Content Marketing
Does Marketing Have A Marketing Problem?

Does Marketing Have A Marketing Problem?

November 28, 2022
6 min read

Ask most people what marketing is and they will describe an ad, tell you a story of a sleazy salesperson, or mention something funny they saw on TikTok.

Most people think Marketing is someone trying to sell you something. And they don’t think of it as a good thing. And to some people, marketing just equates to lying.

Marketing has a marketing problem. Marketing suffers from a poor job of branding.

image of seth godin with a pinochio nose from his book all marketers are liars

As a role, a function, a college major, marketing lacks credibility.

But marketing and selling are different things. While advertising is a form of marketing, it is not the only thing, or the biggest thing marketers do, or the thing that delivers the best marketing results.

It’s time that marketers understood the task before them.

For decades marketers were asked to tell the world “buy our stuff” and “Our products are awesome” to the most people with the highest frequency possibly. We measured our success according to whether you’ve maximized your budget for reach and frequency.

Many CMOs still measure their success based on the size of their budget, and the awareness of their brand. After all, who can blame them? But executives in most organizations are demanding more from us. They want accountability, measurement, and ROI.

In the coming years, Marketing will go in 2 distinct directions:

  1. Marketing will become recognized as a strategic function and a driver of revenue for companies
  2. Marketing will be relegated to projects, tasks, and campaigns that can be outsources to an agency

Which direction will you take?

Here are 5 reasons why Marketers must start to take some action:

1. The Internet Changed Everything

As the internet started to take shape, companies turned their fancy corporate brochures into fancy corporate websites. But their function was the same. Here is who we are, what we sell and why we are better. Traditional advertising campaigns from the 1950s and 60s were translated into banner ads which was fine when click-through rates saw double digit percent. Today, we see banner ad click through rates averaging .06%. Banners have 99 problems and  click ain’t one!

Back in 1994, Search engines were this cool new thing where anyone, anywhere could access all the information they could want. Social media became a way for everyone all over the world to become connected. Smartphones combined these 2 technologies into the palm of our hand.

With so much fun stuff to do on our phones, we started to ignore boring and self-serving banner ads on websites and television.

That is why 80% of CEOs are unhappy with the job marketing is doing.

So what is marketing going to do now?


2. The Content Marketing Imperative

This was the title of a presentation I was giving about 10 years ago. I probably delivered a version of this presentation 100 times, in 20 different places. The main point:

The world has changed, most marketing stinks, and as marketers, we need to create content that attracts and converts new buyers based on helpful information. That is the content marketing imperative.

3. The Battle for Customer Attention.

This is the title of another presentation I delivered all over the world. Helpful content, Thought Leadership, and brand storytelling are the new game for marketers. We need to attract buyers instead of trying to buy them with ads and promotion no one wants.

For a long time, at some businesses, marketers have simply executed the tactics, checked the boxes and collected a paycheck. But those days are quickly coming to an end, and businesses need to understand how to reach their customers in today’s attention-starved world.

4. Marketing is a Conversation

I have always defined marketing as a conversation between a customer and a company. A 2-way dialogue where the most important thing is the feedback you get. Speak an ugly lie and your audience will reward you with anger. Tell a powerful story, share an interesting fact, solve a real problem, and your audience pays you with their attention and focus.

Good marketing today looks a lot more like publishing, requiring a strategy, customer-focus, and great writers, someone to share it and someone to measure the results.

The best marketers today have moved past just “pushing product” into emotional storytelling.

We know that behind every visit, share and purchase is a person, and we need to meet the needs of those people in the most human way. At the same time, we need to measure our results, not just on conversions, but also in the rankings and traffic we earn with organic search.

The best marketing today starts with an understanding of the keywords used and the questions asked by an audience.

5. Marketing Must Earn Respect

Serving customers serves the business. Your customers want stories, not ads. Marketing-led companies would focus on meeting customer needs through products of course, but also with the marketing that they produce.

This belief increases innovation and experimentation. Products become better and employees become more engaged in helping customers solve a problem, telling their stories and sharing them online. Customers then buy more and feel better about their purchases.

This is the promise of today’s marketing-led company.

Ask your executive team how much they value customer insights. Ask your leaders what role marketing could play in setting the strategy. Customer insights lead to better customer experiences. Product innovation moves faster, employee engagement goes up, sales increase and maybe, finally, marketing earns some respect.

As I’ve said so many times, “we all know the world has changed due to digital, social and mobile technologies. Our customers are tuning out ineffective marketing content. Content marketing is an imperative because it represents the biggest gap between what brands produce and the content our customer actually want.”

