7 Embarrassing Content Marketing Lessons I Learned the Hard Way

Experience is the greatest way to get good at anything, but it can be a bitch to go through.

In the online marketing world, everything’s a bit of an experiment. Sure, you might have some best practices and hot tips to follow to get you started, and these can help you build a decent enough foundation, but if you want to succeed, you’ll need to go off on your own, take some risks, and forge your own path forward. And almost invariably, you’ll fall flat on your face while doing so.

The best lessons you’ll learn in the content marketing world are the ones that embarrass you. These tend to be significant (otherwise they wouldn’t be embarrassing) and they tend to be surprising. Together, that means an embarrassing lesson is one that teaches you some new fundamental truth you didn’t know before—and that puts you one step closer to real mastery.

To save you a bit of time, I’ve rounded up some of the embarrassing lessons I’ve faced in my own content marketing career:

  1. You’re not that special. Over 80 percent of businesses out there are engaging in some form of content marketing. You may think you have some great, original ideas—and you probably do—but not as many as you think you do. That doesn’t mean your ideas aren’t valuable, or that they can’t be successful when put to formalized content, but you have to understand that they’ve probably been done before, and you’ll have to find a different spin on them if you want them to stand out in any meaningful way. Always do your competitive research in advance to see if someone’s beaten you to the punch.
  2. Good content doesn’t do much on its own. In principle, writing good content should be enough. If you’ve developed a masterpiece, people should naturally want to seek it out and engage with it. Unfortunately, good content doesn’t do much on its own; in fact, it can’t. It has no agency. If you want it to do anything at all, you need to support it somehow. There are tons of ways you can do this, depending on your goals—for example, you can syndicate it across multiple social platforms, promote it through paid advertising, or try to transform it into different mediums. You just need to give it a boost.
  3. There’s always someone better than you. No matter how hard you try or how much experience you’ve gathered, there’s always going to be someone in the industry who’s better than you. They’ll write better content, know more, and be faster to respond to new developments than you can. However, this doesn’t mean your strategy is worthless. You’ll need to serve a different niche, learn from their example, and possibly even leverage them in a form of influencer marketing (which can be incredibly valuable).
  4. Your investments won’t always pay off. You get out what you put in. At least, that’s the way things are supposed to go. The reality is, it’s not always going to be that smooth. Sometimes, you’re going to pour your heart and soul into a piece of content, doing extensive research and spending hours and hours of time polishing that piece to perfection. You’ll be confident it’s a home run, but when you go to publish and syndicate it, your audience doesn’t respond the way you thought it would. It’s a disappointment, and it seems like it undermines your efforts, but don’t let it get to you—timing and other hard-to-control variables can interfere with even the best efforts.
  5. Readers are fickle. Just because you understood an audience yesterday doesn’t mean you understand them today. Readers are extremely fickle, and they’re probably going to jump around more than you think they will. They’ll get tired of your content, or they’ll find an interesting competitor, or they’ll simply move on to the next trend. If you don’t move with them, or if you take them for granted, you’re going to lose them, plain and simple.
  6. Strategies on paper don’t always translate to reality. It’s vitally important to chart out a content strategy before you start taking any meaningful actions; however, creating a strategy alone isn’t enough to guarantee results. No matter how much you research, how much practice you’ve had, or how good a feeling you have about your strategy, you have to remember that there’s a degree of chance and a number of unknown variables that are going to affect your eventual performance. On-paper strategies simply can’t account for all the influencing factors here.
  7. The path to success isn’t usually a straight one. Most content marketers would have you believe that the path to content marketing success is pretty linear. You write good content, you get published in some niche circles, then, step by step, you climb your way up to the upper echelons and you find yourself rolling in traffic and authority. Ha. Well, that’s not usually the case. You’re going to experience some major setbacks along the way, and various obstacles will force your path to divert in more ways than one.

These lessons aren’t exactly fun, but at the same time, content marketing isn’t a joy ride and it isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme. It takes a lot of investment to pay off, and even then, some of your efforts will go to waste. Unfortunately, many of my peers have sensationalized the strategy to be this easy route to more traffic and brand visibility—but these harsh lessons suggest a slightly more complicated reality.

That being said, content marketing is still one of the best tools you have in your marketer’s arsenal. If you’re looking to improve your own efforts, be sure to contact us, and we’ll get you started on one of our content packages.


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