The Top 6 Reasons You’re Failing at Content Marketing

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As content marketing continues to become increasingly popular, more and more Internet Marketing companies and In-house teams will be attempting to execute successful campaigns.

Unfortunately, if done incorrectly, these campaigns can easily fall flat. What follows is a guide to common errors and pitfalls that beginner content marketers should make themselves aware of.

Pitfall #1, Problems with Scope:

problems with scope

Attempting to accomplish too many objectives with one initiative

Content marketing can accomplish many goals, but trying to accomplish too many at once with the same piece of content can result in failure to meet any of those goals. 

Before deciding on a content marketing strategy, clearly define what you are looking to get out of it.

  • Are you looking for new customers?
  • Are you looking for social brand engagement?
  • Are you looking for improved search rankings?
  • Are you looking to educate current customers about your product or service?

Content marketing can work well for all of these goals, but when you attempt to combine several of them, they can actually work counter-productively.  

For instance, if your goal is to gain links and social mentions to help improve rankings, heavily branding your content or pushing your sales agenda is generally going to lead to failure.

Failing to match the scope of your idea with the audience

Content initiatives work best when you first decide what you are looking to accomplish with your content, and then fitting that goal with the needs of an audience receptive to that goal.

Different goals demand different strategies in regard to target audience. If your goal is to create content that can drive leads or sales, it doesn’t make sense to create content that is too broad or targets large audiences with only cursory interest in what you are selling. Whereas if your goal is brand awareness, or perhaps link-building for SEO, going broad with your content can be an excellent strategy.

Take Aways:

  • If you have several goals you would like to meet with your content marketing efforts, don’t be afraid to segment your initiatives.
  • Relevant useful niche content can convert niche audiences
  • Broadly appealing viral content can drive links, social shares and brand awareness
  • Instructional content can create brand loyalty and customer retention
  • It’s more effective to create with a specific end goal in mind.  This helps you fine tune your creativity and play to your audience.


Pitfall #2, Issues with Audience:


Not clearly defining your target audience: 

Different audiences require significantly different approaches, even within the same niche. When creating content, you must understand what types of information, ideas, memes, and concepts resonate most effectively.

In order to do this, you must really dig-in to your niche and specifically define their sub-constituents. If you can’t define your target audience, it will be exceedingly difficult to create content that targets them directly.

You will instead be forced to go with content ideas that are more broadly targeted and potentially less useful and less shareable to your target audience.

Not understanding your target audiences distribution online

After understanding who your target audience is, the next and most important step is clearly defining where they congregate and interact online.

If you fail to clearly define this, you will fail to understand the types of content they like, how and where they share that content, and will be unable to construct content base on ideas you know will resonate.  

Ask yourself:

  • Does your target niche have many active forums? (Hint: Almost all active niches do)
  • What are the most popular blogs in the niche?
  • Where are their socially active locations on Reddit? on Facebook? on Twitter?

Not understanding your target audience’s preferred content types

Not all audiences enjoy the same types of content. For instance, younger, tech savvy content consumers can be more averse to long-form written content, preferring instead to see visual representations, video, or mixed media content.

Contrastingly, older, well educated content consumers who are newer consumers of web content often prefer more in-depth, detailed, written content.  After you have clearly defined who your audience is within your niche, look to the types of content they consume the most.

Ask yourself:

  • What is popular in the forums where they congregate?
  • What sorts of blog posts tend to be the most popular on the top blogs they visit?
  • What sorts of content see high levels of sharing and engagement?  

Not understanding your target audiences sharing preferences

Different demographics engage socially in different ways. By clearly defining your audience within your target niche, you can then get a clear picture of the ways they like to share most.

Ask Yourself:

  • Do they prefer to forward content via email?
  • Are generally active on Facebook? On Twitter?
  • Do they tend to run blogs or other types of online publications?
  • Are they partial to bookmarking, pinning, or subscribing to feeds?

Understanding how and where your audience likes to share content can make or break your content marketing efforts.

Take Aways:

By clearly defining your target audience you will then be equipped to do the necessary research to find out how your audience segments itself across the web, where they go to get their information, how and where they interact with each other, the types of content they like to consume, and how and where they like to share.

This sets the groundwork for coming up with ideas that will resonate with your target audience and be most successfully consumed and shared.

Pitfall #3, Errors with Ideas


Once you clearly understand what your goals are with the content you are creating, and the audiences you are looking to target, you will be well equipped to begin generating ideas that have an excellent shot at success. Here too, there are many traps and pitfalls that even the most experienced content marketer can fall victim to.

Failure to meet the criteria of sticky ideas:

Viral, shareable content that resonates with audiences meets most or all of a set of six criteria. These criteria, first proposed by Chip and Dan Heath in their book “Made to Stick” include:

            Simplicity:  Your content needs a thesis, something simple that holds everything together. Without a simple and easy to understand main idea, readers will lack a clear understanding of the specific value your content is providing for them. Your content will lack focus and likely be far less useful or engaging.

