In fall of 2015, I joined a digital marketing agency as a content strategist. They had this incredible idea. They would list every local business in the city free of charge on their website. Each business listing, in addition to the business’s basic information, would include photos, business description and if possible a video.
The aim was to list as many businesses as possible on the website. Meanwhile, we worked around creating a new premium brand to offer our digital marketing services under. Let’s call the brand “ninjaG”.
ninjaG started pitching digital marketing services to the businesses listed on our platform. By winter, more than 300 businesses were listed on the website. However, only 3 businesses enrolled into ninjaG. The business plan failed bigtime. It was time to face repercussions.
I investigated what went wrong. After interviewing almost every person in the team, I concluded that they were charging too much for the services, in some instances four times the market rates. I submitted the report to the higher management and they rejected it as ‘unreasonable’. I was furious but then I realized: ninjaG’s brand reputation couldn’t live up to the premium price tag it was asking for.
We invested a considerable amount of time and manpower into content marketing in order to build the brand and now it ceases to exist. I started connecting the dots looking backwards and every reason came running to me. We, as a team, made a lot of mistakes. This is what I concluded and would like to share here without being very specific to the case of my ex employer.
Team got issues
Either there is a communication gap between your designers, writers, and developers or what is going on your channels is out of sync with your existing content strategy. There could be so many reasons for this to happen. Your team is full of lazy people who are all about getting their piece of work done and go home.
Possibly, they are a bunch of unmotivated dudes who feel their piece of work doesn’t make a difference or they think the strategy is impractical and was compiled without their counsel.
Perhaps, the writing team and designers have some sort of ego problem and can’t stand each other’s stand on most project matters. Therefore, they often are on separate path when it comes to delivering the final set of contents.
My ex-employer outsourced the designing to a team in Cincinnati while the developers’ and copywriters’ team were still here in New York. This led to a lot of confusion initially and later arguments between the teams—with each team ready to put blame on other. Frustrated, they gave up on each other.
If, despite putting a lot of resources, your content marketing efforts seem to be going nowhere, look closely at team emails and chats, which will give you a fair idea--where things went wrong. The key is to identify the reason of this roadblock. What should concern you most is this that why no team came up with those problems to you. Does your work culture prosecute free expression? If so, you have larger issues to fix.
Conservative work culture is the graveyard of creativity
I worked for a media house for a while. There they had this system where boss would sit on the conference table and do nothing but address immediate problems each team is facing. The meeting would go for hours if not days and won’t conclude unless everybody’s problem has been solved. You could, literally, see teams shouting on each other inside the conference hall. But at the end of the meeting, they would have all their problems solved. I really like this method.
Your content lacks a style
All publications, digital or physical, follow a certain set of content guidelines. The guidelines set the style, pitch, tone and often contain a lot of examples , as defined in the Writing Style Guide they follow. While two of the most prominent Style Guides: Chicago Manual of Style and AP Style Guide have been in use since the time print media was in widespread, most of the companies, today, create their own Style Guide to make sure the content quality is consistent over the board, across the channels, and their online audience doesn’t feel alienated.
Without a Style Guide, your content structure would be under free fall in the hands of your writing team who won’t be hesitant about experimenting with what goes on your official channels from time to time, which in the end may confuse your audience or destroy your naïve brand altogether. So make sure you have a proper style guide in place before you make them write or create a piece of content.
So start with a design guide for rich content. Every piece of content, visual or audio, must comply with the guidelines in the guide regardless of the medium it targets: digital or traditional. That is every billboard, social media page, newspaper advert and tv commercial of yours must show similar branding elements.
For plain text, use one of aforementioned guide or create yours, whatever suits you buts a style guide is must.
You target wrong set of users
In online world, unlike real world, people are not merely bifurcated by their age, sex, and country but by their behaviour, interest, last purchases, subscribed services, income, job profile, education background and even popularity. So, if you’re trying to sell an earphone in sub-$10 category, target young people, particularly students in their junior year who survive on pocket money.
