3 Content Marketing Strategy Fails (and How to Fix Them)

No, content marketing strategy is not “make a whole bunch of spaghetti and see what sticks to the wall.”

“How come my content marketing isn’t working?”

This is a great question … and the answer isn’t necessarily, “you need to create more content.” Often, you aren’t creating the right kind of content — the kind that leads strategically to your business goals.

In this 21-minute episode, I talk about:

  • The painful question you have to answer to stay out of “Me-Too” content death
  • The path to purchase, and how to make it more appealing
  • How funnels work with content
  • Why we get stuck using the wrong tools for the job
  • The right moment(s) to ask for the sale
  • How to discover exactly what your content marketing strategy should look like

The Show Notes

3 Content Marketing Strategy Fails (and How to Fix Them)

Voiceover: Rainmaker FM.

Sonia Simone: Copyblogger FM is brought to you by StudioPress, the industry standard for premium WordPress themes and plug-ins. Built on the Genesis Framework, StudioPress delivers state of the art SEO tools, beautiful and fully responsive design, airtight security, instant updates, and much more. If you’re ready to take your WordPress site to the next level, see for yourself why more than 190,000 website owners trust StudioPress. Go to Rainmaker.FM/StudioPress. That’s Rainmaker.FM/StudioPress.

Good to see you again. Welcome back to Copyblogger FM, the content marketing podcast. Copyblogger FM is about emerging content marketing trends, interesting disasters, and enduring best practices along with the occasion rant. My name is Sonia Simone. I’m the chief content officer for Rainmaker Digital and I hang out with the folks who do the heavy lifting over on the Copyblogger blog. You can get additional links and resources at Copyblogger.FM along with the complete archive for the show.

This month we’ve been talking a lot about content marketing strategy over on the Copyblogger blog. You’ve probably already noticed that “publish a lot of stuff” is not a strategy. Publishing lots of content or do your best to make good content is a worthy endeavor. It’s a good tactic but on its own it’s just not likely to do much for you. I think that a lot of the more visible critics of content marketing seem to think that that’s what content marketing is. You make a whole bunch of spaghetti and see what sticks against the wall.

Well, you know of course that’s not going to work and we know that’s not going to work so let’s look at some things that will. Today we’re going to talk about strategy, and content marketing strategy is not just for fancy ad agencies or massive marketing departments, it also doesn’t have to be this jargon fest that sometimes those kind of organizations make it into. I thought I would talk today about some of the points of failure that I see all the time in people’s content marketing strategy and then how you can do better.

The Painful Question You Have to Answer to Stay Out of “Me-Too” Content Death

It wouldn’t be Copyblogger if the first point of failure that I talked about wasn’t a quality problem. It really is the problem that I see the most often. I have somebody who, they might leave a comment on the blog and say, “I don’t know what’s going wrong. I’m producing lots of high quality content and nothing’s happening.” I click through and there’s no voice at all. It’s completely generic. It’s the same exact information I’ve seen on 10,000 other sites. There’s nothing new and there’s no real answer to the question, “Why would anybody go to you when they already have so many high quality things that they can already read?”

Because of the topic that Copyblogger has, I see a lot of sites that really make me say, “Well, okay, why should I read your site when the world already has ProBlogger, and Copyblogger, and Search Engine Land, and Moz? What is it you feel you’re contributing to this conversation that’s not being found on those sites?” It’s a hard question to answer but if you don’t have a good answer, you can’t win. That is a lot of what Copyblogger is about is helping people to create content worth consuming. If it’s text content, it has to be worth the time somebody takes to read it. Of course if it’s video or audio, it has to be worth that time that it takes to watch or to listen. You’re asking for time and attention. These are resources that cannot be replicated. It’s not like asking for $10 and then what you have isn’t very good and they’re out $10 bucks.

When you waste somebody’s time with your content, you have wasted something that cannot be replaced so it’s a big deal and people treat their time and attention as a big deal. They should. You have to be worth that time and attention. If you aren’t, partner with somebody who is because there are people out there creating great content. They just don’t want to trouble themselves with learning the business elements. If you don’t think the quality of your content is too good, you know, read Copyblogger and come up with a strategy to improve that.

But I’m going to assume for the rest of this conversation that you have got some good stuff, you have got a real voice. You’re speaking to a real audience about something they care about and there’s a reason to tune into you versus somebody else even if it’s just your personality and the way you look at the world, which is a perfectly acceptable answer, by the way, to that question.

The Path to Purchase, and How to Make it More Appealing

The second point of content marketing strategy failure I see a lot is there’s either no path to purchase or the path to purchase just isn’t very well thought out. Long, long ago in Internet time marketers used to buy content. They used to buy it on Google. They would buy traffic. They would buy eyeballs to come look at their site and that traffic would come check the thing out. They would read a sales page. They would buy or they would not buy and we were done. That’s how it used to be. It used to be really simple; buy some eyeballs, put a well written piece of copywriting in front of those eyeballs, convert or don’t convert. That’s not really how it works anymore, which is a good thing because that got really expensive.

