The Content Marketing Institute is not what you would think of as a typical institution. They aren’t a university, they aren’t a place of higher education, they aren’t accredited by the board of education or anything like that. It’s just a brand name, albeit one that describes what they do fairly well.
The CMI is, much like many other similar marketing brands on the web, a blog with a lot of different options for further learning. Looking at their homepage shows you what they’re all about; they have major sections for their events, their consulting, and their magazine, but the majority of the page is dedicated to a blog feed.
Blog posts are published on a daily basis throughout the workweek, skipping weekends. They have a wide variety of contributors, both native and guest, with varying perspectives on the world of content marketing.
The site as a whole has over 140,000 subscribers, with over a quarter million combined followers across their social media presence, and they have a history of helping both clients and contributors gain new clients and customers of their own.
The History of CMI
The Content Marketing Institute was founded in 2007 as “Junta42”, aimed at educating readers via blog posts about the industry of content marketing. As they grew, and as interest grew, they decided to rebrand themselves into the Content Marketing Institute. They also launched their flagship event, Content Marketing World, and a magazine, Chief Content Officer. Frankly, you have to be ballsy to launch a print magazine these days, but they’ve pulled it off. It helps that it’s a quarterly magazine, so it’s not too expensive to ship monthly like so many other print magazines.
CMI bills itself as the leading global, enterprise-focused content marketing organization. They focus on education on a corporate level, with a variety of types of assistance for all manner of users. They’ve backed up their claims with years of excellent content and consulting, and have been on the Inc. 500 list for at least four years.
So what all does CMI have to offer, and how does it stack up?
The CMI Slate
The Content Marketing Institute has a lot to offer. Though they focus on enterprise-level consulting, they have education that can be useful to anyone for brands of any size.
First and foremost, you have their blog. Their blog is free to read and share, as any good blog should be. For the most part, their content is high quality, though with the hundreds of contributors they’ve had, some posts can be a little hit or miss. Overall, I am rarely disappointed to read a post they publish, though some aren’t necessarily new information. For example, as of this review, they have:
- A post about focusing content to your audience’s desires.
- A post about specific “magic words” that tend to convert better than typical language.
- A post about some basic Google-focused news that can be useful to marketers, like the appointment of Danny Sullivan as the official Google Search Liason.
- A post about common writing mistakes that are, well, pretty common.
Some of these are useful information presented in a unique way! Some of them are common advice that, while useful, isn’t necessarily prime education or novel information. One of the common writing mistakes, for example, is using too much jargon. Who here didn’t already know that?
Believe me, I understand. I’ve definitely written more than my fair share of content that has been covered elsewhere. I try to take a unique perspective, aggregate sources to come to meta-conclusions, or otherwise add value to the posts, but that’s not always possible. That’s why I’m not knocking CMI for doing this; they need to fill the air just as much as anyone else. I’m sure my blogs would look a lot worse if I had to do five posts a week instead of just one.
There’s more to CMI than just the blog, though. They’re an educational platform, and as such, they have a page full of specific resources. Some of these are excellent, industry-leading pieces of content. Some of them are simply exceptional blog posts that grew popular enough to earn a space on their resources list. I’ve even referenced a few of them, so I surely can’t fault them there.
In fact, my only gripe with their resources page is how few specific resources they have, and how poorly formatted the page is. It’s just some links and basic descriptions, and they only have nine of them, one of which is just their magazine. For a company producing educational content for over a decade, that doesn’t stand out as exceptional.
Part of the reason for this are the two supplemental links at the bottom: eBooks and research. The eBooks tab is their list of highly-produced eBooks that cover topics in greater detail than even a research page allows. They have sixteen of these listed, though I argue that they aren’t really eBooks. Most of them are links to various formats of long-form blog posts, and at least one is basically a list of tweets and a slide deck.
The research channel, meanwhile, has some extremely good data sources. If you’re like me and you end up writing a lot of analysis and meta-posts about the state of the marketing industry, something like the 2018 benchmarks for B2C content marketing is invaluable. Since CMI has access to a lot of corporate and enterprise data, and has a trusted name that can get responses to their surveys, they have some extremely good data you can use.
