Content Marketing: Teach Me, or Go Away

As Marketing enters the 2020s, how we will adapt and evolve?

Do we need ever more data, channels, refined tools, and specialized skills? Or can we instead just do a really great job with the basics?

Content marketing and marketing automation got underway in the mid-2000s with a few early adopters. Ten years on, some still haven’t. HubSpot was then evangelizing this new approach upon recognizing that people did not want ads shoved in front of them anymore. There had to be a better way. Certainly the internet held promise.

Email marketing became email nurturing which imitated old school drip mailers but added technology and digital to the mix, speeding up the process at dramatically lower cost. And now we could know who was actually reading what we sent them! So everyone sent everything they could. Welcome CAN SPAM.

Social media made a dramatic entrance, as it’s wont to do, and now we could interact with each other on a mass scale, a 1980s dream of cable television operators who tried to make home shopping a thing with bespoke consoles attached to TVs (it didn’t work). What started as a way to post our personal pictures and updates became a way for brands to share theirs, too. As if we cared about a new design for ketchup bottles. I didn’t buy more ketchup because of their Facebook page. Were we really expected to?

Technology paced along, giving us deeper and broader and more accurate analytics, more insights, better ways to see and understand the deluge of big data, always with the promise that more is better is worth what it costs because it gives you that 1/10 of an edge over the competition; never mind the annual SaaS fees or specialized skills you pay a premium compensation to hire. How many of these tools have come and gone? I know Silicon Valley must have a graveyard somewhere honoring their fallen dot-com brethren.

Today marketing is more akin to science than art, and can lack the finesse and nuance whose graceful, human execution creates beauty. Spreadsheets are quick and handy but a Gauguin makes me contemplative. I’d love to see Tahiti not another pie chart. We want the accuracy of Excel with all the emotional impact of great literature. Rarely does one swipe right on the other one.

Even with the capabilities of personalization and dynamic custom “smart” content meant to sway just the right person at just the right time we have an elusive promise placing a big bet on pushing pixels to align with a person’s emotional state at any given moment — what customer journey and funnels tell us be damned. Truly, who can intuit what a person is thinking based on how she moves a mouse around the screen? At best it’s a blunt instrument that you can infer what is happening but, honestly, do you for sure know each and every time? Odds are…

Do we continue to do more of the same? Is more intelligent technology the answer? And it is getting pretty smart with all the cookies, histories, and data trails we have built up these past two decades the answer.

Or do we marketers need to remember that ultimately we are promoting ourselves and brands to people just like us? Not personas, not avatars, not decision makers and influencers. Quit abstracting others in order to reduce them to cohorts that let you mass produce efforts more efficiently. People just like us have hopes, anxieties, disappointments, joys, fears, good days and bad.

Most of us just want to get our jobs done, then go live our lives. Why not simply tell stories that directly help with their problems?

We keep cookbooks a lot longer than we keep textbooks, to use an analogy. Cookbooks show us exactly what to do: feed ourselves delicious food we make. Textbooks just help us pass tests, then we forget the knowledge. Which are you writing?

If you want content that truly works for you, then write to the person not to the motive. Tell them what they want to know straightforward, share what you know in order to help them, and focus on leaving them with how to accomplish a task (“How to chop an onion”) and worry less often about the high level thinking (“A Social History of Onions and Their Role in Culture”).

If you teach me how to slice, dice, cube and mace an onion, I’ll have that know-how forever. And remember you for it. The textbook just ends up in a garage sale for $1. Or $.50 if you make me an offer by clicking here right now!

Geoff works as the Inbound Repair Guy, helping marketing teams build smart content marketing strategies combined with marketing automation best practices. Learn more at