Top 3 Reasons Your Content Marketing Program Fails

Why Your Content Failed. Handwritten list of reasonsEveryone in B2B marketing says content marketing is important. Everyone is increasing content marketing’s share of the budget. And yet most B2B marketers don’t feel like their content marketing is effective. (Stats available from CMI’s benchmark report).

The outlook seems grim. Marketers are pouring more and more into something they aren’t confident in. These aren’t just small test budgets, content represents a big portion of overall marketing budgets as well. Yet confidence in the effectiveness of their content programs remains low.

So why do programs fail? Time and time again, B2B marketers keep making the same mistakes. Here are the top three reasons, based on my observations and conversations with other marketers, why content marketing initiatives fail.

1. You Quit

At a lunch presentation last week in Portland, Joe Pulizzi of the Content Marketing Institute said “Why do most content marketing programs fail? Because they stop!”

When you launch a content marketing initiative, you are launching your own ongoing media venture. You need to meet an information or entertainment desire of your audience and you have to become recognized for it.

Creating the content, and even promoting it, isn’t enough. It takes time for enough people to change their patterns, to recognize your name, to add it to their very short list of must read or watch sources.

You need to be prepared to give your content marketing program time to mature. It is a long-term commitment.

Related: Old Content is the King of Content Marketing

2. Your Content Sucks

Your content doesn’t just need to be valuable to your audience, it needs to be more valuable than all of the other similar content competing for their attention! If it doesn’t meet this bar, it sucks.

But that’s not even half your challenge. The web is flooded by new content every day. With new, improved content competing for your audience’s attention, the bar is raised every single day. Sorry.

It is useful to understand how successful publishers are adapting. In many instances, their practices represent the future for media companies and the marketers who aspire to be media companies. These two articles from Nieman Journalism Lab were particularly eye-opening for me.

Related: Why Your B2B Marketing Content Sucks

You Didn’t Focus on Audience Development

Even the best content isn’t automatically discovered and appreciated on its own, but you act like if you publish it, blast it and Tweet it, then Poof! Your audience will magically appear and instantly become rabid fans of all your content.

More likely, it will take far longer than you are willing to wait. Consider J. S. Bach. Quoting from Wikipedia “he was not widely recognised as a great composer until a revival of interest and performances of his music in the first half of the 19th century.” That’s right, one of the greatest classical composers wasn’t widely recognized for his work until more than 50 years after his death.

It takes time and effort to have your content discovered and to develop an audience. If you skip this step, your content initiative will slowly devolve into a supporting element for your outbound marketing efforts. Sadly, this is the real role content plays today for many B2B marketers.

Your Turn

What are the top reasons you see content marketing programs fail or what are your solutions to these problems? Add your perspective in the comments below or share it with me on Twitter (@wittlake)!

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  • Hi Eric, thanks for this one.

    Here in Belgium, where I live, we also see a spike in the interest for content marketing.

    Especially the last element in your blog, building an audience is often forgotten. The amount of content is ever increasing, and social and communities will become your content gate keepers.

    Therefore you need to think about how you will build your audience as you put it through multiple tactics. Email is still very important in this, so getting people to opt-in is an important tactic. Being present where they are is another important tacts. If that means offline, you need to be offline at the locations where they are. If that’s online, figure out where you need to be, in a meaningful, non-spammy way.

    Hope that adds.

    Warm regards,

    Tom De Baere

    • Tom, thanks, definitely a great addition. Email continues to be a key way to reach your audience. Growing opt-ins is valuable, continuing to deliver great information is key to ensure those people keep opening and reading your emails.

      Always appreciate your comments and perspective!

  • idacecilia

    Hi Eric!

    Great article! I

    • Hi Ida. One of the best things you can do to start building an audience is to recognize that there is already a thriving relevant community of people across the web and join it. Comment, connect or share (not promote) where your audience already gathers.

      In most instances, this is best done by individuals, not through “brand” accounts.

      Hope that helps and I’d be happy to discuss further. You can email me at!

  • carmenhill

    Eric, I absolutely agree with you on the need to build an audience. But if a content marketing initiative results in creation of more good, strategic content to support outbound marketing, then I’m not sure the outcome is quite as tragic as you describe. Even that would be a real improvement for many marketers.

    • Eric, along what Carmen said, if you take care of numbers 1 and 2 (don’t quit – and – make non-sucky content), number 3 should take care of itself.

      • Robert, I agree, hitting #1 and #2 goes a long ways. For businesses, getting #3 ensures the content program doesn’t sit as an investment with limited return for too long, which then risks #1.

        Although I don’t think it warrants a top 3 inclusion, another problem I see is content programs that contribute, but they are just a small slice. They have never become a key contributor for marketing results. As long as the contribution is small, it doesn’t get the kind of attention and support from the enterprise that would push it to the next level.

        Thanks for the comment, I appreciate it!

        • You’re welcome, Eric. Yes, when #3 doesn’t happen people are more likely to quit.

          Years back I was freelancing at Herbalife (I got stories!), and was asked to see what I could do with the *success stories* they run in their quarterly
          magazine. They all read the same. Same platitudes, only thing different were people’s names and amount of money they earned. Turns out they sent the
          distributors a questionnaire and the distributors replied with what they thought corporate wanted to hear.

