. Occasionally someone wins large, but 99% of the time is a disaster!!

    Keep spreading the word!

    • Sarah Mitchell Aug 24, 2015 at 12:44 pm

      Hi Nick,

      Wow, what a great example. I’m so with you on the long-term benefits of a content marketing strategy. I especially like your observation that it’s ‘the Warren Buffett style of marketing’. I’ll use that in future conversations.

      Thanks for weighing in.

  4. Carolyn Hyams Aug 24, 2015 at 12:52 pm

    Oh my goodness, I really do love this rant Sarah!! And yes, it is the truth — spelled out beautifully. 25 compelling reasons to use an agency or a content marketing specialist who can prove what they’ve done previously. Or, a great checklist to use in-house. Thank you!

    • Sarah Mitchell Aug 24, 2015 at 1:29 pm

      So glad you found value in the post, Carolyn. Thanks for your comment.

  5. Karen Thompson Aug 24, 2015 at 2:42 pm

    Great post Sarah. There’s people who ‘get it’ and people that don’t. I love the work you guys do in raising awareness and I especially love the Brand Newsroom podcasts. So many people expect instant rewards. They joy of content marketing is that you can position yourself and/or your brand in the ‘expert’ space through having an effective content marketing strategy. If done well it’s like a snowball. It may begin small but look how big it is as it heads to the bottom of the mountain. Keep up the great work!

    • Sarah Mitchell Aug 24, 2015 at 3:21 pm

      Thanks, Karen. I love your snowball analogy. I always say content marketing is like a locomotive. It starts slow, picks up speed, than is almost impossible to stop once it gets going.

      It’s so interesting to hear you talk about the ‘joy of content marketing’. It’s really a joyful situation when you’re working in a creative space, building assets and attracting the audience you want. I love it.

  6. Daniel Hatch Aug 24, 2015 at 6:00 pm

    Sarah, thanks so much for this post. I reckon what we’re seeing now was inevitable. When we the industry spent the last three or four years talking about content being king — apparently culminating in 2014 being “the year of content” — it was always going to attract the cowboy element. Everyone from professional agencies down tacked it onto their list of services, claiming they had the capacity to deliver content marketing even if what they really had was someone on their team who wrote press releases (and probably used to work at a newspaper for five minutes) and someone who knew a bit about SEO.
    To me, that’s the same as adding “digital” to your list of services when what you actually have is a graphic designer who knows how to make a gif. It’s NOT the same thing. It’s a whole set of skills.
    Where agencies have tooled-up appropriately and where they’ve got buy-in from the client, of course they’re going to get results. But if you just throw a few bucks at it, don’t resource it properly, don’t get the appropriate talent involved, and give it a couple of months to work — well you get what you pay for, frankly.
    Hopefully market forces will take care of the cowboys, leaving serious content marketers to get on with business.
    But what you’ve given us here, in your wonderful rant, is a great starting point for marketers and brands to understand why their first flirtation with content marketing didn’t work. Hopefully they won’t be too burned by the experience and will try again — because it WILL work if they invest in it properly.

    • Sarah Mitchell Aug 24, 2015 at 8:21 pm

      Hi Dan,

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. I hope you’re right and brands realise a flirtation for what it was and decide to have a serious relationship with content marketing. That’s a wonderful way to think about it.

      I’ve always winced at the ‘Content is king’ declaration. It seeds an expectation that content is all you need without any regard to the important work of marketing that needs to accompany it to be really successful.

  7. Carla Johnson Aug 24, 2015 at 9:11 pm

    Great post, Sarah. I’d also say that if your content isn’t delivering value to your target audience, then you’re being swindled. Successful content marketing is multi-faceted and multi-dimensional and your list is a fabulous one!

    • Sarah Mitchell Aug 25, 2015 at 5:07 am

      Hi Carla,

      You’re right; if the content provides no value to the people you want to attract to your business, what’s the point? You just made that list 26 items long. Thank you!

  8. Sandra Aug 24, 2015 at 9:15 pm

    Hi Sarah, great article.
    Your list of 25 swindles is very challenging! As a Marketing Consultant who could be described as a newbie to content marketing, I’m relieved to see that I’m not ‘swindling’ any clients, but it’s easy to see the short cuts that might tempt a less-ethical operator. Delivering content marketing is labour intensive and HARD WORK. That’s why many traditional agencies are struggling to deliver I expect.
    Anyway – great post and I think you probably have a book (or e-book?!) in you on this topic somewhere!

