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Why ‘Know Your Why’ Isn’t Such Great Content Marketing Advice [Rose-Colored Glasses]



Why 'Know Your Why' Isn't Such Great Content Marketing Advice [Rose-Colored Glasses]

So many articles tout the advice to “know your why” that the phrase is now a marketing cliché. And, yup, this article will talk about that adage.

But there’s a twist. I think that advice steers content marketers wrong.

The idea of finding the “why” behind what you do caught on almost a dozen years ago due to Simon Sinek’s book (and accompanying Ted Talk) Start With Why.

From a marketing and brand lens, Sinek’s idea was simple: He claimed, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” Therefore, he suggested, brands should start their positioning with their why.

Sinek pulled back from the brand-positioning why in his second book (Find Your Why: A Practical Guide for Discovering Purpose for You and Your Team), focusing instead on how people can find their own unique purpose to motivate their actions. I believe this is the more useful purpose for his why framework.

But the approach – finding the brand’s why before creating content – stuck. Now it’s the rallying cry of many agencies and consultants in their approaches to brand storytelling.

Here’s the problem: Most likely, no one outside your brand cares about your brand’s why.

Finding your why is misguided advice for inspiring brand storytelling. The problem? No one outside your brand cares about your why, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

The challenge of why-based origin stories

Let’s be honest. Most businesses don’t start with (or stick with) some fantastic, world-changing why.

Even some of Sinek’s original examples have evolved from this approach. For example, his Ted Talk opened with Apple’s why as a success story: “In everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently.”

That statement inspired Apple’s successful Think Different campaign, which ran from 1997 to 2002.

By the time Sinek was writing his book and giving his Ted Talk in 2010, Apple had moved on to the Get A Mac campaign. These commercials featured John Hodgman personifying a PC and Justin Long as a Mac talking about how the Mac platform made things like creating photobooks and listening to music easier. Instead of focusing on Apple’s why, the ads explain how what the product does connects to why potential customers would want it.

Consider Apple’s latest ad campaign, Privacy on iPhone. It does what Sinek says every company does – it focuses on features and benefits. But here’s the difference – it explains why the customer should care (because their personal data is being sold without their knowledge). Sure, you could argue that there’s an echo of that original why statement (Apple thinks differently about personal data).

Here’s the thing. Apple didn’t create or discover its why and then decide to change its business to match it. No. It came to understand its customers’ whys for its products. Then it clarified what (emphasis intended) business it was really in (making “life stuff” easy) and how they communicate it.

Understanding your brand’s why is important. But (not to get too meta here) understanding why you need to know your customers’ why matters more for marketing and content development.

Your brand’s why matters. But understanding your customers’ why matters more for marketing and #content development, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Match your why to your customers’ why to differentiate with content

I see content and marketing practitioners trying to understand their brands’ why without connecting it to their customers’ why.

Frustration sets in when the reactions to their ideas sound like this: “But do customers want any of that?”

In other words, your brand why doesn’t matter if people don’t understand why they want or need what you offer.

Your brand’s why doesn’t matter if people don’t understand why they want what you offer, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. #ContentMarketing Click To Tweet

Businesses still struggle to create content that truly differentiates. But it’s not because they don’t understand how to discover their why. Many books and workshops exist to help brands do that. It’s because they believe the brand’s why should dictate what they do.

Your brand’s why should define why you do what you do and how it connects to things customers care about. In other words, you still must convince customers to love what you do and how you do it.

How to come up with customer whys

One of the techniques I use to go from “tactical idea” to “larger purpose” is a classic exercise built on the foundation of the 5 Whys exercise from the Six Sigma problem-solving technique.

Here’s how. Come up with content marketing ideas (in a group or by yourself). The ideas may look something like this:

  • Launch a blog to educate prospects on using the kind of product we sell.
  • Create a white paper series on the business benefits of the kind of service we provide.
  • Use a blog platform to curate news from our industry to position ourselves as thought leaders.

All of these are fun and interesting content marketing ideas. Let’s take one — the “curate news” idea —and ask why five times to get to the true purpose behind that idea and how it fits into our larger story. (By the way, this example comes from an actual workshop for a B2B company.)

