It’s March of 2013, and we’re already seeing a boom in long-winded eulogies for the alleged death of content marketing. Now, as wrong as all those pundits and pontificators may be, it is telling that we’ve finally reached the point where content marketing has become accepted enough into popular marketing culture that it’s starting to attract haters.

I bring this up because even with this maturity, there are still a shocking number of brands that are simply doing it wrong (to recycle an old meme). With as many great resources are there are online and off, there is simply no excuse for companies failing so miserably at content marketing of all stripes. The saddest part is that the reasons for many of these failures are just so abysmally bad, and most of these failures can be fixed quickly and without needing more than a fraction of the ad budget that these guys can throw around. So who are the biggest offenders, why are they offending, and what can they do to get out of the dog house? Read on.

#1. Indochino Doesn’t Do Content Marketing Wrong…They Really Just Don’t Do It.

The Problem: Ok, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. They actually do a great job on social, maintaining an Engagement Index (Talking About This/Total Number of Fans) of about 3%, which is not terrible for a page approaching 100k fans. They also do a great job with their Travelling Tailor events. So what’s my beef? They can and should be doing SO MUCH MORE. There is no blog on their home page, and finding their social media profiles requires actually going to those networks and searching, because they don’t have any links on their homepage. Their email marketing leaves a LOT to be desired, too. Sure, I appreciate the high-quality images and design, but there’s no content. I thought we were past the “Here are some random products. Buy now!” style of emails.

The Solution: Indochino is uniquely positioned to provide a ton of value on top of their already great products. How about a style blog that tells me what I need to be wearing this season? I have no idea, so it would be great to get some pointers from a company whose products I love. How about tailoring their emails to my style based on my buying habits, and actually giving me tips on what I should be wearing? How about not making the social profiles impossible to find? They don’t even need a full daily or weekly content schedule. A great style guide with explanations that’s updated once every three months or so would do wonders. And some emails that treat me like a person and not a prospect would be great, too.

The Lesson:  Sometimes being “almost there” is worse than being nowhere close. The really frustrating part is that Indochino is a young, small company that can implement these changes virtually overnight, yet they don’t. My other frustration with the brand is that it’s clear why they aren’t doing it: they were the first to market, and enjoyed significant market share right off the bat, so they simply haven’t felt a need to do much content other than the previously mentioned gorgeous photo spreads. First, that’s a stupid reason not to add valuable content. Second, their market share is eroding. Competitors are jumping in left and right, and given that it’s a business that doesn’t require a huge amount of upfront capital, it’s only a matter of time until they are dethroned unless they fight for their top spot. Don’t get complacent because of an early lead. Turtle, hare, etc.

#2. JCP: “Cool” Isn’t Enough. Especially When You Aren’t Very Cool

The Problem: What can I say about JC Penny that hasn’t been said to death already? A surprising amount! By now everyone knows the story of the failed rebranding by a former Apple retail exec. The goal was to make the brand “cool” in an effort to attract younger, more affluent shoppers. The problem was younger shoppers have never been interested in shopping at JC Penny, and other than changing the logo and the marketing campaign, nothing was done to try and change that inclination. Sorry, guys, but offering free spotty WiFi is far from all it takes to get my business. Besides just the failed rebranding, JCP failed to provide any kind of content that could have overcome the branding issues. You can’t try to radically alter your target demographics without throwing a bone to either your old shoppers or your new shoppers to ease the transition.

The Solution: The sad thing is that the solution is right there in front of their faces: Sephora. The makeup giant is targeted at exactly the crowd JCP wants to attract, and they’ve been opening smaller retail stores inside of JCP locations. So how does Sephora manage to hit that young, hip market so well? By producing great videos, how-to’s, blogs, and social content that seem by all public measures to be strongly resonating with the 20-something crowd. Why isn’t JCP tapping their marketing team to help transition the rest of their online marketing? Why are they clinging desperately to the ledge, too afraid to let go and jump, too stubborn to climb back to where they were? My only guess: ineptitude. Remember, this is also the brand that got publicly caught (and penalized, and shamed) thanks to some very black-hat SEO tactics. You would think with an ex-Apple guy at the helm, they would be able to figure out digital. You’d be wrong.

The Lesson: You can’t do a rebrand half-way. You just can’t. You’ll piss off your old shoppers, and fail to attract your new shoppers. Content marketing is a great way to manage the transition. Instead of starting your rebrand from the top and working down, start at the bottom. Start by producing the kind of helpful, insightful, cool content that your new demographic is interested in. Use traffic and email segmentation to simultaneously present your messaging to your traditional customers in your traditional voice, and your new customers in your new voice. THEN once you’ve eased the old base into things and built up a groundswell in the new one, ONLY THEN do you pull a radical shift. Oh, and no amount of “cool” will overcome a crappy shopping experience. Remember, the first rule of content marketing is to be useful. That rule applies DOUBLE to your product or service, and everything you do before content marketing.

