Eleanor Pierce

Why Content Marketing Fails

By: Eleanor Pierce | May 27, 2015 | 

Why Content Marketing FailsBy Eleanor Pierce

Before I talk about why content marketing fails, I want to talk about Barbie.

Did anyone else get Barbie Magazine as a kid?

I did. And it was amazing.

It was an explosion of 80s-errific pinks and purples.

Not only were there fashion tips from the likes of Punky Brewster, there were loads of Barbie fashion spreads, dramatic storylines, and ads just as enticing as the content itself.

Of course, I looked forward to the magazine, and of course all I wanted to do after devouring one was buy more Barbies, more Barbie clothes, more Barbie cars, and more Barbie shoes.

(I didn’t get most of these things, but oh how I wanted them.)

All that said, I’m not here to hold up Barbie Magazine as an example of a content marketing win.

I’d argue if you’re thinking about doing your content marketing in the style of Barbie Magazine, you’re looking at exhibit A of why content marketing fails.

It boils down to this: Barbie Magazine was basically a bigole ad.

Maybe it didn’t tell me where to buy Barbie dolls (or did it? I don’t still have any copies laying around), but come on.

It served its purpose on me as a six-year-old, but that’s not content marketing.

Why Barbie Magazine Fails at Content Marketing

Barbie Magazine is a great example of one of the biggest reasons why content marketing fails: We (marketers) tend to forget it’s not advertising.

Compare Barbie Magazine to what is perhaps the most well-known, longest running pieces of content marketing out there: The Michelin Guides.

The Michelin Guides do not sell tires.

They help you decide where to eat when you’re traveling. They help you enjoy being on the road.

The Michelin Guides step away from the product being sold and offer something clearly, tangibly valuable that’s only related to the product Michelin sells.

Oh, maybe sometime down the road you’ll buy some tires.

Maybe when that day comes, you’ll think nice things about Michelin because you’re familiar with the guide.

Maybe not. But you’re probably a little more familiar with the brand.

This is how content marketing wins.

Why Content Marketing Fails (It’s not Punky Brewster’s Fault)

Beyond Barbie, here are a few more reasons why content marketing fails:

  • No one wants it. Too often, people create content just to create content. Content created so you can rank for a search term, rather than to help someone with a problem, is a waste of time.
  • There’s no plan for distributing it. Content is king? Maybe a prom king. Because he’d better show some hustle when it comes to getting attention. 
  • A shoddy job on SEO. It needs to be discoverable by the right people at the right time.
  • Short attention span syndrome. By that I mean this: Too often, content marketers and those who control the budgets of content marketers lose interest before programs have a chance to pay off. That won’t work. You have to take a marathon approach to content marketing, it’s not a sprint. We’ve said this before. We’ll say it again (and again and again).
  • Insincerity. This goes back to my point above about why content marketing fails: It’s advertising hiding behind a content marketing mask. If you are insincere, if you don’t actually produce something with the intent to help people, but really want to make it look like you want to help people so you can sell them something, your audience will figure it out. You will fail.

That’s just a short list.

Tell me what you think: What are some of the most common reasons content marketing fails?

Image via Katherine of Chicago

About Eleanor Pierce

Eleanor Pierce is a recovering journalist who can't decide which part of the country to call home. She's happiest when she's reading, though she also really likes writing, baking, dogs, and sarcasm. No, seriously.

  • Sean Lough

    Fun article Eleanor; personally I real Muppet Magazine, which at the time of publication had little to no related merchandise (at least not on Barbie levels). 

    I do question the success of the Michelin Guides on two fronts: in the U.S. I believe Michelin’s branding has been muddied and many don’t make the connection between the Guides and the tire brand; However, I think the bigger issue is another big content fail that the Michelin Guides are guilty of: not staying current with how customers consume content. 

    The Michelin Guides have been dwarfed by the likes of user-generated reviews (Yelp, TripAdvisor). I’m not saying this is a good or bad thing necessarily. As much as I love food, I do not know that my pallet can tell the difference between 1 and 3 Michelin Star restaurants. But, I can now find more people like me – non-culinary experts – who write reviews that speak to me. Additionally, I cannot recall the last time I searched for a restaurant and a Michelin review appeared in the findings. So not super timely, useful or easily discoverable.  But maybe I’ve been eating in the wrong restaurants.

  • Sean Lough Muppet Magazine?! Honestly, that sounds way cooler than Barbie Magazine.
    And you make really good points.

    You’re right: The Michelin guides are only good examples when you’re looking at the big picture. They’re not good examples of digital execution of content marketing.

  • Diana Combs

    I hate to make comments like these, but first, did you proof your article?
    “Maybe when that day comes, you’ll think nice things about Michelin because your familiar with the guide.”  I know that you know grammar better than that. 
    In addition, be careful how much pop culture you use that dates you.  To make your article universal, while Michelin guide is multi-generational, a lot of your other references aren’t.  I’ve heard of all your characters, but I know a lot of people who haven’t.
    You make some good points about content marketing, just be careful not to lose people with everything else. 🙂

  • Diana Combs We did proof—thanks for catching that one though.

  • Cool post, Eleanor. The point that rings most true for me is the last bullet point. Intent. If selfish intent isn’t obvious from the start, it will become so eventually. Building solid customer relationships comes down to the intention to truly serve others. 

