The Three Content Marketing Chasms and What It Takes to Cross Them

A content marketing chasm is a gap between two content marketing levels which you must figure out how to cross in order to experience better returns from your content creation efforts. In this article, we discuss the four main ways companies learn to cross the chasms.

Last updated: March 29th 2019

(This article is part 4 of the Content Marketing Strategy for Absolute Beginners article series.)

Where there are content marketing levels, there will be content marketing chasms. A content marketing chasm is a gap between levels which you must cross to advance to a more sophisticated level of practicing content marketing. The higher the level, the better the results you get from content marketing.

How Many Companies Are There on Each Level?

In 2015 we researched 189 B2B companies to see how sophisticated their website content was, and then we revisited those same companies in 2019 for the purposes of this article. We discovered that the actual distribution of companies across the four levels was quite close to our guesstimate:

Four Levels of Content Marketing Mastery: the Chart

  1. 38.0% of companies are on pre-content level: they're not producing any content at all
  2. 53.2% of companies are on beginner level: they're publishing mostly corporate news
  3. 8.7% of companies are on intermediate level: they're regularly publishing educational content
  4. Close to 0% of companies are on advanced level: they're regularly creating helpful tools and advanced business opportunities

(In case you missed it, learn about the differences between the four content marketing levels.)

A noticeable number of companies on beginner and intermediate levels started and then abandoned publishing content. We downgraded their status one level because content marketing requires consistency.

A company or two showed glimpses of thinking on an advanced level: they were creating helpful apps and tools. However, those tools were exceptions rather than a rule: they did not show any sign of consistent production of educational or helpful content. One app does not advanced content marketing make.

The Three Chasms and How Difficult It Is to Cross Them

Take one more look at the above chart. There are three distinctive chasms dividing the four content marketing levels:

  1. The chasm from pre-content to beginner (becoming a publishing company): NOT TOO DIFFICULT to cross (more than half of companies made it)
  2. The chasm from beginner to intermediate (becoming a teaching company): VERY DIFFICULT to cross (only 8.2% of companies made it)
  3. The chasm from intermediate to advanced (becoming a helping company): EXTREMELY DIFFICULT to cross (no company in my sample made it)

Initially, we were wrong about the chasms: we thought that chasms shrink with practice, but they don't. If they did, the data would show a growing percentage of companies on higher levels. It's the other way around: the easiest chasm to cross is chasm #1, from pre-content to beginner.

We were wrong because our experience in other areas tells us that once you adopt the right mindset and acquire enough skills, it's easier to tackle a greater number of harder tasks. Not so with content marketing. What does shrink with practice is fear and lack of skills, but that's not enough to cross the second and the third chasm.

What Companies Do to Cross the Chasms

"How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, man, practice." ~ unknown

Companies usually progress to the next level by:

  • Adopting a different mindset about content
  • Dedicating more resources to content creation
  • Practicing to acquire solid content creation skills
  • Becoming more strategic about content marketing

To join beginners who are training to become publishers, the executives in your company must embrace that content marketing is a thing, understand the value of publishing online, and dedicate some resources to start your content machine.

To join intermediate marketers who are training to become teachers, a significant change in mindset about content is necessary, combined with solid content creation skills. Fewer than 1 in 10 companies manage to cross this chasm and stay on intermediate level. You must realize that publishing corporate news isn't enough to compete because even your smallest competitors can outcompete you online by publishing educational content. Once you adopt the teaching mindset, the rest is a matter of honing your content writing skills and maintaining a regular publishing schedule. Solid skills and regular schedule, however, require increased resources and a budget planned in advance.

To join the advanced content marketers' club where interactive, complex content and tools are produced, first you must think more strategically about content marketing, and then set aside a serious annual budget. You'll want to attract innovative thinkers to your team, grow your content creation capacity, pay designers and developers to build unique content, hire community builders to create content for your branded social channels, and embed all of this into your overall marketing strategy.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Forget about the advanced level. Very few companies have enough resources to play and stay on this level.

Don't skip the beginner level. Learn what it takes to publish anything regularly.

Your goal should be to one day become a true teaching company. Intermediate level is achieavable for most mature companies, and content marketing ROI is sufficiently high on this level to make it worth your while. It is the proverbial Moon you should be aiming for in order to occasionally hit a star, all while keeping your feet firmly on the ground.

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