The limits of content marketing

As you’ve no doubt guessed, I’m a huge fan of content marketing. But unless you’re a content marketing “fanboy” who’s blind to reality, you have to recognize the practice’s limitations.

Those limitations were real even before content marketing’s ubiquity created a whole new set of problems. (More on those in a moment.) So it’s worthwhile to acknowledge the ways in which content marketing can come up short and talk about ways to work around those issues.

Content Marketing Limitations to Overcome

There are many ways you can limit your content marketing’s effectiveness, but there are also limitations that are what I would call “macro” factors or externalities. That is, they’re not problems that are inherent in your execution, but are broader. The biggest of these are:

  • Audience Skepticism
  • Content Overload

The two are not unrelated. As consumers, we are so inundated with content that we often ignore very good, even excellent content, just because the timing is wrong for us to consume it and if we set aside for later we’d fall behind.

We’re also conditioned to be disappointed more frequently than we’re delighted. So our default position is one of defensiveness. Your content is uninformative and your claims are unsubstantiated until proven otherwise.

It takes a lot to break down those defense mechanisms, and depending on your industry and your message, you may not be able to do it with content alone. And content alone certainly isn’t going to help you stand out in the ever-rising tide of content.

Strengthening Your Content Marketing with Other Approaches

There are steps you can take to route around both of these problems. Most critically, you have to seek outside endorsement of your work. That means reviews and testimonials. It means links from other sources. It means being cited in the social media and email feeds of colleagues.

These tools offer social proof – someone else saying what you’re offering is of value – thereby making it more likely that someone who doesn’t know you will take the risk of investing their time and attention in your content.

You should actively be seeking out these connections and cross-pollination opportunities, and use them not only to add legitimacy to your content but also to expand your audience.

There are many different ways to do this more effectively than simply sending a cold email to a LinkedIn connection you’ve never actually met. Begin by following the outside expert you want to work with. Participate in their channels. Make it clear that you “get it” when it comes to the value of content marketing.

In other words, build a relationship and offer value before you ask for something in return. Ideally, you’ll be providing value in the exchange on an on-going basis, regardless.

I’ll add one caution: what we’re talking about above is not the same as link building. Though that can be effective, link building has been so badly abused that it can be difficult to do without risk to your reputation. In fact, poorly done, link building can ruin your search engine ranking.

You might also consider review sites like Clutch, Upcity, and others. They can be an excellent way to add external authority to your marketing efforts.

Remember that marketing is often about reducing risk. Let that idea guide you and support your content marketing by doing things that signal to prospects that you have experience, expertise, and you’ve delivered successfully for organizations just like theirs in the past.  Once you do, you’ll be miles ahead of the competition who view content marketing as a “publish and pray” operation.

Andrew Schulkind

Since 1996, Andrew Schulkind has asked clients one simple question: what does digital marketing success look like, and how can marketing progress be measured? A veteran content marketer, web developer, and digital strategist, Andrew founded Andigo New Media to help firms find a more strategic and productive mix of tools that genuinely support online brand goals over time. With a passion for true collaboration and meaningful consensus, his work touches social media, search-engine optimization, and email marketing, among other components. He views is primary goal as encouraging engagement. Getting an audience involved in your story requires solid information architecture, a great user experience, and compelling content. A dash of common sense doesn’t hurt, either. Andrew has presented at Social Media Week NY and WordCampNYC, among other events, on content marketing and web-development topics. His technology writing appears on the Andigo blog, in a monthly column on, and for print and online publications like The New York Enterprise Report, Social Media Today, and GSG Worldwide’s publications LinkedIn & Business, Facebook & Business, and Tweeting & Business. Andrew graduated with a B.A. in Philosophy from Bucknell University. He engages in a range of community volunteer work and is an avid fly fisherman and cyclist. He also loves collecting meaningless trivia. (Did you know the Lone Ranger made his mask from the cloth of his brother's vest after his brother was killed by "the bad guys?")

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