Almost every business claims to have a content marketing program. But modern content marketing is not simply a matter of slapping up content as a part of your marketing program. Real content marketing is a modern thing, catalyzed by a combination of social technology, business analytics and the changing needs of customers.
A real content marketing program is developed in concert with the needs of both sales and marketing. It acts both as education and to generate leads. It should be interactive. And smart content marketers figure out ways to solicit ideas for content from the customers and from outside the business.
There are many ways to successfully operate a content marketing program. But, more often, businesses become ensnared by common pitfalls and their content marketing efforts fail to produce. Here are the six most common failures of content marketing – as a content marketer myself, I’ve seen each of them debilitate otherwise promising programs.
1. Fail to Respect the Opportunity of Content
The Internet era has led to a devaluation of “content.” The very term is demeaning to that which it describes and makes it a commodity. When it’s is viewed this way, there is no emphasis on excellence -- “content” becomes fodder to be fed into the marketing machine. When content is not respected, your marketing program values the great and the mediocre as the same. And if you don’t value your own content, why would your customers spend their time reading it?
Think about it: if you had a museum filled with important paintings, iconic sculpture and historic photography, would you describe the museum’s artifacts to people you hoped to influence as “content,” or would you use a term that ascribed more importance to it?
The business world is stuck with the term “content.” It’s what we use to describe writing, webinars, infographics and videos. But get out of the mindset that the “content” you create is simply marketing fodder, something you need to check off a box on your marketing plan. Every piece you add to your content marketing arsenal is a chance to stake your place as the most creative and most insightful business in your space. If you don’t respect that opportunity, don’t waste your time on content marketing.
2. Treat Content Marketing as Another Form of Broadcasting
The previous generations of marketing had the benefit of a one-way conversation with customers in a world relatively devoid of competing conversations. Because of that, much of the content was based around the conversation that marketers wanted to have. Often, that was about how great their business was. But who wants to read a sales pitch? The answer then was “few people,” and the answer today is “almost no one.”
The conversation today is a two-way conversation, and beyond. The content you include in your program is subject to feedback via social media -- are you paying attention to it? If you’re creating great content, the conversation may not include you directly -- customers and potential customers will discuss and share your content on social media channels that you don’t control.
But many marketers operate as if they were mired in the past. They delude themselves into believing that they control the conversation and that everything they broadcast will be unquestioningly absorbed by a willing and passive audience. Not only does that insult the modern customer -- who’s more active and informed than ever before -- it’s a great way to guarantee your content marketing efforts are actively ignored.
3. Hide Everything Behind Registration
The old-school marketer will argue until the cows come home: “why have content if you can’t collect lead information from it?” These poor souls are convinced that all content should lead directly to a sale, which is a philosophy undercut by reality. Have any of these marketing pros ever bought something after reading a single white paper or infographic? Further, it suggests that every person who reads or views a piece of content is a potential customer. If you want to bury your sales team under a load of “leads” that are dead-ends, this is the way to do it.
If you live in the real world you know that the larger a purchase is, the more research customers will do. Ideally, your company can provide all the background needed to educate and inform the customer and position your business as a front-runner for the sale. But imagine being the customer and being forced to fill out a form every time you want to view something. It’s tiresome -- and at a certain point, you'll seek your information from a vendor who makes it easier to access.
A better approach is to keep most content easily located and in the open, and be strategic about what goes behind registration. Focus on content that’s targeted at potential customers nearing the buying decision, because they’re the ones who your sales people really need to talk to, not the readers who are just learning about who you are and what you do.
Alternately, offer viewers a “membership” or a single sign in with a password they can use every time they visit when they complete a form. The added benefit of this is that you can track their content consumption patterns, analyze patterns across all viewers, and draw conclusions about the effectiveness of your program.
4. Fail to Respect Customer’s Time Constraints
Your content marketing efforts are competing in an attention economy against the efforts of hundreds or thousands of other companies – including many who are not direct competitors. But many businesses still think their potential customers have the time to pore over 4000-word white papers or view 45-minute videos. How many opportunities have been missed to turn a stranger into a hot lead because businesses felt entitled to an outsized chunk of their potential customer’s time?
Much of this content contains good components. Repackage them into smaller bites: a well-organized set of five 500-word articles is more likely to get attention than a single 2500-word white paper. It also gives you more opportunities to capture customers’ attention by focusing on a specific need or problem in each shorter article.
For example, a white paper called “Selling Your Sales Staff on CRM” would be a better bet than a longer one called “Techniques for Boosting CRM Adoption in Sales, Marketing IT and Support.” The shorter and more focused piece will garner more eyeballs -- and links to the other related shorter articles on Marketing, IT and Support will mean that potential customers who are really interested will still read the entire set of articles.
The same goes for other content. An infographic with 38 data points will not be read to the end. A webinar that’s an hour long requires one-eighth of a viewer’s work day -- a 30-minute webinar won’t seem like as much of an imposition. Shorter videos will be viewed more often than long videos. Realize that your potential customers are increasingly busy and, while they may want information from you, they have a limited amount of time to learn it.
5. Lose Sight of Who You’re Trying to Reach
If all is going well, your sales and marketing teams have consensus on what a qualified lead looks like. That should include at least some basic persona information. All of this must be shared with the content marketers, because it will be critically important to create content geared to those people.
Instead, many businesses start creating content that looks great internally -- it hews closely to messaging, it dwells on topics that are pets of the CMO or CEO, and much of it is “high concept” that reflects the internal thinking of the business. This content almost never matches what potential customers -- particularly target customers -- are looking to learn. It reflects what marketers think their potential customers need to learn and not what those customers would say they need to learn. This is an enormous problem.
A tragic mismatch occurs when marketing is aiming for lead numbers while the rest of the organization wants qualified leads. The result is an avalanche of content that aims at the “top of the funnel,” which is useful -- when you’re making a market and willing to play the long game. If you want deals now, this mismatch and the resulting failure to target content at the right audience will lead to bad business results and pink slips for the marketing team.
6. Talk About Yourself and Not the Customer
If a stranger walked up to you at a party and said, “I want to tell you about something you should buy!” you’d probably give him the brush-off. But if someone started a conversation by saying, “What’s the biggest headache your business faces? Maybe I could help,” you’d be more likely to talk to him.
That same dynamic is at work in content marketing. People look for answers to their problems. They do not look for in-depth descriptions of your solution. The reason should be obvious: without the context of the problem, there’s no reason to think about a solution. So why do so many businesses think good content focuses on various strengths of their products? (That’s a rhetorical question -- again, it’s because of the broadcasting nature of old-school marketing and the idea that the marketer controls the conversation.)
Identifying the problems your products solve is a great way to offer multiple routes for customers to get to your content. But beyond that, it starts the customer relationship out the right way: by focusing on the things that are important to him (solving his problems) instead of focusing on the things that are important to you (the awesomeness of your product or service, making a sale).