7 Reasons Why Your Content Marketing Strategy Isn’t Working and How to Turn it Around

120 Years since John Deer first published The Furrow, it’s well established that effective content marketing methodologies work.

7 Reason Content Marketing Isn't WorkingThere are plenty of posts out there about content marketing that focus on the appropriate approach (at a high level), but don’t dig into specifics on what works or what doesn’t. This week, I’ll take a look at what content marketing methodologies you should be considering, what your marketing stack looks like, and where your content marketing programs might fail.

Like anything else, content marketing has some fairly universally accepted methodologies. While there are no guarantees in content marketing, if you aren’t incorporating some (or most) of the following, you’re almost guaranteed to fail.

What are the accepted content marketing methodologies?

I mentioned to a friend that we were including this short list of marketing methodologies here and he practically tore my face off. “That’s marketing 101 crap,” he laughed. “Your clients are far beyond that”.

Well—true, it is basic content marketing, but he’s missing the point. SO MANY companies aren’t leveraging content marketing, aren’t getting the benefits out of it, or don’t know where to start.

  • Adaptive Buyer Persona – An active, “living” profile of your ideal customer(s). Often overlooked, Buyer Personas can help marketing and sales teams come together to meet buyers’ needs, understand their challenges, and close more deals.
  • Buyer Journey – Understanding the path that a buyer takes to get to your website, and ultimately, your product or service.
  • Buying Cycle – Awareness > Interest > Action > Purchase > Satisfaction > Repeat > Advocacy.
  • Content Mapping and Creation – The process of developing video, infographics, case studies, white papers, blogs, memes (and other content), that map to your personas, their buyer journey and buying cycle.
  • Content Promotion – The act of getting your content in the hands of ideal buyers through search engine optimization, paid advertising, social sharing, and email marketing.
  • Lead Nurturing (and sometimes closing) – The process by which marketing takes leads that come in through various channels (typically the website), touches and educates along different stages of their buying process, and ultimately hands them off (once qualified) to sales.
  • Tracking – Any tools and analytics that help demonstrate ROI and attribution (where the lead/sale or business activity came from).
  • Analysis – The ability to assess how strategies and tactics are working, and how to intelligently modify (or change altogether) your approach in response to, or to drive business goals. Often marketers struggle with, “it’s working (or not), and I don’t really know why.” Having the data is great to report to CFOs and senior management, but being able to articulate the “what” and “why” about the data is critical.

If you have these methodologies in place, you will most certainly be looking at some form of marketing stack of technology to help you manage and scale your activities.

What does a best-in-breed content marketing stack look like?

There are a number of flavors of content marketing stacks out there, including:

  • Data-flow focused: where the components are interconnected, concentrating on the flow of the data.
  • Buyer’s Journey driven: based on awareness, lead nurturing/conversion, sales, enchantment.
  • Marketing function driven: primarily based on the specific functions of a marketing organization, content, PR, sales.

Which you choose is up to you, as long as it plays to your strengths, and addresses your weaknesses. I prefer the following, which is a hybrid combination of the first two, data-flow and buyer’s journey:

Awareness: Paid Search and Display, SEO, Social Media

The Search Engine Journal maps out 14 of the best paid search tools in this October, 2014 update. It’s a great list featuring both paid and free tools, and for clients using WordPress as their CMS, Yoast is a tool clients seem to love.

Lead Conversion: Website, Landing Pages, Marketing Automation

Jeff Boulas, a well respected authority, blogger, author, and strategist recently posted his thoughts on the top 10 marketing automation tools for transforming your business. Clients like Pardot because of its tight integration with salesforce.com. Clients like Salesforce because of its integration with sales teams.

Nurturing: Retargeting, Email Marketing

Typically a great marketing automation tool will include email marketing, so we won’t repeat that here. One component that is not included in MA software suites (yet) is retargeting, and there are a number of platforms that are emerging. MOZ compares the top four retargeting platforms here.

Deal Conversion: CRM, Sales Enablement

CRM and sales enablement tools are focused on getting sales teams empowered to deliver the right information (or content), to the right person, at the right time. VentureBeat had this to say about CRM:

“CRM sales software provides companies with a suite of tools to manage the entire sales process, from initial lead qualification to opportunity management, forecasting, and eventually deal closure.”

