Why your content marketing is failing you (and tips for companies in Southeast Asia to do better)

Content marketing can really drive business growth. But it’s no easy feat, and according to HubSpot less than half of marketers get the results they expect. So why is your content marketing failing you and how can you do better?

We use more than a decade of content marketing experience to highlight the 10 most-cited failures among businesses in Southeast Asia, and offer ways to improve your content marketing effectiveness.

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Problem #1: “We don’t even know where to start”

We hear you.

Publishing content on behalf of a brand or business can be a daunting task.

Especially with the added pressure of needing to deliver results for your boss and the bottom line.

Where to start?

We’ve learned that the very best first step is to work out what you truly want to achieve.

Content marketing success metrics could include things like “increased search engine equity”, “audience growth on social media”, “increased subscribers”, or “website traffic”.

But really — if we’re all honest — it’s about financial Return on Investment (ROI).

Get to the heart of what you want to achieve financially before you get started with strategising, planning, producing and distributing business content.

This means working out how much revenue, exactly, you’d like to generate with digital content marketing.

It also means calculating how many sales are required to reach your revenue target.

For example, if you’re aiming for US$100,000 in revenue from your digital content marketing efforts, with an average purchase order of US$5,000, you’ll require 20 closed / won deals.

A financial target is the place to start. It will form the basis of your content strategy and determine everything you do going forward.

Problem #2: “We know how much money we want to make but don’t know how to link it to content.”

Let’s say you’d like to earn $100,000 from 20 closed/won deals at $5,000 each.

Work backwards from there and begin by finding out the following data:

• Average ‘lead to sale’ conversion rate (how many qualified leads normally end up as closed / won deals in your sales team)

• Average website ‘visitor-to-lead’ rate (what percentage of visitors to your website fill out a form, or leave their email address to become a ‘lead’)

Once you know this, you can calculate approximately how much traffic you’ll need to drive to your website to generate enough qualified leads for your sales teams to successfully convert into your revenue target of $100,000.

How do you calculate this?

If the sales team usually converts 5% of leads into closed / won deals, for example, that means the marketing team should hand over approximately 400 qualified leads to give the business a chance of 20 closed deals.

This number (400 qualified leads) will then inform all digital marketing activities, including:

  • Website traffic goals
  • Social media marketing
  • Email marketing
  • Targets for organic search traffic
  • Search Engine Marketing
  • Display advertising
  • Landing page strategies / optimization
  • Downloadable offers / lead magnets

Problem #3: “We don’t have any existing conversion data to help define our strategy.”

If you’re starting from scratch, look around for industry benchmarks.

Ones we like to use at We Create Content are:

Forecast conservatively. It’s easy to want to go with the highest industry benchmarks you can find for things such as…

• Social media click through rates

• Website visitor to lead rate

• Email open rates

• Cost Per Click rates (search engine marketing)

But while these benchmark rates are helpful, they should be taken as ballpark estimates only and once you get going with your digital marketing activities, you should recalculate all of the figures in your strategy based on the actual rates your marketing team can accomplish with real campaigns.

This will make your forecasting much more accurate early on, and will help manage your team’s plans and management’s expectations accordingly.

Problem #4: “We’re not consistent with our content marketing.”

You’re not alone.

This is an especially common issue that usually results from not having a “single source of truth” about how the brand and its messages should be communicated.

To clarify who you’re speaking to, what you should be saying, and when you should be saying it, spend some time developing a content playbook.

This means getting all of your stakeholders locked in a room early on in the process to discuss and define things such as:

• Core values

• Customer pain points

• Key messaging

• Tone of voice

• Art direction (bring in the design team for this one)

Some members of the team are likely to insist that you just “follow the brand guidelines”.

The thing is, brand guidelines are usually about the do’s and don’ts of handling logos and typographies, rather than about how you should be communicating your brand through extensive content offerings.

Content marketing requires much more thought. So go ahead and conduct a content playbook workshop — don’t call it quits until you’ve achieved clarity and a common purpose.

You’ll need to get everyone’s sign off on the playbook before you can achieve consistency in your content marketing messages.

A content playbook will do three things:

• Ensure your content is consistent

• Keep your content performing its intended job

• Prevent procedural confusion and internal disagreement over how things should be done.

Problem #5: “We create content haphazardly.”

If you’ve defined your goals as discussed in problem #1, you should already be more organised in terms of what content you produce, who you produce it for, when you produce it, what it does for readers / consumers. And of course, what your financial targets are.

The next thing to do is to build a content strategy document.

