Commentary

When Your Content Marketing Fails

Just about everyone has embraced content marketing. And some people are even succeeding with it. However, a shockingly high percentage of B2B content marketers report that it really isn’t going all that well. According to a recent Content Marketing Institute study, just 38% of content marketers say their efforts are effective.

Which means that almost two-thirds of content marketers are coming up short. Why is that? Another important question is, what are they doing to fix it the problem? – but that requires a deeper dive of research and is a query for another day.

So let’s focus on why content marketing fails. Here are six common obstacles to content marketing success:

You’re lost before you start the journey. According to that CMI study, only 35% of B2B marketers have a documented content strategy; the rest are kind of making it up as they go along. The intention is good, but the plan is lacking. A plan that details key themes and includes an editorial calendar, an understanding of the audience, and a variety of distribution tactics is essential for success. Still, in the flow of reality you’ll sometimes have to know when to veer away from the plan.

You’ve got the wrong people doing the wrong things. Brands need to think like publishers, but very few professionals outside the media have any idea how to do that. That’s not a criticism, it’s a reality; the two roles are extremely different. Creating an in-house content team that functions as a unit of your business is much easier said than done. Unfortunately, the skills that are so useful in a traditional marketing department don’t always translate perfectly to a content-oriented marketing squad. It’s a manager’s job to put people in the right position to experience success.

Content creation is everyone’s second priority. This is extremely common. Company X hires a writer to create blog posts and whitepapers, but first has her rework a sales deck and then write a speech for the CEO. Six months later, your content marketing is … nowhere. Content marketing is important, and it needs to be a top priority, not a task “somebody” will do in her spare time. In many ways, the success of a content strategy is all about the rinse and repeat. This means devoting resources to execution.

You have no idea what to say. Yup, good old writer’s block. It affects everyone who has to sit down and write on a regular basis, but it takes a pro to understand how to break through and get the job done. But this is where most content strategies fail, because the person charged with content creation doesn’t have experience breaking through writer’s block, and may think she just needs to stare at her computer keyboard and wait for that inspirational bolt of lightning. This approach isn’t something you can bet your content strategy on, but that’s what most organizations do.

Your organization is self-centered.  For so many organizations, it's completely unnatural to move away from promoting themselves and toward informing their audience. But a smart content strategy is not promotional. It isn’t about you, it’s about them. The goal is to inform and engage the audience, not pummel them with sales messages. So a successful content marketer has an outward orientation. Very easy to say, but hard to convince the C-suite and sales, who have spent their entire careers talking about their utterly awesome products and services.

You built it… but they ain’t coming. If a blog post falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound? No. So the word needs to spread. There is no magic viral dust you can sprinkle on your content, you just need to connect it to your network. If it’s compelling it will spread. You need to activate your team to create a social business, and you need to seek out other smart distribution strategies. But you can’t just post an article and sit back and wait for the phone to ring.

Successfully executing a content strategy is a big hill to climb. It can get knocked off-track at numerous places along the trail. But knowing where the pitfalls lie can help you avoid them.

2 comments about "When Your Content Marketing Fails".
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  1. Stephen Baldwin from Didit, November 7, 2014 at 12:58 p.m.

    Excellent article, John! I would only add:
    1. Impatience. Getting actual business from content marketing always takes much longer than it should. Many lose patience with CM efforts just before the big win occurs.
    2. Analytics Inadequacy. Yes, you need analytics to see where your audience is coming from. What's more difficult is seeing opportunities in usage patterns that can suggest content that you're not writing (but should). Don't silo your reports -- they contain data that can be used creatively!

  2. Lindsay Talbot from Virool, November 10, 2014 at 12:29 p.m.

    Great piece John!

    While I agree that these are common obstacles facing organizations, I feel that there is one major obstacle missing that needs to be addressed. Content marketing isn’t one department – the entire organization must transform their mindset.

    Hubspot’s CMO, Mike Volpe, gave a fantastic presentation at Inbound 2014 where he shared how Hubspot became a content-focused organization. One of the most salient points he made was that every single person in your organization must be ready (and not scared) of contributing. He mentions that even Hubspot’s engineers are called upon to contribute. The reason I think this is such an important obstacle to address is because it will dramatically influence (for the better) the remaining obstacles.

    Shifting the organization’s mindset to a content-centric ideology will reduce friction across obstacles:

    (1) “You’re lost before you start the journey” - Content will start to be incorporate into the plans and strategies of other departments, at the very least they’ll consider content as a bucket to include

    (2) “You’ve got the wrong people doing things” - Once the organization has a content mindset, it’ll become very apparent there needs to be a professional behind the wheel. Like you mentioned, brands need to be publishers and I absolutely agree.

    (3) “Content creation is everyone’s second priority” - This is the obstacle most closely tied with the one I presented - these two obstacles will eliminate each other once one is addressed.

    (4) “You have no idea what to say” - Even engineers should write and contribute. Once SME’s are involved, this will draw attention to the fact that a writing professional is needed to shape the content.

    (5) “Your organization is self-centered” - Making an organization content-centric won’t exactly overcome this obstacle. Getting the organization to think from the customer perspective and headspace, well, this needs to addressed in the ways you outlined.

    I want to break out number six (“you built it... but they ain’t coming”) because it’s the exact challenge I try to address in the content I produce. I work for Virool, which is a video distribution platform for individuals, small businesses, and global brands and their agencies. 95% of YouTube videos have less than 1,000 views, but Virool was built to help marketers and creators change that statistic.

    (6) You make the point “if it’s compelling it will spread,” but then state “you need to seek out other smart distribution strategies.” At first, I read this as a contradiction but I think you are actually hitting on something close to a “k” factor – the content needs to be compelling, but distribution is also essential.For example, try sharing a video on YouTube using their share buttons - how many clicks does it take you?

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