Whenever people talk about ‘content fails’ my mind jumps immediately to that adage on big data: “Big data is like teenage sex: Everybody is talking about it, nobody really knows how to do it, everyone thinks everyone else is doing it so everyone claims they are doing it.”
Whilst content marketing is probably not quite in the same mysterious bracket, it’s not far off. Sure, it takes a lot less imagination to understand the core concept and value, but modern content marketing (especially in digital) is largely misunderstood and also a hard canvas to master. Many have tried and…… many have failed. Agencies don’t have a magic formula. And if they tell you they do, they are lying.
If the industry were to break down the dollar return on investment for content marketing projects, it would probably have the biggest trophy room of failures in advertising history. That said, the ones that work, really, really, do work and therein lays the first of my five content marketer fails:
FAIL #1 False Obsessions
Brands tend to obsess about content marketing. Most would probably give their first born to be spoken about in the same sentence as Red Bull. Personally, I find that listening to some brands talk about how important content is to them is like listening to a massively obese person talking about how much they love fitness whilst sitting on their couch eating pizza. Their actions and output don’t match their desires.
The words ‘commitment’, ‘budget’ and ‘bravery’ are like suggesting ‘salad’, ‘exercise’ and ‘routine’ to our metaphoric couch potato. In short, they want the instant weight loss without giving up the pizza. The brands that do well in content marketing are the ones who stop talking and start doing. The ones that are prepared to experience some pain (and some fails) along the way and do a lot of the work themselves.
Fail #2 Wrong Definitions
In a fragmented physical/digital world brands certainly see content marketing as the nouveau silver bullet – a magic box full of stuff that will magnetically cause millions to flock to their product like teenage girls to One Direction, regardless of the channel.
But exactly what is in that box? Boom! … An episodic mini soap opera on YouTube… *wait for it* where the audience picks what happens next! Please. Kill me now.
In all seriousness, brands have taken little time to define what content marketing is let alone study the inner mechanics.
FAIL #3 The Cult of Fast Followers
It amazes me how many Australian brands I have heard say they don’t like being first, but “We like to be a fast follower”. We’ve also all heard this one before, from both client and in-agency: “Let’s not try and reinvent the wheel”. Translation = “OK – Let’s just do something like the Old Spice Guy thing because that worked well.”
Yes, brand owners feel safer jumping on contemporary bandwagons, and who can blame them given agencies poor delivery record on the other side, rather than going for the big first. Of course, the brief and the attitude are often in stark juxtaposition, and talk of originality does not usually include breaking new ground, because that might get them fired.
FAIL #2 The Over-simplifier
“Let’s just do one thing and do it really well”. Translation = “Let’s spend a lot of money on an overly ambitious five minute video and buy a shed load of paid media on YouTube”.
Few would disagree that keeping things simple is a good thing, but it’s a complicated, networked world out there. It’s our job to understand the landscape and make it feel simple, but we are not doing our job when we simplify something, just because it makes our work easier. That’s laziness, not simplification.
The best content marketing strategies are complex and sympathetic to the environment people live in. A successful strategy exists within an ecosystem that understands user experience, not just a media plan that knows where they are.
FAIL #4 Free Viral
Agencies and brands don’t create viral campaigns. Consumers do that part. This is a fact that is often forgotten. Viral is purely the act of one person passing something to another and then to another. That’s organic. Not contrived. The part agencies and brands need to think harder about is social object theory, asset malleability, accessibility and a ton of other tactical elements that can help stimulate viral behaviour. But, doing something viral is not a strategy. It’s little more than a prayer for marketing folk.
FAIL #5 It’s not me, it’s you.
Businesses spend way too much time thinking about what they want content marketing to do for their business, and much less looking at what consumers actually want and how they behave, which is where the real answers lie. Modern content marketing doesn’t have to be just an entertaining clip you watch to kill a few moments. It can manifest as many other formats or platforms which can be useful and engaging. Brands need to look much deeper in to a user ecosystem, which may contain apps, games, soundboards, images, infographics, ebooks – all ready to be mashed up and meme-ified.
Of course it’s easy to point out the fails, but not all fails are equal and often fails can prove quite healthy in the long run. We shouldn’t be afraid of failing, but we should avoid simple mistakes of the past. We should be afraid of being lethargic and wary of the cost of doing nothing. It’s an interesting area so I’m looking forward to the panel debate at AdTech on content marketing fails in March this year.
By Iain McDonald, Co-founder, Razorfish Sydney and ad:tech Australia Chair