Source: Wiz Advisors

How To Fix Marketing’s Marketing Problem

Customer and Results-Focused Marketing Strategy

How do we do that? Start by understanding the keywords your audience is using, the questions they are asking, the challenges they are facing, the topics that matter most, the trends in the industry. Notice none of these have anything to do with your product. Then align this research with the marketing content and campaigns you are creating.

Every marketing activity must be aligned with something that matters to your customers.

8 stages of marketing strategy diagram


Building a Business Case for Better Marketing

Do you rank for the keywords identified above? Most executives and sales people understand the importance of search because they actually talk to customers. How well do your marketing campaigns deliver ROI.

Your company leaders wants to see ROI from Marketing, But those same people are the ones asking you to do marketing things that don’t deliver marketing ROI. The business case for better marketing is to reach, engage, convert and retain new buyers to your business in a way that is more affordable and more efficient than you have in the past.

That means delivering content that drives conversions, and removing unnecessary campaigns based on executive whims.

Marketing Leadership

In my book, Mean People Suck, I talk about the art of the pushback. The pushback is about saying no to bad content ideas and bad campaign concepts. It means stop doing what doesn’t work – even if it means you lose that sports stadium sponsorship budget.

CEOs don’t want CMOs who just say yes to every request. They want marketers who are leaders. Show ROI, present customer insights, drive innovation, activate your most engaged employee storytellers.

Focus on Demand Generation Strategies The Deliver Leads and Revenue

The most effective revenue and demand generation strategies all have one thing in common: they are always-on. By continuously publishing your content and pushing campaign messages consistently, you get to see what works and what doesn’t. You can stop the things that don’t resonate. Double down on the things that convert.

While working at one major technology brand, I was able to deliver 10x the marketing ROI with an always-on content campaign than all the rest of marketing, with only 20% of the budget!

Measure and Present ROI

We have to know how to measure marketing ROI. But we also need to know how to present it to senior leaders who don’t care about our tactics. Telling stories is one of the most basic, and under-taught lessons in the entire business world.

Marketing Is Awesome

I spent nearly my entire career in marketing. I never imagines this journey when I started. But I became a marketer because I was frustrated with the support I received as a salesperson. I succeeded as salesperson by listening to customers. And I followed that same path as a product and corporate and content marketer.

Marketing is awesome because we get to lead our companies in focusing on our customers – attracting new ones, retaining the best ones, driving innovation.

But we need you to help us achieve this vision. What do you say. Are you ready?

Fixing the marketing problem marketing has isn’t going to be easy. But we are helping clients do it every day by delivering ROI-producing content plans that we have tested and proven to work. We align them with the specific needs of your company and audience to create a personalized strategy that drives results.

If you are ready to get more traffic to your site with quality content published consistently, check out our SEO Blog Writing Service or schedule a quick consultation to learn more about how we can help you earn more traffic and leads for your business.

19 thoughts on “Does Marketing Have A Marketing Problem?

  1. Michael Cannon

    Wee said Michael. I particularly like “And there is no debate between quality vs. quantity of content. Focus on setting the quality bar and then build a platform that allows you to scale at that level.” As a profession we need measure ourselves mostly on quality. What measurement KPIs do you advocate?

  2. Michael Brenner

    Hi Michael,

    I think it’s important to measure all the way down the engagement funnel starting with organic and social traffic (are you attracting visitors with the quality of your content and is it relevant to them?), engagement in the form of time spent, pageviews, share rate, comments, etc. and finally conversion. Conversion can mean many things and a ton of testing should be done to determine the right mix.

  3. Douglas Burdett

    Michael, here’s another banner ad statistic I like: “You are more likely to complete NAVY SEAL training than click a banner ad.” (Source: Solve Media)

  4. Michael Brenner

    Love that Doug. Thanks for the addition.

  5. Claire

    Thank you for sharing your insights, Michael! As a millennial myself, your statement “We’ve taught them to ignore the edges of the internet and they are pretty good at tuning them out” is extremely accurate. And therefore it makes sense that content is what will truly capture customers’ attention. But as a marketer, I struggle with finding exactly what content will create that emotional pull you discuss. Do you have any ideas for finding inspiration for great content? Thank you for your help!

  6. Michael Brenner

    Hi Claire, thanks so much for your comment. Every one of your peers I know has expressed the same thoughts.

    As for ideas, I am always looking at what kind of content does well in the channels our audience is using. So I covered the best videos of 2013, the best slideshares on business, the best flickr photos, etc. You can find some of those articles here but I think the best way to do this is to look at the sites your audience uses and then identify what works there. If you can replicate those successes, I think that is the trick to content marketing success.