    • Sarah Mitchell Aug 25, 2015 at 5:10 am

      Hi Sandra,

      There are so many good people working in the content marketing space. I’m glad to hear you’re on the right path. Doing the hard but necessary work is actually a joyful thing if you’ve got the right mindset.

  9. Suddenly Jamie Aug 24, 2015 at 9:43 pm

    This had to be said, so thank you for standing up and saying it. It makes me twitch when people who don’t “get” content marketing try to tear it down. Unfortunately, in most cases, you can’t change their minds about the efficacy of content marketing because they just don’t have the patience to see it through. As you said, content marketing success requires time and grit. There’s no way around that. But, I love how you’ve highlighted the fact that your invested time (and grit) result not only in results, but in an asset with long-term value … and asset that will continue to deliver value for, potentially, years.

    Although I do not consider myself an expert in every aspect of content marketing (I focus mostly on messaging, content development, and high-level strategy, but I partner with other to manage the intricacies of SEO, distribution, and social media amplification), I do have a deep understanding (and appreciation for!) the whole picture. Content marketing is not a one-and-done deal. It’s a complex ecosystem that is alive and always changing. I actually love that about what we do.

    And I can personally attest to the longevity of good content. I routinely use specially curated collections of my own blogs to help prospects understand how I can help, get a sense of the process, and even help them get past their own fears. Many of the eBooks I’ve written for clients are still generating leads and helping educate prospects as they go through the sales funnel. These blog posts and eBooks are assets that I wrote years ago – YEARS – and yet they are still pulling their weight. What ad campaign can claim a shelf-life like that?

    I am interested to see how our field changes as it matures. Though some days I feel like I’ve been in these trenches forever 😉 the practice as we know it today is still pretty young. As a freelance consultant and writer, I’m curious to see what kinds of teams will emerge to serve different kinds of businesses – hybrid mini agencies and so forth.

    Thanks again for this post. Loved it. Made me want to stand up and cheer!

    • Sarah Mitchell Aug 25, 2015 at 5:16 am

      Hi Jamie,

      You’ve made an important point and one I probably didn’t stress enough in the post. It’s rare, if not impossible, to find one person that can perform every part of content marketing with competence. I rely on a team of people to help implement my strategies. That’s why Content Marketing World has 11 streams of learning at the event.

      And I agree about long-term assets. I have a post I wrote in March 2010 at my Global Copywriting blog that drives as much traffic (or more) to my website every month than anything I’ve done since. How is that NOT an asset.

      Thanks so much for providing valuable insight. I, too, look forward to see how content marketing matures.

  10. Stephen Barnes Aug 24, 2015 at 9:47 pm

    Nice post Sarah. We nailed our niche starting with content marketing (a free D-I-Y guide to the Hong Kong immigration process) back in 1996 too. The biggest swindlers are the ex-SEO crowd in my view. Seen it all down the years!

    • Sarah Mitchell Aug 25, 2015 at 5:18 am

      Hi Stephen,

      Finding your niche is vital to success. I think that might be another point I can add to my list. Content niches and tightly targeted audiences are instrumental in making your content a long-term asset.

  11. Paul Pichugin Aug 24, 2015 at 10:48 pm

    Sarah, you’ve watched my business go through its various evolutions to become what it is today and you and I both know it wouldn’t exist without content marketing. As it stands I give away 95% or more of my content absolutely free of charge for people to enjoy and have managed to find a business model in there that is quite effective. I’m just in the process of launching a second venture and I’m already in the planning stages of my content marketing strategy. This business will be entirely B2B so it involves a different approach but content marketing will be playing a large role in my approach.

    • Sarah Mitchell Aug 25, 2015 at 5:21 am

      Hi Paul,

      Frankly, I love B2B content marketing. It does require a different mindset but it’s also incredibly effective. We always hear about the Red Bull and Go Pro stories but there’s a lot of B2B content marketing going on. I think any time you can turn your marketing spend into an investment, you’re winning.

      Why haven’t I used you as a case study before? Please expect a call!

  12. Mike Myers Aug 25, 2015 at 12:15 am

    Oh. My. Gosh.

    Sarah, you’ve not only hit the nail on the head, there’s no nail left! This is a great summary of all the frustrations many of us face as we try to get others to adapt to content marketing. It’s not a fad or the latest buzzword, but a real (perhaps the only real) way forward for marketing.

    The only thing I would debate here is whether advertising is content, but we can chat about that in Cleveland next month. 🙂

    Thanks so much for articulating what so many of us feel everyday in the trenches. I will refer to this post frequently, both to show others what I’ve been trying to say for some time now and also for inspiration. We can do this and you’re leading the way!

