The Reality as to Why Most Big Brands Stink at Content Marketing

by Marcus Sheridan

big brands

I rarely talk about it, as it certainly doesn’t apply to content marketing in the direct sense, but my feet hurt. Seriously, they do. Plantar fasciitis is a constant whisper sending signals to my brain that the arches in my feet aren’t happy. Sometimes it’s not so bad, and other times it gets much worse. Amongst the many things I do to remedy my situation is the usage of a special insole for my shoes—insoles (orthotics) that often times cost way more than the shoes themselves.

Over the past 3 years, I’ve spent hundreds and hundreds of dollars on insoles alone at a store called “The Walking Company.” If you live in the US, there is a good chance you’ve seen one of these stores before, as they have small retail locations, often at malls, all over the country, specializing in quality shoes and inserts for unhealthy folks just like me.

A few months ago, as I was dropping a few hundred more dollars at one of their locations, they asked for my email address during the check-out phase of the purchase. Knowing their motive would likely be “sell, sell, sell” as is the case with most bigger brands, I decided to give away my contact information with the hopes they’d surprise me and possibly embrace a more “teach, teach, teach” mentality.

As you can likely imagine, I’ve been sadly disappointed.

Just to give you an example of what I’m talking about, here are the subject lines for the last 3 emails I’ve received from the company:

  • Feature of the Week: Our Most Popular Dansko Sandals – FREE 2nd Day Shipping!
  • NEW Arrivals of our #1 Sandals – ABEO B.I.O.system | We’ll Pay Your Tax!
  • NEW Spring Arrivals for Men! | ECCO, ABEO, Thad Stuart & More!

I’m curious, what do you see wrong with these subject lines?

Seriously, think for a second about how they make you feel and what actions they inspire.

Are they truly attempting to teach you something?

Do you feel their earnest desire is to help you?

Is there a possible solution to a problem you’re having likely found within the email?

Of course, the answers to these questions are “NO.” The pattern is sadly consistent:

1. They make a “new and exciting” offer

2. They mention a few brands (many of which someone like me knows nothing about)

3. They include some type of “special” at the end followed by the always captivating “!”


walking company email

A recent email from The Walking Company– a classic example of a brand that has unlimited teaching opportunities for their customer base yet chooses to promote instead of inform.

I don’t mention these things to pick on The Walking Company. But unless we have conversations like this one, brands will continue to fall short of their potential.

Think for a second about how many customers The Walking Company has right now that are experiencing pain of some shape or form with their feet.

And how many of these same people would be willing to read educational articles or watch educational videos that give them possible solutions to their problems?

Furthermore, how much would such an educational campaign build trust and brand awareness?

I submit the answer is higher than any of us can possibly imagine.

But instead of thinking like their customers—instead of truly feeling their pain, problems, and issues—they continue to make silly offers, one after the other.

Because of this, after just 3 emails, they’ve become “The Brand that Cried Wolf.”

From this point forward, no matter how loud they scream and shout about specials and brands and offers, I won’t hear them. Nor will so many others on their email list.

And it’s all because they don’t have a culture of teaching within the company.

Becoming Teachers

This, of course, is the biggest reason why most brands fail to achieve their potential in a digital world. Sure, some throw money at other forms of marketing with great success, but few think, talk, walk, and act like “the teacher.”

Because of this, most email campaigns are awful.

Because of this, most blogs have almost no value.

And because of this, most web copy fails to touch readers.

So that’s our challenge folks—become the teacher. And truth be told, this really isn’t just about big brands at all, is it? Nope, whether you’re a mom and pop business where I live in Burgess Virginia or a world wide entity grossing billions in sales, great teaching is a universal principle to success we can all stand to improve upon.

Your Turn

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject. Why is this concept of “great teaching” so difficult for brands to embrace? Also, what brands have you seen do this well?

Jump in folks, your voice matters.


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{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

Rebecca Livermore April 26, 2013 at

I just want to say that I’m sorry about the plantars. I have that problem, too, and it’s not fun. (And yes, it would be cool to get good content on how to get some relief from that problem.)


Marcus Sheridan April 26, 2013 at

We’ll have to exchange orthodic suggestions then Rebecca! :-)

The beauty of age…. ;-)


Myrrhcy April 30, 2013 at

Here you go Marcus & Rebecca!