  7. Amy Krofssik

    Very compelling article. Much thanks. I found myself staring at the statistics along side the boy with the book bag. From a B2B perspective, can you recommend any sources on what percentage of tele-efforts are all for naught? {i.e. responder does not answer phone?} I have seen averages as low as 40% and as high as 80% (after 3 attempts). Curious if you have any stats on this – and what your source was for the stats in the image?

    Appreciate the article.

  8. Ale

    Good article, particularly I loved this quote:
    “Content is not a campaign,” I told the crowd. “It needs to be managed like an asset, with a strategy to generate an ROI. Effective content marketing is a balanced combination of original created, licensed, and syndicated content.”
    And I believe that marketing doesn’t have any problem, but some Marketers do. The evolution of marketing has to be understood and the way to reach, find and talk with the “target”.

  9. Michael Brenner
  10. Michael Brenner

    Thanks so much Ale!

  11. Katherine

    Great article! So many brands and agencies are slowly starting to realize that the traditional modes of advertising (print ads, website banners) aren’t enough and are totally ignored by modern audiences. As you said, many millennials have simply tuned out the edges of websites and don’t even know banners exist on the sites they use. The change to content marketing is starting to build speed and, with compelling insight like you have provided here, I hope more will see how much their approach to marketing needs to change!

  12. Michael Brenner

    wow. thanks so much Katherine. I have taken on this as my mission, for better or for worse: To stop marketers from creating all this crap, wasting their company’s money and interrupting our content experiences.

    This is good for business and good for us all as content consumers. And I think we are getting close to the tipping point!

  13. David Baker

    Thanks Michael for the wonderful article.

    I especially liked the parts under Today your customers expect you to care and . . . . act like a publisher.

    Great article

    David Baker

  14. Michael Brenner

    Thanks David! Empathy is the secret to great marketing.

  15. Alice

    Great article! I hope this will serve as a wake-up call for marketers to not just make dozens of campaigns and ads. That content development should be focused on, as well as the branding, its quality and features. That’s what interests the customers most. Don’t tell them a lie, they deserve the truth regarding your product.

  16. Frank Garland

    Michael — I just recently started following your blog … it’s fantastic. One of the things I have asserted many times with colleagues is that most decisions are driven emotionally, not intellectually. As business people, it seems to me we are often hesitant to accept this, because we want to be known for our intellect. So your statement that “your customers expect you to care” really resonated with me as this is inherently emotive. Which is why great story telling is so critical, because it always has an emotional element. So when it’s delivered at the right time and place it can be very powerful. And as I reflected on all this it reminded me of an old saying in sports that seems to apply…. “Nobody cares what you have to say until they know you care.”

  17. Michael Brenner

    Hi Frank, thanks for reading, following and also really appreciate you sharing your thoughts here. I think you make some great points about the emotional and often counter-intuitive nature of business. I also think its important to understand this in the context of why so much marketing stinks. It stinks because behind it is a bunch of people who really love their company, their product and they want to talk about it. Just like I want to talk about my kids. But marketing needs to try and help the business resist this natural tendency. We have to start the conversation, as you say, by letting our audience know we care about them!

  18. Kim Garretson

    Michael, I wanted to add to the list for “They expect something in exchange for their time, attention, and loyalty”. I am finally seeing the emergence of Permission Marketing at Scale, 16 years after Seth Godin coined the term. Many of the major retailers I am working with have realized that with likely only 2% of product viewers actually buying, why not stop ‘marketing/advertising’ to them after they leave the page, begging them to come back. Instead, why not simply ask them to opt-in to consent for post-visit marketing via 1:1 email alerts on criteria they set, like a price drop, new review posted, new item added in the category or by the brand, and so on. Among the top 10 e-Tailers embedding this ‘just ask’ option in their sites, some are seeing up to a 40% take rate, and up to a 15% conversion to sale when they send an alert that has been requested.

  19. Michael Brenner

    Thanks Kim, Seth has predicted many things that have started to make themselves more evident. I think permission-based marketing has been a long time coming and anyone following the math of what works, is pursuing a permission-based approach.

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Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner is an international keynote speaker, author of "Mean People Suck" and "The Content Formula", and Founder of Marketing Insider Group. Recognized as a Top Content Marketing expert and Digital Marketing Leader, Michael leverages his experience from roles in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as his leadership in leading teams and driving growth for thriving startups. Today, Michael delivers empowering keynotes on marketing and leadership, and facilitates actionable workshops on content marketing strategy. Connect with Michael today.

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