Why Content Marketing is Not Branding

Why Content Marketing is Not Branding

Reader Comments (101)

  1. Chris,

    I think its great and great fun to ask for something like a signup to an awesome newsletter. Especially as an email marketer , building a quality email list is one of the core tasks involved in email marketing. And probably there are a lot of people visiting copyblogger that would be the perfect fit for Chris’ newsletter, because yes it is awesome, although not so awesome as mine.

    Sorry Chris.

    • Content marketing is definitely not the same as branding. Content marketing is mostly money driven. Branding is more toward providing a good service. Recently I came across a few sites on google first page. They were horrible with bunch of ads, and it was ranked 3rd on page 1. There were only a few posts on the site and it was poorly designed. That is definitely content marketing.

  2. Hi Chris,
    For a business – that is just starting out with “creating content”.
    What is the right time to get into selly-sell?
    ~1000 subscribers to email newsletter..
    Appreciate ideas based on your experience.
    ps: good break from regular programming at Copyblogger, thanks!

    • You could sell on the first email. You just have to be really clear and genuine and honest in what you’re selling. In MY world, your community has to matter.

  3. I think the problem I have is treating “branding” as awareness, rather than positioning.

    I can’t afford awareness campaigns. I can’t afford not to work on my positioning.

    My content needs to help my branding, only if I see branding the right way, as positioning.

    • IMO, there’s a balance to be found.

      Generic content does very little for anyone. And that’s where I think “content marketing” has gotten a bad rap at times — people who think that thin, “spun” content without personality, even if it has a tiny bit of value (like “how to tie a tie” kind of content) is what we mean by content.

      Positioning and branding need to be baked in, to use Chris’s terms, to keep you out of generic land. Some writers, like Chris, can hardly keep their personality out of their content. But you also need to know the marketing strategy behind 95% of the content you create, so you don’t end up with a million fans and no customers.

      That’s how I see it, anyway. 🙂

  4. Hi Chris,
    I was at the event a couple weeks ago and was one of the people who tweeted out your “weaponized storytelling” line, partly because it was a great line served up piping hot for Twitter consumption, but mostly because I think it captured something that has been lacking in some corners of the content marketing discussion: business purpose.

    As you note above, there are times when content can (and should) be created just to support “brand awareness” or simply great storytelling, but more often than not it can, could and should be purposeful, strategic and have a business goal in mind.

    What I like most about the content marketing trend is that it allows room for both great storytelling and great business sense. And, to me, that’s a powerful weapon indeed.

  5. I’m still trying to figure out if this post was:

    A ) Content sprinkled with marketing.
    B ) Marketing wrapped in content.

    It sounds to me like “Story is Branding”… the rest is either A or B.

    • It was content marketing. I wrote content that might be useful to you while still marketing a product of mine. I don’t think story is branding. I think story is something one can use as part of marketing, but if one wants to think of something as “content marketing,” then one had best be MARKETING and not just storytelling.

  6. I hate the term ‘content marketing’ as it has no reference to the quality of that content and leads to bloggers getting bombarded with requests to accept low value guest posts. I prefer ‘value marketing’ where you offer value to your prospects to get them interested in hiring you.

      • Amen to that Chris.
        Our opinions about vernacular usage of a word really don’t mean squat.
        What matters is that little box you mentioned…which currently tells us that “content marketing” has tipped and started to go mainstream.
        Like it, hate it, whatever—it’s not going anywhere.
        I think it’s time folks focused less on hating the phrase and more on teaching others how to do it well.
        BTW, this was one of the best pieces I’ve seen you write in a long time–great content, humor, and snark…loved it man. 🙂

        • We would love to call it something entirely different, but there are literally millions of businesses out there who know they need content marketing but they don’t know how to get started or how to do it well. So we meet people where they are.

          “Value marketing” is a cool term, it’s just not the one in most people’s minds when they’re looking for the information.

          • Sonia, I think if you called it “cupcakes” you’d get a comparable SERP ranking, and some good recipes too.

            Chris, I’ve always appreciated that you warn readers upfront in your newsletters which ones are more “selly-sell,” so there’s a clear “reader-beware” element. Interesting (though not shocking, considering the publishing world) on the Trust Agents figures. How is Impact Equation doing? Liked ’em both, though I found Impact more impactful.