Tired of plantar fasciitis and expensive remedies? Try Chiropractic Kinesiology. I waited almost a year before seeking treatment and could hardly walk because of the pain. I hobbled like I was 90 (I’m still a fairly young woman).

I told my chiropractic kinesiologist (Dr H) about it thinking he’d recommend special shoes, inserts and all that good stuff. He said, “Forget the shoes and inserts.” He gave me some simple exercises, did a series of spinal adjustments and prescribed some natural supplements over a three month period. Cured it. Yup, pain free for 2+ years now. And honestly, I rarely did the exercises. And I wear the same old shoes I’ve always worn.
Give it a try.

This is not regular chiropractic stuff. You only go once every 3-4 weeks. There are a lot of quacks out there, so beware. Use someone who is a chiropractic doctor and specializes in applied kinesiology. They’re not too common, but maybe you can find one near you.

I don’t remember the name or website of their professional society but can get it for you if you’re interesting in locating this type of doctor.


Joey Giangola April 26, 2013 at

Hey Marcus,

A few initial thoughts: I would say that “great teaching” is so hard because they have never had to do it before.

It’s also much easier to slap 25% off on something than to write 15 reasons why your feet will thank you.

If you have to work hard to learn something new, logic would dictate that you have to work equally as hard to teach it in an effective way.

These brands haven’t woke up to the idea of redistributing their hard work. It’s not that they aren’t doing it, it’s just going to the wrong places.


Marcus Sheridan April 26, 2013 at

Very well said Joey–doing it in the wrong places.

And have a great weekend my friend, appreciate all you do. :-)



Jason Hull April 26, 2013 at

My wife has plantar fascitis. She received a cortisone shot in her heel about 8 years ago. She said it hurt like the dickens, but, up until about a month ago, she had no problems. Might be worth a shot in the paw.

Becky McCrary of said it best recently: “Give the why away for free. Sell the how.”


Marcus Sheridan April 26, 2013 at

Yeah, mine was almost unbearable until I had a cortisone shot about 3 years ago Jason. It’s starting to get bad again so it’s looking like it’s about time for another needle.:(

Good seeing you man,



Neicole Crepeau April 26, 2013 at

And you know what, Marcus? As a writer and a marketer, I can tell you it’s a lot more fun writing content and emails that educate and entertain rather than ones that sell. Taking the education approach makes your job a lot more pleasurable.


Mary DeMuth (@MaryDeMuth) April 26, 2013 at

This confirms what I’ve been feeling for a long time about marketing. It’s all about how we can help people overcome obstacles. A wise friend once told me, “It’s not that you give folks what you think they need, it’s that you offer them what they actually want.” That has been a game changer for me.

I found you via Thomas Umstattd of Author Media who sings your praises often. Thanks for great content!


Ryan Hanley April 26, 2013 at


Delt with Plantar Fasciitis for a couple seasons during my college baseball career… Go buy a baker’s rolling pin and while typing out Gangster Content Marketing Articles like this one roll the bottoms of your feet.

While you’re brainstorming ideas stand on a stair and do calf raises… It takes about a month but doing these two activities consistently will drastically reduce you pain. It may not cure the problem which can be back tightness or leg tightness (my case) or any number of other issues…

…but I found these two activities got me to a manageable state.

As far as the content of your article… is New Media Old Advertising or put into terms your southerns use Lipstick on a Pig.

Thank goodness there are evangelists like yourself preaching the gospel of Value First Marketing.

All the best dude,



Edwin Vlems April 26, 2013 at

Exactly my e-mail strategy! We send an e-mail each day at 3.00 PM to 3300 customers for 7 years now, and the number of receivers has not diminished. The reason? We do not send information about us, but about them (their markets to be precisely). We now even opened 76 twitter accounts which do the same, I present our ‘system’ very often on congresses, it’s described here:


Ian Cleary April 26, 2013 at

Hi Marcus,

The big bosses at these brands want to see an immediate return and don’t want to invest. So the Marketing team sending out these emails don’t have much choice. What’s even worse is that if the Marketing team don’t agree with the big bosses then there’s no passion at all in the emails and it shows!

Wow, there’s so much opportunity for new smaller brands to come in and take over the relationship with these people. Once they own the relationship they’ll get the sales!


