Content marketing success and failure: determining factors

Content marketing is marketing but to do it right (and in an integrated way) there are some specific success factors. The fact that relevant content is so crucial in different marketing tactics and for customer/brand experiences, requires a more coordinated, planned and connected/collaborative approach than many businesses have.

Below are some essentials factors to keep in mind.

ypical elements of a content marketing strategy – source Media Crush
  • Content marketing inevitably requires a strategic approach (or let’s say, a plan) in order to be successful. This is also true for many other “forms” of marketing and business as such. However, given the very close link between content marketing, customer experience optimization, integrated marketing and the consistency required by today’s customer, there is a need to work through or across silos.
  • Content can sit everywhere. You need to know where it sits (or gets ‘created’), which already requires collaboration with IT, for instance. Next, you also need to know how to use which content and which sources (including customers and internal teams), to use what you have and create what you don’t have to achieve your goals and create business and customer value. Content needs to be a story, an answer, some form of value.
  • Often, content for marketing purposes, gets created in different divisions for different reasons. And, often, this means organizations spend too much, for instance by missing cross-fertilization opportunities, doing the same work twice and simply not optimizing some processes. On top of that, there is a genuine risk that, when such an approach is used, people get different customer/brand experiences and “feel” the disconnectedness and silos in the organization.

There are of course many more success factors and reasons for potential failure.

The main tip we can give is to prioritize and start as close as possible to your goals and the needs and preferences of specific audiences and the customer. Don’t just copy what others do, learn some project management skills, get buy-in, start small if needed (pilots) and have fun.

A more advanced list of content marketing success (and failure) factors

As said, content marketing can fail for many reasons and you should look more at your own, customers, target audiences, proposition and individual business context than at generic best practices (even if those can be very good to get inspiration and ideas).

You need a goal, a plan, a good understanding of what people want, good processes and the right resources (for the right reasons) and a dose of creativity and fun on top of the more “strategic”, “data-driven” and “technical” aspects regarding production, distribution, optimization, etc.

Try out new things, test, improve and set the priorities right. You need to start somewhere and it’s best to stay as close as possible to your goals and your customers (in the broadest sense) when you do. Obviously, the degree in which you will need to take into account some of the determining factors for content marketing success, depends on your organization, size, type of industry, customers, maturity and much more.

Content marketing efficiency and content strategy go hand in hand
Content marketing efficiency and content strategy go hand in hand
  • Strategy. You need a strategy with goals and ways to achieve them (see below). Lack of a decent strategy for years has been the major reason of failure. The best strategies are integrated, flexible and collaborative, taking into account all internal and external stakeholders. Content marketing, as said, is part of an overall picture. Strategy is about the WHY and the HOW. What do you want to achieve, who do you have to reach to start with (see below), how will you measure in an integrated way, what content do you need, what content do your customers need, how do you provide the necessary consistent customer experiences, how do you plan, etc. An integrated strategy looks at all types of ‘customers’ from a holistic perspective: employees (customers as well), existing customers, prospects, analysts/media/bloggers (or let’s say ‘relevant influencers’), other stakeholders (partners, etc.). For each goal and target group (divided into segments, personas and more) a consistent strategy is essential. More about how and why to define a content marketing strategy.
  • Target group and touchpoint analysis. This is part of the strategy but important enough to mention separately. You need to define and know your target groups/segments. Even if terms such as target groups may belong to the old marketing as war rhetoric, you need to know who you want to reach (and why) as part of the strategy. Whether you use personas, call them audiences, focus on visitors, look at individual touchpoints, etc.: you need to know what will work and want will not. So, you need to know who they are and what they want/like, using all possible social data, digital footprints, historical interaction data (multi-channel), CRM data, input from several sources (including themselves obviously and your people serving them), feedback, search behavior and whatnot. This is where big data and user-generated content comes in as well. And so does social monitoring. The importance of various ‘input’ channels proving insights about your target groups depend on the content marketing strategy, goals and target groups. If you can, also use touchpoint analysis whereby you map all touchpoints (online and offline) and their moments of truth, threats, etc. along with a persona exercise.
  • The big THEY and YOU question. You don’t just need to know what the target groups act upon and want/like/share. You also should know what THEY want you to know. In business with complex go-to-market strategies involving partner, this is obvious but this principle should always be applied, even when it concerns your own teams and management (when outlining a strategy and presenting it). From a target group perspective, use touchpoint analysis in an integrated strategy. In social parts of the content equation understand why and when people share and use your content to succeed in their social circles. Also involve THEM throughout your strategy (note: US and THEY should not be a mindset of opposition and control but one of utter customer-centricity on multiple levels or in other words: it’s about the YOU of intent).
  • Brand and customer experience. While in the end content marketing aims to drive sales there are various ways to do so. The demand generation part of content marketing is relatively easy. Yet, don’t overlook the power of content in a brand context. In fact, your brand and products essentially are content. People don’t buy a can of water with caffeine, taurine, glucuronolactone, B-group vitamins, sucrose, and glucose. They buy the brand promise of Red Bull. This goes for B2B brands as well. What does your brand stand for and how do you translate it by claiming a category, from packaging (in the end a lot about content to) and branding to sales. Finally, remember that ALL touchpoints with your business, from in-store interaction and website visits to content ‘consumption’ have a branding impact and constitute the overall individual customer experience. PS: do you know the impact of your brand parameters on your bottom-line?
  • Content. Year after year this keeps popping up as the core challenge: creating enough content and creating enough ‘engaging’ content. Start with the essence: what do you need and what do your different stakeholders and target groups want you to have? Also look at the brand dimension: the stories are in the heads of your people and the history of your brand/products (or better: the reasons they even exist). Lack of content is not the real challenge. Lack of know-how of how to find, use, create and optimize it is. And this is often a question of lack of budgets and an overestimation of the content creation possibilities within the business (yes, in most cases you need help and training). If you don’t get quality people in, you won’t get quality content out. The only way to overcome the budget challenge – if there’s no real buy-in – is by proving what you can achieve with valuable content. As most business spend most marketing budgets to acquisition, ‘traffic’ and the short-term you can pick your battles in areas such as word-of-mouth marketing and increasing revenue by focusing on retention and loyalty (make sure you can compare the before and after). In an ideal world a content marketing strategy is implemented company-wide, in practice you’ll probably have to start somewhere. Other quick wins with relatively low risk and potentially high ROI can be found in conversion optimization by using more relevant content on the website (and testing) or by improving lead nurturing processes or supporting them with content.
  • Collaboration. A decent content strategy and actual plan of execution (and also content-driven marketing actions) by definition require collaboration just as this has always been essential in, for instance, web content management, and business in general. Collaboration is not (just) a content marketing challenge, however. It’s an overall business challenge. Without collaboration, even if driven by small teams, nothing works. And, of course it’s a matter of tools as well. But most of all it’s a de facto practice, even more than a culture. You need teams, roles and responsibilities, as well as processes. Involve your workforce and make sure that you don’t leave out departments such as product marketing. Warning: don’t overcomplicate or use sophisticated tools. People will only collaborate of it’s easy and rewarding to do so. The collaboration part of content marketing is also where editorial calendars etc. come in.
  • System integration. If you look at the best content-driven campaigns, you’ll notice many systems come into play (content management, marketing automation, CRM, analytics, you name it). In an integrated content marketing strategy this is even more the case. Content marketing is also about CRM, business intelligence, content management, collaboration tools, etc.