  7. Content marketing is encompassed in branding as it all has to have purpose. Establishing the purpose is generally easy.

    The tricky part is the context in which the content is presented. We saw this with Oreo and State Farm this weekend during the SuperBowl. Oreo is praised and loved for their “You Can Still Dunk in the Dark” which was that subtle selly sell where State Farm went right in for the jugular with their “A power outage can happen at the most unexpected times. Learn how you can be prepared in your home.” Whoa. Each had a purpose with their content but the context of the content is where we see the difference. Something for brands to consider more of as the purpose of the content is just half the battle here.

    • Superbowl ads are rarely content marketing. But they’re also not what any of us here use. We don’t pay $2 mil to create a campaign and $3 mil to air it. We are mostly the scrappy street fighters. If I could afford three million for an ad, I’d probably do something horribly disgusting. Oh wait. That was Godaddy.

      • These both were not ads for the SuperBowl though. They were posted during the blackout of the game on Twitter. One was received well and the other was not.

        GoDaddy … yeah they grossed us out but they are getting so much attention and as Tom Webster wrote about the risk, there apparently is not any for them as year after year they are notorious for spots that go over the top in some sort of way. The negative publicity does not seem to have a negative effect on their sales or they would not continue them. Hell, if they did, they would be bankrupt already.

        Joe’s comment below is very interesting as it Coke took content and made it into an ad. Content that works can be ad worthy. Used to be the other way around all those years ago when there was just trad adv.

  8. ” I believe that the real goal of content marketing is to advance your business. If it’s not, then it’s not content marketing. It’s writing.”

    A great point. Every piece of content you put out, even if it’s not selling something, is trying to push the reader to do something. Maybe you want them to sign up for a newsletter, or follow you on Facebook, or download a more in-depth white paper or free trial. Or maybe you’re just building your authority and expertise bit by bit. But you’re doing it all for a purpose.

    • After reading Tom Webster’s piece about branding, I think that I can accept that branding is sometimes useful if it helps remove barriers to buying, but that still doesn’t feed me.

  9. First, everyone should sign up for Chris’s newsletter. I wake up Sunday mornings in anticipation of its arrival because Chris makes me feel like a personal friend (and the message is awesome). I’ve adopted his human approach in my email newsletter.

    Chris, I agree with everything you write, but I don’t know what you think of as “branding”. I think my content marketing builds my brand as the college football analytics guy.

    • I think branding is wonderful but it doesn’t feed you. Branding needs to happen, but if you’re not also marketing with the intent of getting some particular business outcome, that’s not likely going to help you much.

  10. Hey Chris,
    Great post – love the upfront message that sales and business is key – it’s why we market.

    Essentially, you are saying content marketing is a part of a selling event. Branding is not so much.

    I think there is some confusion here. So, my question is this.

    When good content is put out, like chumming the waters, to attract people – that’s not the same as actually having some of that content with a hook on it (newsletter signup for example). Chumming the water wont make a fish jump in your boat, but it just might help you get a big swell of them from the great big ocean to swim over and get caught – hook line and sinker. (that is, if you have a hook on a line to begin with).

    So is the chumming waters bit what you are helping us see as a part of our marketing effort, but that creating content just to chum the waters should not to be considered content marketing until it clearly has a hook in it?

  11. Well, I signed up for the newsletter so your content marketing worked! We are currently “re-branding” and trying to get a grip on our own content marketing strategies so this was helpful!

  12. Your points are very well-stated Chris, as usual, but I’m not sure if I agree with this position. Isn’t branding a way of selling yourself to encourage people to become more loyal to you, and (eventually) buying from you when the need arises? For example, if I write a blog post about something that inspires me but which is otherwise unrelated to my business, that’s me branding myself. Perhaps some of my customers will identify with what it is that inspired me, and as part of the overall package that I represent (which obviously has to include an awesome product or service) they’ll prefer to buy from me rather than the next guy. Granted, it’s not a strategy you want to abuse, but it definitely has it merits.

    • You can measure it. You can decide whether your branding posts get as much traction as your sales posts (pick your own metric) and you can determine when your bank account goes up.

      Branding isn’t terrible. It’s just that people tend to brand all the time without going to the final step of selling.

  13. Well, I”m already on your email list and I am currently reading “The Impact Equation,” so I would say what you are doing is definitely working. I used to write strictly using content to brand myself – though I didn’t know that was what I was doing. Then one on my coaches, Eric Walker, schooled me on working toward a “next action” with each post, so I started improving in the area of content marketing that is sales-minded storytelling. Thanks, Chris.

