Is content marketing eating its own tail? How Content Marketers Are Putting Themselves Out of Business

How Content Marketers Are Putting Themselves Out of Business

An article by Rand Fishkin made me think deeply about what I do for a living.

“Content marketing” is what its called now. We used to call it blogging.

If I abstract it one level, what I think we’re really talking about is writing. Nowadays we’d also include making videos and images. I guess podcasts should be in there too.

Might as well include painting and direct mailers and lanyards with logos and giveaways at conferences as well.

Whatever bit of “content” you’re “marketing,” if we abstract what’s happening a layer or two further we end up with this (at least for the good ones):

  • someone has a solution to a problem (or an idea)
  • and they share that thing and other people find it
  • and it’s helpful and it’s useful.

That’s how it started. And it was so helpful and so useful it became a thing with a name and there were tracks called “content marketing” at conferences and books about it and sections for it in online bookstores.

Some of us have been “content marketing” for years. We know exactly what it is, what it’s like, how it feels, how it works.

And this article from Rand (a response to this article) poses the question: Are we putting ourselves out of business?

  • Are we creating more “content” than there will be eyeballs looking for that “content?”
  • Are we answering questions nobody’s asking?
  • Are there too many “content marketers” for any one of them to achieve much success anymore?
  • Are we doing what advertisers have done to advertising?
  • Are we making next years version of a banner ad?

Here’s the brutal truth: yes. Every thing you make reduces the impact of every other thing you’ve made.

We’re marketers, we ruin things. We’re ruining “content marketing” too.

Every thing you make reduces the impact of every other thing you’ve made.
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Another truth is: (warning: there’s some language here) FUCK “CONTENT MARKETING.”

  • Screw “content.”
  • Screw blogging.
  • Screw social buttons.
  • Screw this insatiable need I have to hear someone applaud me for my blog posts.
  • Screw comments.
  • Screw how I judge myself based on how much an article was shared or how much a video was liked.
  • Screw viral.
  • Screw headlines.
  • Screw list posts and polls.
  • Screw buzzfeed.
  • Screw everything about this industry (except anyone who’s using funny gifs… you’re cool).

Screw all that stuff (again, gif guys, you’re cool) and do 2 things:

1. Love this work… for the right reasons. Writing is about connecting, about sharing darkness, about shedding light, about being a corkscrew, about digging and helping people take a step and move forward and lean a smidge out of the loneliness and decay and brokenness and disconnection and into a little hope and improvement and happiness for a moment in the bore.

Writing and making and filming and publishing and creating is the work… The work is it’s own reward. Love it for the right reasons.

2. Grow an audience now. It’s only getting harder. Discover who you are, decide who you’re going to serve, dig in, care, try, click publish and wish more people saw it and wonder why more people aren’t sharing it and make more stuff and click publish again and again regardless. Help and be honest and get better over time.

If you’re anything like me, the only way you get to a point where you’ve discovered who you are, how to be yourself and how to be useful to a crew is by clicking “publish”… a lot.

Rand finishes the article with this quote:

“Bottom line: whatever you’re doing in content strategy, production and promotion today had better be so runaway incredible that you can earn and own an audience soon, before the world of content (potentially) goes from the wild west, to an overcrowded, hyper-competitive field where standing out to jaded, fatigued consumers is 10X harder than it is today.”

The sentiment is bang-on IF you’re a corporation trying to “increase mindshare” and “grow consumership” and “establish social capital” and “make these people care about our goddam product.”

But I don’t agree with the line he draws for the rest of us. You can absolutely earn a living from a small and meaningful audience. You can absolutely build a relationship with earnest people by going to dark places and sharing what you learned.

The opportunities are still there. Maybe they seem smaller than before, more niche, more specific, more intentional and focused. But that’s because the internet as we know it is only about 15 years old… it’s maturing. The opportunities are there for those who care enough to try.

Maybe the opportunities seem harder. We talked about that before. I think it’s true that it’s going to get harder and harder to get a million people to your website. But it’s easier than ever to get in touch with and make meaningful things for every single unicicle riding, utilikilt wearing north Portlander.

{Plz replace that weirdness with your niche or target market or crew.}

“Content marketing” may be eating it’s own tail, but the market for usefulness and improvement and education and love and help and desire and humanity grows with every baby born.

So get into that market.

(2,000 babies were born since you started reading this post. 361,481 a day.)

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Content marketing is eating it’s own tail. Here’s how I’ll survive it.
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screw content marketing

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  • sheneeee


    Ok, that’s not a great comment but whatevs.

