How The Content Illusion Is Leading Marketing Astray In The Era Of Digital Transformation


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Illustration by Hea Poh Lin

In the past five years, the often-unquestioned hymnal has been that to succeed in today’s digital world, businesses must produce content.  Produce high-quality content, yes.  But, produce massive amounts of it to get in front of customers.

According to various statistics on the Internet, we are living in a world where every minute over 200 million items of online content is produced.  Where nearly 1500 blog posts are posted every minute.  Whereby over 200 million email message are sent every minute.  The amount of content exploding online is staggering.  Leaving the content dilemma facing many organizations – how to stand out?  How to cut through the clutter and differentiate?

Depending on which statistics you read, the common thread in the past few years has been that content marketing effectiveness has been declining.  The main contributing factor, as I see from working with organizations over the past two years, is organizations are working under a grand illusion that putting “content in front of people” is the only way to succeed in today’s business climate.

To me, that is what content marketing can become for some organizations.   A grand illusion bought into and often promoted as an unquestioned element of marketing.

Why An Illusion

In my previous article entitled Rethinking Buyer Personas In An Era Of Digital Transformation, I noted that digital interaction will matter more than content.  Whereby companies were beginning to feel the effect of attempts to grow through content without first attending to the heart of the matter: designing digital interactions, environments, and systems.

The illusion being that by consistently putting “content in front of people”, the company will grow from resulting leads generated by its content.  Illusions tend to create cyclical behaviors.  One of those is –  the more something remains elusive, the frequency of trying to obtain what is elusive increases.  In this case, the more content marketing effectiveness remains elusive, the amount of content to put in front of people is increased.

Creating a cycle, we can call The Content illusion.


This cyclical illusion is misguiding marketing and executive leaders in several ways.  Cumulatively, having a detrimental effect on the ability of marketing to succeed in an era of digital transformation and creating digital experiences.  Here are a few ways The Content Illusion is causing misguidance:

1 – Designing Digital Interaction

The focus on content has led organizations to take their eyes off of what is happening in the digital world.  People, in business and consumerism, are seeking interaction.  Technologies are enabling interactions.  Yet, many companies have not devoted resources to developing digital environments that foster interactions or interactive digital experiences.  Giving customers the ability to download content is not in of itself interaction or a digital experience.

2 – Broadcasting Mentality

Remember the buzz about how content marketing should create departments of ex- journalists?  This thought process led to misguidance where content is viewed as broadcasting information out to markets and customers.  Yes, the quality of the content may have increased.  Yet, it is still very much a broadcasting mentality.  Following a traditional newspaper distribution mentality.  Inadvertently leading to even more content being produced to meet this broadcasting mindset and expectations.

3 – Personas Are Not About Content

For someone like me, who has been involved with personas since their origins, this has been a source of disappointment.  I am speaking about how personas (buyer personas in particular) are often positioned as “profiles” to determine what people will read and where their “waterholes” are.  Personas, in this case, being misguided by The Content Illusion.  With the purpose of personas being to figure out how to get content in front of customers.  This includes focusing on facts versus insights.  We can call them argumentative facts related to buying criteria, initiatives, risks, and etc. that are used to produce content with the intent to make a case of “we are one better.”  Offering no real substantive insights.

4 – The Customer Journey Is Not The Content Journey

The term customer journey has come into vogue.  First introduced in the late 1990’s, it is floating back into the vocabulary of business and marketing.  However, The Content Illusion is misguiding its use to focus on the when and where of putting content in front of people.  Misguiding marketing to believing the customer journey is a content journey.  Combined with a broadcast mentality, this has led to organizations believing they must produce a baffling amount of content for each stage of a customer journey.  I have seen companies produce upwards of 70 and higher pieces of content for a customer journey led astray towards an inside-out content journey.  Out of touch with a customer journey mapping exercise, when done correctly, designed to improve interactions and experiences.

 Interactions and Connections Should Drive Content In A Digital World

What should then organizations be guided by when it comes to the dilemma of how to use content effectively?  A running theme corded through what is mentioned above is to transition away from a broadcasting mentality.  Even efforts in personalization are victim to this mentality.   Whereby personalization becomes about refining the ability to “put content in front” of people.

When you start to think of content in terms of contextual interactions that enable people to connect, it changes how you approach the content dilemma facing may organizations.  Putting the focus first on understanding how people (customers, users, and buyers) interact and have goals to connect with each other, it then helps to view content in terms of how it enables.  Not in terms of how content is in “front” of customers.

What happens when you make content the focal point of “putting in front”, you are obscured from seeing the true potential for interactions and connections now possible in a digital transformation world.  You are left with an illusion that does not exist versus a new world based on digital realities.

(Scott Allen of Intel offers us a brief but concise perspective on – what exactly does digital transformation mean?  And, how digital transformation begins with strategy.  We are seeing many organizations equivocating content marketing with digital transformation.  This is truly a Content Illusion if your organization is doing so.)


Article by Tony Zambito

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Tony Zambito
Tony is the founder and leading authority in buyer insights for B2B Marketing and Sales. In 2001, Tony founded the concept of "buyer persona" and established the first buyer persona development methodology. This innovation has helped leading companies gain a deeper understanding of their buyers resulting in revenue performance. Tony has empowered Fortune 100 organizations with operationalizing buyer personas to communicate deep buyer insights that tell the story of their buyer. He holds a B.S. in Business and an M.B.A. in Marketing Management.


  1. Great piece, Tony. In the headlong pursuit of information, we sometimes forget the customer wants an emotional connection. And, while I can always curl up with a good book (content), what builds loyalty is the valued engagement with other humans. The concept of a service experience is enriched if it is not a solo act that only touches my brain but is also a collective act that touches my heart.

    By the way, customer journey mapping was first introduced in the 1980’s. Called “Cycle of Service” and “Moments of Truth”, it developed first by my former partner, the late Ron Zemke in his 1985 bestselling book Service America! and further developed in his 1989 bestselling book The Service Edge.

  2. Every ‘holy grail’ approach to communication and marketing – those techniques touted as a fool-proof approach for moving Suspects to Prospects to First-Time Customers to Loyal Customers – reach a stage of declining effectiveness. In marketing and CX, there is nothing permanent except change. Tsunami-type and grenade-type content is not exempt from this tend, and has fallen victim to it.

    Largely agree with the points you’ve made, but properly prepared, targeted, and timed content doesn’t have to be an illusion if more strategic thinking is applied. Having observed the impact digital transformation is having in industries like financial services (, I’d support your view that stakeholder interaction and connection should be driving re-imagined content design and usage in a digital world. With refinement, content can still be an effective tool,

    The role of content in marketing and other stakeholder communication has matured. It’s time to approach content in a mature, real-world manner.

  3. Hello Chip,

    Thank you for your kind commenting. I agree that the challenge today is how to make an emotional connection. I like the “collective act” term very much. Digital experiences are now allowing for such – but – marketing needs to move on from the broadcasting mentality. And yes, I need to correct that to ready late 1980’s – not 1990’s!


  4. Hello Mitch,

    Thank you for your always insightful comments. I like your perspective on declining effective and the tendency to engage in Tsunami-type content marketing. I agree it is time to approach content in a mature manner – especially as we face challenges related to digital transformation.



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