Fail Your Way to Content Marketing Success

do you remember your first epic content

failure I’m not talking about the first

time you missed a deadline I’m not

talking about that typo that you found

in the deck as you were presenting it I

am talking about fall on your face punch

to the gut ego crushing failure I do I’m

in my late 20s and I just started at the

number one advertising agency in Phoenix

I am over the moon I am so excited I

finally feel like I am where I need to

be and where I want to be I’m getting to

work on big new clients I’m getting to

work on fun campaigns life is amazing in

fact I’m getting so much praise and

we’re doing so well that they offer me

the chance to lead a huge new project

for a new client I am going to be the

sole strategist and writer for a sports

equipment manufacturer now don’t get me

wrong this was a huge client and I was

so grateful for the opportunity it’s

just that my knowledge of pro sports

really revolves around knowing where the

shortest lines are at the beer carts at

Chase Field in Phoenix and what’s on tap

at each so nonetheless I am still

excited and I am ready to take on this

project and I am bound and determined to

keep my winning streak intact so I take

that project I go back to my desk I sit

down and nothing nothing but writer’s

block for the first time in my career I

have absolutely no clue what to write in

what does make it to the page is

absolute garbage delete but still that

deadline keeps coming

and my writer’s block isn’t going away I

don’t know how I did it but at the 11th

hour literally I reach down and I pulled

every ounce of willpower I had and every

piece of creativity I had in my entire

being and I wrote that content at the

end of the day I knew with absolute

certainty that I had tried my best I

also knew that content was not my best

with a heavy heart and a stomach full of

knots I turned it in and as I turned it

in I said to myself it’s okay it’s just

round one right it’s a draft you’ll get

their feedback you’ll work it into round

two it’s okay round two you’ll knock it

out of the park

no big deal fast-forward about a week

later and I’m in my boss’s office and

we’re chit-chatting and we’re hanging

out and we’re having a great time we had

a really great rapport so we’re joking

having a great time and of course he’s

doing what he’d always does which is

multitasking he’s checking his emails

and we’re chit-chatting when all of a

sudden his happy smiling face drops and

he goes completely silent I think you

better have a look at this he says as he

turns his monitor to me it’s an email

from the client and it says yeah I don’t

know who you had write this but this is

completely wrong this sounds like diner

menu copy do we get a sign of hashbrowns

with this

devestated doesn’t even begin to

describe what I felt in this moment I

felt like I had the wind knocked out of

me it suddenly became really really hot

in that room and I felt like I was 2

inches tall

after several very awkward moments of

silence my boss excuse me from his

office called the client and gave the

project to another writer I never got

around to you know one thing I did

realize though after I spent about a

week googling adorable exotic animals

like this cloaca to try to bring myself

out of my content failure funk by the

way the coca is adorable right it’s

native from us to Australia if anybody

doesn’t know if you’re having a really

really terrible day Google this little

guy he always looks like he’s smiling he

has no known natural predators and also

he loves to take selfies so seriously if

you’re having a really terrible day

quota promise it’ll make your day so

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after I spent about a week googling

adorable exotic animals like this quota

here trying to bring myself out of my

content failure funk I realized that I

could all of a sudden very clearly see

every step as well as every misstep I

had taken on that path to failure and

two things became really clear on why I

failed one I didn’t want to let anybody


I was brand new I felt like I had

something to prove I was still trying to

fight my way into the the writers circle

and I wanted to win right I shouldn’t

have said yes to that project because I

wasn’t right for it there were other

writers that would have been better but

I didn’t want to say no on the other

side I tried to be the hero I had the

worst writer’s block of my entire career

but I taught I thought if I could just

muscle through it and power through it

would be fine unfortunately my ego got

the best of me and that didn’t happen


but the thing also that I realized is

that that failure helped me so very

clearly see so much more than any

successful project that I have ever been

a part of now I know that the concept of

failure to success isn’t new to anybody

in this room and it’s not even exclusive

to just content but it’s something that

we don’t talk about really ever and the

funny thing is is have you ever noticed

how easy we make content seem like if we

just create it it’ll work and everything

will be ok right but not necessarily in

order to really get on to the path of

content wins we need to first embrace

our failures and understand why we fail

so we can better position ourselves in

the future that failure moment being

said that I created diner menu copy that

is stuck with me for the rest of my

entire career and now I know to never

put myself in that same position again

it helps me lead to better paths to

success so we need to start embracing

these failures and we need to start

understanding how to fail productively

and when we do that we’re gonna win and

we’re gonna talk about how to do that

today but first before we do we need to

address the fact that as content

marketers we have an intense fear of

failure and I think you’ll agree because

this room is full so obviously we’re

interested in this topic but marketers

in general have a very intense fear of

failure it’s just not something we talk

about it’s not something we highlight

it’s not something that we really like

to bring up we will happily get up and

we’ll talk all day long about our case

studies and our successes and all of

these amazing campaigns we’ve even

received frameworks here at this

conference for how to create more

successful content on the surface

everything is a-ok now not to diminish

anybody there are definitely some people

having a lot of success with content a

lot of people in here are having success

with content it’s not that we’re failing

completely it’s just that we’re not

talking about our failures as much as we

should everybody who won an award last

night everybody was nominated absolutely

deserving of those rewards that’s not

what this session is about what the

session about is about is helping

everybody bring it up a level and find

that path to success through our

failures now the reason why this piqued

my curiosity in the first place is

because one I’ve been through it

personally in firsthand and talking in

very small circles and talking

one-on-one other people have as well

this is not an anomaly this is something

that is widespread and furthermore we

have data to back this up as well I know

everybody in here is familiar with this

report if you’re not its Content

Marketing Institute’s annual benchmarks

budgets and trends report now this is

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the B to C report that we’re going to be