Mike Kawula April 26, 2013 at

Reminds me of that “Used Car Lot” type of experience, where people just go from lot to lot.
Those emails sadly work and thus individuals continue to send them because they get clicks. For instance my wife wants to take my kids out for something fun/spur moment and cheap she goes to her filtered coupon emails and scrolls through to pick one out. But they’re all competing with one another, theres no connection.

When we want to plan something we tend to go to those we have connections with and price has nothing to do with it. At the end of the day they’re pimping themselves out and its either lack knowledge of how to do it otherwise or pure laziness.

Always spot on, another great post!


Darnell Jackson April 26, 2013 at


This makes a lot of sense.

If you get a chance go over to office depot and when you buy something they give you the option to get your receipt emailed to you.

I opted in this week and it’s pretty much the same approach.

I think they are following the grocery store strategy SELL SELL SELL but food is different than consumer products.

I definitely agree with your strategy of teaching first then selling.


Josh April 26, 2013 at

Let me play devil’s advocate for a moment and ask how we know that big brands are having a problem that content marketing could solve.

There is no doubt that some of them are having an issue, but I am not convinced we can paint with such a broad brush.

If asking for an order first instead of teaching works than maybe there is no need to reinvent the wheel.

Sometimes I think we spend too much time trying to convince everyone that they need our product/services and not enough time focusing our attention on the ones that definitely do.


Eric Pratum April 26, 2013 at

Dude, my dad’s a foot doctor, and I used to work for New Balance and Have you talked to a doctor about your plantar fasciitis? I’m obviously no doctor, but if you haven’t seen one, give me a ring, and I’ll see if there’s anything I’ve encountered that I can recommend. Your issue shouldn’t have hung around this long.


Mark Gibson April 26, 2013 at

Great stuff, Marcus. I work for a company that makes equipment for the disaster restoration industry. For the past 15 months, I’ve sent out a newsletter to restoration contractors – and I’ve never tried to sell them a thing. I try to keep them informative, humorous (without offending) and short & sweet so that these busy people can quickly read it and be on their way. The link to is is below.

Keep up the good work!


andy nemetti April 26, 2013 at

Hi Marcus,

I agree wholeheartedly. What was that Bob Seeger song -”I feel like a number” I think? And, of course the refrain is “I’m not a number, I’m not a number!

Maybe they just run your queries through their super-computers and “pop” a machine comes back with those trite kitschy one-liners to catch our already overtly commercialized numbed-out brains. I don’t think any big-business is at all interested in truly reaching out to its potential customers, because they have no need, or desire for a heart.

There was a Sociologist who once told a class I attended that the nature of all Corporations are that they are Social-Paths (or was it Psychotic?) by nature, in reality by directive. The point is once something is institutionalize it hardens and has no pretense, or need for a heart (caring to instruct, clarify or teach), and only looks at us as cash-paying customers. As you are well aware of. (watch the excellent Canadian Documentary “Corporations”)

Regarding your feet troubles —

I may have a solution for you, or I may be wasting your time — if so sorry.

My son spent two years in Chicago Illinois going door to door, and he has flat feet. His pain getting more and more unbearable I did research and found the solution for him. (because no normal insoles from doctors, (several attempts) worked either — but this did!

I hope you have not tried this yet. Because it does work, or did for him. I had my doubts, but my son had not only instant relief, but most importantly permanent – as long as he remembered to put his ‘Good Feet’ back in his shoe each morning. If you have not tried it please, PLEASE do!

here is a short video on it —
Keywords at Youtube: “Good Feet – Good Feet Helps Plantar Fasciitis”

Happy Trails To You,


Tom Reber April 26, 2013 at


1. Kudos for calling like you see it.
2. I have a bunion. It’ hurts!
3. I personally believe most brands, big & small don’t teach because they’re lazy. Sure, they mean well, but being a marketer today requires an investment of time & mental energy that we’re not used to! Just the work that goes into knowing what your ideal client looks like and struggles with is intimidating to people, let alone creating content. We need to help them break it down and eat the perceived elephant one bite at a time.



Jordan J. Caron April 27, 2013 at


I have this saying on my website’s manifesto.

“Focus on opening the sale rather than closing it.”

I’m pretty sure it’s out of Bob Gilbreath’s ‘The Next Evolution of Marketing’. Regardless, by teaching and informing, brands big and small can open the sale.

So instead of jamming sales and promotional pieces into everyone’s inbox, why not improve people’s live by teaching them something they can do with your product or service?

