Find the holes in your marketing effort and learn how to fix them.Get Your Digital Marketing Roadmap


From the Trenches

5 Painful Truths About Content Marketing

Mike Sweeney | July 30, 2014
5 Painful Truths About Content Marketing

On maybe a half dozen occasions this year, I’ve had the opportunity to sit in a conference room full of people whose enthusiasm for content marketing is at an all-time high. Having just been exposed to their company’s first content marketing plan, the Kool-Aid flows, and everyone drinks it copiously.

While this is always a time for positive, hopeful thinking, I often wonder if we make it clear enough that a content marketing transformation is not easy. As the company moves from planning to execution, and again as it moves from initial execution to ongoing execution, the bumps in the road are plentiful.

For those who want to put down the Kool-Aid for a moment, here are a few of the bumps you should be prepared for.

It’s going to cost more than you think.

The planning fallacy tells us that not only will organizations underestimate the time required to complete a task or project, but that this will result in cost or budget overruns.

This holds true for content marketing just about every time.

Content marketing is centered around owned media, versus earned media (PR) or paid media (advertising). While many consider control and cost efficiency two of the many benefits of owned media, during a typical planning process it’s extremely difficult to nail down the exact cost of the combination of full-time internal resources, part-time internal resources, and outsourced resources.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t identify a starting budget, but do so with the understanding that you may not really get a handle on your investment level until you are 6-12 months into the effort.

The initial plan is necessary, but ongoing planning is critical.

I would not recommend even dabbling in content marketing without a real plan.

I would also not recommend making the assumption that your initial plan is the end of your content marketing planning. In fact, it’s just the beginning.

For instance, while your initial plan should include a healthy set of ideas, messages, and themes, it takes quite a bit of time to plan all the details of an editorial calendar for an entire year. Take the time during planning to build out your framework (deciding how often you will publish and what types of content) and at least a few months of your editorial calendar. But realize that you will need to readjust, add, and reconsider themes during the year. New products, shifts in business goals, or changes in the market may require you to adjust or add ideas and themes to accommodate those changes.

The idea well WILL run dry.

Speaking of ideas, you will run out of them. Don’t feel bad about that – it happens to the best of us.

Idea generation, in some form or fashion, should occur on a consistent basis, sometimes scheduled, sometimes not. When you build your plan, be sure to determine your method for capturing and building out ideas. For some people, that’s pen and pad. For others, it’s a software tool. Still others may prefer some form of white boarding.

Do know what to do when the well runs dry, though. Sometimes a content brainstorm is required. Sometimes, you need something that looks more than editorial meeting. If you need a quick head start, check out our checklist: 10 Ways to Generate New Content Ideas.

People will fail you.

Most successful content marketing programs involve contributions from internal staff – as writers, as editors, as subject matter experts, or as sharers. For many of these people, content marketing represents less than one percent of what they are supposed to be doing. To make matters worse, most of these people do not report directly to you, Ms. Director of Content Marketing.

You’re going to get disappointed by these people more than a few times. Deadlines will be missed. Quality will be poor in certain cases.  Some will ignore your requests completely, claiming no time.

This is simply one of the most common struggles with insourcing your content marketing.

The only way around it? Acquire the highest level of executive buy-in available, and assemble the best content marketing team possible.

You will start questioning the value of individual pieces of content.

Step 1: Create remarkable content.

Step 2: People will share it.

Step 3: Some portion of the people that consume said content will sign up for whatever you’re selling.

This is the greatest misconception of content marketing, according to Rand Fishkin.

The idea that simply creating content and sharing will immediately generate new revenue leads some companies to give up on pieces of the content marketing program way too early, and it usually starts with the questioning of individual pieces of content and the associated investment.

“It took ten hours to create and distribute that blog post, and we saw nothing from it.”

“This email newsletter only generated a 15-percent open rate. We should consider killing it.”

Do continue to evaluate your content for its quality, purpose, and contribution to overarching messaging. Do not abandon certain pieces of content, or even the program entirely, based on short-term conversion data.

Stay the course, content marketer.

If you are the leader of this effort, staying the course, and encouraging others to stay the course, will be your greatest challenge during the first 6-12 months. People will consider abandoning ship. You may consider abandoning ship. Don’t do it. Instead, build a great initial plan, prepare yourself for these five content marketing truths, and then exhibit some good ol’ fashioned patience.

If your organization is putting together a content marketing plan, and you’re feeling a little bit lost, please track us down. Right Source can help. Or if you’d like some more tips to guide your plan, download our eBook, “How to Grow Your Business with Content Marketing.”

Related Resources

About Mike Sweeney:

As Right Source’s co-founder and CEO, Mike Sweeney creates, plans, and implements our vision, mission, culture, and strategic direction as well as serving as an advisor to our clients. Mike received a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a major in marketing from the University of Notre Dame and has more than 20 years of experience in B2B marketing strategy, including digital, content, and marketing technology. You can find Mike on Twitter and LinkedIn, or read his other posts.