Today, 21st Century, 2017, people are going to find you all kinds of ways. People are going to find your content. Some of them will find it on social, and some on search, and on different social platforms. Some of them, their aunt will send them your email with a link in it. It’s your job to make sure that however people find you all the roads, once they get to you, lead to Rome as the old saying used to say.
Now, this is not really just cram everybody who comes onto your site into your email list and then hit them with an ad every day until they unsubscribe. That is a thing. That is a strategy people use and it seems to work for some people but it’s not really content marketing strategy. It’s actually much more closely related to the old strategy of what they used to call spray and pray. Somebody finds your site and then you just spray them with offers until they buy or they flee in horror.

What we want to focus on, when we have this path to purchase, is the “what” from Brian Clark’s trio of “who,” “what,” and “how.” Who do you speak to? What kinds of information do you give them? Then how do you do it? In other words, your voice, your craft, your creativity. That “what,” the middle chunk is really the bulk of your content marketing strategy. What information does this person need? What order do they need it? Do they need it quickly? Do they need it slowly? Do they need really massive, meaty pieces of content, whitepapers, and case studies? Or do they need something more bite-sized? What’s their journey?

Whether you’re a big organization or a small organization, you have to map that journey out. You have to put yourself into the shoes of your prospect and figure out where they are when they come to you and then what are the steps that they need to go through in order to move further. Where are the buying points on that path because a lot of times there’s more than one? A lot of times there might be small purchases that they would make along the way that would lead to something larger.

Now, Brian Clark has written a lot about this. He is continuing to write a lot about this so I will give you some links over at Copyblogger.FM if you want to pursue this in more depth, which I would encourage you to do.

At the heart of it, you have to understand precisely what a person needs to think. What do they need to know? What do they need to feel? Then what will they need to do before they actually purchase from you. Content exists at as many points as possible precisely to lead the person to get to the next step on that specific journey. Content exists to help them know things that they need to know and to present an argument to think about things in a certain way. That’s what content is for.

How Funnels Work with Content

Now, we should also talk about something called funnels and many of you know what funnels are and some of you don’t. They’re just little sequences of relevant information and they lead to an offer. It might be three pieces of email or four pieces of email that would be sent, opening the conversation, presenting some relevant information, and then letting people know, okay you can pick up the solution to your problem here and here’s what it costs, et cetera.

Now funnels are not really the same thing exactly as the path to purchase. Funnels are sort of little stopping points or tiny little diversions on the path to purchase. They’re the last few steps so each funnel you could think of as a little path from the trail to a place where they can actually get to the holy land of making a purchase. A funnel gives them the right information at the right time but it’s not the whole thing.

The people who are really doing this well have like a rich content kind of a path that people can walk down, explore. They can go different directions with it. They can try different things. They can follow their own interests and then at various points on that path there’s a way that they can take that little nicely paved funnel into making a purchase. Then they might stay on the path and make a different purchase or they might just go home and be happy and be a customer and they might be done. That combination of really strong, robust, interesting content path with some well crafted funnels to take them toward a purchase a little more smoothly, it’s not the same thing.

I think sometimes this gets interpreted as “entice people with like one piece of content that you paid a writer for and then slam them with offer, after offer until they completely regret ever giving you their email address.” It’s a way. It’s not the best way. Content marketing strategy is really much more about presenting the right information well presented at the right time to the right people and then creating that possibility for action. That means making an offer in the copywriting sense at a moment that makes sense in that sequence.

Not understanding that path to purchase is a point of failure I see a lot with content marketing strategy either kind of rushing the gun so it’s all offer and very, very little useful content, or sometimes you see people who meander around from New York City to I don’t know, San Francisco on this wonderful content path and there’s never any place to make a purchase. Neither of those really work. You have to be strategic about how the road leads to the result you want, which is to create the transaction.

Why We Get Stuck Using the Wrong Tools for the Job

Another really common point of failure that I see is people use the wrong tool for the wrong job. Something that I find really interesting about this whole path to purchase idea is that as the person who discovers your content and discovers your site kind of walks along the path, they go through different states. At a certain point they sort of, eh, they’re not really sure they have a problem. They’re not that interested in it. Then they go through various states of being more and more interested in a solution and possibly considering your solution to their problem. When they’re in these different states, you’ll want to be using the right tool for that moment in the process.

To give you one example of what I mean, there’s a moment in that path when the person really, they either don’t know you or they don’t have much relationship with you. Maybe they’ve heard of you. Maybe they’ve sort of seen you around somewhere but they certainly don’t feel closely connected to you. That’s the point where you’re using tools like social media, and blog posts. You might be using YouTube or podcasts. These are all great tools for getting audience attention, for getting people who either don’t know you at all or haven’t really had a lot of content with you to pay attention to who you are and to realize that this provider might be a very, very good solution for whatever this problem is that’s been bugging me. These are the tools to find the people who don’t really know you yet.

