Solving the most common reasons marketers fail at content marketing

January 8, 2016Uncategorized

By Elizabeth Owens – Business Development Manager

When it comes to crappy content marketing I guess you could say that I’m something of an expert. You see, I’ve spent the past four years at King Content working with brand marketers who are struggling to make content marketing work for them.

Often they’re just ‘starting out’ on content marketing and need some expert assistance to tackle the sometimes complicated organisational transition to an always-on content approach or they’ve already thrown some significant budget at ‘making this content thing work’, but having made some critical errors are now faced with the stress of delivering results from initially mismanaged programs.

Nine times out of 10 these marketing directors or managers are incredibly talented and smart marketers. They are master jugglers overseeing all traditional and digital marketing channels, managing teams (both up and down) and doing their best to stay sane while progressing in their career. They understand the value and potential for content marketing in their organisation, but fail on execution.

There are many reasons why people fail at content marketing and I’ve seen them all. So, in the interest of beleaguered marketing managers everywhere, in this series of blogs I thought I’d share some perspectives on the most common content marketing mistakes I’ve encountered.


– Edition One: Content marketing buy-in, budgets and the danger of pilots.

– Edition Two: Thinking beyond tactics, content distribution and measuring success

– Edition Three: Why best practice matters, strategic partnerships and forgetting your own expertise

1. You don’t have (the right kind of) buy-in

‘Well duh’, I can hear you thinking down your screen, but hear me out.

While the ‘buy-in’ hurdle to content marketing seems to have apparently been solved over the past two years as the market matured and CEOs learned more about the benefits of content marketing, it’s still rare to encounter an organisation with the right level of buy-in for content marketing.

The CMO’s eyes may no longer glaze over when the word ‘content’ is mentioned (I hope) and you’re allowed to allocate some minor budget to digital content, but in 2016 that is just not enough.

Effective content marketing requires long-term investment, focus and resources in order to drive results and cumulative ROI. It requires early involvement from key stakeholders and decision-makers to align the program with the broader organisational vision and ensure that the critical repository of internal knowledge is not overlooked for the sake of getting content ‘out there’ quickly.

Common pitfalls

– C-suite is unaware of content marketing – how it works and what’s really involved to achieve success. They see content as just another tactic rather than an asset for an organisation. This lack of understanding of the long-term resource and budgetary implications of a content program can cause tension later when they don’t see immediate ROI or aren’t prepared to continue allocating budget to an always-on approach.

– Senior decision-makers/ C-Suite are left out of initial planning and content strategy development. This results in a lack of executive sponsorship or involvement in the program. It’s always helpful to have a program led ‘from the top’ when you hit internal roadblocks/opposition.

– Marketers fail to involve internal experts from sales, product managers and customer service divisions. These stakeholders generally understand the audience as much, if not more, than the marketing team and can be a critical ally when attempting to ingrain content within the broader organisational approach to communications.

Tips on getting real content marketing buy-in

Host an education session on Content Marketing 101

If content marketing is new to your organisation or you’ve only dipped your toe in the water to date, I would recommend holding an education or training session with all senior stakeholders who will be involved in the program in one way or another. This session should be held before any content planning sessions and should focus on the basics of content marketing: what it is, how it works and what’s really involved in order to achieve success (Hint: You can’t post three blogs and hope for a 30 per cent spike in sales).

These sessions can really benefit from being facilitated by an external content partner or expert in the field who can answer any objections or industry-related questions.

Involve senior decision-makers in initial planning and workshops

Seems simple enough until you’ve tried to find a free three hours in eight colleagues’ calendars; I know this can be a tough ask but it really is worth persevering. Their presence not only lends credibility to the program overall, but ensures that their individual expertise is incorporated. Plus, people are more likely to be receptive to future participation and sponsorship if they’ve been involved in a project from the beginning.

If you can’t secure a particular stakeholder’s time, I’d recommend sending them a customised questionnaire and jumping on a phone call with them to explain the objectives of the program, run through the questions and ask for their opinions/perspective.