  14. Good stuff, Chris. I’ve learned this the hard way. I had a passion project that was all about writing. I poured every once of my soul into that thing. I never sold anything. I expected the good writing to attract money. I made nothing.

    But now I’m writing with a purpose. My purpose is to help you and interest you in reading more. My purpose is to eventually — when you’re comfortable — lead you to my products or services.

    An amazing thing happened. When I don’t write for the sole purpose of trying to write good content, I actually make money. Granted, I still want to write great content. But that underlying purpose is important.

    Thanks for leading the way, Chris. I’ve been following you for quite a while — even during my no-income days. Appreciate the leadership.

  15. I have to tell you, this posting is farther from my reality than a pig’s ear is from a pork chop.

    I developed and write an email newsletter for a client, and the whole goal was to deliver content that positions him and his organization as experts in their sector. The day after it goes out each week, his phones start to ring with potential prospects. We built the circulation to almost 6,000, and get requests daily to be added to the distribution list. In the past year, the list has grown to 10,000. And never, not once, did we do anything recommended above. Well, let me take that back: The only time we got unsubs was when the client insisted on including some “sell” content.

    I’m not saying this post is wrong. I’m saying there’s a danger in making the kinds of generalizations it makes. Audiences are different. Expectations are different. Industry segments are different. A “square-peg, round-hole” approach — built on assumptions and templates, loose or otherwise — doesn’t respect those differences. As such, it presents a marketing risk that, in a cluttered communications climate, has neither a place nor a purpose in strategic planning.

    • Excellent that you’re having such success. That the phones are ringing is clearly an indication that you’re reaching a different segment than most companies I serve. I tend to help with companies looking to expand their digital presence. But your points stand. Overgeneralizing is bad.

  16. Well, I already get the newsletter, and enjoy it immensely. And I read through this article with its comment & got several good laughs.
    Learned something along the way as well.
    If content marketing is indeed “weaponised”, it’s really a stealth weapon…

  17. I’m certainly no marketing expert but I’m beginning to think that it’s less about “marketing” (content or otherwise) and more about the dance. It’s about a sincere, slow and giving courtship that over time results in a relationship and win-win interaction. It’s about being brave enough to step out on to the floor and do a different dance than everyone else.

    For example, I liked the GoDaddy commercial. It’s consistent with their image and still has people talking about it. I also liked the way they integrated their commercial via social media and Twitter… within minutes of the first TV ad… “You saw the TV version of the #PerfectMatch… now see the UNRATED, EXTENDED cut of #TheKiss we couldn’t show [link]”

    Hey, don’t hate. Even the Walters in the world need a bit of love too 🙂

  18. Chris, I loved the post and it makes total sense to me 🙂 Content marketing is like a river with a slight current (doesn’t have to be super strong), but it’s constantly moving in one direction. Get people to hop in and you slowly (or sometimes quickly) guide them smoothly downstream with the end destination of them paying for some of your products and services (falling off a waterfall cliff…JUST KIDDING:-)

    Anyways, I agree 100% with this beautiful post…

    PS – I am already on your email list and love the content 😉

  19. I disagree Chris, which might not surprise you since I wrote a post on Copyblogger that said the exact opposite and here’s why: Branding is how people perceive us. Branding is in their heads. When we publish content people begin to associate us with that topic and with time it becomes a brand. You, Sir, are a prime example, in my humble opinion. But that’s why content marketing is not an act but a habit.

    • Branding doesn’t feed me. It’s a part of the project. It’s not the end goal. If you don’t put a cash register in your well designed store, you’re out of business.

      • Of course. The main thrust of a brand is to facilitate your customer’s access to that register…part of the project as you say. A familiar buyer will have far fewer sales objections; and a company will a strong brand will have far fewer excuses from sales people.

        However, that’s a very different discussion than saying content marketing is not branding.

        I have no idea how your brand impacts your income, but when I hear the name “Chris Brogan” I think marketing guy that is all about trust. It’s a nice story that a lot of people still need to hear.

        And I’d have far easier time pitching you as a speaker to an executive team because of your brand — everybody knows you — which I believe is a result of your content.

        That’s where I’m coming from anyway — and wish you well either way.

