Brand Building

The 4 Surprising Ps of Content Marketing Success

The original 4 Ps of Marketing − Price, Product, Promotion, and Place were first popularized in the early 1960s by marketing professor E. Jerome McCarthy. His elemental principles have remained a cornerstone of marketing theory ever since.

As we move into an era of integrated mobile, digital, and social content marketing, however, it is clear that the 4Ps need to be revisited and aligned with the ever-evolving always-on media ecosystem. Towards that end, the team at Marketing AI in Canada has developed a very useful and practical set of 4 Ps for content marketing:

  • Planning
  • Production
  • Promotion
  • Performance Measurement

These 4 Ps, though, are really just table stakes for content marketing success. In other words, now that everyone seems to be doing content marketing, a bigger challenge needs to be addressed beyond creating and measuring content: namely, how to consistently create content that is actually interesting and engaging. Is that even something that can be planned?

In trying to unlock this modern marketing conundrum, we have discovered that the answers to driving consistent customer engagement lie far outside the world of marketing.  In fact, the 4 surprising Ps of content marketing are drawn from the four corners of the world.







Picasso is not only one of the most prominent 20th century artists but also one of the most prolific. Scholars estimate that Picasso created at least 50,000 paintings during his lifetime – with some estimates as high as 100,000 pieces!

So stop and think about this for a moment: Were all 50,000 of Picasso’s paintings (or 100,000 of them) masterpieces? It is safe to say that the answer is “no”.  But, at that prodigious rate of production, some of his work was almost guaranteed to find its way into museums.

Not only was Picasso prolific, but he was also incredibly spontaneous and fluid in terms of his subject matter. Guernica, one of his best known works, was started just a few days after the infamous bombing of the small Spanish town by the Germans. Picasso had been working on a mural for the Paris Exposition of 1937 but quickly pivoted the content of the mural once he learned about the bombing.

Of course, with the benefit of hindsight, we know that the monumental black and white creation would become one of his best known works. At the time though, he was throwing away months of work in order to set off in an entirely new direction.







Pixar cofounder Ed Catmull is arguably the driving force behind Pixar’s incredible run of animated hits.  To what does he attribute this incredible string of success? Catmull explains their disarmingly simple but difficult process –  “Early on, all of our movies suck… Our job is to make them go from suck to non-suck.”

In order to facilitate the progression from “suck to non-suck,” Catmull and the other Pixar executives have conscientiously worked to develop a culture of candor, respect, and quality in which everyone is encouraged to offer feedback in a shared pursuit of creative excellence.

This is not an easy balance to strike, and Catmull notes that nurturing an environment of both respect and candor is easier said than done: “I see my primary role as making sure that the compact upon which the meetings are based is protected and upheld. This part of our job is never done because you can’t totally eliminate the blocks to candor. The fear of saying something stupid and looking bad, of offending someone or being intimidated, of retaliating or being retaliated against – they all have a way of reasserting themselves. And when they do, you must address them squarely.”

For content marketing producers traveling the road from suck to non-suck, this suggests that an environment needs to be created where rough drafts, prototypes, and sketches can be freely circulated without fear of undo criticism.

In addition to building candor, the team at Pixar avoids using the ever popular phrase “Yes, but” and encourages a much more affirmative and constructive “Yes, and” response that allows ideas to flourish and develop rather than being squashed.








There is something bold and energizing about building and launching an ambitious content destination. There is also something humbling when the traffic fails to materialize. Maybe we need more content! Maybe we should have Instagram videos! Maybe we can get on Oprah! Oh, no more Oprah? What about Jimmy Fallon?

Despite all of the online content debacles we have seen here in the 21st century, however, we have yet to outdo the 16th century Venetians who built an entire city on spec.

Talk about a bubble! Based on the then-latest theories of military defense and social interactions, the Venetian planners designed and built the gigantic and incredibly beautiful town of Palmanova. The problem was that no one actually wanted to live there. At the end of the day, desperate for traffic, the government had to pay for clicks (I mean citizens). Today, Palmanova still stands in the lovely Italian countryside as a cautionary tale for taking gigantic content bets based on the strategy of “if we build it they will come.” Revolution Health, WebVan, Iridium Satellite Phones, The Daily iPad app: All were giant bets that could have benefited from a roadtrip to Palmanova.

Bottom line: Start with small bets before launching an entire city full of content. In fact, when it comes to content marketing, you may want to hang a picture of Palmanova on the wall and take down that poster of Kevin Costner standing in a baseball field with James Earl Jones.  Remember – just because you build it, it doesn’t mean anyone will come.







So, where to find the inspiration for creating engaging content? There is certainly no shortage of content in the world. One hundred hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute! There are 172,000 new blogs and 60 million Instagram photos created every day, and every year, more than 2 million new books are published.

In a world overloaded with information, it’s clear what won’t drive engagement: Content that lacks emotion, enthusiasm, and relevance is going to be tossed aside like an empty can on the side of the road.  On the other hand, brands and storytellers that tap into the essential and relevant hopes and passions of their customers will find audiences magnetically drawn to their content.

Red Bull is probably the archetype brand for linking the passion of their users directly with their marketing events. In fact, in many respects, Red Bull has become an event company that happens to sell energy drinks. In 2013, when skydiver Felix Baumgartner successfully jumped from 24 miles above the earth with his suit covered in Red Bull logos, Red Bull shattered the previous YouTube livestreaming record, with more than 8 million concurrent viewers.

Before you start conscripting skydivers from around your company, fortunately, there are many other powerful ways to link the passion of your customers to the inherent passion of your company and brand. For example, Toms shoes is another noteworthy example of a brand that has connected to people in around their passions – in this case, donating a pair of shoes in the developing world for each pair a customer purchases.

Many successful Kickstarter marketing campaigns are also built around tapping into an inherent passion. The Roast-Grind-Brew Coffee Maker by Bonaverde is just one of many such campaigns.  After creating more than 130 prototypes, the Bonaverde team from Berlin was able to raise more than $600,000 from backers around the world who are passionate about making the freshest coffee possible.


It is not at all surprising that marketing is undergoing a dramatic transformation as content creation and sharing explode across channels and around the world.  For marketers, this means that it is time to reexamine the fundamental principles that guide content creation and strategy and embrace the lessons of these powerful and surprising 4 Ps:

  • Picasso
  • Pixar
  • Palmanova
  • Passion

So, the next time you are creating marketing content and want to produce something that stands out – don’t think like a marketer! Instead, slam down a Red Bull, get out your paint brushes, and shout “To Infinity and Beyond!” Then start small and see what happens. The results might just end up being out of this world!



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Jim Walker

Jim Walker

Jim Walker is Director, Marketing Strategy at Cadient, a Cognizant Company. Jim provides innovative marketing insights for a wide range of clients, as well as leading Cadient’s content marketing strategy. He is particularly interested in helping brand teams effectively leverage their digital content. He can be reached at
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