By ensuring everyone commences a new content marketing program up-skilled and with their eyes wide open, marketers can drive real participation and sponsorship of content marketing internally, while mitigating any risk of the program being dropped within three months because someone up above hasn’t bought-in.

2. You don’t have a realistic content marketing budget

Another major mistake marketers make when commencing content marketing is to not allocate enough budget to achieve any significant or long-term outputs.

Content marketing budgets can vary dramatically from one organisation to another depending on your objectives, internal resourcing capabilities and the nature of the audience you’re targeting.

However, it’s important to note that the golden days of starting a blog and building a strong organic (otherwise known as ‘free’) audience within a few months are long gone. With the rise of newsfeed content consumption, that is, people accessing content and information primarily through social media channels and the continued monetisation trend of major social channels – I’m looking at you Facebook and LinkedIn – brands are now having to pay to access and share content with their own follower base.  As such, it’s critical that you incorporate expected paid media and amplification spends in your budget. Typically these spends can account for around 40 per cent of the cost of each content item (not including fees associated with channel planning and moderation).

So how much budget should you be allocating to content marketing?

At King Content we work with over 60 brands around the globe to create and use digital content to drive organisational results; this means we have unique insight into industry benchmarks for content marketing spends.

A typical annual spend for running a mid-market brand’s integrated content marketing program sits at around AU$360,000 annually. That fee is indicative of a brand that has outsourced the majority of strategic planning, content creation, amplification tactics and some media. Many brands with available and experienced internal resources could spend significantly less and achieve comparable results.

Things to consider when building out your content marketing budget

– How much do you need to outsource? Do you have internal content producers, editors and designers? Do they have time to be allocated to this program?

– How many pieces of content do you need to publish per week, month or quarter to achieve your objectives? Multiply an industry benchmark cost for each item by your desired volume. Don’t forget that the more complicated or design-intensive the format, typically the more expensive it will be to develop.

– Who and how will you manage distribution of the content across your website, social media and email marketing channels. Incorporate any technology platform fees, resource time required and paid media fees.

– Don’t forget that your and your team’s time is money and should be considered when building out the budget. Content marketing needs focus in order to drive results; if you don’t have the time, you’ll need to factor in budgets for internal resources or agency/partner outsourcing.

Tips on securing a realistic content marketing budget

Don’t mistake apples for oranges

A question I’m often asked is, “If I move X budget from SEM and put it in content, what ROI will I get?” and it drives me mad. Content marketing is not direct response marketing (DRM); it’s less about pushing the next sale and more about building a relationship with your audience so that when they’re ready to buy they already have an affinity with your brand and offering.

A common mistake marketers make is to just swap budget from DRM to content for a month or two and then bemoan the lack of immediate results. Content marketing takes time. It has been proven to drive long-term, cumulative ROI, but it does take time.

Keep this in mind when allocating budgets and remember that content marketing requires consistent investment over time to achieve results. As such, it’s best to secure a separate stand-alone budget for content marketing which is allocated for at least a six- or 12-month period.

Build a realistic long-term business case

Don’t think it will be possible to do content marketing properly with your current marketing budget?

Tempted to try and work things backward and ‘see what you can do’ with the 10K you have left over from this year’s marketing budget?

This may be controversial, but I’d suggest not bothering to attempt to kick-off a full content marketing program with such a small budget (small businesses excepted). Realistically, with 10K you may be able to create one good content asset and distribute it to your audience, but this will achieve few real results for your organisation.

For long-term content marketing success you need a long-term secured budget, and for that you need to develop a detailed business case which outlines the objectives, benefits and real organisational investment, both monetary and resource time, required to achieve your objectives. Building a business case for content marketing can be time-consuming and challenging, but with the long-term benefits and realities of what content marketing could mean for your organisation ‘on the table’, marketers are able to both secure realistic budgets which align with their objectives and set achievable/phased goals to mitigate any surprises or unrealistic expectations of the C-suite.

