winter / 2017

The magazine of branded content
My Biggest
Content Marketing
Juliet Stott
6 industry influencers share their stories
Juliet Stott
Jan 11, 2018

“Anyone who doesn’t have example of a failure in content marketing is lying, or isn’t actually doing the work, they’re just talking about it,” says The Sales Lion, Marcus Sheridan. He admits that in the early days of turning his pool company around, and subsequently as a marketing and sales consultant, he has made many mistakes. Here he and five other content marketing experts share their stories of content marketing risks they took that didn’t pay off.

Mistake 1: Didn’t tailor the content to the audience

Andy Crestodina, Cofounder & Strategic Director, Orbit Media Studios

My biggest personal mistake was earlier this year, and it is very specific. One content format for me is giving presentations. I gave a presentation at a conference and it bombed. It was horrible. It was the worst presentation of my life. My problem was, I gave the highest rated presentation the year before, and I went in with a lot of confidence. But in my planning I had an idea to change my presentation, so the presentation I gave did not match the program. This is a sin in events. It’s a terrible mistake. The topic I gave the presentation on was at the very edge of my knowledge. The audience was much more advanced on it than me, and there were members who found it irrelevant.

The feedback was painful. The comments on the speaker feedback forms said things like: ‘complete disaster,’ ‘the biggest disappointment of the conference,’ ‘this was total garbage.’ It was not unkind of them to give me that feedback. They were absolutely correct. I gave a horrible presentation. It was very humbling, and it’s not a mistake I will make again.

Mistake 2: Set unachievable goals

Andrew Davis, Marketing Speaker & Bestselling Author

I started a podcast called ‘Claim Your Fame’ a few years ago, and while I was really excited about the podcast it did not pay off. I had very high expectations for myself and for what the podcast should be, and I got too over-involved in creating the best possible podcast from the very beginning instead of growing into it. As a result, I got 13–14 episodes in and I couldn’t handle the work, or the process, because it was too overwhelming.

Mistake 3: Tried to make the content funny

Doug Kessler, Partner & Co-founder, Velocity Partners

We did what we thought would be a funny video and it flopped. The piece was called Stepping Into The Future!, a video that we thought would be entertaining, based on black & white archive footage, with funny voices replacing the characters’ real voices. Turns out it wasn’t.

It was supposed to be a light piece of entertainment for fellow content marketers, with some inside jokes and a reference to the operations side of things. The point was just to get our name associated with the science of content marketing, not just the art. At the time of pressing ‘publish’ I thought we had hit that target. We hadn’t. It landed with a dull thud. Very few views. Even fewer shares. In fact, even the people featured in the film didn’t share it. In short: tumbleweeds.

It's always a big risk to try to funny in content marketing, so we usually avoid it. Charm and wit are fine, but overt comedy is a high-wire act best left to the pros.

Mistake 4: Didn’t oversee all the elements of a project

Jacqueline Loch, Vice President & Group Publisher, Women's Group, St. Joseph Communications Media Group

I had blind-faith trust in a team. This is an example of a large content marketing project that we did for a large packaged goods company. We had a really amazing team working on print, digital, and social media, the full 360. We flawlessly created the content, flawlessly executed the print component, we created a portfolio of assets, and then, for some reason, because the website build was a website build, we let the digital team take over by themselves and build out the digital without the oversight from the core team who understood the objectives and the client.

What happened was the relationship with the client eroded. We ended up in a position where the client had a very poor experience which could have been avoided. The result? Although we ended up delivering the program with unbelievable results, we weren’t able to renew the contract. It was a real mistake. You cannot just ‘set it and let it’, you have to stay involved and make sure you’re with the client the whole way.

Mistake 5: Expected too much of staff

Marcus Sheridan, Founder, The Sales Lion

I used to think that everyone could be a good writer. That was not a smart strategy. Trying to take someone who is not a writer, and then make them into a writer is a dumb move. It’s much easier to train a writer to be a marketer, than it is to train a marketer to be a good writer. It took me two years to realize this.

Another mistake I’ve made is just throwing people on video without training them. They get on video, and everyone’s excited about it until you see the final product, and realize they suck on camera. I used to tell people to just shoot videos. Now I’m more cautious and recommend they have a bit of training on camera performance, in terms of how to carry themselves, before going in front of the lens. I used to think you could tell someone to go, and they would go, that’s not the case at all.

Mistake 6: Hadn’t anticipated the impact the content would have on the wider company

Tim Washer, Creative Director, Cisco’s SP Marketing Group

Back in 2010 we thought it would be funny to do a parody of an Old Spice ad. It was a very silly no-budget tech version of it. We had a video team but we didn’t hire an agency. There was nothing sexy about it. It only cost us a few thousand dollars to make. Our aim was to get responses from five of our top analysts and we hit that goal. One of the analysts said he laughed so hard he wet his pants (I’m pretty sure he was exaggerating, but I’ve never gotten that confirmed). The problem was that a lot of other people saw the skit who weren’t in our industry, and criticized us for copying the idea and doing a lame job of it. Although our target market got the joke and my executives in our group loved it, people outside our industry wrote a lot of negative reviews and our company’s sentiment rating dropped dramatically. So that was a painful lesson to learn.