Confession time: I am a content marketer who hates the term “content marketing.”

In case you’re wondering, I’m not some sort of self-loathing head case (I’ve got other issues to address during my therapy sessions). No, I object to content marketing as a term for reasons I believe to be very rational:

  1. The practice of content marketing has existed for hundreds of years, going back as far as Benjamin Franklin and Poor Richard’s Almanack. But the term itself was only coined in 2001 (by custom publisher Penton, since acquired by Informa). And it’s only become widely used in the last 10 years or so. Why? The rise of smartphones, social media and widespread connectivity means that we can’t tear ourselves away from our devices and we’re constantly seeking out new information and entertainment. And brands feel the need to feed the beast.
  2. Content is and always has been an essential component of marketing—not some niche pursuit. Brands use content to provide value to their audiences with the goals of generating awareness, nurturing consideration and driving purchases. Depending on the brand and where the prospect is in his or her buying journey, content of “value” can take many different forms.
  3. Our insatiable demand for cheap content has spurred the growth of content farms churning out low-quality content for content’s sake. The result? “Content marketing” no longer does justice to the people and organizations who really make the investment to produce smart, well-researched, genuinely valuable reading. Think about it in terms of clichés: Sayings that were once rooted in truth and held power have now been diluted from overuse. “Content marketing” now earns the same eye-rolls as “don’t cry over spilled milk” and “laughter is the best medicine.”
  4. All too often, content is viewed in a vacuum—strategy, execution and activation are lost in the equation. With the volume of content out there, it’s unlikely someone is just going to happen upon yours. You need to know how to pull the levers to ensure it reaches the right audience and drives the results you need.

So. Now that I’ve gotten all of this off my chest, you may be wondering what term I propose instead of “content marketing.”

And to that I say: none. Why replace one buzzword with another? That will just alienate the people you’re trying to influence. Either they won’t understand what you’re saying, they’ll think you’re pretentious for saying it, or they’ll assume you’re just trying to raise your search rankings. Worse, they might just write you off as inauthentic and desperate to align yourself with a trend rather than communicate in a way that’s true to your brand.

Ultimately, buzzwords are like costumes that you can try on to make yourself feel smart and fit it, but they obscure your real identity—which is what’s really going to help you win customers and then advocates. It’s better to stand out, with plain language that reveals what you’re all about.

Want to learn how a bunch of word nerds can help you to authentically connect with your target audience? Let’s start a conversation.

Buzzwords are like costumes that you can try on to make yourself feel smart and fit it, but they obscure your real identity.

About the Author

Erin Engstrom

Senior Storyteller

Erin traded journalism for marketing some time ago and hasn’t looked back, enjoying the challenge of melding strategy and creative to solve clients’ business needs. She thinks about the Dorothy Parker quote “I hate writing, I love having written” almost daily, because sometimes it is about the destination.