Getting to grips with content marketing can be traumatic. Learn to recognise where your client is in the process with this handy guide. 

The passing of a close friend is an intensely difficult time. And the demise of traditional ‘push’ marketing, for some firms, has been almost too much to take. For the agencies and freelancers who care for them, the first step towards helping is understanding. 

Fortunately, psychologists have identified five stages through which grieving companies pass on the road to a more enlightened, content-driven marketing strategy.

Learning to recognise and respect these stages is the key to helping our clients make real, positive progress.  \


At the first stage, denial, the firm refuses to accept that anything has changed. Symptoms include persisting with an utterly generic brochure site, coupled with a stubborn refusal to think about the customer’s buying process, the online user experience or the types of value that customers might want around a product.

Addiction to PPC advertising, which can help to mask the symptoms, is very common. 


The second stage, anger, is often triggered by the intervention of a consultant or agency. The empirical observation that the firm’s marketing strategy is delivering no discernible return on investment typically generates a furious reaction.

The subsequent realisation that substantial additional resources will be required can intensify these feelings. This stage can take some time to pass. 


The third stage is characterised by bargaining. The client may accept that they have to use social-media channels, but maintain that company-centric announcements or product promotion is the way to go.

They may start working with a copywriter, but insist that they insert words such as ‘solution’, ‘implement’ and ‘leverage’. Clinging to clunky, unoriginal taglines is also very common. Compromised commitment brings compromised results, but the patient must be allowed to work through this stage in their own time. 


This is very often initiated by taking an honest look at competitor activity. The realisation that online profile cannot be bought and installed like a photocopier is profoundly dispiriting.

At this stage, the directors of 50-strong companies finally comprehend, with an awful sinking feeling, that a one-man competitor round the corner has been using content marketing for the last five years, developing an SEO or social-media lead that will be impossible to overtake. 


Finally, we arrive at acceptance. The necessary attitude here is best summed up by the Zen proverb: ‘The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second-best time is now’. 

Everyone has to start somewhere, and the most important thing is just to start. Content marketing is like climbing a hill – the further you go, the more paths you can see. Every brand has a story to tell. 


Published 13 June, 2011 by Tom Albrighton

Tom Albrighton is a copywriter and contributor to Econsultancy. He blogs here and tweets here. You can also add Tom to your Google+ circles. 

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Comments (5)


Nick Stamoulis

Great way to look at it! I have plenty of clients that still balk at operating a company blog, even when the benefits are looking them right in the face! Content marketing is only going to get more important for online marketing. As SEO professionals, we have to guide our clients through the process and into acceptance.

about 7 years ago


Adhere Creative

This is an awesome description of the problem. Like Nick, I am amazed by the companies that think that a blog is some "small time" marketing activity for the little guy. Part of our role as professional marketers is education. You hit the nail on the head with this one. Tomorrow we are posting "What is Content Marketing?" on our blog for the companies that "just don't see the value". If you get a chance give it a look. Thanks for this entertaining post!

about 7 years ago


Heather Feagain

This is one of the best written pieces I have viewed in awhile. Your witty style and ease of understanding really make this article both entertaining and an informative piece from start to finish. Blogs should be fun and this is fun. I appreciate you taking the time to take something that could be boring and leave me wanting more. Very well done, Thanks.

about 7 years ago

Andrew Davies

Andrew Davies, Director at Idio

"The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second-best time is now."

I'll be using that again ;)

about 7 years ago



The same situation befalls companies that refuse to believe that proper branding is worth anything. That's why they refuse to pay a designer what they are actually worth.

about 7 years ago

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