Content marketing is a strange form of written communication. In fact, it’s unlike any other type of writing. Which is why so many content marketers fail.
When commercialised, other types of writing (like purely creative, informative, or entertaining writing forms) are a clear exchange of services. I.e., you buy the newspaper to receive the news, you buy a book to enjoy the story. It’s simple and transparent.
Content marketing is different—because unlike other writers, content marketers often actively try to disguise the purpose of the writing. They endeavour to create an illusion of giving something. When in fact they are trying to take something. For example, think cold emails with subject lines that read “Make £500 a week!”
Why is this the case?
As consumers, we receive countless unsolicited sales emails and are bombarded by thousands of adverts. And we give our money to many businesses that ultimately fail to meet our expectations. Because of this, we are undertandably becoming more resistant to marketing efforts and sales tactics.
In response, marketers are now often desperate. As a result they grapple to find increasingly covert ways to get consumer attention. But by striving to find new ways to disguise the fact that they want to make a sale, content marketers fail. Because they get further and further away from the one thing consumers are actually look for.
No illusions. No games. No inauthenticity.
5 Reasons Why Content Marketers Fail
In the past, marketing was about saying “I have something you want. And if you pay me fairly, I’ll give it to you.”
But it’s not so simple anymore. There’s a new dynamic, caused by the explosion of the online marketplace. This new dynamic means that before we get anywhere near that exchange, we have to earn the consumer’s trust.
And I’m going to help you get there, in this guide to why most content marketers fail.
1. They Lose Sight Of The Writing And The Opportunities It Provides For Connection
Strategy. Algorithm. SEO.
The vast majority of articles and blog posts on content marketing will emphasise the importance of these three components. And yes, they are important, and they shouldn’t be overlooked. But in their efforts to win the ranking game in a saturated and largely unregulated online marketplace, many marketers abandon the fundamental tenets of compelling writing—not content, but writing.
Although “content” and “writing” are often thought of as being the same, it’s not so clear cut. In fact, there are some clear differences between the two. For instance, in creative industries, like publishing, writing is simply writing.
But in the marketing sector, “content” applies a new purpose to writing, with a focus on sales and acquisition. While this distinction is useful in some ways, it has also contributed to an algorithm-centric and formulaic approach—which leads to mass-produced marketing content.
What’s wrong with formulaic content?
What the marketing sector seems all too prepared to forget is that writing is communication. It starts a discussion and is the catalyst for genuine human connection. This is especially true in our digital era, where cold calls feel intrusive and have fallen out of fashion.
Remember, there is no algorithm for connecting with people.
In our race to get to the finish line—which for most is represented by a high search engine rank—we begin to forget our form. As a result, all we really gain is visibility.
But, just like good old-fashioned sales calls, just because someone answers the phone, doesn’t mean you’ve won them over. Similarly, just because you’ve written content that is visible on search engines, doesn’t automatically mean readers will turn into leads.
It’s time that marketers refocus on writing and the opportunities it presents for them to connect with consumers. The issue is that most blogs and guides to content marketing don’t teach you how to write content—but rather, how to rank with content.
So how do we refocus?
Case Study: Oatly
Oatly, a plant-based milk provider, is especially adept at putting aside the algorithm and focusing on great writing that creates connection. During the pandemic in 2021, Oatly has rebranded their creative department as the Oatly Dept of Distraction Services. Their tweet announcing this is as follows:
“Hi, it’s the Creative Dept at Oatly, aka the Oatly Dept of Mind Control. With the world upside down, we don’t have any interest in selling you oat drink. We’d rather just make your day better. So we’re now the Oatly Dept of Distraction Services (ODDS).”
In fact, they even have a page on their site dedicated to this new initiative. And it’s filled with games, crafting activities using their packaging, bedtime stories, and more.
Not only does Oatly take full advantage of their writing, and the opportunities it creates for connection—but they also use content to provide value for value’s sake. This brings us onto the next fatal flaw of most content marketing efforts.
2. Content Marketers Fail Because They Treat Content As Bait
Consumers are increasingly savvy, especially in recent years. They can sniff out a salesman from a mile off and are suspicious from the offset—particularly when faced with attempts to part them from their wallets.
It is estimated that the average consumer is exposed to in excess of 5,000 adverts every single day. And they know all the tactics—they know you want something from them.
As such, it is your job to convince them that what you give them means more to you than what you take, and that you are sincere in your interest to provide value.
But to clarify, when I say “be sincere”, I don’t just mean give the illusion of sincerity (which seems to be the approach of many content marketers). Don’t simply devise ways to “hook” a consumer so that you can plug your call-to-action once you’ve got their attention.