going through on some numbers for those

of you in the room who are b2b just know

that the numbers are very very close so

these numbers that we’re gonna go

through still apply to everybody in this

room so we have actual data to back that

so many of us are failing or so many of

us are experiencing struggles every

single day and let’s talk through some

of those data points right now so every

year this report is published and the

story is pretty much the same it doesn’t

really change what we find is that

pretty much everybody is doing content

marketing approximately 86% on the b2c

side on the b2b side it’s actually

higher it’s around 91 or 92 percent so

everybody is doing content marketing in

some way shape or form over the next 12

months people have actually indicated

that they are going to be investing more

about 37% said that they were actually

going to put more into content over the

next 12 months right so we’re doing

content marketing and most of us plan on

doing more some of us plan on doing more

what do you think the percent is of

those who are doing content marketing

rated their efforts on content as

extremely successful any guesses


five percent rated their efforts as

extremely successful oh that’s a

different story than what we’re getting

up and talking about now there were

people who indicated that their content

was mildly successful but extremely

successful think about that like an

actual success 5% that is harsh and in

addition when they polled other people

as well only 38% had a documented

content strategy so the story basically

every year that I look at this report is

we’re doing content marketing we’re

doing a ton of it we’re going to be

doing even more we’re gonna be putting

even more budget into it but we don’t

really have a plan on how to do it

and we don’t actually know or think it’s

really that effective this is why we

need to talk about our content failures

is because of that 5% because we are

currently experiencing failure we’re

just not talking about it so if there

are so many of us out there who are

looking to find that path to success why

are we sharing more of what doesn’t work

so we do know what does work well that’s

because there is an intense

psychological stigma around failure

think about it going to school

especially here in America what was our

grading system A to F for failure we’ve

literally been trained our entire lives

to avoid failure at all costs if you’re

failing you are not doing what you’re

supposed to do that is bad you need to

go for an A every single time right we

literally train ourselves from a very

young age to avoid failure the other

thing is we are very uncomfortable with

our own failures if it makes us do

things to ourselves and it gets in our

head and it wedges in there and it makes

us doubt everything about ourselves

right when we fail when we don’t succeed

we think horrible things we think things

like what are people thinking of me

maybe I’m not even capable right am I

even cut out for this when when that

client said I wrote diner menu copy I

doubted every single part of my ability

all of my success up to that point any

piece of praise I had ever been given

and it made me doubt myself for months

it was ego crushing

and this happens all the time even if

we’re comfortable with our own failures

what about our teams right when our

teams fail are we setting them up to

embrace that and to understand how to

correct that or if our teams fail do we

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blame ourselves right I know when I was

a manager and my team would fail I would

think things like oh my god did I not

dye them enough did I not give them

enough instruction what is the CEO gonna

think when he hears about this right we

have this tendency to internalize these

failures as just our own and that it’s

going to be the end of us but it doesn’t

have to be that way so what I want to

talk to you about today is what I’ve

dubbed the content marketing fail-fast

framework over the years I’ve been able

to adopt a couple of coping mechanisms

and some exercises that have really

helped me through a lot of failure and

really helped me get through those bumps

in the road with various teams in

various clients and there’s going to be

three pieces to this framework today and

with each piece I’m gonna end it with an

exercise that is so easy and so quick to

do you could literally do them on a

piece of paper right after the session

ends now I can’t guarantee that this

framework is going to prevent mistakes

from happening or prevent failures from

happening but it will hopefully help

everybody fail a little bit faster and

become a little bit more productive and

embrace it and get back onto the path to

success faster all right this is

everybody ready to dive into the

framework okay piece number one ask why

such a simple simple piece of the

framework right a little more difficult

than it sounds sometimes I first learned

the power of Y from this book content

strategy for the web by Kristina

Halvorson it’s actually in the

introduction and she talks about the

power of asking why right even just

sitting down and being asked to do

something question just say why not in

an accusatory way but in a powerful

digging deeper kind of a way you’ll have

better conversations for those of you

who are not familiar with this maybe

you’re familiar with Simon’s neck start

with why write the entire concept that

people don’t buy what you do they buy

why you do it why is an incredibly

powerful tool that we are just not

accessing and utilizing enough why has

actually become one of my favor

non four-letter words over the years

because it really gets everybody to stop

take a quick second and think a little

bit more critically about what we’re

doing how and why now oftentimes when I

work with clients many of them don’t

even know why they’re doing content in

the first place they say things to me

like well because we need to show our

competitive advantage they say okay okay

let’s take a quick step back why do you

need to show your competitive advantage

like what about it isn’t coming through

today why and they’ll you know kind of

sit there and think for a second and

ponder why and they’ll come back usually

with something like well because our

competitors are outperforming us okay

okay that’s valid but that’s not really

tangible right this is just sort of more

of the same we still don’t really know

why we’re doing anything so I asked him

again say well why why are your

competitors outperforming you and they

say something like well because they

have better brand recognition but we can

actually walk the walk right so digging

deeper asking why that’s where you get

to those aha moments that’s where you

start to say this is why we’re doing

what we do this is why we are actually

even putting effort into this in the

first place and if you just keep digging

and asking why you will get deeper and

deeper into that onion and you will

figure out exactly why you should be

doing what you’re doing


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