    Also, I’ll DM you a link to something fun I wrote one about the 10 lessons you didn’t know you learned from Barbie. 🙂

  • And lastly since everyone is doing it there is no strategic advantage unless you are a 1% expert in terms of web. But as with Barbie magazine all advertising is actually content marketing So is your store front and sign. Your window display. The products inside your store or your restaurant menu As I said everyone is doing it! You had better be good at it!

  • Word Ninja !!!

  • Howie Goldfarb Producing mediocre content because you’re not an expert’s not really helpful. Tis true.

  • danielschiller

    “It’s advertising hiding behind a content marketing mask.” ~We just can’t help ourselves can we?! And while we’re at it, why not just go ahead and make that logo bigger!

    The Michelin Guides are always spot on, and I wouldn’t worry about them being an analog execution. The strategy is in the right place.

    The premise is simple: Help people make their lives better and leave it at that. The subtle approach works wonders if you have the attention span.

  • I really liked this piece, but couldn’t figure out anything to add (which is why I shared from G+ instead). But it has stuck with me all morning ……. as most everyone has echoed, find what I need and want, vs what you want me to need and want, and we’ll get along swimmingly.

  • danielschiller MOAR LOGO! (It’s better then cowbell!)
    Also: I am totally one of those people who has specifically gone to eat at restaurants because of its Michelin rating.

  • biggreenpen “find what I need and want, vs what you want me to need and want, and we’ll get along swimmingly.” << I’m putting that on a T-shirt.

  • Lol Paula, you must have been a fan of Malibu Barbie to get along swimmingly U0001f60e

  • Diana Combs Given Eleanor Pierce links to each reference point, it’d be an extremely lazy person who would complain about not knowing the characters used for this post. After all, a single click is all that’s needed.

  • Danny Brown Diana Combs Eleanor Pierce Yes, always good to learn something new. If it weren’t for my kids, I would be clicking even more links.

  • Diana Combs I actually proofed this myself last night and missed that your/you’re, which is highly unusual for me because it drives me crazy. My only defense is it was 11:30 last night because I’m on the road, but as it turns out, we all make mistakes.

  • Diana Combs

    Word Ninja Danny Brown Diana Combs Eleanor Pierce  Thanks for your feedback.  Have a great summer.

  • danielschiller

    Eleanor Pierce And every time you do, no doubt Michelin gets a brand mention. Oh, and you probably tell more than one person, so you see where I’m going. WOM— no big logo necessary.

  • ginidietrich Diana Combs Hi Diana, I don’t normally leave comments like this, but there’s an error on your blog post from May 3rd. “Is” is there twice. Just thought you would like to know. Cheers!

  • danielschiller Eleanor Pierce Oh, you betcha I brag about it!

  • Diana Combs

    belllindsay ginidietrich Diana Combs Thanks so much for mentioning that … here?  There’s a comment section at my website.  Oh, and thanks for being so courteous as well, and not getting into a spiteful state of mind.  I can see that everyone here is an adult.

  • EleanorPie

    patmrhoads Hey thanks Pat 🙂

  • Diana Combs

    ginidietrich Diana Combs For those of you attacking me personally, I’d like to say that Gini & I had a private email dialogue that was very professional … if she can handle my comments on the page she moderates, why can’t you?

  • patmrhoads

    EleanorPie No problem!

  • Diana Combs ginidietrich Not spiteful, nor attacking. Just following your lead and trying to be helpful! Apologies if you thought it was hurtful or unnecessary to do it so publicly. Oh, wait….

  • Diana Combs

    belllindsay Diana Combs ginidietrich On my own website would have been public and more appropriate.  It isn’t the public that bothers me.  It IS spiteful and immature of you — as I said last night, you’re the only one carrying on like this.  Just let it go, please.

  • JamieNRutter

    YAS to this whole thing!

  • Sincerity takes the cake! I would like to a “Long List” example of this in the near future.  😛

  • JRHalloran Oh, we could probably come up with a long list …

  • JamieNRutter YAS

  • Great post! Totally agree with your list of reasons content marketing fails!

    I guess my only contention would be that until I read this post, I had no idea that the Michelin in the Michelin Guide was the same as the tyre producer..! 

    Anyhow, I think it goes to show that proximity to your product offering is a kinda tricky business in content marketing. If you’re trying to drive leads and attract the kinds of people who are going to actually buy what you’re offering then there has to be some sort of tangible link between your content marketing and your product (especially in B2B) – though, like you say, this should be a non-salesy, problem-solving one.

  • EleanorPie

    ALekushoff Thanks Andrea!

  • KBenakole

    If you are truly helping people, it’s no longer marketing you’re doing. It’s “helping people.” But because this helping people might cause people to buy what you sell, you might have marketed while helping people. Maybe helping people is marketing?

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  • EleanorPie

    kulkimoose Thanks Kay!

  • hanstacey That’s a really good point. It helps if people associate your brand with the content.

  • tnfletch

    I agree will all points!  Can we also add not having a defined strategy and target audience? Too often the focus is on producing content because you can and the tools are easily accessible to  produce and publish. I find very little thought goes into why you are doing it and who you are talking to and how you can serve their needs. I believe that is why so many business’ content marketing is bland and overly promotional. 

    Oh and The Barbie Magazine rocked! I also liked JEM. Remember her?

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