Three Poisonous Metaphors in B2B Content Marketing

We like metaphors.
But sometimes, metaphors leak back into the real world and distort our view of that world.
Here are three examples: metaphors that we B2B content marketing pros all use every day — so much so that we’ve stopped thinking about them as metaphors at all.

Do let us know what you think.

You may also like our Slideshare called Crap: why the greatest threat to content marketing is content marketing.

It’s become our most popular piece of content ever — and views of the Three Metaphors piece spiked when we published it.

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  1. Lucinda Brook

    October 9th, 2012

    As a B2B content marketing convert, I totally agree with the sentiment and have really enjoyed lots of Velocity’s content but I’m afraid on this occasion I’m struggling with knocking the metaphor as the discussion itself is fundamentally flawed. I’m sure every metaphor could be pulled apart with a bit of effort – they’re not meant to be viewed in a literal fashion. Nobody assumes that leads that come into top of the funnel will just make their merry way to a sale – aka gravity style. Every marketer knows you need to work at it – the difference is some will work at it through the hard sell approach and others through your second metaphor taking prospects on a ‘journey’. Again I would say a lot of B2B marketeers know that the journey isn’t to your product, it’s to find a solution to their particular problem…. with lots of useful content to help them…. so I’m afraid I’m not down with the metaphor chat but I’m backing the content bus all the way and that’s what it’s all about!

  2. Doug Kessler

    October 9th, 2012

    Great points Lucinda, thanks.

    It’s weird — I know every marketer understands these are just metaphors. But I actually think a lot of B2B marketing really does act as if the metaphors were true — that they reflect the real world.

    I know people don’t think the funnel is a real funnel — but every day, I see marketing teams that drop leads in the top and sit back and wait.

    Do I think they’ve been fooled by a metaphor? Not really. But I do think they’re behaving as if they have been!

  3. Joanne Roberts

    October 10th, 2012

    I love a good metaphor. They are pictures/stories/concepts that help us to understand something in the real world! They can be understood. Take Jesus’ story of ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’, and Monty Pythons mis-interpretation…’the cheesemakers? I think he is talking about all dairy producers in general’. We must know understand that a metaphor is a tool to help us learn a concept, not something real!

  4. Doug Kessler

    October 10th, 2012

    Lee Odden points out that Joseph Jaffe has also made the funnel/gravity point in his book… Flip the Funnel.

  5. Dylan Jones

    October 11th, 2012

    Fantastic post as ever Doug, this has really got me thinking about the other metaphors that we need to de-bunk.

    I think the big one many of our members (IT vendors) struggle with that is completely false is the fallacy of “The Buyer”.

    The amount of time I meet marketers or sales folks at our events who are asking for introductions to CIO’s and IT Directors to peddle their CRM or Data Warehouse software, they’re starting in completely the wrong place.

    It’s more akin to a “motivation network” (or mush) with often conflicting motivations which is why the age old paint by numbers funnel approaches just fall flat, certainly in modern B2B tech sales I find.

    Always something fresh whenever I visit here, keep it up guys, you’ve really set the barr.

  6. Doug Kessler

    October 11th, 2012

    Thanks Dylan. Must make MUSH into some kind of acronym.
    Mistaken Unexplored Sales Hype?

  7. Dylan Jones

    October 13th, 2012


    How about “Mostly Uninspired Sales Hussle”

    The best I can do with a hangover on a Saturday morn 🙂

  8. Doug Kessler

    October 15th, 2012

    Works for me.
    Marketing Uncertainty Sustains Hangover?

  9. Jeff Ogden

    November 2nd, 2012

    The 3 metaphors are spot on, but I was frankly turned off by the jumbled, hard to read words and the absence of audio. It’s easy to add audio to slideshare, Doug. I’ve done it many times.

    Here’s the bottom line: Hard to read and no audio.

    I think you can make it a lot easier to consume, Doug.

    What do you think?


  10. Doug Kessler

    November 6th, 2012

    Thanks Jeff.
    Appreciate the feedback.
    Not sure how audio would help this piece but legibility is always important.
    Maybe the smaller text shouldn’t be all-caps…

    Thanks again.

  11. Karen Anderson

    December 1st, 2012

    I’m with Jeff.
    Long sentences and paragraphs in all capital letters made me feel like you were shouting to be heard instead of inviting me to listen.
    – Karen

  12. Doug Kessler

    December 2nd, 2012

    Thanks for the feedback Karen.
    I think you’re right.
    I’ve always felt this way about all caps but in this case I thought we’d got away with it: because the text is one sentence at a time (not whole paragraphs) and because the tone is meant to be a bit… emphatic.
    But we’ve got enough feedback to make me re-think.
    Much appreciated.
    Most people would think this and not share it and then we’d never make stuff better.
    So thanks.

  13. Robert Friedman

    December 5th, 2012

    I loved the deck. I was amused by the comments.

    My initial reaction: Loved the title – especially the use of the word “poisonous.” I read the deck fast and got a point of view and new information. The writing and the graphics helped me to read it – and get it – fast. I’m a fast guy. Not a slow guy. Love to speed read. Hate webinars and videos usually. I loved the all caps.

    I know how hard it is to make good writing short. You did a great job.

    When you have a point of view, you’re never going to make everyone happy. You’ve gotten a few negative comments. Look out for raving fans before you go changing everything!

  14. Doug Kessler

    December 6th, 2012

    Thanks Robert — glad it hit the spot!

  15. Simon

    December 13th, 2012

    Morning, I may be able to shed some light on some of the comments above. I read the presentation last night on my personal lap top and the presentation displayed perfectly – however having viewed it again this morning at work using IE8 the text doesn’t display correctly and the words are all jumbled up.

    I’m not sure what version of IE I use at home but it’s an older laptop.

    Happy to send you a screen shot if you want one.

  16. Doug Kessler

    December 13th, 2012

    Hi Simon — thanks for that. It explains a lot!
    We’ve been getting rendering comments and I just haven’t seen a problem.

    Do please send a screenshot.
    I wonder if Slideshare knows about this?

    Thanks again.

  17. Upfront Business Development

    June 7th, 2013

    I really liked the slideshow. I actually found it quite funny. ‘The Funnel’ was a classic. I think people just accept metaphors without thinking about them too literal but I love this opinion on them. Very amusing.

  18. Danny Jack


    July 11th, 2017

    My kind of people!: spouting the common sense that is somehow inexplicably ignored by the marketingsphere..

    I’ve never been keen on prescription marketing metaphors; such as ‘the funnel’ (and the orderly manner in which customers are squeezed through.) and ‘the journey’; too often followed by a how-to guide: which feels to much to me like marketing by numbers. And I’ve always been a massive fan of good quality content over average but frequently produced guff.

    1. Doug Kessler

      July 25th, 2017

      Thanks Danny Jack!
      I want to write a song with your name in it.
      It’s a great song name.

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