            Unexpectedness: For ideas to endure, you must create interest and curiosity and then satisfy that curiosity. Look to open gaps in your readers minds, lead them to ask questions, and then answer those questions with your content in unexpected and creative ways.

            Concreteness: In order to be memorable and shareable, your ideas need to be concrete. Concrete ideas help your audience to understand, remember, and apply the ideas to themselves in a tangible way. Abstract ideas can be easily muddled, whereas concrete ideas tend to be much more clear, and thus, more memorable.

            Credibility: Ideas with built-in credibility lend themselves to much higher levels of sharing. There are many ways to enhance content’s credibility, including using authoritative sources, first-hand research, expert references, or even by involving your audience in the content itself by making it interactive in some way.

            Emotions: In order to SHARE, your audience must CARE. If the content you are creating does not evoke emotion from your audience, it will not elicit sharing. Clearly understanding your audience will allow you to understand what they CARE about, and tailor your content to resonate with the stories, ideas, and concepts that your audience finds emotionally important.

            Stories: Our brains best understand and remember content when it is in a narrative context. Narratives or stories enable readers to remember content more easily, while at the same time engaging the audience in a more emotional and intimate way. Stories allow readers to empathize, to put themselves in the story, and identify with the subjects of the stories. It allows them to assume a role that is closer to a first-hand experience.

Failure to understand what content and ideas have already been done before

One of the most egregious mistakes a content marketer can make is failing to do the research to see if their ideas have been done before. Not only will you lose credibility if your content concept has been done before, but you risk looking like a hack if what you create is inferior or too similar to what already exists.

If during your research process, you find that one of your favorite ideas has already been done, ask yourself how it could be tweaked or improved upon.

  • Can it be adapted to a different content medium that might resonate with your target audience more effectively?
  • Is it outdated information that could use refreshing?
  • Did the original author leave out any key points?
  • Can you take a new angle on the idea to make it more relevant for your target audience?

Personal bias on what YOU find interesting vs.what your target audience would find interesting.

This can be one of the most difficult to diagnose issues content marketers face when coming up with ideas. They fall victim to their own internal bias on what they find interesting and fail to keep their audiences in mind.  

Try to look at each idea from the perspective of your target audience.

  • What about the idea would appeal to them?
  • Does your idea play off of or relate to other content you KNOW resonates with your target audience?
  • Is your content useful, noteworthy, or otherwise emotionally evocative to your target audience, or  just to you?

Take Aways:

By following the criteria for sticky ideas, you can create content that has a much better chance for success within your target community or audience. Be careful to measure all your concepts against this rubric, and watch out for personal biases when selecting your favorite ideas. It is your audience that matters most, not you.

Pitfall #4, Challenges with Research:


Not finding the most interesting related information

The Internet is the largest repository of human knowledge. It is vast, and it is extensive. The most successful content creators should work under the assumption that out there in the vastness of the Internet lie hidden gems of information.

This is information that is compelling, interesting, and relevant, but little known, or poorly delivered. When creating content, you MUST make it your mission to seek out and find these gems of information and bring their value to your target audiences.  There is almost nothing worse than creating a piece of content that makes your audience say: “duh, that’s obvious” or “duh, everybody knows that, it is common sense.”

Poor sourcing

For the best results, primary sources are always best. Strive to find the originator of the information you include in your content, or create content that uses research that you have done (or possibly crowdsourced).

In cases where being the primary source is impossible, you can still maintain credibility by using sources with authority. Blogs, wikis, and news articles are not as authoritative as University research studies, governmental generated statistics, or written works by well known industry leaders or thinkers.

If you fail to base your content on at least a moderate level of authoritative sourcing, you risk losing credibility with your target audience.

Take Aways:

Proper sourcing is highly important, not only for finding the most compelling information, but also for maintaining credibility. There are some amazing hidden gems out there to be found amongst huge stores of credible, authoritative information. Don’t be afraid to dig deep!

Pitfall #5, Challenges in Production and Execution:


Selecting the wrong content medium for your concept

Content ideas can often be done in a variety of ways, but some topics lend themselves more toward one type of content than another. For instance, if you have a topic that would require a good deal of text to fully elucidate, an article is preferable to an infographic. If the topic you have selected is data heavy, and has many facets to it, an interactive approach may work best.

Consider which mediums can most effectively communicate the thesis of your content to your audience, and which content mediums most effectively enhance the 6 factors of stickiness described earlier. Also remember to be sure to consider how the content medium you choose can be shared by your target audience

Poor production value and lack of polish

Innovative content types can often often act as an accelerant for content, making it stand out on the basis of its innovative nature, almost regardless of the merit of the idea or message.