If you’re not sure, Facebook or Google Ad Manager is great place to learn: how to recognize and set target audience for a social media campaign. The rule of thumb is youth-centric and liberal content has a universal appeal on social media, provided it is published with an image or video.
Moreover, casual tone and informal words in an article targeted to business community is a big no-no and vice-a-versa.
Also, newer generation is more inclined to consume content on a mobile device preferably a mobile app. Investing in mobile app development for your ‘brand’ app is good bet, nevertheless.
If you’re unable to identify the target audience, there could be two reasons for that: either your digital marketing team lacks necessary competence or your product is confusing as hell.
If the former is the case, you must reassess their skills and if required help them gain necessary competence by means of training and skill reassessment sessions.
If competence is not a problem even when it looked like it is, then, once again, put the blame on you work culture. Why the concerned tea, never raised a problem if they had so many selling the product? While fixing work culture is a gradual process, meanwhile, you can try to communicate their concerns to the product development team and ask them to work around the product specs to make it sellable and marketable.
The latter is a common case with technical products like a new appliance or piece of electronics boasting a latest technology. Regardless, try to bridge the communication gap between your content marketing and product development team.
Too much text
There was a time when writing a couple of long textual blogs every week was enough of a content marketing strategy. Businesses literally used to thrive on this minimalistic strategy. But the time is long gone.
Plain text is long and boring and doesn’t appeal to millennials and generation Y much. They are used to rich pieces of content like images and videos. Like they say a picture is worth a thousand words and a video a thousand pictures.
Text on a relevant picture is a trend that has been going around a while now and still going strong. Memes gather more hits than most content on the internet. Did you ever check weekly meme dump? Google it.
Infographics is a web trend worth talking about. Even leading online publications accept and publish them. They are informative, textual and rich at the same time. Seriously, make infographics an integral part of your content marketing strategy, specifically, if you are targeting businesses. Hire a dedicated resource if you have to. They are as important as any other type of web content and lead to conversions more often.
Effective web content has the right combination of video, text and pictures. The same goes for social media. For B2B communication, even a couple of relevant images and videos and can make the plain boring emails many times interesting. My present employer is against long blocks of plain text that are longer than 50 words and doesn’t include images or videos.
If you must publish long blocks of text, which isn’t often the case, try to put them in bullet points.
Dude, where is creativity?
Creativity ‘Block’ is one thing but not showcasing creativity out of laziness is a bigger concern that you must address in your content creation team. Brain is a laziest part of our body. It resorts to hacks, patterns, and shortcuts to bypass an undergoing task.
However, creativity requires a person or a team to come up with ideas, designs, and activities previously unthought of. That means brain has to work for a longer period and has to put more efforts. Brain doesn’t want that and, thus, triggers various responses which may lead to loss of creativity in the long run or for the time being.
Loss of creativity in its content creation team is the biggest loss an emerging brand can suffer from. While we can’t fight the way brain works, we can work around what triggers such instances of creativity loss. Too much work load is one trigger for it. What about others?
Of course, you have to hire creative individuals to start with. I mean not every guy who works in your office is creative. Once you have the team of individuals who are creative by nature, start putting their fresh ideas into your content marketing strategy. Such team can easily come up with fresh ideas what should go in your blogs, websites, Facebook, Twitter, etc.
A design firm I work as a digital marketing consultant at has a simple theory to counter the age-old dogma around quality-quantity. Either a designer must present 10 pieces of mediocre design or come up with a masterpiece at the end of the day that makes everyone go
My boss there had an A-team of 6 or so creative people, who would do nothing but put up fresh ideas whole day, every day. Again, they had to pitch either one master idea or 10s of mediocre ideas to the boss every day. He would listen to each of those, approve a couple or even none on a bad day. I saw them going a couple of weeks without impressing the boss with their ideas. On a bad day, you could hear the boss, “I have hired a bunch of fools. I wonder why I haven’t fired them already.”
Another day, “Together you guys can change the destiny of human kind. Your next Vegas trip is on me”. Funny guy, ha?