For every content marketing success story celebrating an innovative industry leader, there's a marketing team quietly struggling with yet another month of underwhelming numbers and disappointing results. And for every case study explaining how a company's content hub generates waves of traffic, there's a board room full of execs contemplating throwing in the towel and uttering phrases like, "Maybe content marketing isn't right for our audience."
There's no way to sugarcoat it: sometimes a brand's content marketing fails. And inevitably, stakeholders cast the blame on audience habits, inadequate resources, technical issues, or a lackluster editorial plan. But while these factors may contribute to poor content performance, there's a much larger and more pervasive issue that could be threatening your success-your company culture.
For your content to flourish, your business should not only promote and foster creativity, but also place content at the fulcrum of your practices. In other words, your organization must adopt a content culture.
Here are four culture problems that kill content success-and how you can combat them to become a content-centric organization.
You Haven't Given Employees Permission to Fail
If your employees are terrified of failure, they'll never take risks. And if they never take risks, you can kiss your dreams of innovation goodbye.
Far too often, business stakeholders equate risk (and the potential for failure) with loss of resources. To prevent adverse outcomes, they might adopt an autocratic, authoritarian style of leadership where employees are only allowed to do as they're told. But threatening to punish employees for attempting something risky strips away their confidence and reduces their willingness to test, experiment, and explore new, potentially wildly successful opportunities.
Playing it safe rarely makes for great marketing, and it almost never results in powerful content. Additionally, the risks we take as content marketers are far less hazardous than, say, a heart surgeon or an airline pilot. At worst, our message falls flat or doesn't reach its intended audience-which, while certainly disheartening, is hardly a life-or-death scenario. When you step back and evaluate the impact of missing the mark versus doing something groundbreaking and experimental with your content, you'll likely find more advantages arise when you make the marketing leap.
Image attribution: Chris Murray
"Leaders must instill a culture of growth, demonstrating trust by encouraging and rewarding (reasonable) risk-taking, and showcasing success," says leadership coach Tracey Grove in an article for Forbes. Strive to adopt a more democratic leadership style where employees feel comfortable sharing big ideas. Communicate the importance of exploration, and quickly squash employees' fear of retribution if their plan doesn't yield its intended results.
Your Content Production Exists in a Vacuum
If the entirety of your content operations, especially ideation and distribution, rests solely on the shoulders of your marketing team-or, worse, a small handful of people within your marketing team-you're grossly limiting its potential. Like most strategies designed to meet critical business objectives, content marketing cannot thrive in a silo.
Proximity to inspiration is crucial for sustainable content marketing success. Well-rounded content that expertly addresses the needs of your audience requires cross-departmental collaboration. For example, a sales executive who regularly has conversations with prospects and employees can tell you precisely the sorts of questions and concerns your audience raises throughout the buyer's journey.
And when you include stakeholders from other departments in ideation, strategy, and even content creation, they'll feel more responsible for the content's success. That means they'll be more likely to help amplify your content distribution efforts by sharing within their networks.
Your Leaders Demand (and Expect) Quick Wins
Everyone loves the idea of a quick win. If you don't believe me, consider the popularity of weight loss products promising near-instant results. Like a quick-turn ad that drives an explosion of new leads overnight, anything that requires little effort and generates positive outcomes is inherently good, right?
Sometimes leaders (especially revenue-focused business stakeholders) develop a nasty habit of expecting quick wins all the time. The problem is, you can't stake long-term success solely on short-term gains. Sure, a fad diet might help you drop weight fast, but you can't live on green juice and carrot sticks forever. What happens when you return to your old, fast-food loving ways?
Content is a long game. It takes time to develop a strategy, polish a plan, create compelling content, and activate those assets. Even after the initial work is done, you have to track performance, assess results, and optimize. But much like committing to a healthy diet and regular exercise will help you keep off those extra pounds long-term, exceptional content can drive significant and lasting revenue increases.
Image attribution: Thibaut Lemmens
I'm not suggesting you should abandon quick wins altogether, but limit them to a small sliver of your overall operations-and use them to augment (not replace) your content marketing efforts.
Your Organization Has a Diversity Problem
For any type of storytelling to succeed, you must consider the diversity of your audience. Including people from different cultures in content operations helps drive innovation by allowing for a variety of experiences and perspectives. It can also help your brand avoid publishing tone-deaf content that offends readers and tarnishes your reputation.
When diversifying your team, though, remember you may face situations when employees have conflicting norms or assumptions, which can threaten the creative process. The solution, according to the Harvard Business Review, is something called cultural brokerage, or facilitating the interactions across a multicultural team.
Successful cultural brokerage requires two types of cultural brokers. "In a team with mostly Indian and American team members, a cultural broker could be someone with experience in both Indian and American cultures. I call such individuals cultural insiders," says Sujin Jang, a professor of organizational behavior. "The second type of cultural broker is someone with experience in two or more cultures not represented in the team-say, Australian and Korean. I call such individuals cultural outsiders."
Diversity and cultural brokerage are essential to your content efforts-especially when you're looking to scale globally.
Your organization's content culture isn't something you can repair overnight. Sometimes it requires you to shift deeply ingrained beliefs and overcome others' staunch resistance to change. However, it's well worth the effort. Not only are these cultural improvements necessary for delivering extraordinary content and driving impressive, long-term marketing results, but they also position your organization to be more innovative, forward-thinking, and better prepared to employ and address future generations.
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Featured image attribution: Mimi Thian