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Why Your Content Marketing Isn't Working

On any given day, a dozen or more articles pass by in my LinkedIn feed and blog reader, sharing the latest tips and tricks for content marketing success. The more lurid ones promise instant results or deep secrets of some kind that ostensibly will make your content marketing wildly successful. And yet almost none of them talk about the one success factor that really will.

The problem is, you’re probably not going to like it, because it’s not something you can buy. It’s not a tool. It’s not scalable. And it can take a long time to acquire, especially if the company you’re doing it for isn’t inspiring you.

The “secret” to long-term success in content marketing is that you have to love it.

Conversely, if you don’t love it, both personally and organizationally, you’ll do really bad at it.

I’ll give you two examples.

I love my email newsletter. Love it, love it, love it. It’s been a staple of my professional life and a pet project since June 17, 2010. I invest several hours each week creating it and maintaining it, and I publish, rain or shine, every week. I hand-built the server environment it runs on. I actively try to improve it. I look forward to writing it. It’s my baby. (You’re subscribed to my newsletter, right?)

I don’t love my Facebook page. I ignore it and do the bare minimum needed to keep it functional. On a day to day basis each post, curated by machine, earns the tiniest sliver of engagement. I don’t believe in Facebook as a platform or a company, I don’t invest any time in it, and if I didn’t have great software like Agorapulse to manage my Facebook page, I wouldn’t use it at all.

These two points of view show in the results I earn. One glance at my Google Analytics 4 attribution funnel makes that abundantly clear:

Google Analytics attribution funnel

My newsletter tops my early funnel acquisitions and last touchpoints. Facebook? Barely in the middle, and I can’t disambiguate between my personal account and my Page (because I’m unwilling to invest the time to set up analytics properly for a channel I don’t care about). And paths to conversion? My newsletter is a massive driver, outpacing organic search.

There’s an expression in my martial art, “energy flows where attention goes”. That’s not only true about fighting, but about anything that requires effort. I put effort, care, and emotion into my newsletter. I put none of that into Facebook. That desire to invest, to put in effort, comes from my love of email marketing and my email newsletter in specific.

Here’s the challenge: you can’t make someone – including yourself – love something. You can’t make yourself love Facebook or email marketing. You can become proficient at it, certainly, regardless of your feelings about it – but your efforts will always lack that spark that can only come from deep emotional investment.

So how do you incorporate this into your content marketing plans, if you can’t force love? There are two straightforward methods. First, if there is a channel you truly love, invest in it. Double down on it. Make it the star of your show. Outsource the channels you don’t love to other team members, to partners, to agencies, to contractors, to anyone else who will love it in the way you can’t if the channels you don’t love are strategically relevant.

Second, if there’s nothing you love in content marketing, channel-wise, and changing careers to something you love isn’t an option, then find a person that you care deeply about on a channel you dislike the least, and focus your mental and emotional efforts towards creating content for that person. Ann Handley talks about writing a newsletter to just one person instead of to a faceless audience. That trick works for any marketing channel. You may not love the channel, but you can emotionally invest in creating something for whoever the target person is.

One way or another, if you want your content marketing to succeed over the long-term, you have to love what you’re doing. You have to be emotionally invested in it beyond just a paycheck, because that’s what will keep you going when you hit creative and technical headwinds. That love will also shine through in your content, in the emotion you convey, in the care you exude to your audience.

Love it, or leave it.


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