Analytics: Web, Marketing, Sales

Where should we even start with this one? According to IDC, the big data analytics market will hit $125 billion worldwide this year. MarketingLand, a daily publication covering all aspects of the digital marketing industry, reported there are 80 hot SEO, Social Media and Digital Analytics tools available to you.

While this marketing technology stack is seemingly simple, getting it all to play together can be challenging. The thing to remember is that all of your campaign data should flow into your marketing automation / CRM solution. With a proper stack in place, buyers will flow naturally from awareness campaigns via Adwords, social channels, and organic search, into your lead nurturing and conversion programs, ultimately becoming deals.

If you are leveraging your content methodologies, and you have a solid marketing technology stack in place, that’s half the battle. The final aspect to factor in is your execution. And this can be tricky, but manageable.

Why isn’t my content marketing working?

Like any engine, content marketing must first be built on a solid foundation, fine-tuned for optimum performance, and then maintained to ensure it runs properly. While this isn’t an exhaustive list, I hope it provides you with some self-assessment tools to help get your content marketing on the right track.

1. Your content is not about the buyer.
The most important point for you to take-away from this post is that any marketing you do should be about the buyer: their challenges, needs, wants, problems, environment, etc. Your features and benefits should be some of the very last things you talk about—if you talk about them at all. Content marketing works because your ideal customers are out there searching for the answers to their problems. But they aren’t searching for YOUR solution, they are searching for your experience, your tips, your tricks, your examples.

So, how do you make it about your buyer? KNOW your buyer. Develop rich, detailed B2B buyer personas, and you’ll be well on your way to a successful content marketing program. Personas will give you deep insight into your buyers’ unique challenges and context—particularly primary research conversations that focus, not on the solution, but on the specific problem they were trying to solve.

2. Your content is not engaging your buyers.
The Content Marketing Institute reports that 54% of marketers are struggling to produce effective content. There’s a better than 50% chance that you fall into that bucket. Again, it comes back to understanding your buyers—what their needs are, what their particular context is, and what problems they are trying to solve.

While blogs are a great source of attracting buyers to your site, what are their opportunities to interact with your content? Perhaps you have social share icons on the post. Maybe you’ve coded in a “tweet this” code snippet for WordPress. But is that really engaging?

Beyond understanding needs and context, understand how your users interact with your content, and leverage the innate strengths of the platform. Are your users mainly mobile? Develop content that integrates with an app. Are they on tablets? Maybe there’s an opportunity to leverage location-based data to deliver a more immersing experience.

Whatever it is, it won’t be easy (if it was, everyone would be doing it), but as long as its relevant to solving problems for your buyer, it’s a step in the right direction.

3. Your content lacks focus.
Focus can pose a challenge for marketers developing content marketing programs within companies that have a more traditional marketing and advertising approach. Great content marketing examines the buyer and their particular journey to solve a problem. Lack of focus on the buyer or their journey typically results in content that is:

  • Too broad, not based on a particular persona, and too general to draw the traffic you need
  • Based on too many personas that may not actually be relevant to the process, resulting in wasted time and resources that don’t generate qualified leads
  • Too focused—content that is so narrowly defined that it doesn’t have broad enough appeal to generate a critical mass of inbound traffic and leads to nurture. Focused content may also cause internal stumbling blocks when it comes to developing new and unique content over time.

Start with 3 or 4 personas that relate to each other, map out their buyer’s journey, and develop a number of broad, but relevant topics for each. As your program evolves, dig into specifics on each of these topics and slowly expand your content, improving your relevant content and answering more of your ideal buyer’s problems.

4. You’re challenged with creating quality content.
In any business or discipline, there are three critical factors when producing work:

  • Time to produce
  • Cost of production
  • Quality of production

It’s understood that you can have 2 of the three, but you can rarely get ALL three at once. As marketers are funneling billions into content marketing this year, most of us are strapped with time when focusing on creating quality materials.

There are a couple of ways to overcome time constraints (assuming you’re prioritizing quality and budget):

  • Prioritize internal content creation starting with the C-suite. Without high-level buy-in, you’ll never get the sources of knowledge in your organization to spend their time blogging. Everyone has a “more important” job to do. Getting buy-in at this level is the first step to the internal spend, and most critical.
  • Outsource content creation. There are plenty of content creation agencies available who can (at the bare minimum) create decent blogs. Fewer, and more fully in demand are dynamic content creation agencies that can deliver on video, animation, branded white papers and more.