#3. Bunim/Murray Is Shouting At A Wall

The Problem: Bunim/Murray, the legendary production company behind hits like Real World, Project Runway, and countless other cruft that fills up the attention of the clinically bored, has a secret. They kind of suck at managing the social profiles of their stars and shows. Which is odd, because with a roster of personalities that have no problem eliciting reactions on small screens, you’d think they would have no problem translating that personality to Facebook and Twitter. Nevertheless, the engagement index for most of their properties hovers under 1%. Keep in mind, average is about 2%. Actually, the numbers are worse than they seem initially (if that’s possible), because most of that publicly trackable “talking about this” number ends up being likes, the least valuable (and increasingly less valuable) possible interaction fans can take with your updates. The ratio of likes to comments sits at around 7:1, significantly higher than the typical 5:1 for most pages of comparable size.

The Solution: STOP. SHOUTING. AT. PEOPLE! Sure, BM (heh heh heh) produces some great content. They kind of have to. The problem is that instead of engaging with fans across their social properties, they dump all of their extra content as “exclusives” without bothering to try to build a conversation around the bonuses. This is so stupid, it almost hurts. The number one rule of social media is you make it about the fans. Instead, pages for shows like Project Runway and Bad Girls’ Club end up being little more than glorified highlight reels, with fan interactions happening DESPITE, not BECAUSE of the company’s involvement.

The Lesson: It’s not about you. It should NEVER be about you. If it is, you’re doing it horribly wrong. Producing great content is just half of the work: the other half is fostering conversation and engagement around it. Otherwise, you may as well just go back to TV and display. If you make your content outreach revolve around taking a big, steaming B/M on your audience, it won’t matter how good your content is.

#4. Louis Vuitton Swings and Misses

The Problem: In our last newsletter, we spotlighted a post about a content marketing fail by Louis Vuitton. Well, we think it’s such a big missed opportunity that we’re going to talk about it again. The short story is similar to Indochino: Louis Vuitton wrote a check their content couldn’t cash. It came in the form of an email with the deceptive subject line of: “Ideas for the Perfect Outfit”. Instead of, oh I don’t know, ideas for the perfect outfit, it instead was a standard old-school flyer-style email with little else besides some generic accessories.

content marketing fail: louis vuitton

There it is in all its glory. Where’s the content? That’s not an idea for a perfect outfit. That’s a direct mail flyer. What am I supposed to do with that? Other than hitting the “Mark As Spam” button as soon as I can.

The Solution: This one is simple to fix, and runs in the same vein of my advice to Indochino. Give people something useful. Maybe an annotated catalog that talks about the latest in men’s styles and how LV products fit into those? How about using the information you have on someone to come up with a personal style guide. How about talking about how LV’s accessories fit into the latest trend? I get between 50-100 spammy, useless advertising emails daily, and I’m sure I’m not alone. If you don’t give me something interesting and useful, and if I don’t see it within the first couple of seconds, I am not going to respond.

The Lesson: Don’t mislead with your subject lines. Better yet, create great content and then give it to your customers. If you have money for that extremely professional and well-done photo, you can certainly afford to hire a writer, or better yet a content team. In fact, pull some of the budget out of these direct mail-style emails and put it into content. LV can’t possibly be seeing a great return from these.

#5. Google Hides the Pot of Gold

The Problem: Ok, I will admit that I am a huge Google fanboy. And I actually love all the content they put out. Their quarterly magazine, Think Quarterly, is one of the most well-written and well-produced pieces of content marketing out right now. What? You didn’t know they had a quarterly digital magazine? What about the mountains of primary research, much of it coordinated with some of the biggest names in marketing research like Forrester’s? No? What about the huge cache of resources, from sales presentation layouts to stylized statistic call-outs? No, probably not. And that’s the problem. Google produces a ton of content aimed at the users of their products. Their marketing microsite, Think With Google, is an amazing piece of content marketing that simply isn’t given the exposure it needs. In fact, unless you are VERY serious about advertising on the Google platform, odds are you’ve never heard of it, despite there being enough information in there that anyone doing anything on the web can find something useful.

The Solution: This is a bit of a tough one. Google’s homepage is iconically minimalist, so there’s really no way to fit in more ad space. Of course, Google does have the largest PPC advertising platform in the world, so it might be worthwhile for them to invest a little more in that, since currently I rarely if ever see any of their Think content come up in search or ads. That’s the avenue they have for spreading this great content, and it’s a shame that they don’t spend more on it. Of course it’s possible that the guys at Google Ads think the content is already reaching everyone it needs to, but that excuse rings hollow with me. What about the people who don’t know they need it yet? When I first started doing marketing, I would have killed for a resource like this, despite not being able to articulate exactly what that resource would be comprised of. Google needs to do some SEO, and get the word out there beyond the small, insular SEO/SEM community.

The Lesson: You can have the best content in the world, but if it’s not out there it won’t help. Also, if you have a minimalist page design, you need to limit the amount of content you put out to make sure all of it is discoverable, or spend a lot of money getting it out into the while.


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