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In What Cases Does Content Marketing Not Produce Results?

16 January 2015 Svetlana Kuznetsova
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Business is hard. We have no right to promise you, that it will be easy. Business is never easy, especially when you try to do your best to achieve growth, but we can show you a path to follow. By walking this path and working with an experienced team, you’ll make your business profitable.

We’re going to share one thought that seems to be ordinary and even banal, but despite its simplicity it will help you. You have a great advantage over previous generations of entrepreneurs, who worked like crazy to achieve their results. Your advantage is that you have a great channel of communication (probably the best one in a business history) with your audience and an effective promotional strategy in the global web. Know what we are talking about? Yes, you get it. This channel is the Internet. The strategy is content marketing.

With the help of content marketing you can increase your rate of growth dozens of times over, but relying only on an agency to work on your promotion is wrong, even if you are completely confident in their experience. Long-awaited results will be reached only when all the factors that catalyse your business’ growth come together. What are these factors, and why should you work with a professional agency and why you shouldn’t expect a sudden miracle? We’re going to tell you.

Every effect has its cause

Yep, with help from a good content marketing strategy you can communicate with your target audience via a website. You can publish useful content and talk about the real advantages of your products or services. You can improve your brand awareness on social networks. You have an opportunity to get in touch with your potential customer via a corporate Twitter account in real time. Anything you want to deliver to your target audience can be delivered.

However, it’s necessary to realise one very important thing, the growth of any business has a background. This background is always connected with real, tangible things such as the operational activities of a company, availability of necessary resources, average market development metrics in an industry, making investments in online marketing and, of course, the main background – a demand for a product or a service or a prediction that this demand is going to take place in future. Without taking all of these things into account you can easily make several mistakes, which will can’t be fixed by the content marketing agency.

The first mistake. High expectations of a dying market

How justified are your plans to conquer a universe (market) through such an “almighty” communications channel as the Internet - using content marketing? Don’t you waste your limited resources when planning incredible stuff? Without a clear understanding of what results you can reach in one, two or five years no content marketing team can save you, no matter how experienced they are.

Don’t expect a content marketing miracle to be created if your expectations for an awesome result are far from reality, if they are not supported by research that allows for a plan to grow and change. In this instance, even if a miracle happens, you can’t take an advantage of it.

We are going to tell you a real story from our bitter experience, a story of one project, whos name we can’t reveal for obvious reasons. Let’s discuss this story as follows:

Our case study – a bad experience:

Five years ago a company started selling expensive branded diaries and notepads. During this period the company had grown into a significant player in its niche. The rate of growth has always been based on SEO promotion of branded queries that were pretty frequent and competitive because of brand’s popularity. All of these queries are still top ranked. Looking at sales… Sales were down year-on-year. Of course this is a seasonal market, and December sales are the most significant ones because of the nature of the product. The products were great. No joke, they really were great, but this hadn’t saved sales.

The businesses owners contacted us and wanted us to help them.

It was the end of October – six weeks before sales peak – when we started to work on this project. There was some nervousness at the other end of the line, in correspondence, in endless Skype conversations with the company owners from the very beginning (in the end their negative reactions were simply horrible), but we didn’t pay attention to it and started working. We recreated all their content in shortest time possible and wrote new ones too – more than 250 thousand characters in just six weeks. The work was continually slowed down by reasons which were not so obvious at that time – we were constantly rewriting and recreating the same pages because the businesses owners always had contradictory recommendations for us. We had been trying to engage in a conversation through our written content (which was really well written) it was more logical – with legitimate claims, what’s wrong with applying stylistics? Explain this to us, we are ready to correct anything, but there were no legitimate claims, only the unbreakable opinion, “we don’t like it”. So we kept on rewriting, rewriting, rewriting…

What was that? It was a thin line between panic and hope – people, realising (they were not fools) that the problem was in global things unable to be fixed by any effort, they were Looking for who to blame in advance, just to blame someone for everything, absolutely everything.

In December we achieved the expected growth in traffic, a record in the whole websites history (the owners blamed it on the season). In January 2013 we had fewer unique visitors (still it was a January record for the website), but we had broken our own December search traffic record. Do you get it? Let’s look one more time – during two working weeks in January right after the holidays we had broken our own search traffic record. The owners attributed it to a residual effect – those, who hadn’t managed to buy before the New Year, were buying everything at that moment. In February – the most godforsaken month for Russian e-commerce – we broke a record for unique visitors and our own search traffic record. In February we had three times more traffic than, for example, in August. So, what about sales? Nothing. January and February of the new year were much less than those of previous year’s. Even December with its traffic record was worse than the last December, speaking about sales.

