“In 2020, content will become marketing’s biggest bottleneck.” – Gartner, “Content Marketing and Management Primer for 2018

At the end of February I wrote a blog post that started with that statement. Since then I’ve spent a huge amount of time thinking about, researching, and discussing the content bottleneck, what it means for marketing organizations, and how we can take lessons from other industries and apply them to marketing’s biggest challenge.

What follows is a much shorter version of the talk I gave at Transition San Francisco in April (below) and is much more beautifully captured in a piece put together by our amazing design team that you can download here: The Content Marketing Bottleneck.

What is the Content Bottleneck?

Fundamentally, the content bottleneck is the gap between the demand for content within your marketing organizations and the ability to deliver on that demand using the people, tools, and resources at your disposal. 

content bottleneck

Critically, we hear this bottleneck described in one of three ways:

  • Quantity: “We need more content.”
  • Quality: “We need better content.”
  • Coordination: “We need to take better advantage of the content we already have.”

Whichever one of these you suffer from (and we’ve heard from lots of folks that they’re dealing with all three), the outcome is gap between what your marketing organization is expected to deliver and what actually gets out the door.

How did the Content Bottleneck happen?

If you watch the talk or read the longer document you’ll see a much more in-depth explanation that takes you all the way back to 1965, but for our purposes here I’ll catch you up much more quickly. 2007 is the year that changed marketing forever. The iPhone was introduced that January and what followed was a timeline of technological change that reshaped the world and marketing completely.

But what’s not here and may be most meaningful is 2007 marked the last year that there were more humans than internet-connected devices. From then on out (and never to go back), there was a 1-to-1 mapping of people to communications channels that has reshaped the way marketers think about content and customer experiences. For the first time the bottleneck wasn’t the channels available to reach customers, it was the tools available to distribute content to those channels.

Since 2007 every marketer has raced to build out a Martech stack to deal with the bottleneck and support the kind of personalization and automation that their customers require. New categories of marketing software have exploded and the iconic landscape charts have seen the number of logos they contain grow exponentially, from 150 companies in 2011 to 7,000 companies today.

The good news: You’ve all done such a good job that the bottleneck isn’t at the point of distribution anymore. The bad news: Now you have a content bottleneck. Here’s Gartner again:

“Personalization will become standard for brand engagements, but lack of scalable content creation processes will become the limiting factor for success.” – Gartner, “Predicts 2018: Brand Relevance Under Fire, Automation on the Rise

What should marketers do about the Content Bottleneck?

The thing about bottlenecks is that they’re not new to businesses. Anyone with a production process has spent a lot of time working on dealing with bottlenecks as they act to constrain everything that happens downstream from them.

One of my favorite set of ideas for thinking about bottlenecks comes from Dr. Eliyahu Goldratt in his famous book, The Goal.  In the “business novel” Goldratt lays out what he calls “five focusing steps” for dealing with bottlenecks (which he calls constraints). Those five focusing steps provide a blueprint for dealing with bottlenecks within content marketing organizations:

  1. “Identify the system’s constraint(s).”
    This is where we identify the specifics of our own bottleneck. In content we should think about quantity, quality, & coordination.
  2. “Decide how to exploit the systems constraint(s).”
    This is all about the ways to optimize the process at the center of your biggest bottleneck.
  3. “ Subordinate everything else to the above decision(s).”
    Since a constraint limits everything that happens after it, it’s critical that we get other parts of the organization to reorient themselves and support the constraint, not vice-versa.
  4. “Elevate the system’s constraint(s).”
    If you’ve successfully delivered on one, two, and three, then you should have been able to elevate your capacity in the bottle- necked process and use that to drive incremental growth.
  5. “Go back to step 1. Do not allow inertia to cause a system’s constraint.”
    Theory of Constraints is part of a broader methodology of constant refinement. It’s important to remember that while we talk about content as one big bottleneck, it’s actually many little ones. When you fix one thing you need to go back and iterate.
content bottleneck


To see how we think you should apply the theory of constraints to your own organization check out my video from Transition or download the full Content Bottleneck booklet. As always, if you have questions you can find me on Twitter at @heyitsnoah