This could be a one pager, or a 60-pager. Shorter is better, so the rest of the team can access it, digest it and stick to it.

At the most basic level, your content strategy document should include:

• Audience personas

• Keyword research

• Content deliverables for different stages of the sales funnel (top, middle and bottom)

• Publishing frequency and defined channels

Pillar pages and topic clusters

Another way to lend more structure to your content marketing is to produce content in pillar pages and topic cluster structures.

Instead of producing random blogs at random times, work out a singular pillar theme and write a piece of at least 5,000 words summarising it completely.

Include links from this lengthy pillar page to related topic cluster blogs of approximately 1,200 words each.

Google loves this structure, as it recognises the semantic relationship between all the linked content.

Hero content, broken down over time

You could also think about producing an impressive piece of hero content, like a white paper or research doc early in the content strategy.

Get it signed off, publish it, and break it down over time by periodically extracting micro-nugget content from it — smaller chunks of content such as factoids, pull-quotes, infographics, images or complete excerpts published on social media or in email campaigns.

Problem #6: “We don’t know who we’re speaking to.”

It’s all too easy to begin producing content on a whim with no real thought or research into who the content is aimed at, and why.

Don’t try to produce content for everyone / the general public.

Instead, clearly define your buyers with well developed audience profiles.

Every single bit of content you produce should be mapped to one of your profiles, which should be based on very real people with very real pain points and ambitions.

The best way to do this is to conduct audience research.

Interview as many of your customers or prospects as possible — at least 7 to start with.

This is a great chance to learn about their mindset, job roles, challenges, search habits and buying processes.

This work puts you in their shoes and will help you produce content that’s truly valuable for them, especially if it’s delivered when they need it most as they move through their natural phases of “the funnel” — awareness, consideration, preference and purchase.

Problem #7: “We have nothing much to say.”

We come across this quite a lot.

There’s a tendency for businesses to produce content that only talks about the offer, the USPs, the product updates or how to buy.

“Why waste time on anything else?” the sales team might ask. “Get to the point of what we’re selling and how much it costs!”

Don’t listen to the sales team.

The best thing you can do with content marketing is to stop shouting about the price and features of your offer and start talking about the big picture benefits that underlie them — all the while giving genuine value to your audiences.

Think about the emotional and rational benefits your customers will enjoy by working with you or using your services.

This doesn’t mean you should only make bold or abstract claims. Always keep credibility by linking your claims to the functional benefits of your products.

For example:

Instead of saying “our software helps your team communicate in one place” try “our software saves up to 10% of admin time among teams, making collaboration easier and more productive, so your staff can focus on the job they’re best at: selling!”

This also opens up opportunities to start owning themes such as collaboration and productivity with your brand’s storytelling.

The content marketing sweet spot

What marketing or sales managers want to say about your product is not necessarily what audiences want to read or search for when they’re online.

Put yourselves in the content marketing sweet spot by relating to the customers you’re serving. Deliver genuine value and insight instead of shouting your price and unique selling points.

Win buy-in throughout the company

By winning widespread buy-in for content marketing within your business, you’ll be able to generate a greater variety of stories from various departments.

Different areas and staff will have different tips and insights, and will occasionally be sitting on fantastic stories that you never even knew you had.

If everyone is involved early on you’ll be set for a frictionless content production process.

It will also help with distribution later on. People are more likely to share content they had an active part in conceptualising and creating.

Problem #8: “Organic search is taking too long to deliver leads.”

We tell most of our clients to expect organic search traction between six months and one year of producing lots of optimized content.

It’s definitely not an overnight success, which is why stakeholders sometimes get frustrated — especially if they’re using content marketing for a short term solution.

Content marketing takes vision and patience. But there are some quick wins you can play for.

Mini campaign spikes

Mini traffic driving campaigns on LinkedIn or Facebook can be one way to drive eyeballs to your website or landing pages while you wait for organic search traffic to pick up momentum.

Opt for a web conversion campaign that will drive traffic out of LinkedIn and onto your website, where you can generate leads to own — rather than keep the campaign within LinkedIn, where leads will be sent to your profile to follow up with the InMail messaging tool.

Also, by ramping up visitors to your website via LinkedIn and dropping a LinkedIn Insight Tag (similar to the Facebook Pixel) into your header code, LinkedIn can verify your business once you’ve had more than 300 unique website visits.

Use white papers, ebooks (like this one) and videos at the top of your funnel.

In the middle of your funnel, use case studies or sign-ups to Zoom webinars. Offer value by giving away genuinely useful content such as cheat sheets, templates and calculators.