          So I got on the phone and called the distributors from Herbalife HQ in Torrance. They’d pick up on the first ring when they looked at their caller ID. No writer had done that before and I proceeded to get genuine stories from them. Huge difference. No longer
          cookie-cutter format.

          Here’s an example:

    • That would definitely be an improvement! That said, I think many marketers are looking to content for more than just better results from outbound programs. Settling for just that is, well, settling. 🙂

      Thanks for keeping me honest!

  • Eric,

    Completely agree with 1st and the 2nd reason.

    On the last one, I think it can be seen as “Know your audience” which is nothing but serving relevant content to them. Knowing should come before development, which will make it effective – else your audience will start dropping after sometime.

    As far as 1st and 2nd go – they are tough. That’s where I think content curation leveraging a platform like comes handy for digital marketing and user engagement. We have enough content generated, let’s organize them as an alternative to banner ads/ facebook ads so that there is a value from the business to the consumer.

    What do you think?

    • Sujay, knowing your audience is definitely key, if you don’t know the audience well enough and have a clear vision for how you will be valuable to them, you will likely end up failing on points #2 and #3.

      I see audience development as more than just knowing your audience, it is a very active effort to build and grow an audience, the same way a magazine has to work to grow a subscriber base.

      I’m not familiar with netcurate, but I’m definitely a fan of making content easier to discover, access and consume. If it does that successfully, it sounds like an interesting offering.

      Thanks for the comment!

      • Caca rau nu face nimic . El se apuca de scris si murdareste tot ce exista mai bun ca el.Oricum nimic si nimeni nu se poate compara cu el. El este cel mai mare Caca Rau. Originea lui este iadul iar originea raului este cuvantul lui.Nu este rau ce intra pe gura ci ceea ce iese iar intai a fost cuvantul, care are putere de creatie. Caca raul creaza caca rau, cand scrie sau cand vorbeste.Pe el il simti de la distanta miroase a ca#H.&n8230;laalal liber, probabil de*al lui patapapievici.

  • Maureen Blandford

    I am sorry that Joe said the reason most content marketing fails is because ‘They stop.’ I like Joe, but that’s a sales technique worthy of The Music Man (you may be too young to get the reference). “Don’t stop” – is a song that certainly keeps the content marketer thought leaders in business. For now. “Every brand is a publisher” is another ridiculous red herring. Case in point – most marketers believe in content, aren’t sure theirs is effective, but plan on doing more. Right? Crazy.

    Historically, B2B marketers (because most have little business savvy) are like 5 yos in a soccer scrum scampering around whatever the hot thing is at the moment, wasting precious resources, and not scoring.

    I believe in the power of content. However, we live in a day where not only does the actual content suck, the current conventional wisdom content marketing methodology is ridiculously ridiculous x the gazillions who are executing horribly.

    The real reason that content marketing fails today is even more about the methodology than the actual content. There IS good content out there – but most of our targets have neither the time nor inclination to see it.

    Love, Debbie Downer

    • Hi Debbie Downer, I always appreciate your comments, you help keep me honest and grounded.

      I agree, “don’t stop” is a convenient message for people in the business of content marketing.

      That said, I’ve seen multiple companies succumb to exactly this. They spent three to six months, they were starting to get some traction, they were sorting out their challenges, but they stopped because it wasn’t delivering enough leads. Never mind that results were steadily improving and that their ongoing investment was relatively small. Never mind that if realistic expectations had been set, they would have been seeing the initial run as a success.

      Too many B2B marketers expect content marketing to be a miracle drug when in reality it is more like starting an email opt-in program from scratch. It will take time to build. And the flip side of that: if marketers can’t handle the time it will take to ramp up, they would be better off staying out of the fray completely than continuing to do this silly start/stop thing.

      Methodology: ok, making me really stop and consider. Awesome, often overlooked, insight.

      Always love the comments, thanks!

      PS: I love the soccer analogy…

      • Maureen Blandford

        Of course ‘stopping’ is a reason it fails, as is the case in many, many areas. Stop trying in your marriage and your marriage fails. Stop trying in school and you fail. duh.

        It is mercenary (yes mercenary) to propagate the falsehood that the main reason CM fails is because companies stop trying.

        The content marketing movement is failing companies by continuing to throw resources at a ‘thing’ so poorly executed.

        I believe in the power of content. I’ve used it effectively (self-authored and third-party, the mix is important) for clients and for my current company.

        If you were confused by if your personal investment plan was working or not, would you keep doing it or, worse, do more of what you’re doing.

        Content marketing = good in theory. It has become ridiculous in execution. If people were spending their own money, they would’ve stopped long ago.

        • Maureen, this is great, thank you. I LOVE the perspective that it doesn’t fail because you quit, but that you quit because of something.

          Looked at that way, I believe marketers are quitting because they started with unrealistic expectations (which are preached everywhere) and, to your point, poor execution that puts them even further below those unrealistic expectations. Then commitment, budget and interest dry up and they quit.

          Ok, note to Joe if he reads this: they don’t fail because they quit. They quit because they already believe they are on the road to failure. That is what needs to be fixed.

          Thanks (as always) for your insight and setting me straight. 🙂

  • DeCarolis Design

    I liked your comment to Ida below. Do your research in communities across the web from Blogs to Twitter to Forums and then develop relevant content is great advice – and it works!
    Vince DeCarolis

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