Think of this as the “Michael Bay” effect. When you add a killer message to polished, exciting, innovative content, you can achieve content marketing greatness. Make your content stand out through execution, then let the message, and ideas included in the content lead the way to massive sharing and engagement. Those who neglect this aspect risk not standing out at best, and losing credibility at worst.

Failure to appeal to emotion and other criteria of stickiness:

Just as your ideas must meet the 6 criteria of stickiness, so must your execution of the content. Keep these six ideas in mind throughout the entirety of the content creation process for the best results.

Ask yourself:

  • How can your approach to content enhance the emotional impact?
  • How can your execution create more credibility, more “aha” moments, or increase the concreteness or simplicity of your message?

Failure to pick a compelling title

For better or worse, the Internet is a world of bite-sized pieces of information. It is tough to grab readers attention. Your chances for getting people hooked often times live or die entirely by how captivating your title is to them.  

Your title is sometimes your only shot at getting a reader to engage with your content. Hold your titles to the standards of stickiness. Make them simple, concrete, and unexpected. Don’t be afraid to be sensational, as long as your content can live up to the hype! Most importantly, your titles should pique interest.

Give them a tidbit that will make them want to learn more, or use your title to make a potential reader ask themselves a question that only your content can answer.

Failure to see extension opportunities

Slight modifications to your content can sometimes reap BIG rewards. Can your content be easily adapted to another medium? For instance many times interactive infographics can easily be made static, and static infographics can be made dynamic, or even into video.

Adapting your content’s medium can open up huge new audiences for only a small amount of work.  Similarly, are there ways you can tweak your content’s message or angle to hit new target tangentially related audiences?  Look for small, simple ways to slightly change your content, content medium, or messaging around your content to get the most out of each of your initiatives.  

Take Aways:

Producing content of excellent quality, or in new or innovative mediums can add a significant boost to the potential success of your initiative. That said, good execution can only take you so far.

It is the merit of the idea itself, and the facts, information, and insights contained within your content that will ultimately determine its success. Be sure to adhere to the standards of stickiness in your execution, don’t forget how important your title is, and expand on and extend the life of your content whenever and wherever possible.

Pitfall #6, Problems with Promotion:


Great content is awesome, but if nobody sees it, what’s the point? Making sure you give your content the best shot at maximum visibility is at least half of the equation in successful content marketing. Unfortunately it is also one of the most difficult parts, and one that most new content marketers mess up big-time.

Failing to identify and promote to key tastemakers

In each niche, vertical, or sub-community there are individuals and publications that are “tastemakers.” They are well known within these groups, and have a unique ability to reach large niche audiences with the content they create or share.

Sometimes these tastemakers are not immediately apparent, and can take a good deal of research to identify. Doing this legwork is incredibly important. By finding key tastemakers for the audiences you are looking to reach with your content, you will give yourself a platform to shout from, instead of screaming out from the midst of a crowd.

Mismatching your content with your promotion channels

When promoting your content, you must first discover and understand the types of content that your target audiences share. I mentioned this as a preliminary step in understanding your audience before beginning to create your content.

Similarly here, when you are doing outreach and promotions, make sure that you have done your due diligence in figuring out if the tastemakers you are reaching out to readily share content of the type and message that you are promoting.

There is nothing more frustrating to publishers than to get pitches for publishing or syndicating content that is not in line with what they typically publish or what their readers expect.

Failure to offer real value to key publishers (not offering exclusives)

The outreach/promotions aspect of content marketing only works when you are able to provide content of considerable value to the publishers you are looking to have publish and promote your content.

You MUST create a mutually beneficial arrangement. If you’ve followed best practices I’ve discussed thus far, chances are that you will have no trouble finding key tastemakers in your niche who are eager and willing to publish your stuff, provided that they are the first to publish.

Offering exclusives to top-tier tastemakers can be an excellent way to launch  your content and build strong, mutually beneficial publisher relationships within your niche.

Take Aways:

Promoting your content is at least half the battle. By sticking to the best practices laid out above, and not falling victim to common errors, you should have no trouble finding and connecting with key tastemakers in nearly any niche.

Remember that outreach and promotion is about providing value and building relationships. Don’t be afraid to offer exclusive publishing rights, and always always do your due diligence when researching potential publishers and tastemakers before reaching out.

Don’t Strike Out

Doing content marketing is hard, really hard.  This is not a type of work that can be commoditized or put on an assembly line.  There are few shortcuts to be taken, and there are many potential pitfalls that must be avoided to provide for the best chance for success.

By following this guide, and through trial and error, it is possible to consistently create content that resonates.  Not everything you create will be a home run, but with some planning you can greatly increase your chances the next time you step up to bat.


Images used under Creative Commons License: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.




Dan Tynski is a content marketing veteran, with over 7 years experience creating and promoting viral content to social audiences. He is the co-owner of Fractl, a digital agency focused on creating massively shared, high-impact content marketing campaigns for brands looking to push the envelope.
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