Idea: Use a blog platform to curate news from our industry to position us as thought leaders.

  1. Why is curating news to position us as thought leaders important to our customers?

Answer: Because our customers will see that we have our fingers on the pulse of our business and have a point of view on the industry.

  1. Why is it important that customers see that we have our fingers on the pulse and have a point of view on the industry?

Answer: Because our customers and prospects will have more trust in what we say.

  1. Why is it important to our customers and prospects to have more trust in what we say?

Answer: Because developments in our industry are changing quickly, and our customers need a trusted partner to keep them up to date.

  1. Why do customers need a trusted partner to keep them up to date with what’s going on in the industry?

Answer: Because they are busy trying to succeed, a trusted partner can help them be informed.

  1. Why is it important for our customers’ success to be informed?

Answer: Because if they’re informed about the industry, they will be more competitive — and more successful.

Pretty cool, huh?  Within five whys, we’ve gone from a blog focused on “positioning us as thought leaders” to a blog platform that “helps our customers be more competitive and successful.”

Go back and read the answers in reverse, and you have a cool why to motivate you and your team.

You’ve probably heard the advice, “Do what you love. The money will follow.” It encapsulates why it’s important to understand your own why.

But for content creators and marketers working for a brand, I suggest this tweak: “When your audience loves what you love to do, the money will follow.”

Matching your brand’s why to your audience and customers’ why sets you on the path to convincing them to love what you love to do. And that’s how your brand will find success in whatever it loves to do.

Get Robert’s take on content marketing industry news in just three minutes: 

Subscribe to workday or weekly CMI emails to get Rose-Colored Glasses in your inbox each week.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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State of Content Marketing in 2023



State of Content Marketing in 2023

I just pressed send on the manuscript for my book to be released in September. It’s called Content Marketing Strategy (snappy, eh?), and Kogan Page will publish it.

Last week, marketing professor Philip Kotler wrote the foreword. I won’t spoil it, but he mentioned the need for a strategic approach to owned media.

He writes, “(T)he company doesn’t carry an account of showing these marketing assets and their value. As a result, the company cannot show the CEO and company board members a return on owned assets or content.”

Luckily, my upcoming book shows exactly how to do that. Funny how that works out.

In any event, all this struck me that now is an opportune time to look at where the beloved practice of content marketing stands today.

First, let’s go back to 1999 when Kotler published Kotler On Marketing, one of his more than 70 books. The latter 1990s – a time of tumultuous change – fueled most of the thinking for the book. But he knew that it was merely the beginning.

Kotler concluded the book with a section called “Transformational Marketing.”  In the next decade, he wrote, “marketing will be re-engineered from A to Z. Marketing will need to rethink fundamentally the processes by which they identify, communicate, and deliver customer value.”

Well, it’s taken over two decades, but it’s finally happening.

Consumers have changed, but marketing operations are just starting to

In case you didn’t notice, almost every marketing conference these days starts with the same four or five requisite slides:

  • Digital technologies, such as search and social media, empower consumers today.
  • Consumers research, engage, buy, and stay loyal to brands in ways that have fundamentally changed.
  • First-party data and privacy are of the utmost importance.
  • Artificial intelligence begins to threaten the idea of the usefulness of search and pressure companies to deliver better and more personalized experiences.

You get it. Consumer expectations in the age of the social, mobile, and AI-driven web are different than they were.

However, the continuing challenge in 2023 is that content and/or marketing operations in enterprise companies are only beginning to evolve. Most marketing departments have remained as they were when Kotler wrote his book — they still work from mid- to late-20th century hierarchies, strategies, and processes.

Most marketing departments still work with mid- to late-20th-century hierarchies, strategies, and processes, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Content marketing isn’t new, but a content marketing strategy is

For hundreds of years, businesses have used content to affect some kind of profitable outcome. But the reality is this: Whether it was John Deere’s The Furrow from the 1800s, Michelin’s guide to car maintenance in the early 1900s, or even Hasbro’s GI-Joe partnership with Marvel in the 1980s, content was not — and is not for the most part now — a scalable, repeatable practice within the function of marketing. In short, companies almost always treat content marketing as a project, not a process.