The magazine, Chief Content Officer, is basically just a quarterly digest of the best content from their blog. Some posts are cross-posted, others are written specifically for the magazine. You can view a digital edition or subscribe to the print edition, and I’ll leave it up to you to decide if it’s worth checking out. Based on the quality of their blog, you probably can’t go wrong. You especially can’t go wrong because the price itself is nice and low; free to residents of continental USA and Canada. If a 50-some-odd page PDF or print magazine full of content marketing advice sounds good to you, I say go for it.
CMI also has two podcasts, This Old Marketing and Content, Inc. Both of them have around 200 episodes and both of them have ended, though they still exist if you want to dig into their content. I haven’t really done so myself, but they have some good reviews, so give a few episodes a listen if you want.
CMI Events, Training, and Supplements
Their content is great, but it’s not all they do. With the eBooks, magazine, and blog all being free, CMI needs to make their money somewhere. They do this through hosting events, sponsoring other events, and selling consulting and training to businesses. Let’s go over those offerings.
First of all, you have their events. Their flagship event is, of course, Content Marketing World. Content Marketing World is an annual event taking place in September in Ohio, and calls itself the largest content event. Is that true? I honestly couldn’t tell you. Depending on how you define a content event compared to a marketing event or a conference it probably is. The event lasts for a weekend and is packed full of workshops, conferences, talks, and speeches. You have people like the content marketing lead of Shopify, the Founder of RazorSocial, the CEO of TrackMaven, the Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs, and more all headlining. Lots of people with access to lots of data and specific experiences they can share.
CMI also sponsors or helps with other events. They host the Intelligent Content Conference in Las Vegas, the Content Marketing Awards, and various smaller events like themed Twitter chats, webinars, and so on. These can be great learning events, and you don’t have to put out nearly the same investment for a webinar as you do for a visit to a conference. I like the ones I’ve seen, in any case.
As far as paid knowledge transfer, CMI has two offerings. One is the Content Marketing University, and one is their direct consulting.
Starting first with consulting, I’ll say up front that I haven’t used it. I can’t tell you specifically how good it is, or isn’t, because it’s frankly out of my league. CMI consulting organizes workshops for your marketing staff, works with you for content strategy planning, advises executives on the importance of good content marketing, gives coaching to managers, and can help conduct industry or brand-specific research projects. All of this is great, but they primarily work with brands like Dell, Oracle, PetCo, SAP, Staples, and ATT. Little ol’ me is a little below their usual level of client.
That’s not to say that CMI doesn’t work with smaller brands. I don’t know if they do or not. All I know is that a lot of their services don’t really apply when your marketing team is just yourself, and you’re also the CEO, and you know all about how important content marketing is. A lot of their value is focused on enterprise-level organizations, not small businesses and individuals.
For us, that’s where the Content Marketing University comes into play. The university is formatted much like an actual educational institution, with enrollment periods, specific courses, and homework. They teach you directly and they have a bunch of different courses – half a dozen new for this enrollment period – that you can access for a full year once you’ve enrolled. You enroll – for about $1,000 – and you work your way through their courses until you complete the tests and earn their certification.
They have a lot of older courses available when you enroll, as well. You can see their full curriculum here, as well as what track each course is on, what pre-requisite courses you need to take for each, and so on. I say they have half a dozen or so courses, but each course includes anywhere from 2-10 individual classes, all building on top of one another until you finish it all off with a capstone “bringing it all together” course. All in all, it’s pretty well put together.
You can think of this as a sort of smaller group consulting that can cover a mixture of content. Some of the content is basically a lecture-and-class version of some of their resources and blog posts, while other content is more in line with the consulting they provide to enterprises. They can’t quite do as much one-on-one help and direct-with-executive meetings like they do for their consulting, but they can educate you to help you do it within your organization.
Bringing It All Together
Overall, the Content Marketing Institute is pretty much exactly what you would expect a large content-focused marketing agency to do. They have a lot of great minds with a lot of experience working for them. Those great minds can be accessed for free via more general blog content, more specific eBooks and resources, and directly via consulting and courses. You can get a ton of value out of them, with the primary benefit of getting it all in one place, rather than going self-taught with the various other marketing agencies doing the same thing.
Is it worthwhile? It has to be, given that they’re as prominent, popular, and effective as they are. I haven’t personally explored every option they have, but what I’ve seen and experienced myself is all quite good. At the very least, they can give you a very good idea of how much or how little you already know about content marketing, and what steps you need to take to learn and grow with what you know.