As so often happens with tools, we get comfortable with these. Like we get comfortable on Facebook, I see a lot. You get comfortable making blog posts and then that’s all you do. All you do is more Facebook posts and you’re not making any sales so you triple the amount of blog posts you write or the amount of Facebook posts you make. Well, that tool isn’t super well optimized for that work. You can do more of that work if you want to but you’re not going to get the results you want because you’re using a tool that’s ineffective. All of the attention-getting tools tend to be noisy. They just tend to be in a kind of open web environment that has a lot of noise. It’s a little bit like trying to have a conversation about the meaning of live in the middle of a busy street. It’s technically possible but it’s not really the optimal environment.

The Right Moment(s) to Ask for the Sale

I believe that that’s why email works so well, and study after study shows that it does do so well, to take the conversation, when it’s time, to focus attention a little bit more and start talking about, “I don’t know if you realized but I have something to offer that solves your problem and here’s how you can pick it up.” In other words, a copywriting offer.

Email is a super tool for channeling attention. Social and the public web are great tools for getting attention. Emails are a really nice tool for managing attention, and channeling it, and directing it, and saying, “Hey, I know you’re busy. I know the web is crazy but you might want to check this out and that out.” You don’t only send people to offers. You also send people to other good, relevant stuff that you’re creating.

When you do send them to an offer, what you send them to is something that’s called a landing page. It’s a web page that’s optimized for taking somebody’s attention and their interest. It’s gone beyond attention at this point. They’re actually interested. They’re actually engaged and translating that engagement into a behavior like making a purchase. If you try to make the sale in email, that’s really tricky because people get fed up trying to take in a longer, more complex message from their email inbox. Our attention spans are kind of fragmented with email. It’s great for channeling attention but it doesn’t hold attention as well as other tools do. You use the right tool for the right task.

How do we know what are the right tools for a particular point on this path to purchase? There are definitely a lot of places you can go to learn more about different options and good practices. I won’t say best practices in this case because it does change. The best place is really to just observe your audience.

Now you can always ask them but sometimes how we behave doesn’t completely match what we say because sometimes how we behave doesn’t match how we think we behave. You can, for example the classic example would be, you can ask your audience, “Would you buy an eBook on this topic for $20,” and they will say, “Yes,” and then you give them an offer for an eBook on that topic for $20 and nobody buys. What they do and what they say are not always the same.

When you observe, you know. When you observe it happening, you know. At least for now you know. Things do evolve but they don’t evolve in the sense that they start off as a tadpole and then they turn into an elephant. It kind of stays in the same realm of species type. Things do evolve. Your audience is going to change. They’re going to change where they like to hang out but it’ll tend to be recognizable from one stage to another, especially if you keep paying attention.

How to Discover Exactly What Your Content Marketing Strategy Should Look Like

As you keep giving that your attention, you’re going to be able to watch, and see where it moves, and how it moves. You’ll see which tools are working well for you, email, social media, which specific social platforms, what kinds of contents. Then you’re going to see what might be underperforming for you. Maybe it worked well last year but this year, you know, not exciting. You’ll get some good ideas about what to experiment with next. If you watch the audience, the answers always, always lay with audience.

One thing about marketing online, because the world is changing so quickly and the digital world really, really changes quickly, it’s never stagnate and it never stays still. You get it figured out and then it kind of morphs on you. It can be stressful for sure but it’s also what makes it interesting. I think it’s what keeps people kind of in this business for the longer term because it is definitely a situation where it’s always evolving and growing. It would be very hard to get bored because it’s very hard to find something that works long enough that you can get bored.

I mentioned earlier in the episode, Brian Clark really thinks a lot about the strategy of content and about the different places that people stop along this path to purchase and the different states that they’re in as they walk that path. One thing you can do to find out a lot more about it is just stay tuned to Copyblogger. Brian has been writing quite a bit for us on this exact topic so keep tuning into those because those will give you a lot to work with.

You may or may not know, he also has written quite a few eBooks for us that are available in what’s called the My Copyblogger Library. These are all free. There’s, you know, a good chunk of them are written by Brian specifically about different points of strategy. For example, one of the ones I really like is called How to Create Content that Converts and that really dives into the different types of content, and when to use them, and what they look like, and what their function is. Again, right tool for the right job.

You can pick up the content marketing library if you haven’t yet. If you just go to Copyblogger.com there’s an education tab and you’ll see under that tab, Free! My Copyblogger. Just drop your email in there and you’ll get access to this complete comprehensive content marketing library. It’s all free and there’s a lot of very meaty stuff in there if you want to study this in depth, which I think would be very beneficial.

That’s it today, three points of failure for content marketing strategy. The first is just your content is too me too. It’s too cookie cutter. It’s not distinctive enough. The second is you don’t understand what your path to purchase is. You don’t have a well-paved path to purchase so that somebody gets from discovering your content to actually going forward and making a sell. The third is that we tend to use the wrong tool for the job because we get comfortable with certain tactics or certain tools and we don’t step out of our comfort zone. But we need to use the whole range of tools available to us if we really want to optimize the experience for the audience. That’s really what it’s all about.

That’s it for today. Thank you so much for your time and attention. I’ll catch you next week.