    • Sarah Mitchell Aug 25, 2015 at 5:25 am

      Hi Mike,

      Frustration is the right word. For a long time I’ve been focused on doing the work and not talking about the work. I reckoned the critics would have their whinge and go away. But here’s the thing, content marketing takes time and many people working in traditional marketing haven’t given it the time it takes to see results. I’ve seen too many people quit just as they’re on the brink of success.

      And, yes, let’s debate advertising vs. content. I think it’s an ‘it depends’ situation, especially as more advertisers start to create long-form content.

      Thank you for your very kind comment. See you in Cleveland next month.

  13. Paul Hassing Aug 25, 2015 at 4:09 am

    Dear Sarah, this is everything I would’ve said had I known the topic as utterly as you and cared enough to spread the word. From ‘Oh yeah, that totally happened to me ten times’ to ‘Ahh, yes – that does make sense; I can see how that might be’ you’ve covered the spectrum. If this is a rant, Shakespeare was a shock jock. Retweeting now. Kind regards and hats off to a true Master, P.

    • Sarah Mitchell Aug 25, 2015 at 5:29 am

      Hi Paul,

      Glad to know this helped shed some light on a big topic. I think the majority of people working in content marketing are working in one area of it but it helps to understand the broader picture and how each discipline fits in.

      You always make me smile but today you made me laugh out loud. I’ve never heard anyone compare Shakespeare to a shock jock.

  14. Jonathan Crossfield Aug 25, 2015 at 8:52 am

    Feels good to get that off your chest, I bet!

    Yes, yes, twenty five times yes. And so much boils down to the need for time. Time for discovery and planning before even starting. Time to produce worthwhile work, instead of a hamster wheel of listicles to meet some arbitrary productivity target. And the time to let the strategy succeed, or adapt until it does, without the constant pressure of the CEO’s ‘Sword of Damocles’ above your head.

    This is a major problem for content marketers, because the current business culture is extremely fast paced, real time and focused on this month’s KPIs. Everything content marketing isn’t – especially in the beginning. So implementing a content strategy capable of changing that culture into a long term, growing body of assets and results can seem like rebuilding the airplane while it’s still flying (not my analogy, but an apt one).

    This tension between the old ways and the new places pressure on the time needed to make it work. Most businesses are trying to extract a benefit from content marketing without being taken too far out of their comfort zone, or without changing their existing hamster wheel/campaign/real time methodologies too much.

    And then of course there are the *cough* “content marketers” who see an opportunity to repackage the same old production line methodologies without truly understanding the secret sauce that makes a piece of content actually work. All of these different approaches and attempts to sell jargon-filled or overhyped silver bullets end up muddying the waters still further, so that half the time I have to undo the misinformation and re-educate a client or a workshop group before we can even begin to explore a strategy.

    It’s enough to drive us to drink. Which is why it’s probably healthier to have a rant on the blog every now and then instead.

    • Sarah Mitchell Aug 25, 2015 at 9:26 am

      Hi Jonathan,

      Giving yourself time to think, to percolate ideas, to let the sourdough of creativity bubble is an absolutely vital part of a good strategy. It’s also vital to the day-to-day execution of any strategy, as well. It’s the most fun part of the whole process and, as you point out, one of the most under utilitised aspects of marketing. The lack of ‘thinking’ time has been the downfall of many content marketers and I include myself in that group.

      I’d be a liar to say writing this post wasn’t cathartic; it certainly was. Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I appreciate the support.

  15. Steve Laing Aug 25, 2015 at 10:03 am

    Your post rings very true. The reality is that quality content is increasingly pivotal as this is what Google is looking for in its search algorithms. Google rewards good content with higher quality scores which means higher page rankings AND lower costs to advertise if you are using AdWords. The problem for third party providers is that its harder to produce good copy for a client whose business (products and customers) they don’t really deeply understand, and its much easier and more profitable to just sell more adverts, or just increase the bid amount. Unfortunately too few businesses really understand how Google works, and are therefore easily taken in by the numerous shysters who populate this space. Good content is increasingly vital, because that is what Googles customers want. Google isn’t stupid – it survives because it helps the surfer better than anyone else get the content they are looking for. The better the content, the better for Google.

    • Sarah Mitchell Aug 25, 2015 at 11:01 am

      Hi Steve,

      You’re absolutely right. But I think there’s another thing marketers forget when trying to impress Google. Matt Cutts has said very openly – and repeatedly – that Google’s aim is to return the best search results for their users. They’re looking for humanity which means marketers must up their game and deliver high-quality, original content. Take care of Google’s audience and Google will take care of you.