PS. I don’t know why I follow anyone else’s blog to be honest. I follow the big guns of the content marketing world. But you seem to always strike a cord with me on the simplicity of your writing and messages.

I wonder why that is? It’s that because you’ve been a business owner before hand?

At any rate, thanks!


Paolo April 27, 2013 at

Hi Marcus,

it’s weird to see how big brands, with all their money and people, are still so slow understanding the importance of teaching before of asking.
Maybe somewhere there is a small company with a better insole at a lower price that can not be seen.
It’s why I think that content marketing is the great opportunity the small businness have.


Andrea T.H.W. April 27, 2013 at

Probably they fear that teaching you something valuable you could buy less from them; or simply they haven’t understood that times have changed and people now has access to a lot of information on the net and are wiser so old time selling tactics randomly works.

Similar to the blogosphere where a lot of experts just rewrite what CopyBlogger publishes: all saying the same stuff, all promoting the same products, all giving the same advices. But if those advices work then why everyone with a blog isn’t a millionaire? Especially experts?

Probably much more people should read The Purple Cow. :)

Happy weekend!


Sheryl Kurland April 27, 2013 at


CONTENT MARKETING UH-OH: Yikes, I disagree with you on this one. Put free shipping, we’ll pay the tax, etc., in front of a woman online and she’s off-a-clicking faster than you can say “shop.” Women shop differently than men. Plus, we “gossip” — “Hey did you see Neiman’s is offering free shipping all week?” which brings in more sales to the business.

CURE FOR YOUR FEET: This may help, yes, it sounds crazy. No doctor bills, no orthotics, no shots, no nothing…Google “Barefoot Walking + Michael Sandler.” His personal story of severe injury and recovery is incredible….I was having problems, not exactly the same as you, but related…and they’re GONE. Barefoot Walking movement is off your tip toes, off the front of your foot like a kangaroo. I met Michael totally unplanned when I was helping a friend at his vendor booth at a 5K Barefoot Run. I talked to him personally about my problem and asked him if barefoot-walking would be good, and he said, “What have you got to lose?” In 2 weeks, I was pain free. I couldn’t believe it. (I so it in sneakers, not go barefoot.) Tip toe-ing for even 5 minutes is very difficult but you build up; I try to do 30 minutes every other day. Even seniors are doing it, and their aches and pains are disappearing. Maybe it’s your answer, too……and best of all it’s FREE.


Mark Mathson April 27, 2013 at

A resounding yes, Marcus Sherdian! Keep on preachin’ brotha.

There are FAR too many examples of this on a daily basis, that I encounter. Like you say – it is pinnacle to be a teacher, and educator.


Jason Diller April 27, 2013 at


you should have made this post about how to cure foot pain, optimized it, and sent them a screen shot of the results in a month. Prob more views than their last 20 blog posts combined.

Great post, as always.


Steve MacDonald April 28, 2013 at

It’s very fulfilling if we able to provide a content that has value and at the same time market the products or services that we offer! Great post Marcus!


Packers movers Gurgaon April 29, 2013 at

Hello Marcus,
Really good post done by you, Very informative and logical question ask for us, yes these question comes our mind. I got here useful knowledge for me..

Thanks for sharing it..


Ritch Brandon April 29, 2013 at

“The Brand that Cried Wolf” Love it! Stealing it!


Eric McCarty April 29, 2013 at

Plantar Fasciitis is what led author Christopher McDougall on an odyssey that resulted in his amazing book Born To Run. I don’t buy into the overarching philosophy which McDougall gets into about half way through, but he is a great storyteller and this is a fantastic and entertaining book.

I didn’t have foot trouble, but I did have back trouble and changing the way I run eliminated it. As Sheryl Kurland said above, it is about “forefoot striking” instead of heal striking. McDougall espouses running like you are barefoot, even if you wear shoes. Before you spend another wad at the doctor, read this book. I like it on audio.

Great post, btw. One of our Inbound clients forwarded it to us.


Thierry Daher April 29, 2013 at

Great post Marcus. Since you touched on the subject of foot pain and footwear marketing, I thought I would share a video of a presentation I gave a few months ago at Chicago Ideas Week, on how (some) large brands successfully leveraged “shoe culture” to create a new type of brand content, one that leverages pop culture, and their customers’ passion:


Craig McBreen April 29, 2013 at

My wife has plantar fasciitis and she’s tried just about everything. She spends a lot of time stretching those feet and one bit of advice that has helped her quite a bit is to walk on the treadmill (no running of course), but set it to a steep incline to stretch out your feet. It’s helped quite a bit actually, and now she’s quite the hill climber (this helps in Seattle).

