Marketing How-To'sThought Leadership

The 5 Simple Reasons Content Marketing Fails

By August 16, 2016 June 13th, 2019 No Comments

Creating marketing content is tough. Content marketing fails are expensive. Content marketers invest a lot of time trying to tell a brand’s story. When time and money roll out the door, we hope it takes off. We hope people will read it, find it valuable, and share it with their friends.

Unfortunately, that’s rare. It’s depressing to make a big investment in content, only to have no one read it. All of those hours behind the keyboard seem like a real waste of time.

Why aren’t people reading? Let’s peel back the layers on five of the seemingly simple reasons that we see most often. I’ll add some questions at the end of each section for a gut-check.

It’s Gated

Let me take you back to 2k1. The Information Superhighway was roaring at a crisp 55 miles per hour. Content was free. Most of the content was pretty darn good too. Institutions and research firms were generous. They posted white papers, analyst briefs, and an array of amazing resource materials for all of us to learn.

Then. Content Marketing.

Content farms have practically ruined the internet. The idea they operate within is that,  “if we create a sea of content big enough, we’ll get the traffic”! Unfortunately, it works well enough to make some cash.

Your leads understand this system. Maybe not directly – but, they’ve all been baited into filling out a form and handing over their email, name, and phone number for a digital goodie. Here’s the bummer. More often than not, they’re “sales-assaulted”. The next day, they have an email in the inbox asking to set up a time “to meet”. Then the sales calls start.

This wouldn’t be so bad – but the content was horrible too. The white paper they were promised turned out to be a sales deck pitching the company’s solutions.

Everybody has been through this journey and experienced the bummer of getting tricked into an aggressive sales funnel. Gated content is dead.

  • Has our gated content seen a gradual decrease in effectiveness?
  • Have we tested the comparative attribution ROI results of ungated content?
  • Have we measured the variance in Visibility vs MQL with regards to gated assets?

It’s way too long

We ran a depressing experiment at Solomon about a year ago. A client’s leadership believed a single piece of content was responsible for lifting sales, increasing “thought leadership”, and buoying the inbound Demand Generation metrics by a considerable %.

To be honest, we were all sold. It was a gorgeous 24 page PDF that explained the market conditions facing their customer personas. The white paper eloquently detailed each solution to the customer’s pain points. It made a lot of sense. It was gorgeous.

We converted the PDF into a website. Instead of downloading the document and disappearing into a black hole of analytics ether – we wanted to see what people were doing with the material hosted on a site running google analytics.

The results were eye opening. 23% of the viewers dropped off after the 2nd page. Another 39% dropped off after the 3rd page. An astounding 38% dropped off after the 4th page. Those of you who passed 5th grade, see the writing on the wall.

Not a single reader made it past the 4th page.

We have a very slim window to get our message across. No one is going to read a text book for fun, on their free time. Long form content is really fun for marketers to whiteboard. Unfortunately, chances are, no human is going to read it.

  1. What content complexity tier is driving the most revenue for our business?
  2. Have we hosted competing 101 vs Advanced webinars to gauge ROI impact?
  3. Are we distracted with the idea of “thought leadership” and do we have the mechanisms in place to actually track the increasing influence and ROI impact of that?

Someone who doesn’t talk to customers wrote it.

Take a guess at what bums sales people out the most? It’s marketing. Whoa, that stings right?  It’s the checklist of horrible leads they have to churn through that aren’t really qualified. It’s having to be a data entry clerk in CRM just to get a commission check.

All of this angst is manifested in the hatred of marketing material. “That’s not what the leads are really talking about”! “Hold on, let me tell you what would really get people excited about this”!

Often, marketers manifest their insecurity in product knowledge by having Engineers, Data Scientists, and Technologists frame out the marketing copy. You know what? That’s a super awesome idea……. If the engineers and data scientists are the people who are going to sign checks.

Technical folks often aren’t the decision makers. They can play a role down the funnel as a sales architect, when you pitch geek vs geek into a death battle of solutions selling. But, for now… leave those folks out of the solutions selling and attraction collateral game.

Otherwise, your leads are going to run away.