That fundamental change will finally take hold in 2023. It could happen because of the digital disruption and ease by which you can now publish and distribute content to aggregate your own audiences. It could happen through the natural evolution that the ultimate outcome – more than the marketing – matters more.

As we roll through 2023 and beyond, content — and the exponentially increasing quantities of it produced by every organization — deeply affects not just your marketing strategy, but your business strategy. Content in marketing is now bigger than simply content marketing, and it should be dealt with as a component of that business strategy throughout the enterprise.

#Content in marketing is bigger than #ContentMarketing. Treat it as a component of the business strategy, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

In 2023, the No. 1 focus of my consulting and advisory practice these days: help companies transform content into a repeatable, scalable, and measurable function that drives value through a multi-channel strategy. It’s bigger than publishing a blog, creating a lead-generating resource center, or sending an email newsletter. Today’s content marketing team is being absorbed into marketing because marketing and its various operations are fundamentally transforming into a content-producing machine.

It is not good enough to produce content “like a media company would.” The goal must be to operate as a media company does. Your job is not to change content to fit new marketing goals. Rather, your job in 2023 is to change marketing to fit the new business content goals.

Your job in 2023 is to change #marketing to fit the new business #content goals, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

The unaware builds a case for the aware

The term “content marketing” continues to evolve. Even today, I run across those who still call it “brand publishing,” “custom content,” or “inbound marketing.”

My take matches with what Kotler described in 1999. I always thought the term “content marketing” would become part of “marketing” more broadly. In 2023, that happened. So, returning to the lexiconic debates of 2013, 2014, or 2015 doesn’t seem terribly productive. Content marketing is just good marketing, and marketing is just good content marketing.

That said, two kinds of companies do well at the broader view of content marketing. Some of them, such as Cleveland Clinic, Red Bull, Arrow Electronics, HubSpot, and REI, have purposely devised content marketing strategies as differentiating approaches to their marketing. They are succeeding.

Others, like Amazon, Microsoft, JPMorgan Chase, and Peloton, backed into a smart content marketing strategy. But executives at those companies probably don’t recognize it as such. If asked (and some have been), they would say acquiring or launching a media company operation was just a smart business strategy to diversify their ability to reach their consumers consistently.

They’re right, of course. Many have yet to read books about content marketing, been influenced by the Content Marketing Institute, or even recognize content marketing as a separate approach (as far as I know). And they are also succeeding.

Consider this proof: As I write this article, six companies have a market capitalization of more than $1 trillion. Four of the six wholly or partially use the business model of media creation to further marketing and business strategies. Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet, and Amazon are all, in part, media companies that also sell products and services.

Why would you not avail yourself of that same model?

The future looks cloudy and bright

As for the overall state of enterprise content marketing, it’s in transition, as all marketing is. As a focused project-based approach, working in ad-hoc ways across a business, content marketing appears to have proven its worth. Hundreds of entries every year to the Content Marketing Awards feature myriad case studies using content marketing techniques in strategic ways to profitably affect business results.

And yet, it remains to be seen whether you can make content marketing a scalable, repeatable, measurable function within marketing.

As to what the discipline’s future holds? At last year’s Content Marketing World, one of my favorite events, the Executive Forum gathered senior leaders from brands succeeding with content marketing. As we talked about the future, one participant said: “The only certainty is change. I can’t tell you where or when, but I do know there will be change, and this is the principle we build on now.”

As for my take, Kotler’s idea of transforming the marketing function seems to have gotten lost along the digital road traveled by marketers. In so many cases, marketing – and especially content – remains just an on-demand service function within the business. Its sole job is to produce ever more voluminous amounts of content that describe the value of the brand (or its products or services) so that sales can sell more efficiently, customer support can serve more effectively, and all manner of customer interfaces are more beneficial to both sides.

However, and maybe because I need to rationalize now that my book is finished, I passionately believe it’s finally time for marketing to reclaim its ability to create value — not just reflect it in the polished shine of your traditional products and services.

Almost 27 years ago today, Microsoft founder Bill Gates wrote an essay called Content is King. In it, he said that “(C)ontent is where I expect much of the real money will be made on the Internet, just as it was in broadcasting.”