Other content marketing success factors include:

  • Content gap analysis: if you don’t know what you have and need to have it’s pretty hard to get it out. Inventorize what you have (knowing that content often sits in silos and disconnected systems), look at what you need and make a map. Also go beyond the pure content that you need because it’s what prospects or customers value/need. Content marketing is ongoing and dynamic and content is just omnipresent in all marketing activities as it always has been.
  • Cross-organizational collaboration: it’s not just about marketing but also about sales (enablement), customer service, etc. If you can’t overcome the organizational silos, find partners to work through them.
  • Buy-in. If this is hard to obtain, as it often is, especially if you focus on content marketing rather than the outcomes, work with pilot projects. How you sell your program internally and the words in which you describe it can make a big difference. Know what the C-suite wants. It’s essential for the longer term as well: content marketing success is not just in the here and now.
  • Tone of voice and consistency. Consistency is essential in all dimensions. Tone of voice is where the brand meets the language of the target groups. It’s defined in collaboration between different departments and takes into account the brand promise. Consistency is of the utmost importance from a customer experience, conversion and brand perspective.
  • Measurement. In an ideal world, you define metrics that don’t stand on themselves but correspond with those in other marketing efforts. If you want to know ROI (and you should), KPIs and metrics should also correspond to those used by finance (obviously not intermediary metrics) when a marketing ROMI project is present.
  • Channel/touchpoint mix. No integrated content marketing approach without making a good media/channel/touchpoint mix. What are the channels you will use? Who do they connect? Are you there where it matters? Where’s the corporate blog? The website? Offline media? This is not just a matter of ‘publishing’ by the way. It’s a mix of being found by the people that matter, promoting your content where relevant, making it available where it matters but also by having the right listening, interaction and data collection points: it’s a two-way process whereby ‘output’ and ‘input’ get connected in order to improve and act upon insights. Again a domain where big data, social data and analytics come into play. Finally, and this is not the first steps but one of the very last in developing a content marketing strategy map the different content formats you need for YOUR goals and THEIR goals and preferences.

These are a few of the success factors and strategic elements. In practice, you will see that many cannot be implemented (yet) as most businesses are still in the early stages of integrated marketing and business. Seize the opportunity.

Strategy matters - effective B2B content marketers - LinkedIn via Consilium
Strategy matters – effective B2B content marketers – LinkedIn via Consilium