  20. Hi Chris,
    Interesting reading–I’m going to re-read later on because it got me thinking. And I like your breakdown of different types of content on your site/newsletter/whatever.

    Also, what I enjoy about your newsletter is that it’s different every time, or it seems so (guess you’re following above model). It’s not the same type of message over and over until I say “OK I’ve got this concept, I know about this, and it’s getting boring, filling my inbox with drivel…time to unsubscribe and move on.” No, it’s always got something to think about. Plus I really (really) like the ginger/turmeric/lemon tea! Found a couple good recipes to try, too–thanks (in case anyone isn’t sure whether to sign up for your newsletter, well look! You get tea recipes. Thought I’d mention it 😀

  21. I agree with you generally but.. I think EVERYTHING is branding.. every customer touch point.. anything that builds associations, one way or another, with “the brand.”

    Another thing I’m not entirely sure on is “If you’re writing what you intend to be “content marketing,” you had better be helping your market make a decision of some kind.” In part what I’m not sure of is… when you talk about how everything is sales.. I think saying “everything is sales” is one prism you can look through.. one schema system for quantifying / making sense of reality. The problem I see is that different prisms / schema systems / ways of quantifying reality.. are better or worse at quantifying different things..

    If you think of humans as being good at recognizing patterns.. what this means is certain systems have implications in how they help you to recognize patterns.. but the system it’s self constructs a kind of reality.. so there’s an important point in here about.. what prism you should use when…

    So while it might be true that everything is sales.. and that content marketing should help a market make decisions.. this may not be the best way of looking at it in all cases.. depending on what the underlying problem is you’re trying to solve. To my mind.. this is the key question to start from… and what I feel like is.. your experience.. has certain.. statistical norms.. that are the norms of reality as you experience them.. but I think you sometimes fall to over generalizing them to a larger world.. where the underlying presumptions.. start falling away.. where they become.. not the norms for people / organizations.

    I don’t know.. that might be too abstract but… that’s kinda what I’m seeing.

  22. Pound for pound. Content marketing has to be the most effective marketing available. Unlike traditional marketing where you’re hard selling products and services, content marketing provides (or should anyway) value and useful information. With content marketing, you are building a relationship with the customer and focusing on what the customer wants instead of focusing on what you want to sell. The beautiful thing about this is that you can reach people in your niche with audio, video, and writing. I believe it will continue to be the way of marketing in the future.

  23. Spot on Chris – really enjoyed this one!

    In regards to the aforementioned Super Bowl ads, I thought it was cool that Brian and Robert were just talking about Paul Harvey in Entreproducer last week and there he was in the Dodge ‘The Farmer’ Superbowl commercial.

    Can you call a Superbowl ad native advertising?

  24. Chris,
    Loved your post.

    Back in the dark ages when I was young and he was old and he just hired me he said, “nothing happens till somebody sells something.” Now I’m old and see lots of people like I was back in the dark ages. Nothing has changed. “Nothing happens till somebody sells something.”

    P.S. My guess, if a person isn’t selling their stuff they will soon be selling the other person’s stuff.

    Did you say there was a newsletter you had?

  25. Hilarious stuff happens when you publish many posts on a single site. This post is titled “Why Content Marketing is Not Branding”. And in the Further Reading recommendations there’s a link to a post titled “Why Content Marketing is the New Branding”. Of course these are by different authors 🙂

  26. Very true Chris. There is definitely a distinction when it comes to “branding”. I’m a branding guy myself and content marketing plays into it…but it’s just a small piece. It’s what helps get people “in the door” so to speak so that everything else can do its part.

    Thanks for your thoughts. Always awesome and thought-provoking no matter where you write. 😀

  27. “Based on this great post (okay, decent post), you’re supposed to now think, “Wow, I really like what Chris had to say. I think I’ll give his newsletter a try.” Did I charge you any money? No. Did I tell you about my product or service in the body of this post? No. What I did was start what I hope to be a relationship with you and I’ve invited you to get my awesome newsletter. That’s me content marketing. Do you feel dirty? No. (You might already be dirty, but that’s awesome, and yet, not my fault.)”

