Why Content Marketing Fails

Is Captain Obvious is Calling the Shots?


by Peter Coish

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Content marketing is on the minds of marketers everywhere these days. Ad Age reported last fall that 75% of US marketers planned to increase their investment in content marketing this year. Yet a study published by Forrester found that only 14% of them thought their content marketing was very effective.

Check out the content published by many brands and it’s clear why they might think that. People just aren’t reading or sharing much of the content that brands are publishing, resulting in a whole lot of wasted investment.

I’ve been thinking about that and I’ve concluded that one of the biggest reasons so much content marketing fails is a strategy based on the obvious.

The most crucial element of a content marketing program is the development of a sound strategy.  Nothing new here – that’s pretty much a truism in all aspects of business. However, too many brands new to content marketing fail to invest in this critical step.

Many of these brands reflexively decide to build their content strategy around the glaringly obvious. As in, “If we’re in the business of selling hams, we should talk about hams!  All the time! We find hams so darn interesting, why wouldn’t our audience?”

For proof that this is misguided, look at just about any insurance company’s blog or social media properties. I guarantee you will find obvious threads in the content. Stories about why you need to change your smoke detector batteries. Videos about the perils of texting and driving. Lists about how to prepare for a zombie attack.

Sure, it seems perfectly logical for insurance companies to publish this stuff. After all, it’s directly related to what they do. But look at the comments sections, or the social media shares, and you’ll find the apathy of the audience is deafening.

These companies need to be reminded that you must create content for the consumer. To do that, they must dig deeper to find a meaningful content strategy. They must carefully examine what their brands stand for, and what sets them apart. And then get an intimate understanding of what their audiences find interesting. The intersection of the two is where the content marketing magic happens – what I call the “C-Spot”.

Some examples? Perhaps it makes sense for an insurance company targeting a mainstream suburban audience to publish content about turtles. Yes, turtles. Turtles are slow moving, deliberate and well protected. They live long lives. They’re kind of cute and funny. And they appeal to children – who have parents who buy insurance.  That’s the real reason why it makes sense for an insurance company to publish fun and informative content…about turtles.

Or consider an insurance company targeting the one percent. Their audience no doubt collects both and are more likely to read content about art or collectible cars. Perhaps that company should focus its content on art, or collectible cars, and not on insurance. But come renewal time, these one-percenters are more likely to remember the insurance company that shares their passions.

I realize that pitching content strategies based on seemingly tangential subjects might be a tough sell to the c-suite. At face value, it may seem frivolous and likely to invite a response along the lines of “how does that sell more hams”.

To which I say this: Investing in obvious content that gets seen by almost no one is a far more risky content marketing strategy.

Peter Coish is the founder of KURATION.  He can be reached by email here.