“Content marketing doesn’t usually fail because of content quality. The main reason is because it’s inconsistent or it stops,” said Joe Pulizzi back in 2015, and it’s still true today.
All too often businesses are looking for a quick fix, silver bullet or something to ‘go viral’. If this doesn’t happen within the first six months, they call it a day, cut the funds and write content marketing off as a failure.
But content marketing is about the long game. It’s about finding an audience, understanding their pain points, and creating content that’s valuable to them – something that makes their lives/jobs easier.
It’s about gaining an audience’s trust and sticking with them.
The great winners in the content game are succeeding because they have a strategy aligned to their business goals, they know their audience and they keep going…
As a former judge for The Content Council’s ‘Pearl Awards’ examples of those who are consistently best in show include work by Scandinavian Agency Spoon and the videos they’ve created for Volvo Trucks.
In the B2B world, Doug Kessler and his team at Velocity Partners, always take an innovative and human-centred approach to marketing. Take a look at their videos.
So on to why content fails. Having worked as a content marketer for more than eight years, and as journalist for more than 20, I’ve discovered some of the reasons…
1. It’s not strategic
Instead of jumping straight into tactics: What shall we post on Facebook? What hashtags should we use on Twitter? Who can we emulate on Instagram? Should we be on SnapChat? Anyone know how to use TikTok?
What you need to do first and foremost is have a strategy and answer the following questions: What is the purpose of my product or service? What problem does it set out to solve? Who would benefit from this?
My friend Rebecca Lieb, former VP of Econsultancy, said this to me about marketers: “A major problem in the industry continues to be placing tactics ahead of strategy. Alternately, confusing a channel or campaign strategy with a content strategy. Without a strategic framework, there’s no way to measure the real success of content initiatives. Instead, marketers are substituting volume metrics (e.g. likes) for business results. Marketing doesn’t exist without content, so content strategy matters.”
2. It doesn’t have support from the senior team
Lack of buy in from the leadership team is another main reason why content fails. If you can’t say why you’re doing it and whether it’s working (raising brand profile/generating leads), it’s likely that the CFO will pull the plug.
That’s why getting senior stakeholders on board and educating them about what you’re doing and importantly why you’re doing it will ultimately determine whether your content will succeed or fail.
3. It’s generic
Journalists are trained to find the angle, the hook – be it something new, unique or unusual. And content marketers need to do the same. Yet all too often brands are creating ‘me too’ content instead of ‘wow’ content.
Too many companies are creating indistinguishable content that doesn’t sound any different from anybody else’s. And sadly, for many if you covered up the logo and read through the content you wouldn’t get a sense of who the company is or who they’re talking to.
4. It’s not functional
If you’re being asked to produce a viral video that will shock, or make everyone want to watch and share, and you’ve not got a reason why, then you’re in trouble. If the content you create is not relevant to your brand or doesn’t reinforce your brand message, then don’t do it.
In an age where one-to-one marketing is possible, spend your budget more wisely. Create authentic content that resonates with your audience.
5. It’s not tested
If you’re not testing, how do you know what’s working, and importantly not working?
You have to constantly monitor, review and iterate. And learn from what’s not working…
If you think by publishing one medium-quality blog post after another, you’ll eventually succeed, you won’t. You’ve got to figure out search. Look at analytics. And think deeply about your audience.
In the words of Ann Handley: “The internet is not waiting for another medium-quality blog post.”
6. It’s not smart
National Public Radio has an approach that it calls “COPE” (create once, publish everywhere). NPR will publish a core piece of content that will appear in different ways on different platforms. This is an example of being smart with content.
Or in the words of Jay Acunzo, founder of Marketing Showrunners, who said to me: “If you’re publishing and notice that there’s a velocity of views and things are really taking off, lean into that harder. If something works, instead of doing more things like it, do more with it.
7. It doesn’t make an appointment with the audience
A common pitfall of content marketing is that it is that marketers take a scatter gun approach to publishing. It’s ad hoc. Unscheduled. This means the audience doesn’t know when to expect the content, and as a result, will often miss it.
Newspapers and television programs are successful because they book an appointment with their audience. Readers and viewers know exactly which day their favourite show or supplement will be out.
8. It doesn’t say what’s next
So, you’ve captured your audience’s attention, they’ve diligently watched your YouTube video, or read your latest blog post / e-newsletter, congratulations. But now what?
Once you’ve got your audience hooked, you need to tell them what to do next – subscribe, download, call, buy? Make the most of their attention while you’ve got it. And importantly, sign post them to something useful and relevant.