In marketing, we often talk about consumers as if we’re fishermen and they’re the fish. We talk about the “hook”, or having them “hook, line, and sinker”. This kind of language and way of thinking sends a terrible message to consumers—that we are dangling bait for them.
The idea that content is some kind of bait is a fundamentally problematic way of thinking about content marketing—and it is this very approach that produces content that stinks of insincerity.
The answer? Don’t just create an illusion of value. Actually provide value, with no expectation of a return.
Businesses that genuinely believe in their services don’t need to waste time and effort on devising cunning ways of manipulating consumers into making a purchase. They just need to generate content that provides value for value’s sake.
Case Study: Honey’s Real Dog Food
An example of a company that achieves this extremely well is Honey’s Real Dog Food. This company provides vast amounts of content, including a free book, that teaches their audience how to make the very same dog food they are selling.
In other words, they give away their recipe.
From a traditionalist marketing perspective, this is baffling. In business, we keep our secrets close to our chest. But from a consumer’s perspective, this is remarkable. In an instant, this approach strips away the suspicion and distrust that consumers approach businesses with.
And lo and behold, their customers keep coming back.
When we offer up our expertise freely, we don’t just claim to be sincere—we prove it. With Honey’s range of free advice, they address the deciding factor in many consumers’ decision to make a purchase—do I trust them?
3. They Implement Generic Content Marketing Tips
Let’s see if any of these sound familiar…
“Make your headline stand out!”
“Promote on social media.”
“Leverage your SEO.”
These common content marketing “tips” are just a few of many that claim to drive content marketing success. But in fact, all they do is level the playing field. There is a crucial difference between not failing and succeeding. Yes, it is important that you tick certain content marketing boxes, just to ensure that your content doesn’t get buried.
But ticking all the right boxes is only half the battle. There are still hundreds, if not thousands of other businesses who have also want to tick these boxes. Which brings us to the real challenge—how do you differentiate yourself?
In fact, this is the issue with implementing generic content marketing advice. Which, let’s face it, so rarely teaches us how to write great content. Rather, it instead encourages marketers to focus on a strategy designed to keep them from falling behind competitors. But it does little to teach them how to get ahead.
“Produce as much content as possible” and “mimic competitors to attain the same success” are two more examples. And this kind of generic content marketing advice prioritises satisfying algorithms over quality and originality.
The result? I’m sure you’ve experienced it yourself when you browse the web. For instance, you ask a question on Google and find several blogs with similar titles. Of course each claims to have the answers. Although each claims to be the most comprehensive guide available or provide expert insights. Ultimately, you find that most of them say exactly the same thing.
And this is where mimicry, without iteration, gets us as content marketers. Not to mention, it’s why so many content marketers fail. Because they saturate the web with more of the same. As a result, it’s increasingly difficult for consumers to find answers.
How can we expect to prove expertise with regurgitated competing content?
Our approach to content should value iteration, not mimicry. If content is a conversation, as we’ve discussed, then iteration is the process of listening to the other participants.
But in a real-life conversation between self-professed experts, you wouldn’t simply rephrase what the other participants had said and expect it to add value. You would engage with their ideas and bring something new to the table.
This is how the wider conversation progresses. It stops industries from becoming stagnant. But if we’re churning out as much content as we can, how can we possibly find the time for cultivating new and revolutionary ideas for our industry? Yes, quantity is important for ranking, consistency, and creating a solid presence online, but it should never come at the cost of quality.
Case Study: Derek Murphy
As an example, let’s consider Derek Murphy, a popular self-publishing guru. Of course there are countless articles on using meditation and mindfulness to promote creativity. However, Derek Murphy takes a different approach in his article titled “Why Do Smart People Smoke Tobacco? A Brief History”.
It is clear that Derek Murphy engaged with existing content on how certain practices can get the creative juices flowing when writing this article. But he has taken a completely unique and truly intriguing take on the subject. Its originality is its most notable advantage, not its SEO.
4. Content Marketers Fail Because They Are Afraid Of Having An Opinion
Of course, this is another main reason why many content marketers fail. But this is also a tricky one to address. Because there are certainly risks associated with being an opinionated business. Forbes has written a fantastic article on this subject. It’s full of case studies on how certain types of opinions can backfire for businesses.
The author, Ashik Ahmed, encourages businesses to take opinions and “hunches” that stifle creativity with a pinch of salt—and to prioritise data insights above instincts.
