5 questions with Joe Pulizzi: the problem of unused content

We asked the godfather of content marketing to shed some light on a baffling industry statistic: why does up to 80% of B2B marketing content go unused?

5 questions with Joe Pulizzi: the problem of unused content

Marketers: have you ever paid a writer to produce a blog post, or an ebook, or a white paper… and then never used it? Even though it was perfectly serviceable and totally met your brief?

If so, you’re not alone. Far, far from it. As we discussed in our latest podcast, the stats about the amount of content that goes unused in B2B are, frankly, staggering.

  • In 2013, SiriusDecisions were the first to point out the elephant behind the sofa, infamously claiming that 60-70% of B2B marketing content doesn’t get used.
  • When Newscred’s Michael Brenner was working at SAP, he once discovered that 60% of marketing content produced for a single product had never been used.
  • And at a Forrester Sales Enablement Forum in 2015, GE Healthcare’s head of Marketing Operations apparently admitted: “82% of the content we’ve created has never been used.”

A massive waste of time and money?

It’s hard to put a figure on how much money is being wasted here, but Munya Hoto, SVP of marketing at content intelligence company idio, has had a go. He estimates that in 2014, globally, $50 billion (out of a total spend of $272 billion) was wasted on unused, B2B marketing content.

That’s a lot of wasted money, and a lot of wasted time. So what exactly is going on?

As copywriters working with many B2B tech brands, we regularly get a ringside view of content waste. A lot of the stuff we write – and clients pay for – just doesn’t see the light of day.

And not because we do a bad job, I hasten to add. Rather, there seem to be myriad things behind the scenes that conspire to prevent our lovingly crafted work from ever getting in front of its intended audience.

Joe Pulizzi has some answers

It’s frustrating as hell, and we wanted someone in the know to shed some light on the problem. So we put five burning questions to the one person who surely knows more than any other about content marketing, the Content Marketing Institute’s Joe Pulizzi.

Here are his insights:

Radix: We’ve seen stats suggesting 60-70% of content goes unused. Does that match your experience?

Joe Pulizzi: I’ve seen this statistic many times.  Sure, this is true in some organizations, but it’s also true for most content creators.  Raw content needs to be edited.  Some is used and some never should be.  I think the right number should be much less than 60%, but look at any movie or book that is created…the majority of content goes unused.  This is just part of the creative process.

Radix: What could stop a content asset seeing the light of day?

Joe: Outside of pure editing, there is much brand content that revolves around what the brand wants to say.  Much of that content should never be used.  It’s not about what we WANT to say…it’s about what our audience NEEDS to hear.  Often times content is created in an organization and we think there is a great reason for it, but as it moves closer to the audience we realize that it really services no audience purpose.

Radix: What’s the most bizarre reason you’ve seen or heard of for a piece of content not being used?

Joe: That a similar one has already been created.  This happens all the time and it saddens me.

Radix:  What can writers do to ensure that they’re creating a piece of content that will get used?

Joe: Make sure it’s part of the overall content marketing strategy.  Make sure it’s completely focused on the needs of the audience.  Make sure that it fills a current content gap.

Radix: What can marketers do to make sure they get the most from every piece of content?

Joe: Plan what you are going to use it for ahead of time.  Most brands don’t do this to be honest.

4 things that will make your content more usable

So there you have it: if you want your content piece to be used, make sure you can put a big tick against these four things:

  1. You know in advance how it will be used
  2. It says something your audience needs to hear
  3. You don’t already have something like it
  4. It fits with your content marketing strategy

And if you find you still have content going to waste: maybe stop stressing so much? Having stuff end up on the cutting room floor is all part of the creative process – filtering out the less good so that only the best stuff makes the final cut.

With many thanks to Joe for taking the time to reply to our questions, and for his eminently practical and sensible advice. Thanks Joe!

Make the most of your content

If you want B2B content that your audience wants to engage with – get in touch.


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