In February search engine traffic was almost twice more than in September
In February search engine traffic was almost twice more than in September

In February we had stopped working on the project. Why? It’s rhetorical question, because the answer is obvious. In fact, what is happening to paper diaries? What is a worldwide trend? Paper diaries, as a working tool, are extinct. Of course, paper diaries, just like paper books, are not going to disappear - they will remain as expensive gifts. For example, handmade diaries and notepads will always be in demand (just like any handmade products) by fans, but it’s another price category and the market is pretty small. (By the way, it isn’t an option to sell paper books over the Internet. We don’t envy you if you want to open this business and have already made big investments).

The turning-point in the rich diaries market happened in 2012. The reason is understandable – cheap tablets rushed into the market. Who can stand against a tsunami? We didn’t succeed. We are very sorry, Victor and Anastasia, but we are not gods, we’re just good at baking clay pots.

What’s the conclusion? Well, plan your goals realistically for yourself and especially for the agency you are working with. Firstly, you have to understand what exactly you want, and whether it is possible or not. Speaking about fine expensive paper diaries, this market is not going to disappear. Of course, it will lose its strength that’s irreversible. Paper books? Well, we know this market a bit, and there is a fundamental crisis now. That’s it.

The second mistake. Incorrect evaluation of a business’ prospects

We know some real-life examples of some business projects, which were not just unsuccessful, but also budget-devastating because of incorrectly evaluating (speaking frankly, because of the absence of these evaluations) the market, spending and possible profit at the beginning. Believe us, it hurts to see people with burning eyes who have an awesome (as they think) idea, invest almost all their resources in an obviously disastrous project and then appear to be in a catastrophe, when one single project devastates everything. The startup race was deadly for many people.

According to Startup Genome, the main reasons for startup failures are:

  • A lot more resources are spent on attracting customers than on developing a proposed service to an appropriate level, suitable for a market and targeting audience’s demands. While working on service development is replaced with wide-ranging PR, investments in marketing and mass media partnership.
  • A lot more more resources are spent on service promotion than on developing it to a specific level of quality, set by market rules.
  • Unjustified resources are spent on hiring new staff at the beginning.
  • Companies expand their staff without carefully evaluating current people’s experience such as technicians, service managers, CFOs and so on.
  • Companies make a great mistake when they prefer hiring managers and chefs to contractors.

Let’s imagine that all of a sudden you come up with a great idea, and you immediately start searching for both resources and contractors to implement it. Stop for a while. Think what’s wrong with this awesome idea, if it hasn’t been implemented by someone else before? Look clearly and, perhaps, you’ll find disadvantages that have prevented others from implementing the same project.

Even if you are sure that all cons will be solved during the working process, then stop for a while once again and evaluate the real size of investment needed to be made in this project. Perhaps your genial idea needs more finances than it seems. Face the cruel reality one more time – it’s better to reinsure than to forget about something.

Finally, face the merciless reality for the third time: is the market ready for your idea? Do you want to create a market demand? Is it possible? Will it be demanded?

Do not succumb to illusions – the reality is different
Do not succumb to illusions – the reality is different

Unfortunately, sometimes we have to face projects that could be named “A history of one illusion”. Having a pretty interesting idea, they are often managed with many common mistakes made by owners, which make a startup unsuccessful. At the beginning great finances are invested in the creation of a cool website, unique technologies are implemented, overblown numbers of staff are hired, an image of intense activity is created, but there is no single hint that there will be consumer demand in the future. Very often there isn’t even a monetization scheme (only an unexplainable faith that it will appear in future, but, alas, this usually doesn’t). Of course, content marketing would give results even in this case, but the thing is that, as a rule, such projects don’t live up to this point. They collapse like a house of cards because of complete financial collapse.

You know, we don’t even want to moralize about these cases, because such experience is always very bad, but if you have still decided…

Business ideas should be realistic, growth forecasts can be based only on market data analysis and your budget. After finishing your calculations you come to a content marketing agency and tell them your plans. We can evaluate their feasibility in terms of our competences, but no one, except you, can evaluate your market and your business’ prospects. Everything should be extremely concrete, just like in maths. Business in general and content marketing in particular is not an art, it’s a good judgment.

