Content marketing done right is an extremely effective way for businesses of all sizes to strengthen their brands, generate leads, and boost conversions. Take a look at these statistics from content marketing mastermind Neil Patel, Business 2 Community, and Curata:

  • 61% of consumers say that their purchasing decisions are influenced by content.
  • 51% of B2B customers say they rely on marketing content (for purchasing decisions) more than they did a year ago.
  • 95% of B2B customers are willing to trust content provided by businesses.
  • 47% of B2B customers read 3-5 pieces of content before contacting a salesperson.
  • Content marketing generates three times as many leads as traditional marketing for approximately 1/3 of the cost.
  • Conversion rates for business that use content marketing are nearly six times those of business that don’t.

And yet…all too often, content marketing fails.

Back in the early days of content marketing, the simple act of publishing content gave you an edge. Not anymore…not when, as Brandwatch reports:

  • 56 million blog posts are published each month.
  • 40,000 internet searches are conducted every second, by more than 1 billion unique users.
  • As of 2014, Google had indexed 30,000,000,000,000 internet pages.
  • 300 hours of video are published on YouTube every minute.
  • More than 1 million users have published content on LinkedIn.
  • 60% of brands publish at least one piece of content per day.

In other words, you’re not that special (nor am I!), and the competition is brutal, even when it’s just a matter of garnering attention for your content. It’s even more so when you want people to follow your brand and engage with and share your content.

Just showing up isn’t enough anymore.

The good news is that effective content marketing can be easy. The bad news is that it’s even easier to mess it up.

There are a lot of reasons why content marketing fails, but I thought I’d start with the ones that are both common and relatively easy to address:

Fall for the “everybody else is doing it” trap.

Mom was right — that’s not a good enough reason for your business to engage in content marketing (or anything else). You have to know why you’re writing and publishing content.

Ideally, you’ll have a fully developed content marketing strategy with a 12-month editorial calendar. But, for those of you who live in the real world and just need to get started, make sure you have a purpose in mind for each piece of content — before you start writing it.

What do you want people to think, do, or feel after reading it? And why is that important?

Write for the wrong audience.

I see this with B2B brands all the time. They end up writing content that would interest readers who do what they do, but not readers who buy what they do.

Develop a very good image (referred to in marketing lingo as a “customer persona“) of the people who buy whatever it is you sell, and make sure you write for them.

Make it about you.

Content marketing is not about showing off. Not your vocabulary, not your cleverness, not your writing skills. Not your brand or product, either.

Effective content doesn’t jump up and down and call attention to itself. Instead, it creates the context — a relationship, trust, confidence, etc. — in which people will later be influenced to take an action. Period.

If you want to show off your skills, stick to academia or entertainment. It has no place in content marketing.

Try to force people to want what you want.

I consider myself to be both a foodie and (somewhat) a oenophile. But here’s my dirty little secret: I don’t like red wine all that much. And no snooty waiter looking like he’s about to faint when I order a sauvignon blanc with my filet mignon is going to change that. He can either try to convert me and likely lose both sales, or he can face reality (no matter how gauche) and bring me my white wine.

It’s a fundamental rule of business: Give your customers want they want. Your content has to be built around what your customers want to know, not what you want to tell them.

Make it bland.

I worked in the corporate world for 12 years, and I know that most businesses have a pathological fear of undoing that top button and showing some personality. They’re too afraid of offending people.

But here’s the thing: Effective content marketing talks to the people who are most likely to like you and what you sell — and ignores the rest.

To put it another way, if  people are offended just because you showed a little leg in your blog post, they probably wouldn’t have bought from you anyway. I’m not telling you to be crude or risque — as a mom, I can’t tell you how many times I died a little inside when one of my kids peered over my shoulder at the exact moment a suggestive Facebook ad popped up — I’m just telling you to not be boring.

Trust me, nobody wants to read “corporate-speak.” A bowl of plain, cold oatmeal might be safe — and even nourishing — but nobody wants to eat it.

Complicate the process.

You’ve heard the old adage about “too many cooks.” Well, it’s a cliche for a reason.

Let’s say you write a piece of content and then ask 5 of your colleagues to weigh in. What happens is that each of them will come at it from a different angle and make changes that reflect that angle. So you end up with a boring, ineffective piece of content that has no focus whatsoever.

Sure, it’s important to get feedback, but it works better if you specify the kind of feedback you want. So you might ask your corporate lawyer to look at it from a legal standpoint, your product manager too look at it from a features/benefits standpoint, etc. That increases the chances that you’ll get targeted feedback that makes your content better instead of turning it into the aforementioned bowl of cold oatmeal.

Be sloppy.

If you’re going to do content marketing, do it right. Grammar matters. Writing matters.

It’s about perception: If your content is full of grammar and spelling errors, people will assume your product will be just as sloppy. Expecting someone to believe that you sell a top-notch product when you can’t be bothered to proofread or run spellcheck is asking a little much.

Be offensive.

It seems counterintuitive, but the only time brands stand a chance of getting away with being offensive is when it’s obvious they’re being deliberately offensive (and even then it’s risky). Unintentional offensiveness is usually seen as an unforgivable sin, because it tells people that you’re clueless and/or out of touch.

The fact that you may see nothing offensive about your content is irrelevant. A lot of times I don’t even see what the fuss is when one of these big corporate bloopers hits the news. But that doesn’t matter. If your audience finds your content offensive, they’ll be sure to let you and everyone else know about it.

Believe that, if you build it, they will come.

There’s a heck of a lot of content out there, and, unless you’re Apple or a celebrity, the chances that you’ll show up when somebody conducts a search are pretty slim.

Fortunately, there are a lot of things you can do to improve your chances, from SEO to promotion to influencer outreach. If you’ve gone to all the trouble of creating great content, take the next step and make sure you get it in front of the right eyeballs.

Never try to close the sale.

No, content should not be overtly promotional. Nobody wants to read superlative-laden drivel about how awesome your brand is.

But most content should have some sort of call to action, even if it’s just a popup form asking readers to sign up to receive updates.

Why? Because email is still the most effective marketing tool around. In fact, email is 40 times more effective at acquiring new customers than posting on Facebook or Twitter. But you can’t have an effective email campaign without email addresses. To get those email address, you need good content, and that content needs to have some kind of call to action.


I’d like to call this the “ultimate list of content fails,” but doing that justice would take a book. These are the ones I see most often, and most can be corrected with a minimum of effort and expense.  If you think of any I missed, please let me know in the comments. And feel free to contact me with any questions; I’ll be happy to help.