Fail Your Way to Content Marketing Success

Article ImageContent marketing is for failures. As this relatively new (or old, depending who you ask) discipline of digital marketing works through a few awkward-and sometimes painful-growth spurts, one pattern seems to pervade: You will almost definitely get it wrong before you get it right.

The reaction to failure is the differentiator between bad, good, and great content marketers. It's never easy to hear someone urging you to "get back on that bike and try again," when you're lying bruised and humbled on the pavement. But there are ways to successfully fail or, rather, ways you limit your injury while learning how to avoid that particular pitfall again.

Strap on your helmet-and maybe some knee and elbow pads-put in a mouth guard, if you have one, and place some rash guards strategically around your body. Now, if you're in your office around co-workers, throw your hands up and yell, "I'm a failure!"

OK, let's quickly run through three real-world examples of how to successfully fail fast in content marketing, which I learned through my experience as a marketer at eCornell.

1. Failure of strategy-Content marketing has a fairly young history at eCornell. One of our early strategies was to position ourselves as thought leaders in a handful of specific business verticals. We were, after all, part of a much larger institution (Cornell University) that is chock-full of actual thought leaders. As it turns out, that caliber of thought leader is in incredibly high demand, and we weren't able to effectively schedule a reliable flow of content. Bummer. But we realized that we also had a giant stockpile of content inside the actual professional development certificate programs offered at eCornell-all of which comes from Cornell faculty members, who were the very thought leaders we were pursuing in the first place. So we used it.

2. Failure of frequency-Ah, the age-old debate between quality and quantity. These days, legions of content marketers champion quality, but quantity has its inherent benefits. At eCornell, we aimed for somewhere in the middle and earned lackluster results. Ultimately, we found that engagement and lead generation are far more responsive to high-quality, useful content than a steady stream of stuff being published. We slowed our content production pace, focused on building more complex content with practical application for our audience, and worked like hell on distribution and promotion of our really high-quality content.

3. Failure of resources-The previous two points share a common thread: We were trying to do too much with too little. The folks at eCornell who were working on these content marketing initiatives are fantastic marketers, writers, and strategists-but we didn't have enough human resources to execute on our content marketing plan. Quality content takes time. In aiming for somewhere between quality and quantity, we failed to account for the resource limitations we had in-house. That reality forced us to accept that we needed to be more on the quality end of the spectrum, so quantity took a distant back seat.

We failed a lot. And, sometimes, we failed in pretty big ways, which required some significant course corrections. What did it all result in? Have we failed our way into success at eCornell? Yes and no. Maybe. I don't know. Kinda? These are all acceptable answers for me.

We now have a few pieces of evergreen content that have better engagement and lead-generation numbers than all of our other content marketing efforts combined. Seriously, there are about a half-dozen pieces of content that are so high-quality and so useful to our audience that they carry our entire strategy. ?But, of course, we aren't 100% content with this situation:

  • What if we could figure out a way to produce more of this high-quality content without sacrificing the quality?
  • What if a competitor comes along, takes the idea behind our successful pieces of content, and does it better? Or promotes it more effectively?
  • What if we saturate our audience with our slow-content approach faster than we can actually produce more content?

We do have answers to some of these questions and are currently prepared to shift our strategy again to avoid some past pitfalls and leverage some previous successes.

And we'll fail again--probably a lot. 

Related Articles

As of July 1, Jeff Haden's June 8, 2015, LinkedIn post, "7 Things Employees Wish They Could Tell Their Bosses," had grown to about 481,000 views, more than 1,800 likes, and 307 comments. Haden, a ghostwriter and speaker, is a LinkedIn Influencer. Similar to other Influencers, his posts often go viral. Most of those who are attempting to engage with an audience online, though, struggle to generate even 100 views. What can the masses learn from online influencers, whether they are the capital "I" LinkedIn variety or from a wider array of content outlets?