The third mistake. Cons of operational activities

Many people come to a content marketing agency “hiding” their real intentions behind phrases such as ‘we have to increase a number of visitors for a certain period of time by this or that number’. The true goal is to increase sales, not traffic. You want calls and orders. As a result, the number of visitors increases, while sales don’t, and you leave with a feeling of dissatisfaction with an agency’s work.

Yes, perhaps your website’s content doesn’t work on conversion rate increases. For example, long texts in product cards in an online shop make no sense from the point of view of increasing sales. A visitor doesn’t come to an online shop to read an article about the history of some product (such “general educational text” which is aloof from the main idea texts are seen frequently) – it can be read in Wikipedia or better still in your blog. A visitor comes to choose and to buy. A text with no information on prices, delivery terms and other important thing will not increase your conversion rate.

What should you do, if you work with professionals, and you are confident in your website content’s quality? Why aren’t there any sales? Try to look at the problem from a different view – analyze your own operational activities. Very often the reasons for poor sales lie in this sphere and not connected with global market trends. Start with yourself – more precisely with your staff.

Are you sure that your working process is organised 100% clearly? Are all requests processed by your managers? Do your managers answer all hotline questions?

You should be ready so that, in favorable conditions, sales growth comes together with traffic growth. Perhaps your staff doesn’t manage to process all the requests? Or maybe potential customers’ call are simply ignored – unfortunately, it happens.

In conclusion, the moral of the story is to conduct a step-by-step analysis of the operational activities of your specialists to make evidence-based conclusions.

The fourth mistake. Irrational actions

Always be rational. Don’t rush to get a result – achieve your goal step by step by making as much effort at each stage of a project as you can afford.

Think twice before ordering a full-scale online shop development, if you are going to sell two or five models of some product. Are you sure that you need it? We are sure that you don’t (the “for future needs” argument is invalid, if this “future” is postponed indefinitely). You don’t have to invest in an online shop (at the beginning there is a danger that you’ll invest too much without getting a decent result). A website-catalogue is enough. Start with small things. After that, look at developing the project and make conclusions about demand for your product. You’ll find correct decisions and make plans in the right direction. Not all at once. Remember that you need a website not because of it’s design, usability and navigation, but because of sales. Do exactly what will get you sales. Don’t develop a project with “a stock of functions for five years time”. Technologies change much faster. Five years? Two years later you’ll be able to develop these functions much cheaper and at a higher level of quality.

The idea is simple – go step by step. Napoleon was also a lieutenant first.

The fifth mistake. Wrong subjects

Not all website subjects are effective to be developed by content marketing. There are several subjects that are easier to be developed using different promotion strategies. These are subjects such as taxi or evacuator ordering, unlocking doors and others related to a single service demanded here and now. In these cases all that your customer wants to see is a small site with short informative text about the service offered and a large, clearly seen phone number in the header. Content marketing is about education, this is the essence. It tells people about services, products and completely develops a website’s subject matter. It’s unlikely that someone wants to read an educational article on choosing the right service before calling a taxi. It’s much more effective to promote this kind of websites with help of strategies such as PPC, for example.

We’ve told you about several cases, when content marketing won’t help your business. Now it’s time for some common conclusions.

When we start working with a new client, we want to build a long-term relationship. Content marketing is a very effective brand promotion strategy, but you should agree now that traffic growth is what you really want. You want your business to really grow, not virtual results. Believe us, we want the same for each of our clients, because it’s the basis of this long-term relationship which is profitable for the both sides. However, we can’t guarantee you growth because of the above-mentioned reasons.

Let’s stand firmly on our feet and look to complete real tasks, let’s think big and pragmatically. Your business is you. It is going to fade away without you. No agency can improve your business, if it is not protected by your own experience and your staff’s experience. Do you really have a quality product? Are you sure you have composed your unique selling proposition? Can you imagine what happens to your market in five years? Have you studied your target audience? Do you have a clear idea of your goals on the Internet? Yes? Then content marketing is perfect for you. It will accelerate your development by dozens of times. Be ready – the idea we put in this call is also very pragmatic. Plan to allocate resources of your company and constantly improve your overall experience to make your business growth and online growth the same.

© “Texterra”, At full or partial copying of materials reference to the source is obligatory.

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Former editor at Texterra online marketing agency. She is a graduate of The Maxim Gorky Literature Institute. Svetalan started working at "glossies", then turned to PR, where she worked for a long time in different structures promoting the "ConsultantPlus" brand.. She has been engaged in online marketing since 2010. Favourite thing to do is to work with copies. Unfavorite thing to do is to do nothing.
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© «TexTerra», At full or partial copying of materials reference to the source is obligatory.
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