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot too.

    I mean, email is a good example. The medium is pretty much in shambles for some of the same reasons.

    Back to basics, baby.

    Thanks for this!

  • Tasiyagnunpa Livermont

    This. You’re my freaking hero.

  • Fernando Ezra

    I love the idea of niche, everybody is selling the idea of mass conquering with content, why? Focus on your niche, learn their problems and document solutions, then you’re an expert, and they buy, very simple. There is a lot of noisy stuff about “content marketing”, some are doing it complex and overwhelming, it’s not, keep it simple. Thanks for your post.

  • Dan Morrow

    Great post, Chase. Two quick reactions. First, I think a more minimalist style of both content and design will be important among the kinds of people who are increasingly overwhelmed by the noise: the links and banners and pitches and clickables and all that. It will only be true for a certain segment, but it will be increasingly important. It definitely is for me. I get tired of being sold things. Interestingly, I find myself much more likely to make purchases from people who don’t try to sell me in the typical ways. This isn’t anything new, of course, but I think it will matter more and more over the next few years. Also, quick content of great substance will be a key to audience (relationship) growth as a growing number of things fight for our attention.

    Second, among those of us with a growing minimalist mindset, more and more people are content to make a few thousand as opposed to be the next millionaire, and that’s a good thing. Not because we are lowering our standards or anything, but because people are finding joy in living within their means, whatever they are. There’s nothing wrong with making millions. I’d LOVE to! There’s so much awesome one could do with that cash – and I’m not talking about robot-orca filled swimming pools and stuff like that. Point is, in many cases, doing something awesome that you love will not make you a million dollars. When you can meet your money in the middle, you more likely to find contentment in all areas of your life.

  • JP Stonestreet

    All excellent points. Even though marketers have ruined marketing, there are still some REALLY good marketers out there and I watch what they put out. Same will hold true for content marketing. The good ones will always have an audience. Thanks for sharing.

  • Bryan Harris

    man…that was good.

  • Daphne Dangerlove

    I love what you said in #1-Love this Work because I think it’s the key to #2. For such a long time I’ve been trying to do way more that one person ever could, then I sat around wondering why nothing ever got done! Lately I’ve decided to narrow my focus down to doing what I love. Best decision I ever made! And after reading your post I feel even better. Nice job!

  • Ryan Hanley


    Though in general I love your sarcastic, cheeky nature and adore the rhythm with which this post was written I have to push back on, “Everything you make reduces the impact of every other thing you’ve made.”

    If Content Marketing or whatever you want to call was a Zero Sum game that would be true…

    If attention, the asset Content Marketing was designed to harvest, was finite, then your statement would be true…

    If all content was created equal and distributed equal, then what you’re saying here would be true.

    Unfortunately, from my perspective having implemented a content marketing strategy in my own main street independent insurance agency as well as many client since, I simply don’t agree.

    “Every piece of content you create builds upon or destroys the piece of content that came before it.”

    I thinks that a better representation of what actually happens in the market. You answer a question, build some cred, you answer a question, build some cred, you showcase a client, build some cred, you tell a valuable story which benefits your clients, you build some cred… over and over and over again.

    My 4th piece of content doesn’t make my first any less valuable. If anything it makes it more valuable as now, my portfolio of content is held in higher regard by those who view it.

    In turn the obstacles to purchase fall away or at least are reduced.

    HOWEVER… if you’re referring to crappy, self-centered, advertorial, bullshit content… Then yes, I believe you’re 100% accurate.


    • Chase Reeves

      I like your perspective (and your push back), Ryan. Here’s where I’m coming from.

      We write a post every tuesday
      make a podcast every friday
      publish a Fizzle course every month
      ship a Founder’s Story every month (in depth interviews inside Fizzle)
      (sometimes more).

      We’ve got well over 500 articles published between ThinkTraffic and Fizzle. We’ve been doing this for almost 5 years (individually and together).

      There’s a post we’ve written you need to see Ryan, but you haven’t and chances are you never will… It’s the answer to a question you don’t know you need an answer to, so you aren’t searching and won’t find it. It provides a paradigm shift that will get you up and over the body of that demon you don’t know you’re facing (because the demon doesn’t want you to know it’s there, affecting your vision, affecting your outlook)…

      You won’t find that post. But you’ll find the most recent, which is good, but it won’t reveal the demon.