But within the context of content marketing, opinions shouldn’t be shied away from. Opinions are the basis of thought leadership and expertise, and it is often by publicly disagreeing with existing (perhaps old-fashioned) systems that we establish ourselves as a source of insight in the online marketplace.
Beware, however, of being controversial or industry-disruptive for the sake of gaining attention. This isn’t the type of attention you want.
Case Study: Heritage House
Heritage House is a building and restoration company that specialises in period properties. They are well-known in their industry for their stance and research into what they call “the fraud of rising damp”, as well as cowboy builders and surveyors. In the footer of the Heritage House website, you will find a disclaimer that reads as follows:
For many consumers, Heritage House’s strong opinions set them apart from their competitors. As such this contributes to their reputation as experts in rising damp. In fact, this is a subject they rank highly on in search engine results.
Whether you agree with them or not, Heritage House’s success as a business is grounded firmly in their opinionated content. As well as their lack of fear when it comes to tackling industry issues.
5. Content Marketers Fail Due To A Lack Of Personality
We trust people, not businesses.
Despite this, so many businesses produce content entirely bereft of personality and character. Not only is this poor branding, but it ensures that content leaves absolutely no impression on readers.
Memorable businesses write content that feels like it has been “authored”, rather than simply produced. What I mean by this is that the presence of the writer is felt in the content. We get a sense for their character, which contributes to the feeling that a conversation is being had.
When consumers read content, they want to feel a connection. Because the connection is what marks the difference between content that is persuasive, trustworthy, and authentic and content that reads like Alexa telling you it’s a drizzly Tuesday.
This is likely to be a tip you’ve heard of before. However, telling someone to inject personality into their writing isn’t useful. Especially if you don’t know how to do it. And many content marketers fail to get this right. But here are some great ways to establish character in your content:
- Show enthusiasm
- Express opinions
- Part with conventional etiquette and write like an actual human having an actual conversation
- Use humour
- Get creative with it
To effectively inject personality into your writing isn’t something that happens overnight. This is a skill that is learnt over time as you find your own style and learn to lean into it. It is especially challenging to be authentic with your personality while trying to create content that is on brand.
For example, if your brand’s message is serious and profound, you might want to share your artistic side and play with striking metaphors. For instance, Adobe is a great example of this. Or if your brand is opinionated and direct, you could experiment with satire to emphasise your points.
The important thing to remember is that branding represents your collective character as a company. And not your personality as a content writer. Of course, these two things don’t necessarily need to be in opposition. But they should combine to create content that is both on brand and bursting with personality.
Case Study: Who Gives A Crap
You Can Do It Too
Who Gives A Crap is a toilet paper provider that is obsessed with two things – environmental friendliness and, you guessed it, toilet humour. This completely pervades their brand and their content. And is actually a prerequisite for being employed by them. For instance, check out their summary of what they look for in their employees:
“Have you always wanted to work in the toilet paper industry? Are you obsessed with toilets? DO YOU LOVE POTTY HUMOUR? If the answer is YES to any of these, we hope you’ll consider working with us.”
By requiring humour as an integral employee characteristic, they ensure that their content is full of authentic personality and on-brand.
Another strength of Who Gives A Crap’s approach is that they have embraced the funniness of their product. This means that they don’t have to find some clever and strange way of making us think of labrador retrievers when we buy toilet paper. As Andrex has been trying to achieve for many years.
You Can Do It Too
We’ve outlined just 5, but there are many more reasons that content marketers fail. And I’m not here to imply that you can’t address the issues listed in this guide alone. With the right amount of time and effort, you can.
Learning to be an effective content marketer isn’t easy, and there are countless blogs promising success. Not to mention, content marketing is both hard to do and easy to fail!
But if you want to learn to write content and not just rank. And if you want to learn how to use personality to persuade without compromising brand. So, if you’re tired of marketing that feels like trying to hook a fish with bait, then we’d love to hear from you.
With our experience, we can help you redefine your content marketing strategy. Too often, content marketers fail because they focus on beating the algorithm and “getting you to number one on Google”. But what does it matter if you’re content is seen, if noone is listening? Don’t let your content marketing (or content marketers) fail at the first hurdle.
Of course the tactics that help you to rank will get you in front of people. But if you have something to say… then that’s when you are heard and succeed. At Murray Dare, we’ll do both. We’ll help you to rank and we’ll combine this with the art of genuinely compelling content. As a result we will work together to differentiate you from competitors and get you ahead. Instead of simply keeping you from falling behind.
And we’d love to chat (non-obligatory of course!), so give us a call!