Lee Odden

Don’t Let Your Content Marketing Fail Because of This One Thing

Content MarketingOnline Marketers world-wide are looking towards content marketing as a way to educate, connect with and influence prospects to become customers. Content can also play a big part in lead nurturing and engagement with existing customers.

With 9 out of 10 B2B marketers using content in their mix and predictions from the likes of Geoff Ramsey of eMarketer, “Content Marketing is Critical in 2011” and Ashley Friedlein of Econsultancy, “Content strategy & content marketing: the King is back” there’s much cause for optimism.

But like many increasingly trendy marketing topics, marketers often rush in without experience, expertise or realistic expectations.  Marketing with content has been the core of our own strategy at TopRank Online Marketing for many years. I personally read and research the topic daily and our team implements content marketing strategies and tactics with just about all of our clients, many of which are formidable content marketers themselves.

Out of all that information consumption and work with companies comes unique insights that can have significant impact on the value achieved from an investment in marketing with content. Here is that one thing I mention in the title (but there are many) that can separate “OK” and stellar content marketing efforts:

Lack of Empathy for Customer Needs AKA Egocentric Content Marketing

I recently finished reading an ebook on content marketing that covered all the bases in content types, promotion, re-purposing and measurement. When it came to deciding on the type of content, the choices made were based on what a company had to offer vs. doing research on what customer information needs weren’t being met. The idea of meeting customer information needs was there, but nothing on how to uncover those needs or apply them to an editorial plan.

Imagine you’re selling widgets and content marketing rings a bell for you. You create a microsite on widgets with online tools customers can use to creatively pick widgets out, customize and share socially with friends. You create a widget mash-up podcast and invite your best customers to create how-to videos and blog posts. There’s a Facebook page, blog, YouTube channel, even an email newsletter and quarterly print magazine.

When it comes to widgets, you’ve really got it covered!

Or do you? How do you know widget buyers visit blogs or Facebook? How do you know they prefer video or podcast content over text? How do you know they spend time reading print vs. online newsletters? Is it better to provide how-to information early in the buying cycle or just after they’ve purchased? How much do you really know about the different types of customers that buy widgets and their unique behaviors leading up to and after the sale?

It’s one of the most common content marketing fails: To create an array of content without having some kind of tangible insight that the resources you’re creating are justified by a prospect’s need for information.  Using pure intuition or taking an egocentric corporate marketing perspective becomes the old, “We have a product/service, now let’s find a market for it” approach.

To start learning about creating profiles and how they influence content marketing editorial plans, read about social content personas development here, and find best practices at Content Marketing Institute or books like Content Rules. David Meerman Scott gives a very practical explanation and examples of buyer personas as well.

Fundamentally, marketers would do well to assess what their prospect needs are and formulate a content strategy around meeting those needs at important points during the life cycle of customer engagement.  Initially, information is collected via customer surveys, social media monitoring or email appending of social profiles and as a program is implemented, the effectiveness marketing to customer segments (or personas) is made part of ongoing CRM and analytics insight.

Have you implemented a content marketing project that simply didn’t resonate with those who interacted with it?  Have you found disconnects between content and intended customers? Or content promotion channels and intended customers? How did you adjust your strategy?

At SES London this week, I’ll be touching on persona development as well as the what, why and how of Content Marketing and Optimisation – plus steps you can take back to the office and implement now. The presentation is Wednesday 2/23 at 11am. For readers attending SES London, I hope to see you there.

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. I think this “We have a product/service, now let’s find a market for it” approach” is more common among businesses than people think. Having a central theme or a main point of focus for your campaign is good, but part of that research that takes place before you go to market should include the question, “Who are you selling to, and why do they want your product?”

  2. Hi Lee, I actually run a guest blogging site and you have no idea how many article submissions we get that are “based on what a company had to offer vs. doing research on what customer information needs weren’t being met”. When people search on Google or any other search engine they are looking for something to satisfy a current need and not to find a pushy salesman at their online door.

    • In today’s marketing age, empathy with customer needs has to lead marketing & engagement. With SEO, the query can be very telling whether to present an explicit offer or to educate. The key is to do the homework.

  3. Great stuff as usual Lee. The core to a great content marketing program is to first understand the pain points of your customers (ala, What keeps them up at night?). That’s what publishers have been doing for years, and marketers are just learning to do. Instead of having the product or service fix everything, we can do much of that heavy lifting with our content, and positioning ourselves as the trusted experts in the meantime.

    Once we understand “the pain”, we can develop “the story” that will drive our marketing program. It sounds easy, but as you state, it’s very very very hard.

    • Thanks for stopping by Joe 🙂 I agree, this is old hat for publishers and even B2B marketers. Love this: “Once we understand the pain, we can develop the story”.

  4. I’m starting to realize how important my content marketing strategy is to my online business because it drives quality visitors to my blog

  5. MarketingSherpa (of MECLABS) would say this is putting the D before the R in the “ROADmap.” MECLABS’ social media benchmark report from 2010 showed the most significant change in social media marketing was a shift from content- and device-oriented actions to research-driven content and actions.
    If 2009 was the year of throwing everything at the wall (i.e. every social media platform) and hoping it stuck, then 2010 was the year that people remembered to actually apply traditional marketing concepts to their social media plan in order to achieve success.

    BTW–I’m not affiliated with MarketingSherpa but was impressed with their research-driven analyses and streamlined processes that are cutting-edge yet timeless and non-industry-specific. Glad I found your blog through like-minded tweets, and I am following because I appreciate the expertise without the pedantic slant.

    • Glad you liked it Ashley. They are fundamental principles and with more education and tools companies are coming online with more participatory and data driven marketing that considers the entire customer life cycle, vs. a singular focus on conversion.

      The relationships brands can have with consumers individually and as a whole because of social technologies is so very different than traditional marketing, it’s worth considering when those traditional concepts are applicable. A lot of content marketing is about influencing and educating consumers to follow a logical path to conclusion and assumes a longer timeframe or at least a different set of interactions than traditional marketing concepts.

      One traditional marketing concept is timeless, and that’s accountability for performance. Social KPIs need to give way to business outcomes as true measures of social and content marketing programs.

  6. Great post lee. Understanding the actual needs of our customers should be the topmost criteria in building a successful business. Your posts are really awesome! Thanks for sharing this post!

  7. Great point Lee. I always tell people that really getting to know and understand their customer is the best way to be successful.

    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos (http://sysomos.com)

  8. Avatar Nick Robinson says

    So true. Like any other marketing activity, jumping into the fray without a purpose or plan can be detrimental. I know we strive to ask lots of questions about customer pain points whenever possible, so we aren’t blindly producing irrelevant content.

  9. Avatar Janet Peischel says

    Content has always been important. Increased competition means that It just needs to be smarter and edgier, more focused with good examples.