Be bold, timely and different to cut through the noise on LinkedIn. It’s an expensive platform to advertise on, so you’ll want to make the most of it with a strong, thumb-stopping offer.

Try your ad creatives on Facebook first, where it’s cheaper. Then run the best performing ad on LinkedIn.

Structure your content

As discussed in Problem #5, produce content in pillar pages and topic cluster structures to fast track your climb up through the Google rankings.

Long tail keywords are easier to rank for but often have lower search volumes. So define a long tail keyword or theme that you want to own and write a piece of at least 5,000 words summarising the theme completely, with authority. Embed internal links to topic cluster blogs of approximately 1,200 words each for best results.

If you can get this content referenced by other reputable and relevant websites you’ll begin to generate a list of backlinks; a bibliography of other websites referencing your content.

Along with the pillar page and topic cluster model, Google will notice these backlinks to other websites and shower both you and the linking website with “link juice”, which will move you both up the search rankings as reputable sources of original content.

SEM wins

While the goal is to feature on the first page of Google organically through content, running search engine marketing campaigns can be a temporary solution.

It will cost you on a “per click” basis, and depending on how competitive your industry is, you might have to bid quite high to beat your competitors to the top.

Set aside budget in the first 6 months of your content marketing efforts to generate website traffic while your site picks up search engine momentum organically.

Ensure your stakeholders are aware of the timeline for organic search upticks and manage their expectations (and your campaign activities) accordingly.

Problem #9: “Our marketing manager doesn’t have time.”

We hear this one a lot too.

We can see why. Content marketing isn’t something that can be given to a junior marketing executive, and it’s not something that can be done at the end of a long, busy day.

Not if it’s going to actually work in driving business growth.

To be successful and become part of a marketing manager’s core job description, content marketing needs to be taken seriously.

Make content a priority by working out its role in the business’s OKRs (objectives and key results).

Once this is done, tie in individual KPIs and incentive frameworks around content marketing success milestones.

Get as granular as possible at this point, and establish monthly or quarterly KPIs mapped to an activity timeline that everyone works from and can be held accountable to.

An example of an OKR and its relation to content marketing and staff KPIs:

Objective 1: Use digital channels to generate $100,000 revenue in 12 months (add company-wide incentive)

Key Result 1: Generate 200 sales qualified leads in the first 6 months(add department incentive and KPIs)

Tactics and KPIs:

• Increase website traffic by 10% month-on-month in Q1 and Q2 (add individual incentive and KPIs)

• Produce monthly paid campaigns that drive traffic to lead magnet offer (add individual incentive and KPIs)

• Create 2 x pillar pages and 24 x topic clusters based on the agreed themes our business strives to own (add individual incentive and KPIs)

• Purchase CRM and email automation technology to nurture campaigns via email marketing for defined audience personas (add individual incentive and KPIs)

With structures such as this in place, a business growth mindset will always be at the heart of your content marketing activities.

Plus, granular KPIs will help keep your various departments and teams fully accountable and incentivised.

Business structures such as this will also make a strong case for employing a dedicated content strategist/creator alongside the rest of your marketing team — freeing up your marketing manager of content strategy and production while arming you with an in-house specialist to take care of content marketing and publishing.

Common problem #10: “We can’t prove ROI.”

This was a massive problem we had as an agency for our entire first 18 months as a start up.

Our content looked beautiful and was well put together. It was speaking to audience personas and solving their pain points. It even won very attractive vanity metrics on social media and Google Analytics.

But still, we found it difficult to close the ROI loop by proving that our efforts were generating leads and actual revenue for our clients.

It was a question that had everyone in our agency scratching their heads: how to tie our content to sales? How do we prove exactly which leads came from where, and what content they engaged with in their journey down our clients’ sales funnels?

We became partners of HubSpot — a growth marketing CRM and automation technology platform that helps us link our content to our clients’ lead generation results and associated sales.

Now, we won’t work on content marketing projects without it.

We recommend it — especially if you want to prove to stakeholders that your content marketing efforts are paying off.

There are free versions of HubSpot available and you can always upgrade as you go should you need to.

Thank you for reading. What we’ve written here aims to help you dodge common content marketing problems and point you in the direction of content marketing success.

Get in touch with us today to discuss your content marketing headaches in more detail, or book a free one-to-one session with our cofounder.

We’d be very happy to hear from you.

Originally published at https://wecreatecontent.asia on January 27, 2021.

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A content marketing agency for business growth. Based in Vietnam with clients all over the world.

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We Create Content

We Create Content

A content marketing agency for business growth. Based in Vietnam with clients all over the world.

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