    …IMO, all these outcomes are *only* possible because of the way you communicated your brand through this piece of content marketing, Chris 😉 Branding and selling aren’t necessarily separate things with separate goals in my view. Good branding gets you to the sale. Or should…

  28. Informative post Chris. Agree with you that sales and marketing are not evil and if you are not marketing your content then its not a content marketing its just writing. I want to know more about brand perspective? what it is? and what it does? will you please help me out on this?.

  29. Nice post and I like what is said here, but the title question isn’t answered in the post.It’s obvious that content isn’t branding, but they have an intertwined relationship in the new media concept.

    Content marketing is all about business and so is branding. If done right, content marketing is an important part of branding.

    And branding? It’s an important part of content marketing. Why should I trust what you have to say? Well, through content marketing you have built the Chris Brogan brand and it means something. Your brand gives credibility to your message. It puts the oomph in your message.

  30. Terrific post, and I agree with most regarding content. However sine the iPad and IPhones ones design of the website also has to play a role as visitors want to interact more online. And since Google unleashed those cuddly animals, that has done wonders in getting rid of so many useless sites. Now what will come next… the Google Piranha? Content will always now be of more value as tech savvy visitors with their digital gadgets will want quality visual experience as well.

  31. Chris, I liked how you gently added the concept of advertisements in inbound marketing. So, in your view, what’s the perfect dose of “marketing a product or service” in a blog post?
    For example, Michael Stelzner (in his “Launch”) recommends to use soft ads for several months as a part of a very involving campaign, and then quit for another 6 months. What is your vision on the matter?

  32. I am not a writer. I suck at writing. In English and en français. (Maybe I should stop saying that, it’s not helping.)
    So content marketing is a challenge. But I’m willing to learn and your awesome newsletter makes my learning easier and definitely more fun. So thank you for the laugh and valuable content marketing tips Chris.
    Can we go for a latte now?

  33. Thanks for the post. However, I have to say that I disagree with the statement in the heading and I believe it is not substantiated in the post itself. I am convinced content is useful for branding. Content marketing IMHO is actionable branding (thus the sales-connection).

    If you write consistently about your business and succeed in getting visibility for that content, it will convey the message you have chosen and thus contribute to branding. (Initially, Branding was adopted to differentiate one person’s cattle from another’s by means of a distinctive symbol burned into the animal’s skin with a hot iron stamp, and was subsequently used in business, marketing and advertising. > Wikipedia)

    Whether it is for corporate of individual branding, if done properly it contributes massively to your brand value.

  34. Content marketing has actually been around for more than a decade. Back in the day, when all we had was print, we used to call it “custom publishing.” We produced custom magazines for clients. These publications balanced storytelling (that’s not a new concept either) with a subtle sales message, but the focus was always on providing useful content to the reader. I don’t think that recipe for success has changed at all. The media are different today.

    • Content marketing goes back even further than that. In 1895, John Deere launched a magazine called The Furrow with the intent of educating farmers on technology changes. That’s the earliest example anyone seems to have found — 118 years ago!

  35. Fascinating posts (and comments)! And quite on target for where I am at the moment. I had these “dark ages” thoughts that if I shared enough, encouraged enough, blah blah blah, people would see what I had to offer and want something. The thing is, I didn’t make the connection between the marketing/sales aspect and making sure I was clear on what I offered. That is changing…and I’m getting over my admittedly horrific habit of thinking the dark ages way and embracing the content marketing aspect of education combined with selling. No purchasers makes for a VERY unhappy crew of creditors and Mama isn’t getting to enjoy the fun part of life! Thanks for sharing Chris…now off to check out your newsletter. I seriously do NOT want to serve you lattes, no matter how wonderful you are. Grin.

  36. Bah. I think drawing hard lines in the sand about what content marketing is (and isn’t) totally undermines it as a framework for digital marketing. Purpose for content pieces are critical. But everything focused on just one objective (i.e., lead generation) doesn’t build content value. Ah, but you’ll have to read the blog post below for more on that 🙂



  37. Content marketing should not be mixed with branding at any given point of time, the objective of both the activities is separate and it must be kept that way. Content marketing is just one part of branding efforts, via content marketing credibility of the brand can be built which gives a boost to branding efforts of t he company. We at Synechron takes adequate care to keep these two activities complimentary and supportive.

  38. Content marketing as I finalize my mind to say some words is to engage the people emotional to do some action call is what you want to call, and at the end to do something that they really will be happily to follow again and again, and yes follow your business, ideas, madness and at the end to make you famous, well known, money etc.

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