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Content Marketing: You’re Doing it Wrong

Content marketing is a robust and focused form of marketing, and yet it’s all too common for businesses to invest in content marketing and see it fail. Why? Simple: content marketing can’t just be done, it needs to be done well. This week, Mike Straus shows us how content marketing can be done, and done well.

Last year, a client came to Velocity Partners with a b2b content marketing challenge: to market a fantastic (and free) software program to existing customers. Velocity Partners prepared two eBooks to explain the software, and as a control ran visual ads on the client’s website and sent sales emails to the client’s contacts, using software downloads as their success metric. To their surprise, the eBooks underperformed relative to the direct marketing. Their content marketing failed.

It’s not an uncommon story: a business invests resources into a marketing campaign, only to see it miss the mark. Velocity’s content marketing failed. Why? According to Creative Director Doug Kessler, “The client’s awesome software was itself content…our mistake was thinking the only way to promote content is with more content, which, if it were true, [would make content marketing] the world’s greatest Ponzi scheme.”


The field of content marketing has seen exceptional growth since the birth of Web 2.0, and it shows no signs of slowing. Content marketing attracts and retains an audience through the distribution of informative, entertaining content such as blog posts and ebooks. With high-quality content becoming a critical part of maintaining favorable search results, and with traditional sales messages losing their impact, content marketing is becoming a highly effective method of pulling in new leads.

Content marketing engages consumers by providing a niche market with useful, personalized information, which is a more effective method of attracting attention than broadcast-style advertising. In addition, content marketing provides web visitors with a valuable, memorable experience. Says Amanda Maksymiw of B2B sales company Lattice Engines, “Traditional advertising shouts at prospect customers whereas content marketing talks with them.” Maksymiw says that content marketing can boost sales leads, drive more web traffic, and position a brand as a thought leader.

However, content marketing is still a form of marketing, and it’s not always easy to leverage. In this article we’ll review a few content marketing “fails” that will alienate audiences and decimate budgets—including salesy content, content that has a disorganized voice, and content that serves no end.


In content marketing, the first step is to move from a monologue into a conversation, thereby avoiding common “advertising” issues. Salesy content doesn’t foster client relationships and may actually deceive clients, as they would not anticipate a high-pressure sales message.

Business author Daniel H. Pink asked 7000 Americans to express, in one word, how they perceive salespeople. The most common word used was “pushy”. Other words associated with salespeople included “dishonest”, “annoying” and “manipulative”. What makes content marketing successful is its ability to deliver valuable information in a helpful manner, instead of falling into the “pushy” or “manipulative” trap.

What’s wrong with a sales pitch? In short, it’s overused. Traditional advertising circles use phrases like “the product is the hero,” which has been the ad industry’s dominant strategy for the past 100 years. In a growing marketplace, though, there are thousands of businesses claiming to be the hero of the story—and consumers don’t care. Consumers are not interested in products and services. They are interested in problems and solutions. Good content marketing focuses on solutions, not products.

This need for solution-oriented content is something that Ayal Steiner understands well. Steiner is the general manager of Outbrain Australia, a content discovery platform that helps web users to uncover useful and interesting content from businesses and publishers. Outbrain accepts content from a whole host of businesses, yet Steiner says that Outbrain rejects about 70% of the content they receive “because it is too salesy.”

Rejecting this content isn’t just for consumers’ sake. A recent study by Kentico Software found that salesy content marketing can reduce consumer confidence by 12% to nearly 50%.

Outbrain accepts content from businesses and distributes it to publishers like Reuters and the Wall Street Journal, allowing businesses to gain visibility. Using personalized links and editorial recommendations, Outbrain can publish informative content to a wide audience of readers. They avoid hosting sales-heavy content by using strong content guidelines, which require all articles to provide “clear informational or entertainment value” beyond mere product promotion, thereby protecting their content from corporate interests.

Returning to Velocity Partners, Kessler admits that a major factor in their failure was their lack of audience awareness. The problem, as Kessler says, is that “to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Velocity Partners could have avoided failure by assessing their campaign from the audience’s perspective, to create a solution the audience wants.

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Posted on August 17, 2014, under Marketing/Social

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