On the “Business” of Content Marketing

In an increasingly buyer driven environment where prospects navigate  a large part of the sales funnel on their own, it is pretty obvious why using content engagement to ingratiate and promote one’s brand is no longer negotiable.

Unfortunately it is this increasingly black and white, clear as the day realization that has toppled the proverbial apple cart as companies try and pass off self promoting content under increasingly new niches that are thinly disguised as content marketing.

Also Read: But How Is Content Marketing Different From, Well, REGULAR Marketing?

We all agree that the whole point of content marketing is to position “neutral” or brand / vendor agnostic information that serves an identified customer need. And that if it comes across as self-serving in any way, it is useless, possibly even worse than an unabashed advertisement since it appears to “deceive”. But even when we do our very best to stay relevant and un- salesy from a technical standpoint –

Content written specifically with the purpose of “netting” a share of the consumer wallet vibes and feels very different from words of advice from a helpful friend.

Regardless, every company has the right AND the duty to be profitable and that extends to their content department as well. Writers need to be compensated according to their output both in terms of quality and quantity for the system to work but, unfortunately, it is the very metrics of compensation that dilute the credibility and therefore the impact of the written word.

Now, savvy companies understand the basic conundrum that this presents which summed up is as follows:

A good content promotion campaign needs finely orchestrated resources and therefore the ultimate expectation of returns BUT admitting or even “letting on” any aspect of the planning involved, production process, and its need to generate ROI to readers undermines the credibility and therefore the value of that content.

  • You TRUST a can of Coke to taste good after you pay for it because offering you a great tasting product in no way gets in the way of their objective to be profitable.
  • You DO NOT TRUST Coke to tell you the effect of soft drinks on obesity because you suspect (and rightly so) that they would never share information or spend money on research that cuts into their growth and profits.

To cut a long story short, content needs to be seen as organically generated for it to be trustworthy and content engines break that very premise, defeating the very purpose of the exercise. No wonder more and more content managers are stuck going around in circles chasing their tail.

To avoid getting entangled in ethical issues, I think as a very first step, it is best to restrict yourself to issues that you can address honestly without compromising your business. So, yes, I would not recommend obesity studies to soft drink brands or world peace to arms dealers. If this part sucks, everything else always will – the consumer can only believe as much as you do. Usually far less.

Also Read:5 Key Elements of a Great Content Marketing Plan

But once you find an information need that relates positively to your brand, you need to find an expert who has the know-how to address it and keep him/her as far away from the accounting department as possible. DO NOT under any circumstances pay him/her by the word or hour or, heavens (!) introduce him/her to the sales team! Some great metrics include session time, pages read, shares, comments, retweets, and other more sophisticated paid tools to gauge progress or failure. Also, if you noticed, I did not use the word “writer” – English is more of a hygiene issue; It needs to be clear enough to get the point across but you don’t necessarily need to be Shakespeare.

Now I know most companies may not immediately subscribe to such a contrarian approach to writer compensation but at what point does the boat tip over and the content promotion cycle become one of absolute futility?

I think it happens when we happily pay people unconnected with our brand and unconcerned with our customers to tell our stories for us.


A good writer in the context of this book and content marketing in general, is a good story teller who understands the audience, your brand, and the narrow space where they connect. They are people intimately involved with the campaign who know where their story will be used and to what intent.

They are NOT part-time writers or worse, freelancers paid by the word or hour who need a title, brief and primary keywords each time, and whose compensation is decided by micro KPIs.


This article is an excerpt from the book “Content Marketing vs Marketing – A Traditional Marketer’s Guide to Content Marketing in 2018“. Get Your Free Copy Today!