  1. Who wrote the last couple of emails and marketing assets that went out to our customers? Were they influenced by our best salespeople?
  2. If sales was given a blank check, what content would they find most helpful. Are we doing that? Have we asked them?
  3. When’s the last time we held a sales team “focus group” to identify things that’d be most helpful to them?
  4. Were you irrationally offended by the term “geek vs geek” battle?

It’s not personal

I’m not going to waste your time extolling the benefits of creating personas for marketing. You read some Hubspot blog and you probably get it.

I want you to think about the first couple questions that you get when you actually speak to a real life, in-person lead.

“Have you ever implemented your solution for ______ (similar industry validation)”

Pretty common question right? People want to know if you “know them”. Are you familiar with working in the complexity of higher education (just for example)?  Why’s that important to them? Because they don’t want to waste their time dealing with someone learning about student privacy requirements on their dime. Most professionals don’t want to be the solution astronaut. They’re looking for solid proven solutions that’ll help them hit their goals and get promoted. They’re looking for that slam dunk that’ll make them look awesome. Most professionals at the buyer stage aren’t looking for risks.

That means personalized content is damned important. If you’re speaking in esoteric terms about high level benefits and generalized benchmarks – you’re not building the currency of business; trust.

Trust is only gained when a customer feels like you “know them” and then subsequently respond appropriately to their uniqueness, concerns, and individuality. That’s why the concept of ABM is taking off right? It resonates with all of us as unique humans. Every industry is unique. Every company is unique. To truly resonate with our buyers, marketers need to take a hyper focused and personalized approach.

  1. Are we creating persona based marketing material based upon matching pain points to solutions for job roles, industry verticals, or accounts?
  2. Have we tested whether personalized content in industry, job role, or account illustrates an ROI lift compared with our generalized content?

No one knows about it.

Alright, here’s where I’m going to let loose because this really bothers me.

I’ve seen a number of companies splurge on gorgeous content only to never see it get the visibility they expect. This is a real world example…. $40k for a video…. 400 views. Let. That. Sink. In……..It’s enough to make a marketer ruin a mechanical keyboard with tears.

The biggest reason for this is because people have bought into some utopian myth that “great content is found”. This is not true. Content Marketing is a dystopia. Horrible content is found with great evil marketing. It’ll cost an immoral amount to promote, but it’s possible. Without digital marketing, great content is smothered.

With an elegant and effective digital marketing strategy, gorgeous and meaningful content will absolutely crush it. But, you have to take care of the entire funnel.

If you just build it – and don’t promote it.  They won’t come.

  1. What was our biggest content marketing fail? What made it horrible?
  2. Have you tested a parallel experiment running a marketing campaign with the super cool creative agency and the guys from upwork? Do your customers even care about the design quality, or are they just looking for information?
  3. When you launch a new content asset – do you have a “new lead” generation planning session that’s as robust as your content generation cycles?


This is all really 101 level stuff right? I felt compelled to get it out on paper because as a consultancy, we see it these issues a lot. It’s understandably easy to get lost in the shuffle of the demanding content calendars and campaign efforts most marketers are treading water in.

it’s important to go big picture. That’s where strategy and leadership live. It’s critical to get out of the trenches and stop. Stop for a minute and think about the high level efficacy of your efforts.

Hope this is helpful. If you have any questions, or would like to brainstorm through some ideas, I’d love to chat. Feel free to drop me an email or respond to the livechat. It goes right to my phone J

Jesse Fowl

Jesse Fowl

Jesse Fowl believes that at its core, marketing is about crafting experiences that evoke emotions – good, bad, or otherwise. As the managing director and lead strategist at Solomon, he is an expert in turning customer-centered design into reality, enabled by his team’s mastery of technology and data-driven insight. Jesse began his career at nineteen as an engineer in Silicon Valley. After the tech bust he began managing marketing IT systems of high-profile casinos in Las Vegas, where he focused on Loyalty Marketing and learned about the power of hospitality-driven and experiential relationship sales. Jesse spent time in the world of Big 4 consulting, managing enterprise marketing projects for Fortune 5 finance and high tech clients, before founding Solomon Solutions in 2014 and growing it into a multimillion dollar global martech disrupter. Jesse lives with his family in the Pacific Northwest, where he enjoys fly fishing and BASE jumping from live volcanoes.

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