Also, I agree with what Neicole stated. If I was only focused on writing sell, sell, sell content, it wouldn’t be fun, it would be downright painful, like your plantar fasciitis. Well not that bad, but you get the picture. One of the more enjoyable parts of this whole blogging adventure is the research. Yep, honest, I love it, Kinda wish I could research and write all day long :)


Selena Horner April 30, 2013 at

Marcus… sorry to hear your feet hurt. I somewhat understand your situation from both the perspective of searching for a solution AND your topic on content marketing.

You see… I’m a physical therapist. You mention teaching in your blog post. I do this every single day patient to patient on various topics (plantar fasciitis included). Sadly, I do a poor job at creating content and marketing it for consumers. I apologize for this void. Heck, I’ll even apologize for my profession! Historically medical providers are not the greatest at sharing and marketing content.

From my perspective, I truly find it difficult to content market because although plantar fasciitis is plantar fasciitis, I assess a variety of factors for each individual before providing recommendations. Some of my recommendations include me using my hands on the person’s leg and foot.

I’m more concerned about your hurting feet right now – definitely not a comfortable situation. If you don’t mind, I’ll share a few links that might provide you with a different option than shoes and injections.

I vouch for the information share by Results Physiotherapy. This is also an example of their content marketing on the very topic you are interested. I hope that is allowable!
And… it would be in poor taste to not share the American Physical Therapy Association’s content marketing, again on the very topic of your interest.

If you decide you’d like to choose a physical therapist’s expertise to assist you with your pain, definitely shoot me an email. I’d love to assist you in the endeavor and provide solid recommendations.

Thanks for sharing your story.


Marcus Sheridan April 30, 2013 at

Selena, this was amazing. I can’t believe you took so much time to send me these helpful links. Thank you!!!!



Imran April 30, 2013 at

Content marketing is the best way to boost your traffic / visitors. You have amazingly written this comprehensive post about big brands and content marketing.


Mike Brooks May 9, 2013 at

I think big brands do this often because they have tons of money to throw at advertising. They may lose a lot of people along the way, but they make up for it by constantly feeding the beast with new fresh leads.

Small companies with small budgets who follow this herd are only being lead to the slaughter.

The right approach is to educate, entertain and build value with people. Content marketing allows us to get personal and build rapport and trust. People want to do business with those they know, like and trust. Good content marketing makes this happen like nothing else.

However, with that said, something that is also important to remember is that it is ok to sell. You just have to earn it first by adding tremendous value.

I have seen companies get caught into the trap where they go completely to the other extreme. They think everything must be all give and then people will come and spend.

You still have to have a strategic sales process. Big brands take, take and take. The right way is give, give, give and then take. But there has to be some take. You have to connect the content with the sales process. You have to make offers and compel people to buy.


Joseph May 10, 2013 at

It can be difficult for business to stride the fine line between pleasing their audience and marketing themselves.

It takes a certain type of person to be able to find the perfect balance and they appear to be quite rare in today’s world.

Sorry to hear about your feet though.


Kamil May 23, 2013 at

Here’s the thing, a lot of companies are afraid to step out of the box for their copies. As a company owner myself, I always have the hesitation to move to a different direction especially with content marketing.


Mindy May 24, 2013 at

I have been feeling your frustration with emails lately as well, as I seem to get so many these days and so much of the content is worthless (and sent way too often).

I have found that brands that cater to DIYers (Home Depot, Lowe’s, Joann Fabric) have found ways to effectively use social media sites like Pinterest and Facebook to share tips, ideas and projects. However, their emails are all screaming deals. My guess is they’ve compartmentalized their email and social media activities so that the same teams aren’t doing both — and thus their approach is disjointed and less effective. Or maybe they just can’t get out of the rut of doing what they’ve always done for email marketing.


Iain May 28, 2013 at

Being a teacher is probably one of the hardest things to do because they have to think like a student.

They need to recognize what a student would ask and answer it accordingly. It is also scary for brands to be the teacher because they aren’t listening to what questions people are asking. Because of that, they are answering the wrong questions.

As a teacher, one of the most powerful things you can do is ask for feedback from the students. This way you find out what works and what doesn’t.


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