  16. Peter Gearin Aug 25, 2015 at 10:14 am

    Thanks for taking such a leadership position on this, Sarah. There seems to be a lot of talk about content marketing – or whatever people choose to call it – being at “the crossroads” or “at a turning point”. This has come about because there are too many “swindlers” looking for shortcuts (and a quick pay day) and not caring too much about the long-term needs of their clients. Unfortunately, many of those who propose a “content strategy” don’t know what good content is and don’t tend to have much of a strategy.
    The cream will rise, I’m sure. Those who create great content assets will soon get the respect they deserve.

    • Sarah Mitchell Aug 25, 2015 at 11:08 am

      Hi Peter,

      I’m sure you’re right but we’ll have to fight it out for now and keep educating the marketing industry. The other problem is even when people have good content, many of them don’t have a strategy on how to market it. I keep saying there are two equally important parts – content and marketing – and the strategy needs to cover both.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  17. Adrianne Aug 26, 2015 at 12:50 pm

    My favourite line in your post:

    Content marketing turns your marketing expense into a long-term business asset.

    I think most people understand and accept it takes time, effort and money to build an asset *outside* of the digital world. Your post makes it so clear being online is no different; things aren’t going to happen automatically or with no dedication.

    Your wonderful checklist is so thorough. What I love about it most is even in the first read through it seems almost overwhelming and yeah, there’s no shortcuts or magic solutions here, it’s just a lot of balls to keep in the air consistently and that’s going to take dedicated time and hard work. Just like any other valuable asset or relationship in work (or life) you want to build up.

    Thanks, Sarah, for an awesome, honest post.

    • Sarah Mitchell Aug 26, 2015 at 1:54 pm

      Hi Adrianne,

      Thanks so much for your vote of confidence. It’s meant to be an instructive post so I’m glad you found value in it. It’s occurred to me a proper checklist would help a lot of marketers. I’m putting it on my own list.

  18. Phil Aug 26, 2015 at 2:42 pm

    Great post

  19. Tessie Palmyre Aug 26, 2015 at 2:50 pm

    Thanks so much for this Sarah! Although you have said it’s not a comprehensive checklist, this is still extremely helpful for someone like me who is just starting out in the world of content marketing. Thanks for cutting through the BS 🙂

    • Sarah Mitchell Aug 26, 2015 at 6:09 pm

      I’m so glad it was helpful, Tessie. It’s a good checklist for starting out. Some of those lessons are painful (and expensive) to learn firsthand.

  20. David pembroke Aug 28, 2015 at 4:45 am

    Amen!!! See you in Cleveland Sarah.

    • Sarah Mitchell Aug 28, 2015 at 3:45 pm

      Looking forward to it, David. I’ll be the one not in orange.

  21. Belinda Weaver Aug 28, 2015 at 4:48 am

    Ahhh. Not only an amazing post Sarah but terrifically insightful comments!

    The big gaps I see are in the intent (#23): if a business isn’t genuinely willing to invest in enriching the lives of potential customers (whether that’s education or pure delight) then they’re always going to fall short of having successful marketing. We have to ask, how can we make lives better? And invest in a meaningful answer. Like most things, you have to spend the time or the money. Usually both.

    And then there is measuring (#25). I suspect the same people who say content marketing doesn’t work, or can’t really be measured, lack the tools or understanding on using the tools to do that. Yes, sales matter but it’s not the only measure … and you can’t just have CONTENT > a wibbly wobbly cloud of mystery > SALES.

    I love Jamie’s comment that content marketing is “a complex ecosystem that is alive and always changing.” I think that’s part of what makes it seem ‘too hard’.

    Okay. Now I think I’m ranting too. All hail to you Sarah!

    • Sarah Mitchell Aug 28, 2015 at 3:48 pm

      Hi Belinda,

      I, more than anyone, appreciates a rant within a rant.

      I agree with you about the correlation between non-believers and lack of measurement. It all goes back to business objectives. If you don’t define them, you can’t measure. If you don’t measure, you can’t tell whether anything is successful. It’s not a conundrum at all.

  22. James Dillon Aug 28, 2015 at 9:07 am

    Ahhh I’m a little late to this outstanding protest rally. I feel like this article needs to thrust into the hands of every card-carrying, badge-wearing, pride-owning content marketing pro with an important mission attached:

    We need to do more of this!
    All of us.

    We all need to grab this call to arms and run with it, doorknocking as many marketer’s inboxes as possible with the real content marketing story.


    • Sarah Mitchell Aug 28, 2015 at 3:51 pm

      Hi James,

      You know what? I don’t think I’ve ever had a ‘bravo’ before but I’m sure happy to get one, so thank you.