      When we publish GOOD things, you’re less likely to find the GREAT thing. And thus the impact of the GREAT is lessened…

      If content marketing is a simple “hello, this today” then that’s fine. But if you’re tackling important things, developing ideas that could impact someone’s life in a big way… that mode feels inconsistent with the importance of the ideas… Does that make sense?

      But this is the job. I still write. It’s still effective. With each post I still try to create an experience, induce emotion and change and inspiration, etc, in the reader.

      What I’m saying in this article is: yes, “content marketing” is a leaky vessel, inefficient; shit’s broken. But I don’t care. I’m going to write and make and bring back what I can from the darkness anyways… because the ideas matter, the people matter and I need to keep my hands in this dirt.

      And that idea itself may be helpful for someone else out there seeing the inefficiencies of the job and the emotional wobbliness of the work.

      • Ryan Hanley

        @fizzle-1679091c5a880faf6fb5e6087eb1b2dc:disqus does the GREAT work get diminished or does it stand out even more.

        Take Corbett’s “Write Epic Shit”post, one of the most famous Marketing to Marketers posts in history most likely…

        Which each new blog post created on the web, all million plus whatever every day… That post stands out even more as truly great content.

        We keep writing and creating so that once in a while a piece of “Epic Shit” hits the pot… errrr… the screen.

        I’m a survival of the fittest guy. I feel like those who continue to chase great content always find it and no matter how much content there is on the web it stands out.

        Content Shock or Glut or whatever we’re calling it today only impacts us on the pieces of content that aren’t great… and they can’t all be great just like we can’t hit a homerun with every swing. Babe Ruth hit a homerun every 11.76 at bats which means that the other 10.76 at bats were forgettable… But he kept swinging and the great swings only became greater with each new set.

        Maybe we’re just talking to talk at this point or maybe we’re saying the same thing… at this point I’m not even sure what I’m arguing… ha.

  • Steven Hughes

    Ha… You’re going to love the mountains…Think of how that delicious crisp pure Montana air will be when it hits your lungs.

    I’ll tweet this post to my 50K followers, maybe 400 are actively online now. Thankfully you didn’t screw your social buttons yet.

  • Asatar Bair

    I appreciate this passionate, vigorously-argued essay.

  • Brandon Hull

    I completely agree with this…I think the answer could come in the form of unique/creative/useful web tools that those we’re trying to serve or sell to find completely worthy of their time and attention.

    Could mean mobile apps. Could mean web-based tools. I think of the tools I use like and Those are immediately useful to me. It’s harder to pull off, but I think there are opportunities there.

  • Bree Brouwer

    I feel like this focus on building strong connections is what humanity has known for generations and for some reason, media and big business and many other things made us forget. We’re wired for connecting, not necessarily the thing that connects us.

  • Azalea Pena

    Chase, loved that the article is very honest and straight to the point. And you didn’t sugarcoat a thing. If I got you right, you’re encouraging readers to do the work, because they love it, because it’s fun and because writing is what they want to do.
    However, there is another side of the spectrum that we can’t ignore and that is there are people dedicated to writing content marketing articles. I don’t think giving into content marketing is putting you out of business. I think it will all boil down to how the writer makes the switch or assume balance in his writing world. But of course, the love for writing, in either case, should always be present.

  • Dan Gamito

    Well said. Would be interested in hearing more about what the ‘right reasons’ are for doing any of this in the first place.

  • Mia Sherwood Landau

    Chase, you should move your reply to Ryan Hanley up into the article because it clarifies your original points. You are not knocking content creation, but helping us understand the nature of it in our digital universe.

  • ArtaGene

    Interesting. I’ll tell you just one thing. I have a blog that I’ve posted on since Sept 2011. Ran into some hosting problems (black listed domains, not mine on a shared server) and since I’m not a Techie Geek took 6 months to clear it up.
    Of course traffic and ranking went into the pits.

    With just two posts, shared only with a FaceBook post and a few twitts at twitter the rescue is on. Have knocked 8 million off my current Alexa to bring it down to 1,977,728 which is sad because in Jan 2013 ranked below 70,000.

    If negative is what you think, that is what you get. I’m not competing with anyone, just sharing what I like with anyone who is interested. Even on a rough and ready over monetized WP blog there is still a Human touch, which I think is going to be what counts in the long run.

  • Sharon Spano

    I love this discussion, Chase, and the dirt you have kicked up. This is, i’m afraid, the nature of the beast. I’m a Certified Speaking Professional, and I can tell you that this is what happened in my industry. After 911, if you weren’t a celebrity (meaning a Kim Kardashian willing to strip naked in the middle of Times Square) no one wanted to pay you for your message.