Either approach will cost you, but if you’re looking to rise above the current content glut and noise, you’ll need to focus on consistently creating engaging and quality content.

5. You have a content marketing skills gap.
Here’s a challenge you face every day. You’re the sole marketing director at a mid-size business, and anything and everything that relates to the web or something printed falls within your purview. Today it’s new business cards. Tomorrow someone posted something nasty on your Facebook wall. Next week you’re managing that trade-show booth, and “maybe we should redesign our logo so it looks better on blue.” (from an actual conversation). You just never know where that next request is going to come from, and if you actually have the skill set in place to address it.

So you turn to Professor Google to answer your questions (again one of the reasons to generate quality content). And you realize there isn’t a free tool to do that thing. Or that analyzing that data just might take a PhD. Or that you know how to manage those tools, but… exactly how DO you conduct competitor research and develop competitive messaging?

It’s unfortunate, but the emergence of inbound marketing and digital tools has created this false belief that as a marketer, you now need to be an expert at everything. Well… you can’t. There’s just no way to do it all. And we’re scared to admit it (I used to be on your side of the table, so I know all about the “what do you mean we need to hire a contractor/freelancer/agency for this—what are we paying YOU for?!?!” conversation). But it’s a legitimate concern.

So how do you address it? Be clear about your personal domain expertise, and hire to supplement that. Make it clear to your team that you have broad domain experience, and are an expert or specialize in a few key areas. That’s how most other industries work, and it works quite well in content marketing. Maybe your speciality is PR. Or Social. Or eMarketing. But you don’t create Videos. Or have never driven a Rebranding exercise. Or conducted Buyer Journey development.

Again, you’re not alone. According to SmartInsights, the top three areas where marketers need to improve the depth of their knowledge include:

  • CRM and Big Data (58%)
  • Digital Strategy (53%)
  • Content Marketing (50%)

Given this, it’s unsurprising then that 62% of companies outsource content marketing.

6. You’re not sustaining your content marketing efforts.
If you listen to content marketing experts and marketing automation platform promotional content, you already know that you need to be publishing content nearly daily to be successful—and that it can take 6 months or longer to start generating results (so why haven’t you started content marketing yet!?).

It takes time, and it takes continuous effort. And it takes scale. Don’t start with a focus on quantity (often the enemy of quality). If you find that you can’t sustain your efforts, go back to the time/cost/quantity relationship. You MUST create quality content. You MUST control cost (most of the time), and you MUST publish regularly. So, don’t be too ambitious. Start with 2 posts a week. Hit the 1,500 words or so per post, and slowly add a post per week as your experience grows.

7. You’re not understanding why your content works (or doesn’t).
Growing up in Vermont, I heard “if it ain’t broke, why fix it?” a lot. And in many cases, this is true. If my car is running fine, I’ll want to make sure I have my regular maintenance scheduled, but I won’t be replacing my brakes until they’re ready.Marketing’s a bit different.If something is working, you want to know WHY, so that you can replicate that success. Ever had someone come to you and say, “if we could just get that video to go viral…” you know what I’m talking about. The ability to achieve success and repeat it hinges on our ability to understand our buyer, their journey and the elements of our marketing campaign that achieved success.

If you don’t have an understanding of why your campaigns are working, you really need to dig into the analytics. In the last year alone, old tools have evolved to become more sophisticated and easier to use, while new tools have cropped up to make “big data” more accessible than ever. There are key indicators across your marketing stack to understand what is and isn’t working. If you’re not getting great open rates, your subject line needs work. If you’re getting good open rates but no click-throughs… well… you get the idea.

Addressing your buyers’ needs

Leveraging accepted marketing methodologies and having a best-in-class (or perhaps good enough for your organization) marketing stack in place are only half the battle. By addressing your buyers’s needs, focusing your content, creating quality and engaging content, and delivering it on a regular basis, you’ll be able to develop a lead pipeline that both your VP of Sales and your CFO will appreciate and value.

Have you been struggling with creating a content marketing strategy, and its not delivering on its promise? Need some inspiration on generating quality content? If so, check out our Periodic Table of Marketing Trends and Predictions for this year. How many are you leveraging in your content strategy?