A Message to Inbound & Content Marketing Execs From the Trenches: We Don't Care What We Call It

Someday in my career, I hope to work my way up to the top of my field, whether as an executive, a founder, or a trusted leader with valuable insights into the business world around me.


But I’m not there yet. So while I can’t suppose to know what goes through the mind of a CMO or one of those Twitter-famous people, I can with certainty speak to what it’s like to practice marketing in the trenches. I’ve been there. I am there. And I’ve dug around in the mud of these trenches to pull out a message to you, the thought leader-slash-columnist-slash-guru-slash-level five ninja wizard warrior. It reads as follows (clears throat)...

Dear Inbound or Content Marketing Leader:

We don’t actually care what we call the type of marketing we do.

Love, 
Your Frontline Marketers

PS: Send more budget. 


If you work in the online marketing world, then you’ve almost certainly heard the debate raging at the top of our industry. One company or pundit calls this modern style of marketing one thing, the other refutes it, a third invents an entirely new term, and so on. Most recently, we’ve seen this post by HubSpot wherein survey responses identified inbound marketing as a broader umbrella that includes content marketing, along with things like freemium products, free apps/tools, technical SEO, and more (and hat tip to Joe Chernov's spot-on concluding sentiment in that post).

So ... are they right? Maybe. They hire very smart people over there. Handsome, too. (Okay, so they hired me before — I couldn’t resist.)

But seriously, are they right?

Is this stuff called inbound marketing? Is it content marketing? Does one roll up underneath the other? Do they sit next to each other with some overlap? Are they enemies? Are they friends? Do they get coffee on weekends? Does one take the other out to a nice fish dinner but never call them again?

Answer: I don’t know. I don’t CARE. I have work to do. I have a business to grow. I have a career to build.

So, while I personally say "content marketing,” without any thought as to why or whether it matters, I will hereby and for the rest of this blog post call it Marketing Wherein You Create Content and Other Things People Volunteer to Consume Instead of Spamming Them with Me-First Messages (or MWYCCAOTPVTCIOSTWMFM).

Who else is super excited about the future of MWYCCAOTPVTCIOSTWMFM?

Look, I get it: Labeling things is human, conveys meaning, and furthers agendas.

Owning keywords and memes that you can promote in order to win fans and customers is important. I get it. I really, really do.

I also completely understand the need to sell stuff as a vendor or service provider in the MWYCCAOTPVTCIOSTWMFM industry. Logically, the more people who use your terminology and view the world the same way as you, the more people you’ll be able to sell and upsell and cross-sell and all the various directions of selling that ultimately lead to way more customers and revenue and a solution to world hunger.

(Ah, that’s right — we aren’t solving world hunger. We do marketing. Anyways, back to my very important rant about very important terms that address very important world problems…)

As someone who PRACTICES marketing, the label of what I do is actually rather unimportant to me. Maybe I’m alone in that, but I think I speak for at least some of us frontline marketers. And it seems as if this debate, while entertaining at times, is starting to get completely unproductive for individuals in the field. It’s also rather like watching a bunch of ants play tug of war with a dead caterpillar. Yes, to them, it’s the most meaningful thing on earth. But to everyone else? ...

Now, as a MWYCCAOTPVTCIOSTWMFM marketer, I must always include a list in my blog posts, so here are just a few reasons that this debate is rather sillypants:

1. Because good marketers are focused on goals and hit those goals regardless of the tech, tactic, or terminology.

My goals drive everything that I do, whether it’s personal or professional. And my/our goals don’t change one iota if we call something X instead of Y.

Even more importantly, if something you call X yields really great results, great! I’ll try X. And if another tactic or strategy is defined by some organization as part of Marketing Philosophy Y, that’s fine too! All I care about is that it works and helps me serve my audience better.

2. Because many marketers aren’t actually that new to this anymore. They’ve moved past the point where broad definitions matter.

We’re getting well beyond the days where digital and social and content and inbound and (you get the idea) are new concepts to most marketers. Yes, defining and labeling this notion of MWYCCAOTPVTCIOSTWMFM is important to educate a relatively uninformed, late-adopter audience today, but the industry now includes a large group of online marketers who were early or mainstream adopters and have been doing this for multiple years now. We’ve been successfully educated, and now we want to know how to improve our work and grow our careers.

3. Because it’s better to think of yourself based on your output rather than title anyway.

Now, I don’t mean job titles aren’t important. They’re very important, since they’re often your personal headline to others and can instill you with a sense of pride in your work. They’re also often a proxy for your compensation. Instead, what I mean is that you should promote your superpower and how you’ll help a business, rather than trumpet your title.

This is how you sell products too: Nobody buys a better pillow; they buy a better night’s sleep. So at least personally, I’d rather position myself as someone who can build your company an audience to convert rather than claim to be a “content marketer” or “inbound marketer” or “Jargon Jay” … which, let’s face it, is all non-marketers hear when most of us speak anyway.

4. Because the debate has been raging for years, and we’re still no better off. Why continue?

Marcus Sheridan wrote this post in 2011, which is like a billion years ago in internet time. (I love that he titled his final section, “Semantics Are Stupid.”) Dozens have been published since, and still another one appeared more recently on Business2Community. In this particular article, there are over TWELVE HUNDRED WORDS dissecting inbound and content before the post finally, mercifully ends by asking the right question, the question that we should be asking well before the end of any post on the debate: “What Does This Mean for My Company?”

And isn’t that a hugely troubling sign? Why is that buried? Why do we spend so much time debating semantics when, in reality, all that matters is that question? "How does this matter to my business? To my customers?"

(As a quick aside, I’m also kind of miffed that nobody is mentioning MWYCCAOTPVTCIOSTWMFM as a viable term to replace inbound and content. That's why I'm excited to announce #MWYCCAOTPVTCIOSTWMFM Conference -- to be held September 8-11, 2015! Because I guess that's the only time you can hold marketing conferences in 2015...)

And now, as I start to hyperventilate just a bit, I need to go outside and look at some trees to remind me that life’s gonna be okay.

I’ll wrap up this post here and leave myself open to whatever criticism the intertubes float my way, should someone happen upon my little blog and disagree. But I’d wager I have some support out there too, and if that’s you, please visit me in Twitter Town, USA.

My final message is simple and actually more of a plea, with palms open and heart all aflutter with a bizarre fondness for this industry niche I call home: It’s high time to stop all this useless, self-important, echo-chambery dialogue once and for all and instead work on being better teachers who are refreshingly creative and genuinely, consistently helpful. THAT is what actually matters. THAT is the type of marketing we practice.

So, can we please, please stop with all our navel-gazing? Because unless you found a bunch of subscribers down there, I’ve got work to do.

Posted on September 29, 2014 and filed under content marketing, business.