7 Harsh Truths That Should Guide Your Content Marketing Journey

Harsh Truths

When you first heard that content marketing was the surest avenue to bring your business the customers you desire, you were skeptical, but you committed to it.

You hired two copywriters, an SEO and a part-time social media manager, dove fervently into Google Analytics, contracted with a conversion-rate-optimization firm, brought on two additional salespeople, redesigned your website and, most important, remained patient, buying into the notion that content marketing is part of the long game.

Now, eight months in, you’re staring at a balance sheet bloated with expenses, and that new business you were expecting is yet to materialize.

Before you throw in the towel, understand that you’re not alone.

In fact, most businesses will fail or give up content marketing altogether well before it has time to work for them—and that’s assuming what they were doing in the first place had merit.

Truth is, the industry hasn’t done a very good job of making two very important things clear:

  1. While content marketing does take time, time is no guarantee of success.
  2. There must be a prioritization of activities early on to enhance your chances of success.

As I’ve said and written numerous times before, online marketers are great at telling businesses to do something often (e.g., “start blogging,” “Engage  your audience via social media,” etc.) before businesses learn to do any one thing well, a fact that often leads to time and money wasted, and frustration that borders on rage.

Make Sure Your Business Doesn’t Wind Up On The Content Marketing Scrap Heap

Here’s what you need to know to put yourself closer to the finish line:

1. Content marketing is not about conversions—at first. No matter how great your blogs are, no one converts after reading a single blog. In fact, blogs are poor drivers of conversions anyway. You’re producing content to get noticed, gain authority, credibility and lower the barrier for clients to do business with your company. It can take a dozen or more encounters for a prospect to decide to grab the bait and become a customer. So think of each blog or piece of content you create as a chum slick that gets prospects closer to the hook.

2. You must commit to grow your audience before working to grow your revenue. When you first start creating content, you have no choice but to compete for eyeballs. Then, as you produce and share more information, the goal is to have those initial followers become fans who enlist their friends and followers (networks) to engage with and share your content. Once those networks are sharing your content, you’re “in the money,” as the saying goes. This is what Rob Garner, in his book Search and Social: The Definitive Guide To Real-Time Content Marketing, refers to as moving from a one-to-one to a one-to-many to a many-to-many level of connectedness. Akin to the multiplier effect, this growth is essential to the success of your company, which further drives home the need to produce content that people actively seek out. “Not being connected…,” writes Garner, “means that a marketer does not effectively exist in those conversations and economic opportunities afforded in networks.”

3. The “best” ideas might not be the “best-for-right-now” ideas for your business. Being a part of a fast-moving industry means things change quickly and good information can be hard to decipher. We hear “SEO is dead,” “Content is king,” “Stop guest blogging.” Then, the next day, we hear the exact opposite from online sources supposedly just as credible. What do you do? First, read for enjoyment and take everything with a grain of salt. Then, realize that, while much of what you hear and read could have value, it (a) might not have value for your business and (b) likely shouldn’t be part of your right-now plans.
Try this:

  • Establish what the immediate priorities are for your business, based on the overall needs of the company, not on what’s possible
  • Rank and order the priorities based on the impact to the business
  • Create a realistic outline (you don’t need a full-on plan to get started) for execution, assigning tasks to various team members and making everyone aware of what’s expected of them
  • Ensure that every activity you take over the following three months aligns with those plans
  • Measure the performance of each activity
  • Assess what worked and what didn’t
  • Repeat—only this time you’re replacing what didn’t work with other options in their place

If this sounds a little on-the-fly-ish, that’s because it’s supposed to be. Content marketing, in the early stages, is a very iterative process, a point captured perfectly in a tweet I shared from Eric Enge of Stone Temple Consulting.


4. Ignoring the potential of offline opportunities leaves you vulnerable to the competition. Keep in mind that what you do offline also impact your online presence. Speak at a conference? Sponsor an event? Deliver a presentation at the local chamber? All of these offline activities can and will build authority while also buttressing your online visibility as well. All you have to do is ask for a link from each organization’s website to your website, preferably to one of your main product or service pages, or your blog. Activities such as these can have a significant and immediate impact, bringing you eyeballs, social shares and, likely, conversions down the road.

5. Becoming the dominant informational resource isn’t optional. Everywhere marketers are telling businesses what they need to do to set themselves apart. The information ranges from sound (e.g., “Develop a reputation for delivering amazing content,” “Smartly use PPC,” etc.) to comical (e.g., “Social signals are the same as links, so spend more time on social media and less time producing content”). Here’s the truth: If you want to get noticed quickly and own a spot for your business that’s tough to be moved off of, work to become the foremost informational resource in your category. With every piece of content you create, strive to answer prospects’ questions better than anybody else possibly could. Google and prospects will reward you for the effort. Also, on social media, create filters for various keywords in your category, then jump in to answer questions being asked, without regard for whether the person follows you or not. You’ll quickly set yourself apart.

6. Study the competition, but don’t blindly follow them. There’s too much monkey-see, monkey-do in content marketing. You don’t have the time energy or the resources to waste time on efforts that might never pan out for you. Whenever you have the urge to follow the herd, revert to your “best-ideas-for-right-now” checklist, which serves as your guidepost.

7. A long winter is ahead, and your survival is not guaranteed: Remember when your college Stat 301 professor said “Look at the person on either side of you. At least one of them won’t be here in three weeks.” He was right. The same can be said of content marketing, where more and more players are competing for eyeballs that grow more weary by the day. Stone Temple’s Enge has predicted that, when all is said and done, some 90 percent of content marketers could fail or leave the field altogether. A lot factors go into that number coming to fruition. But this much is known: Those businesses not taking the adequate steps to become brands customers actively seek out will be some of the first to starve. Don’t be one of them.

My hope is that these seven points serve to make it clear that the way forward in content marketing will be a rough path littered with obstacles and the carcasses of failed businesses. I also want to make it clear that your business does not have to be one of them.

What are some additional tips you’d add to the list?

About Ronell Smith

I'm digital strategist and content geek who's passionate about helping businesses wade through the B.S. and get the results they desire. I rant often about user experience, PR, SEO, branding, product innovation or content marketing. Otherwise, I'm just a boring nerd who dreams about disruptive innovation, long-form feature writing, nuclear physics, entomology and sniper rifles.

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