Why Content Marketing Fails

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Content marketing seems to be the meme du jour. What’s most striking about this conversation remains the blind eye most bloggers have to the majority of corporate blogs, micro messages, and content initiatives that fail. According to the Content Marketing Institute, only 40% of content marketers feel their efforts are successful, and consumers have been less bullish, with only 14% trusting corporate blogs in recent years.

Yes, there’s an issue of strategy and best practices. The resources and “how to produce” online content argument that most online communicators discuss are accurate. Yet, after a while it gets beyond technique and capacity. The reason most organizational content fails lies in the fact that they are marketing initiatives.

It’s marketing! People don’t want marketing schtick! Consider that amongst today’s youth aged 12-17, only 6% are interested in interacting with brands on Facebook (source: Forrester). Further, marketers’ rush to add hoards of followers to establish credibility has flown in the face of what peer-to-peer trust is all about, and thus many of these “big accounts” lack the influence they desire (source: eMarketer).

People don’t really want marketing in any form of social media, much less content! They don’t want it in their social games. They don’t want it on Facebook. They don’t want it in the content that they read.

This is a timeless issue that dates back to newsletters and press releases, the predecessors of online content. Marketers that produce marketing schtick bore people to death. This decades old misstep finds its basis in two key failures: 1) Not understanding stakeholders and 2) Sacrificing information quality to push marketing goals. Organizational selfishness — short-sighted, unintentional or purposeful — kills content. As a result performance suffers.

No one wants their content to fail. In many ways, reversing this very common problem requires a change in ethos. Marketers need to create compelling content — specifically, interesting and factual stories. They need to adapt best practices from the journalism field, and bridge the gap between corporate interest and market needs for valuable information.

In that sense, Clay Shirky was right: Everyone Is a Media Producer. Creating compelling content begins with understanding the fundamental shift and interconnection between the Fourth and Fifth Estates. The influx of millions of new content creators, most of them lying in the niche communities of the long tail has increased demand for online eyeballs. This in turn creates an increasing sense of information overload anxiety for readers who have to choose from a wide variety of traditional media, new media from professional content creators, corporate and nonprofit produced content, and yes, amateur media.

This produces incredibly competitive content markets! Right now only 20% of marketers believe that corporate sources are perceived to be more valuable than traditional media (source: Content Marketing Institute). How will companies and nonprofits differentiate in such a field?

Success requires evolution and becoming better storytellers. This does not mean just pulling heart strings. Tell the truth! Deliver facts, show deeper insights into the value your organization creates. Learn media best practices and how to deliver a story in a compelling fashion. Create content that works in or includes a variety of media. Or if stakeholders have demonstrated interest in your initial efforts, diversify with mobile and traditional media products.

Point being, it’s time to stop treating content like marketing, and start developing media as a product for stakeholders. Shockingly, they may actually be interested in it. That’s what journalists and media producers do (even the embedded corporate and nonprofit ones)… Produce worthwhile content.