      I did intent this to be a call to arms, a wake-up call, a light on the dark underbelly of the marketing rip-off artists. It’s time we grow up as an industry and start doing the hard yards for our clients.

      I would also add it’s also time for the Australian content marketing community to take a page out of the USA book and start being more collaborative and more supportive of each other. Everyone wins when we behave that way but it’s especially great for our customers.

  23. Angela Hursh Aug 28, 2015 at 5:34 pm

    Well said! Content marketing haters are trapped by a couple of basic human flaws… a lack of patience, a lack of vision, fear of the unknown, and greed. Content marketing takes time, creativity, and bravery. Keep preaching!

    • Sarah Mitchell Aug 29, 2015 at 10:25 am

      You can count on me, Angela. My next sermon is aimed straight at brands. Stay tuned.

  24. Raz Chorev Aug 28, 2015 at 7:48 pm

    Sarah, reading your post and comments, it seems you’re pitching to the converted. In essence, I agree with you.
    The only point I’d challenge you on, is #12.
    I don’t feel running Adwords campaigns to promote your wares is swindling. It may not be content marketing, but it can certainly be a complimentary tactic – to help push good content out to people who are looking. Isn’t that what Google is for?
    On that topic, I find it very useful to promote content via sponsored stories, on Facebook, Linkedin, Instagram etc. The targeting is very good, and I’m “interrupting” the audience with relevant content to them. Helpful content (I hope).
    Please explain why are you against it?

    • Sarah Mitchell Aug 28, 2015 at 9:42 pm

      Hi Raz,

      My big problem with point #12 (If your content marketing strategy consists of buying AdWords, Facebook ads, and LinkedIn ads) is it’s not content marketing, it’s SEO. Too many SEO companies have relabelled what they do as content marketing without changing a single thing. They’re often the ones declaring content marketing a failure.

      SEO has an important role in content marketing. It’s an essential consideration for online content. But if all you’re doing is buying ads, you’re not content marketing either. I agree boosting strategic content is a great way to widen your audience but it shouldn’t be the primary way.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  25. Ellen Sep 02, 2015 at 4:02 pm

    Preach! You’re a breath of fresh air, Ms Mitchell. Thank you.

  26. […] over the shamans, charlatans and pretenders of content marketing. It was a full-blown rant called The Great Content Marketing Swindle aimed directly at service providers and in-house marketers that haven’t been giving their […]

  27. Glenn Murray Sep 08, 2015 at 11:15 am

    Amen! Like anything, you only get out what you put in.

    • Sarah Mitchell Sep 08, 2015 at 6:32 pm

      That’s true, Glenn. It’s why I say marketers need an engineering mindset; they need to realise content marketing is a long play. It’s a big shift from campaign mentality.

  28. Bek Sep 08, 2015 at 11:47 am

    I think the most shocking thing about this list is it needs to be written. It’s a sad indictment on the state of content marketing. Thank you for being brave enough to say it, Sarah.

    What boils my potato the most about content is it’s become about peacocking. Loud and popular does not equate to meaningful and trustworthy. Visibility doesn’t translate to usefulness. Vanity metrics do not a sale make.

    It’s people’s marketing for crying out loud, not Facebook Pop Idol.

    There are a whole lot of people making a whole lot of noise. Which in a way is good, because people who genuinely know how to connect with customers via story will continue to win the day.

    It’s just a shame that the peacocks burn off so many customers in the process.

    So my question is- beyond educating clients against this new form of snake oil, what can be done?

    • Sarah Mitchell Sep 08, 2015 at 6:43 pm

      Hi Bek,

      Education is definitely key. We hold a lot of in-person events simply to educate business in our patch about what they should expect from service providers and from their internal marketing teams. So much wrong information has been published, many marketing managers are just plain confused.

      Next, I think content marketers who are doing this and enjoying success need to start writing case studies. The more we document how it’s done well, the better for everyone.

      Lastly, the people working in the broader content marketing discipline need to be more collaborative and supportive of each other. I write this as I’m about to leave for Content Marketing World in Cleveland. There will be 3500 people at the event who pretty much get this part. The Content Marketing Institute has fostered a culture of support in the industry and lead by example.

      Agencies need to recognise they can’t do all of this well and starting coming up with collaborative solutions. (And quit talking about how they can provide integrated solutions when they can’t.) Business needs to quit siloing off marketing and start viewing marketing as a strategic part of their business. Service providers need to call foul when they’re being pitted against each other.

      I feel another blog post coming on. Thanks for the inspiration.

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