Want to learn more about how to build a long-term business case for content marketing in your organisation? Get in touch with our team today.

Don’t forget the cost of content strategy

Having a documented content strategy has been shown to dramatically increase the effectiveness of content marketing efforts. Content strategy mitigates risk when investing in ongoing content development and amplification activities because you’ve taken the time to research, plan and develop an appropriate governance process for the creation of content.

But it’s important to note that developing a documented content strategy for an organisation across 12 months is not something that can be completed in a single afternoon or by a single internal stakeholder.

Whether you’re outsourcing to a specialist content marketing agency like King Content, hiring a consultant or coordinating the project with internal strategic resources, it’s important to remember the costs associated with the content inventory/audit, market and competitor research, brainstorm sessions and the time required to pull all of these elements together into a cohesive and actionable plan.

Costs for a content strategy program will vary depending on the level of research and time required, as well as the expertise of the strategist who leads delivery of the program. As a general rule, expect to allocate a minimum of 10 per cent of your annual content marketing spend on upfront strategic planning and research.

3. You’ve gone down the ‘pilot route’ rather than focusing on strong strategic foundations

In an ideal world every CEO and CMO would value content marketing and recognise the need to invest in a long-term change management program but, as I’m well aware, this is not always possible.

Many marketers are faced with the challenge of ‘educating up’ when it comes to relatively new marketing approaches like content marketing, and when content marketing is still such a novel concept it can be difficult, time-consuming – and, for some, impossible – to secure enough budget and executive buy-in to commence a program properly by investing in a content strategy process. Instead, many executives are happy to opt for a pilot and test the concept before further budget allocation.

Now, I have nothing against pilots. When executed properly, they can be a very effective way for marketers to soft launch content marketing processes at their organisation and learn about what’s involved in the planning of content, the creative development and quality assurance processes, and how content can be published and then distributed throughout their brand’s digital ecosystem.

The challenge I have with pilots is that they are rarely executed properly.

Common pitfalls:

– Wildly unrealistic KPIs and results expectations from a small library of branded content (often the first the brand has ever created, therefore by means tailored to audience behaviour).

– Not enough planning and consideration given to the actual pain points and needs of the audience they are creating content for. Instead, marketers often approach content marketing pilots as DRM campaigns.

– No budget allocated for necessary amplification of this pilot content across social media channels and inclusions in email communications. Just posting a few pieces of content in a new section of your brand website and failing to establish any audience drivers will result in zero results.

– Forgetting there is value in content beyond hard conversions. By setting pilot KPIs solely on sales and conversions, marketers fail to communicate the broader value of content marketing, as well as the reality that content marketing takes time to generate ROI. This often spells the death of content marketing in an organisation: a pilot with miniscule budgets and sky-high expectations.

Tips on starting a content marketing pilot

– Secure enough budget to both create and distribute the pilot content you’re creating.

– When planning content, start with your audience first and zero in to address one key pain point or topic area of interest to your audience/customers. The content should not be all about the product; by focusing on the product all you’re creating is an advertorial.

– Don’t spread yourself too thin! Stay relevant by being targeted, insightful and truly helpful with your content.

– Plan where and how the pilot content will be used and published across your website, social media and email marketing channels. Don’t wait until the content has been created before you plan this.

– Keep your objectives and KPIs realistic. Review your current average page views, downloads and social actions and develop KPIs from these. If you’re relatively new to digital and don’t have any benchmarks in place, I’d recommend not setting any hard KPIs for the first pilot.

– Give yourself enough time. The minimum time I’d allocate to a pilot would be 12 weeks. Don’t forget that you need time to plan and create the content before it can be published, and then tested and amplified across channels. You need to give the content enough time to generate results before reporting on performance.

Final thoughts

Hopefully with this advice in hand, you can kick-off your own content marketing programs with your eyes wide open and fully prepared for success.

Stay tuned for my next edition of content marketing fails: Thinking beyond tactics, content distribution and measuring success.

Now it’s time to get back to work.

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