    It’s a new world and celebrity seems to be the name of the game. But, that shouldn’t stop those of us who are creatives and those of us with a message from working hard to get it out there.

    Thanks for reminding us that it’s more about the message than the numbers. I’m kicking up my blog again, and it’s difficult sometimes to keep up the pace when it feels that no one is listening. As my writing mentors used to remind me, if it were easy, anyone could do it.

    I enjoy your quick wit and willingness to tackle the hard stuff. Great job.

  • Chase Reeves

    You make good points, Aaron and Ryan. And I’m glad you found this bit of “content” :)

    I’m sure it sounds like the baby’s getting thrown out with the bathwater up there… But what you’re really getting is the frustrated throwing of things around the office of a writer who flexes and tries and works a little too hard without a clear understanding of what for.

    Another tweet? Another comment? A share or a favorite? What’s a pin? Did this get pinned?

    This is me coming to terms with the fact that I need to make for the making’s own sake. We all want an audience… we want more. And we need more if we’re gonna have a business that survives. But that need for more out there in the world is in conflict with the need to create from in here in ourselves… again, at least for personality types like mine. This post is me swinging violently from one side to the other.

    You’ll notice, of course, I’m telling content marketers they’re putting themselves out of business with—you guessed it—a piece of content marketing. So, I clearly haven’t quit. I simply really needed the reminder to make the things regardless of the audience, the reaction, the results, the “out there”… to go in more and out less.

    I’m sure there’s loads of scenarios we could create where the things you make don’t lower the quality or impact or value of the other things you’ve made (or will make). But there’s no arguing with the fact that every published blog post makes every other published post just a little harder to find, a little less effective.

    But as I say in the end: so fk’n what. It’s more possible than ever to earn a living with a small and meaningful audience.

    I like these thoughts, lads.

    • Joshua Long

      I think Chase’s point about the mountain of content is that it never gets searched through is going to waste.

      The solution is to create guides out of it, to create a searchable reference list that people can go through when they have specific challenges, do the work of organizing it for the reader since you know what exists and when it’s of use.

      Curation is a big value that I think is only getting more valuable as more content is created.

  • Sergio Félix

    Definitely the BEST article I have read in the entire 2014.

    I know, we’re barely on March but still…

  • Nikoya

    Its what being an Internet marketer all about, is it not? Take the old content and create a product, giveaway or an incentive to join a list. Why would new work negate the quality of the old work (when you’re writing timeless content).

    That’s one thing I think we each love as writers. We have the power to create something and use it to our advantage exponentially. There’s really no reason for the fire to die unless we extinguish

    • Chase Reeves

      It’s really less about my own new vs old work and more about how the impact of any single bit online will continue to decrease in value as there are more bits online. It’s like the law of inflation of online content.

      And again, the point is not that we should stop, but that we should rejigger our expectations about what results we might get from any piece of writing/photoshopping/filming/etc and double down on doing stuff we like, doing it well, serving an audience, etc.

  • Mercedes Brennan

    I must add in – numbers aside – that those of us in content marketing are so immersed in content marketing that we see it everywhere. In our eyes, “everyone is in content marketing.” We read so many blogs that we begin to feel that our whole world is focused on and doing what we are focused on. Sometimes I get a reality check when speaking with 95% of both friends and acquaintances who have no idea what content marketing is or what I do. As always, Chase, thanks for the thoughtful post.

  • kimanzi constable

    I think the problem is something you mentioned, we’re not willing to dig in, we want to be rich and famous right away! Digging in means serving, adding value, getting deep, that’s where the real connection is made with our thing.

  • Jane Manthorpe

    Wow! what a great piece of writing Chase. I was so engrossed in everything you were writing and found myself nodding in agreement, and also copying bits and pieces to refer to it again. The best article on content writing I have read for ages.

  • Metz

    I think it is balanced. If we say we ruin things, so with Content Marketing, we are creating new things too. Am I right? That is the biting wit of life.

    The content is overloaded with things that some marketers should be aware of. I couldn’t agree more with the insight you have provided to us. One of the best content I have read, strong and isn’t afraid to bring out the real life scenario.

    Great write-up Chase! I keep on nodding!

    I found this post shared on, the Internet marketing social networking site, and I “kingged” it and left this comment.

  • socialnmp

    SocialNMP dot com is for Social Network Marketing Pro’s. SocialNMP dot com is the first ever social bookmarking site for network marketing!

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