More marketers are spending time, money and resources on content marketing than ever before. In fact, 42 percent of businesses now publish new content at least weekly. However, the majority of these efforts continue to fail. Why is this? While the reasons are wide-ranging, I see some mistakes happening over and over again:
1. It’s run by freelance writers
This isn’t meant to knock freelance writers. We work with many talented freelancers, who are excellent writers. But they are writers — not content marketers or content strategists.
While we have both in-house writers and freelance writers, on accounts where we work with freelance writers, we have both a content marketer and a freelance writer on the account. The content marketer oversees the strategy — the buyer persona development, editorial calendar planning, promotional strategy, conversion paths, marketing automation, and more. The content marketer edits the freelancer’s copy to ensure it is on strategy, meets the audience’s needs, that the right SEO keywords are implemented correctly and more.
Content marketing is not writing. It’s a complex discipline that must be driven by a professional with the experience and expertise to advise you on where to spend your marketing dollars, how to effectively deploy tactics, and how to get the most out of your content resources.
2. Your subject-matter experts aren’t highly involved
Content marketing is the art of creating and delivering content (blog posts, videos, webinars, email newsletters, e-books, etc.) that informs and educates your prospects in order to win their attention, trust, respect, and ultimately, their business. By doing so, you showcase your expertise in a non-salesy way, attracting prospects to you. How in the world can you do that effectively without the involvement and input of your subject-matter experts?
Great content solves problems for your prospects. It challenges their thinking. It keeps them abreast of the latest trends. It makes them think, “These people are really smart — they truly understand my industry and my challenges,” or “Wow, I never thought about the issue that way,” or “This is exactly the information I was looking for. As soon as I’m ready to buy, these are the people I’m going to turn to,” or “I’m going to look a little closer at this company that wrote this blog post — they may be the provider that I need for this project.”
To create content that elicits those responses, your subject-matter experts must provide regular, thoughtful input into your content. This doesn’t mean they have to drive the program (in fact, I wouldn’t recommend that), nor does it mean that they have to author it, but their brain power should be behind it.
There are several ways to do this. We have created editorial boards with several of our clients, which is a panel of subject-matter experts that meets regularly to discuss industry trends, issues and challenges clients and prospects are facing and business development priorities — all of which impacts the content marketing program. We also interview subject-matter experts (just as journalists would) for blog posts and ghost-write the content.
3. You don’t understand your prospects
This is an age-old problem in marketing, and in today’s content-driven digital world it’s no different. Research is critical. If you can’t afford market research, you must spend time talking with those who regularly speak with your prospects and those who work with your customers.
Build out buyer personas. Relentlessly seek to get into the minds of your buyers. When they sit down at their computers to educate themselves on a problem, challenge or new initiative they’re tasked with, what kinds of information are they looking for? What information will be the most valuable? What problems do they have in the first place? Which leads to my next point...
4. Your content isn’t helpful
Unless you are pursuing an identity marketing strategy — which aims to align your customers’ values and sense of who they are with yours so that they see your products and services as an extension of themselves — you must produce content that solves problems.
For example, Nike is one of the world’s most successful identity marketers. When consumers buy Nike products, they are self-identifying with the brand and making a statement about themselves by wearing and using the product. Nike, thus, invests heavily in lifestyle content with fewer calls to action, focused more on building relationships based on shared values and interests.
For those companies whose prospects aren’t purchasing their products and services due to a pure lifestyle-driven, emotional decision, the foundation of your content marketing program must be helpful, informative content that solves your prospects’ most urgent problems. There is certainly a role for lifestyle content, but without focusing on helpful content, you’ll never succeed.
5. You write badly
Great writing is going the way of the dodo. Trust me, I recruit and hire writers. Good ones are incredibly hard to find. But trust me on this, too: great writing will make or break your content marketing. Don’t trust a marketing firm focused on design who happens to have a writer. Writing is difficult, specialized and must be continually honed. And it’s becoming more and more important to marketing as buyers become increasingly digitally savvy, attention spans get shorter, and content becomes more prolific.
And don’t trust resumes. As Grant Butler wrote in Chief Content Officer Magazine, “... you’d be amazed how many people present well and have appropriate resumes, but lack a real aptitude for writing. And be warned, journalists can be published for years and even rise high despite having mediocre writing skills. Their saviors are the bosses and copy editors who fix their spelling, grammar, and even facts.”
Writing for the web is important, too. Copyblogger put it best: “The web is a ‘lean forward and participate’ medium. Television, by contrast, is a ‘lean back and let it wash over me’ medium.” Thus, small aids like subheads, shorter sentences and paragraphs, lists and more will make your content much more effective for today’s digital readers.
6. You aren’t giving any directions
What do you want your readers to do after reading your blog posts? Generally “be aware” of you? Feel good about you? No, you want them to contact you and buy from you. However, about 75 percent of blog readers are “information searchers” — they are just looking for information on how to fulfill a need or solve a problem and aren’t yet ready to speak to you or learn about your products or services. So how do you move your blog reader along a path to more engagement (and eventual purchase)? You use “calls to action” (CTAs).
HubSpot defines CTAs as “the link between the regular content that your potential customer is interested in, and a page with a more high-value offer on it (the landing page) that is relevant and interesting enough to persuade your visitor to complete a short form.”
CTAs are graphics and words that provide a clear “call” to do something — download an e-book, subscribe to an email newsletter, attend a webinar. The content you are asking the prospect to further engage with should be hidden behind a form, which the prospect must fill out. Once this happens — voilà! — you’ve captured a new sales lead. You can now use lead nurturing techniques to continually engage with the lead until they are ready to buy.
7. You aren’t promoting your content
Content marketing may still be king, but content promotion is now queen. As I wrote in my blog post on Mark Schaefer’s “content shock” theory, content marketing is maturing. This means that content marketers must move beyond the “post it and they will come” mentality. No longer can companies assume that they can simply create quality content, post it online, promote it via social media, and be successful. They must leverage a variety of promotion tactics, including owned, paid and earned media.
And don’t count posting to your own social media channels as ticking off the “content promotion” box. While organic reach (how many people you can reach for free by posting to your page) on Facebook and other social platforms is not dead, it’s pretty low. In fact, it can be less than 10 percent (that’s 10 percent of your fans actually seeing one of your posts).
So what’s a marketer to do? Pony up. That’s right, pony up. Start incorporating paid social media into your content promotion plan. Stop thinking content is the Field of Dreams of marketing. In today’s content-saturated world, you must pay to get your content to the right audiences.
8. Your SEO sucks
While the best SEO (search engine optimization) is simply great content, it’s still important to incorporate SEO best practices into your content marketing. I see way too many blog posts today with poorly written headlines or no subheads (another great place for SEO keywords). This is a wasted opportunity and one that is easily corrected. Take the time to understand your target audience and the kind of search terms they use to find answers to their problems online. Add these words to your meta data for each page and to the headlines and subheads for each blog post.
In addition, pay attention to onsite optimization, including where you place keywords on your pages, site structure, speed and security. In the end, be good to Google, and Google will be good to you.
9. You have no patience
“How long?” you ask. The infuriating answer: “it depends.” I tell our clients to be prepared for a minimum of six months to see significant results. In the meantime however you should see a steady uptick in website visitors and blog subscribers, and begin to hear anecdotal positive feedback.
There are numerous other reasons, including a lack of leadership buy-in, no measurement and refinement, an undefined niche, and more. What about you? What do you think are the top reasons many content marketing efforts fail? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.