Most people will talk about their success stories when it comes to content marketing. However, sometimes things don’t turn out as you had planned, as guest writer Alex Clifford explains.
“A year ago, fresh out of school, I persuaded a financial advice firm my parents had used to give me a content marketing job.
Their products were fantastic: they offered some brilliant overseas investments which had decent returns and saved people tax. What they were offering was a step above anything available in the UK market. I thought this was the perfect opportunity to scale a business by using content marketing. Unfortunately it didn’t work out as planned and there were a few reasons why.
Lack of understanding
I had to explain to the boss why they needed some high-quality content. People won’t just visit your website cold, make a phone call, arrange a meeting and hand over their life savings as he thought.
People visit websites cold, then they get warm with content. They become leads once they give you their email address. Then when they’re ready to buy, they will – in their own time. This lack of understanding was probably the biggest pitfall from the start.
Distance from the project
If you want content for your website, it’s best to stay close to it. You’re the expert. You know what you’re talking about. You’re the person who does things, every day. You can’t farm it all out to somebody else – they’ll need a bit of help.
What went wrong with this project is we were too distant. I’d ask my boss questions, and he wouldn’t email back for 3 days, if at all. This meant that the cost of information was really high! And I’d have to Google things, and make assumptions. It ultimately meant I was creating content which was sometimes less than accurate.
Keeping information to yourself
Nobody is going to invite you to their house to discuss investments if they don’t know anything about them, or you. My boss told me just to write “phone client services for more information”, but phoning is a big mental commitment. I explained how nobody is at that phone call stage until they really want to buy. It fell on deaf ears.
I wanted to go into all the pinickity detail about each product – explaining all the details of why something is better, and what could could go right/wrong with an investment. My boss was reluctant to because he didn’t want to give away too much information.
As a salesman he wanted to feel like he had the knowledge and the power. But sales has changed. If we don’t tell you about a product, somebody else will. And you certainly won’t phone up to ask.
We-ing all over the place
My boss wanted me to ‘we’ all over the place. For him it was all ‘we offer these products’, ‘we are Europe’s market-leaders in this’, ‘we provide that’.
I had to ask him: where is the ‘you’? I couldn’t get him to understand that you’re having a conversation with someone online with your content. It’s not about being self-oriented. You’re not massaging your ego or bragging. You have to talk to them – in a way you’d want to be spoken to.
Being unrealistic about results
I’ll be honest, I over-promised. It was my first job. I pitched too hard to him when I started and I didn’t really know the nature of the market. I think the conversation went something along the lines of: “Yeah, we just need to put up a few blog articles, be bold and get some press coverage, then we’ll have hundreds of new customers.”
In hindsight, I should have talked about the content generating a certain amount of leads. Then we need to nurture those leads. Then those leads would have converted into customers several months or years later.
Investments have a very long sales cycle – as I realised later on. It takes a long time in order to get people to trust you, and since I didn’t know this at the time, I gave him unrealistic expectations.
Not challenging anybody
You should be bold with your content marketing. I wanted to write something like: “Your pension is crap,” but he was very conservative. If your product is better than others on the market I think you should challenge people. In The Challenger Sale – one of the best sales books I’ve read – the authors show that salespeople who challenge buyers are the top performers. The same principle applies with content. Educate people, make them think and challenge them – they’ll buy because you’re not aggressively selling, you’re teaching something fresh.
At the end of the day
Whether I was fired, or I quit, I don’t really remember. But I do remember that the project was a bit of a flop. It was partly my fault for over-promising before really knowing the market. It was partly his fault for being stubborn, unavailable when I needed help and a bit stuffy.
Sales and marketing have changed forever with the internet. This was a case of an old-school, hard-sell, corporatey business trying to use those same tactics online. A friendly, soft-sell, content-heavy approach is what they needed. Unfortunately I couldn’t persuade them to our way of thinking, so it was destined to fail.
If you’re buying into content marketing, you need the right culture. You need to be prepared to help other people, and be friendly and helpful. If you get this right you’ll see the stellar results that content marketing can deliver, as Sonja and Sharon here at Valuable Content will attest.”
Alex Clifford is a freelance content marketer and writer for hire. He has worked with a financial advice company and technology companies including Virally and Kapost; he’s written for the Content Marketing Institute and has also written a book (and he’s only 19 years old – wow!) Alex is available for hire until January 2014 where he will be heading on the Uncollege gap year program. You can see his portfolio here.