Content Marketing Failure: Let Us Count The Ways

CMO EXCLUSIVES | February 27, 2013

I’m an ardent advocate of a well-executed content marketing strategy.


  • Before jumping into a new social media, give some serious thought to what you plan to do there.
  • Many organizations throw their most junior people into the content-marketing maelstrom.
  • People do business with other people. They don’t do business with companies.

At Lendio, when we talk about content marketing, we lump social media, PR, and content marketing together in a coordinated approach because they seem to integrate well and the type of messaging is similar. I don’t think the approach is unique, but it is the result of a few years of experience and experimentation with a strategy that seems to do what we want it to—build a thought leadership position within our market, create greater brand awareness, identify potential customers interested in what we’re doing, and ultimately generate a positive ROI.

But it doesn’t work for everyone. Following are six reasons some organizations aren’t very successful with their content marketing:

1. They take the wrong approach with social media.
I’m not a big fan of being on Twitter or Facebook (for example) simply to be there. Before I jump into a new social media, I give some serious thought to what we plan on doing there, whether it will introduce us to the types of people we want to meet, and whether we have the resources to effectively share our message there. I’m an advocate of using social media to promote content, as well as socially interact, with a heavy emphasis on sharing content our audience will identify as relevant. Few people really care about what I had for lunch, but they are interested in what our spokespeople have to say about our industry. After all, that’s why they started following us in the first place.

2. They put the wrong people in charge of the effort.
I guess it’s because they don’t take the social/content marketing effort seriously, but I’ve always been surprised at why so many organizations throw their most junior people into the maelstrom and can’t figure out why nobody is paying attention. We look at this effort as a vehicle for sharing our expertise within the industry, offering information that will make life easier for our followers (whether or not they are customers), and sharing our thought leadership. That is kind of challenging for spokespeople who haven’t had much experience yet.

While working at AtTask, I noticed a competitor’s blog post that went something like this: “I’m so excited to be writing on this blog. I don’t know anything about this industry, but I’m really excited to learn and contribute.” A great sentiment, but it’s not very inspiring if you’re someone looking for advice or want to learn best practices.

I have worked with brilliant young people over the past five or six years who make a meaningful, and incredibly valuable, contribution to our content marketing efforts—I just don’t expect them to be the voice of experience. Knowledge of how social media works does not qualify anyone to be a company spokesperson or thought leader.

3. They look at PR the same way they did five or 10 years ago.
Yes, we have a PR firm. And, yes, we produce press releases. But the value of our PR firm, and where we focus their energy, is in finding places we can contribute relevant content, introducing us to media that will help us tell our story, and participating as an active member of the content marketing team when we sit down to discuss strategy and next steps. I consider my PR firm to be an invaluable part of what we’re doing. I don’t want them wasting time writing press releases about stuff that isn’t really news simply so I can say I send out a press release or two every month. They are much more valuable to me than that.

4. They forget that business is personal.
If I’ve learned nothing else in the 30-plus years I’ve been in the workforce, it’s that people do business with other people. They don’t do business with companies. Business is personal, and your content marketing efforts should be, too. Nobody really cares how long you’ve been in business or how many awards you’ve won, but they do care about what an industry expert might think about a challenge they’re trying to overcome or a tip that might help them be better at their job.

After interviewing 31,000 people, the 13th Annual Edelman Trust Barometer suggests that academics or industry experts are the most trusted company spokesperson. You might be interested to know that only government officials are trusted less than the CEO (both of whom show up at the bottom of the list). I interpret this to mean that it’s far too easy for the CEO to sound like the “corporation” rather than a real person. Successful content within content marketing efforts comes from people, not corporations, and works even when the industry expert happens to be the CEO—provided he or she remembers that business is personal.

5. They confuse content marketing with marketing.
Successful content marketing is not about promoting a sales message. It’s about the subtle link that leads people back to your profile or company Web site. If your content is relevant, interesting, and helpful, then people will seek you out. Sales messages are for marketing slicks, Web sites, and email blasts. The quickest way to kill your social media and content marketing is to continuously talk about your new product release, how to contact you to make a purchase, or how cool you are because you just won a “very prestigious “ award. Successful content marketing is about sharing best practices, tips, tricks, tactics, and advice that will help your audience be more successful at their jobs. The less you “pimp” your company, the more your audience will trust you and your company.

6. They give up too soon.
You may be interested to know that it takes Google 50 posts before your blog gets indexed. In other words, if you write one blog post a week, it will take Google a year before it starts sending any significant search traffic to your site. That’s one of the reasons I suggest using Twitter, Facebook, and other social media to promote your content. What’s more, it also belies the fact that if your efforts stop after two or three blog posts, you might as well just throw in the towel and accept that you don’t have the stomach for social media or content marketing.

The lessons I’ve learned over the past few years have challenged the notions I accepted as tried-and-true facts as a direct marketer, where compelling offers, calls to action, and offer codes ruled the day. Marketers are now seeking a dialogue with customers and potential customers. Done right, content marketing gives us the chance to do so while forming personal relationships based on trust that ultimately end up creating customers.

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