5 Common Reasons Good Content Fails

Anna Talerico, ion interactive's EVP and cofounder

Anna Talerico, ion interactive's EVP and cofounder

One of the biggest surprises from the Content Marketing Institute’s 2016 benchmark report wasn’t that three quarters of reporting organizations are using content marketing, but that only 30% say their content is effective (and that’s down from 38% last year!). In the digital age, with information more readily available than ever before, a steady stream of quality content is one of the most valuable tools a marketing team can have. In fact, Forbes lists content marketing as more popular than both search engine optimization (SEO) and pay-per-click (PPC), second only to social media marketing. So, what gives?

But as more marketers get on the content bandwagon, it becomes more difficult for any one voice to stand out, which means that many messages get ignored altogether. Here’s a list of common reasons even solid content fails.

Too Many Cooks

As content budgets grow and more brands seek new ways to get their message in front of consumers, spaces become more crowded and cries for attention become deafening. Larry Alton, a business consultant, uses the ice cream truck model to explain the problem:

Think about it; one ice cream truck in a populated area on a hot day is bound to make a lot of money. Ten ice cream trucks in the same area serving the same population are bound to make one-tenth of that total potential revenue. In the same way, the theory goes that over time, each individual content piece becomes less valuable and content marketing, in turn, becomes a less viable strategy.

However, that doesn’t mean marketers should pack up their product and go home. The key is to find your brand’s unique value to the customer and then make sure your audience understands that value.

Confused Consumers

And like confused children surrounded by ice cream trucks on a hot day, audiences want to know which products are best but often feel too overwhelmed by options to devote attention to any one message, a condition called “content shock.” Mark Schaefer defines content shock as “the emerging marketing epoch defined when exponentially increasing volumes of content intersect our limited human capacity to consume it.” Consumers are distracted by the dearth of information available to them, and it’s our job as content marketers to differentiate our message from our competitors in order to help our audiences narrow down their choices.

Ignoring Relevance

All too often, content seems to demand attention without first offering value. But thinking about the unique relevance each piece of content can provide for individual consumers is key to battling content shock. Surprising as it may sound, one of the most successful pieces of content in the history of The New York Times, was based on decade-old Harvard linguistics data. “How Y’all, Youse, and You Guys Talk,” was a 2013 interactive quiz that was the most shared piece of content in the site’s history and to this day remains a popular piece of viral content. The reason for that popularity lies in its relevance. Audiences were delighted to how the data applied to them, whereas a more static approach, like a dry longform article, probably wouldn’t have elicited the same enthusiastic response.

Impersonal Content

Audiences love to interact. In fact, 91 percent of your audience is looking for more interactive quizzes, calculators and assessments to better understand how the brand can work for them. And the reason for that is because interactive content is simply more personal, with more opportunity for customization than a static sales pitch. Consumers crave personalization. According to Demand Metric, 80 percent of audiences appreciate custom content and 90 percent find it useful. 

Cultivating conversation by adding interactive elements solves the personalization problem in two ways: it shows audiences that a brand is interested in engaging rather than impersonal selling, and consumer responses to those interactive elements create a valuable feedback loop between the customer, marketing and sales teams that can provide valuable insights for future customized content.

Square Peg

But, perhaps perplexingly, while customers want conversation, they won’t linger, hoping to engage. As a matter of fact, you can only count on your audience’s attention for about 15 seconds. After that time, if they haven’t found what they’re looking for, they move on. Attention spans on social media may be even shorter. Studies show that Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter users want images rather than text, and if you’re the only brand serving up static content, you could be missing out.  

The solution lies not in “dumbing down” your content, but in making it more accessible. Interactive infographics, sharable stats, and useful quizzes are all ways to get audiences to stop and take stock of your message – and maybe even pass it along.