It certainly was one of his more prescient moments. Nearly three decades later, his words have proven true. The essay title has become the rallying cry for thousands and thousands of entrepreneurs who now make their living on creating, managing, optimizing, and measuring content on the internet. (A Google search for “content is king” nets more than 1.7 million results.)

But it’s the last line of his essay that I find the most visionary: “(T)hose who succeed will propel the Internet forward as a marketplace of ideas, experiences, and products – a marketplace of content.”

That’s what content marketing is for me in 2023. It’s just marketing – optimizing the value of ideas, experiences, and products in a marketplace of content.

Time to get to work.

It’s your story. Tell it well.

Get Robert’s take on content marketing industry news in just five minutes:

Watch previous episodes or read the lightly edited transcripts.

Subscribe to workday or weekly CMI emails to get Rose-Colored Glasses in your inbox each week. 


Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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27 Best About Us and About Me Page Examples [+Templates]



Your about page summarizes your history, values, and mission — all in one place. That’s a tall order for just a few paragraphs. If you’re feeling stuck, turn to these about-page examples for inspiration. 

about us page example: laptop held in palm of hand


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MarTech’s marketing operations experts to follow



MarTech's marketing operations experts to follow

Marketing operations is what makes the magic happen. These are the folks who see that your martech stack doesn’t get stuck. They are the maestros, modelers and makers who make sure the trains run, the data is digestible and that you have the programs you need. Where would we be without them? That’s too scary to think about. Here’s our list of MOps experts who have the ear of the profession.

Darrell Alfonso

Darrell is director of marketing strategy & operations at Indeed and the former global marketing ops leader for AWS. He’s the author of “The Martech Handbook: Build a Technology Stack to Acquire and Retain Customers.” In addition to speaking at many conferences, Darrell was named one of the Top Marketers in the US by Propolis 2022 and among the “Top Martech Marketers to Follow” in 2020 by Martech Alliance. He’s a regular and popular contributor both to MarTech and the MarTech conference; you can find all of his articles at this link.

Eddie Reynolds

Eddie has been in business a long time, starting his first company when he was 14. “A pretty minimal enterprise,” he told one interviewer. “I had a tax ID number, a legal entity, and a company name. I even had the IRS coming after my dad for sales tax that I failed to report properly.” Today he is CEO and revenue operations strategy consultant of Union Square Consulting. He publishes The RevOps Weekly Newsletter and the podcast RevOps Corner. Eddie’s large LinkedIn following attests to the quality of the insights he shares there on  sales, marketing, service, and admin roles. 

Sara McNamara

Sara is an award-winning marketing and sales operations professional whose work has been recognized by awards from the likes of Salesforce (Pardot), Adobe (Marketo), Drift, and LeanData. She is a Senior Manager, Marketing Operations at Slack and a martech stack (+ strategy) solution architect. That and her passion for leveraging technology and processes to improve the experiences of marketers, sales professionals, and prospects, explains why she’s a regular guest on MOps podcasts.

Ali Schwanke

Ali is the CEO and founder of Simple Strat. The firm specializes in helping companies get the most out of HubSpot — from CRM strategy and setup to marketing automation and content creation. She is also host of HubSpot Hacks, “the #1 Unofficial YouTube show for HubSpot Tutorials” and has been a guest speaker at the MarTech conference.

Mike Rizzo

Mike’s career in marketing operations showed him that there is a real and significant MOps community. That’s why he founded MO Pros/, the fast-growing online community for people in marketing operations. He is also co-host of Ops Cast, a weekly podcast. 

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About the author

Constantine von Hoffman

Constantine von Hoffman is managing editor of MarTech. A veteran journalist, Con has covered business, finance, marketing and tech for, Brandweek, CMO, and Inc. He has been city editor of the Boston Herald, news producer at NPR, and has written for Harvard Business Review, Boston Magazine, Sierra, and many other publications. He has also been a professional stand-up comedian, given talks at anime and gaming conventions on everything from My Neighbor Totoro to the history of dice and boardgames, and is author of the magical realist novel John Henry the Revelator. He lives in Boston with his wife, Jennifer, and either too many or too few dogs.

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