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  • Writer's pictureEttie Holland

Why do many HR tech businesses still get content marketing wrong?

“Other HR tech companies are investing in content marketing, so we should too”.

“We spent months working on this 100-page whitepaper all about our technology. Why isn’t anyone reading it?!”

“Promotion? We haven’t thought about it, really.”

“Sales never promote our stuff. And they always complain leads aren’t a good fit.”

“This year we’re focussed on building brand awareness. Measure it? Well, we’re counting how many posts we publish, if that counts?”

Along with B2C copywriter Emily Wood, I recently joined Emma Davies and Ruta Sudmantaite on their fabulous podcast, Blame it on Marketing, to chat about content marketing.

One of the big topics of conversation was the stuff businesses do wrong to cut content marketing ROI off at the knees. It turns out, there’s a fair bit. Let’s unpick some of the big pitfalls I come across in the HR tech space.

5% of HR tech content marketing drives 95% of results

Everyone and their brother are spending big on content marketing, especially in HR tech. You’d assume that’s because content marketing is proven to deliver correspondingly enormous returns – but not so fast.

Pick any handful of blogs in the HR tech space and you’ll often find a deluge of non-funnel-aligned, inconsistent, us-us-us content. Dig into the stats and often you’ll find your ‘best’ content languishing unread behind some off-brand SEO piece from years ago that’s driving heaps of unserviceable leads.

Forget 80/20: it’s not uncommon for 10% or even 5% of a content ecosystem to drive 95% of value, because so much content isn’t pulling its weight.

Let’s talk about why. So you can spot where you might be going wrong and start forcing your content to work harder for you.

1. Lack of strategy

This is the single biggest reason content doesn’t deliver the results you’re hoping for.

Chaos is a natural bedfellow to the hyper-growth many HR tech orgs are experiencing. Teams scale and responsibilities blur and there’s little time to take a strategic step back. Instead, content gets churned out without any strategy to guide value (either for the biz and the customer). The upshot is, content that wastes spend rather than driving ROI.

  • Why you’re creating content

  • Who you’re writing for

  • What you should write

  • When you should write and publish

  • Where you should distribute

  • How you can scale your efforts

A content strategy tethers your efforts to your goals. It’s a roadmap to get from where you are now to where you want to be, using content as your vehicle. And it sets guardrails to guide how you allocate (and don’t allocate) resources to get the most bang for your buck.

The upshot is, creating content without a good, clear strategy is little better than throwing all your money at Enid the Influencer and crossing your fingers.

2. Crap content

As reasons for underperforming content go, this is a close second. Even if your efforts are guided by strategy, if your execution is shit you won’t persuade anyone to do anything. (And persuading action is what sets this content marketing thing apart from, say, your teenage-self scribbling reams of tortured poetry).

There are a few common reasons content is crap:

It’s boring

B2B businesses are notoriously bad for this. There’s often an assumption that selling Big Serious Tech means you have to write in a Big Serious Way. Which for most people means super dry and formal without any hint of personality (because we’re so Big and Serious, geddit?)

It’s self-absorbed

HR tech is often better than the broader B2B world at creating content with personality, because there are loads of cool start-ups and scale-ups in the space. But that doesn’t exempt them from another major crap content sin – talking endlessly about themselves.

Talking about yourself has its place, of course, mostly towards the bottom of the funnel. But too many businesses abandon the funnel altogether and create shallow promo-piece after shallow promo-piece. Like a blind date, it’s a major turn-off.

It’s chaotic

This one’s a biggie, and typically happens because brands have SO MUCH TO SAY. It’s related to strategy too because strategy is about being choiceful* – but I’m talking here on the micro not macro level.

Even with an overarching strategy, individual content pieces can easily become sprawling things that try to do too much. If you attempt to say everything, you quickly say nothing. Be single-minded. What’s this one piece about?

*I know, it’s a weird and ugly word, but it’s stuck with me since Mark Ritson said it on the mini MBA. Yes, it’s great. Enrol if you haven’t. I love working with marketing folks who’ve taken this because we’re all on the same (right) page.

3. No promotion plan

Shitty content outperforms great content every single day, because the people writing the shitty content have a whole marketing machine churning behind the scenes.

If your content marketing budget skews heavily towards creation over promotion, you’re almost certainly not getting the ROI you could be. And this is way too common, still.

This was a major talking point on the podcast. As Ruta put it:

“If you don’t promote content, unless you’re already a huge brand with a huge following, there’s almost no point investing into content creation. If you’re just planning to stick it on your blog and forget about it, the chances of seeing benefit are super low.

Promotion is one of the four parts of the content marketing puzzle. Treat it accordingly or make peace with lacklustre results.

4. Lack of alignment with Sales

I can’t speak for you, but let’s assume you’re not in the content marketing game for the sheer joy of creating. At root, content marketing is a sales tool.

That sounds obvious and few businesses would disagree. But often they build structures and processes around content that don’t reflect that, and divorce Sales from Marketing.

This is a death knell, especially in B2B where some 70% of marketing execution is salesforce.

Marketing and Sales should be pulling in the same direction. But so often, that’s not what happens. Instead, Sales think Marketing never do anything useful and deliver crap leads. Marketing think sales are ungrateful, and never even read content (let alone promote it).

When the sales/marketing relationship breaks down, so does content marketing ROI. Get your marketers to create stuff your salespeople feed into and need. And get your salespeople to read, promote, share, and use the valuable content they’ve helped you create.

5. You don’t measure results

You can’t manage what you don’t measure, as the truism goes. But often, content marketing teams are given free rein with wishy-washy top-line ‘goals’ like “improve brand awareness”. This lack of accountability is an ROI killer.

If you want to improve brand awareness, great. Not everything has to be about concrete lead gen. But how are you measuring that? What does success look like? How does content help you achieve your overall marketing and business objectives?

If you don’t measure results, you can’t make smarter decisions next year. You’re committing to spraying money at whichever particular tactic is the current darling until someone suggests something else.

And you’re subject to the whims and vagaries of whatever anyone suggests, because you can’t prove why your approach makes more sense. So you’re stuck, say, churning out 500 shitty SEO pieces a month because that’s what Jo in Brand heard works.

It all turns into a shitty self-defeating circle where your content marketing doesn’t drive ROI. If you care about it, measure it.

Recap: 5 most common content marketing mistakes

1. Lack of strategy

2. Crap content

3. No promotion plan

4. Lack of alignment with Sales

5. You don’t measure results

Sanity-check your content marketing function against those five major mistakes and there’s a good bet you’ll boost your content ROI. You’re welcome.

Prefer to “consume” (🤢) content in podcast form? Check out episode 12 of Blame it on Marketing here, with me (Ettie Holland) and Emily Wood joining Emma and Ruta to talk about all this stuff and more.

Want to chat about doing content marketing better? HR Tech Copy work with HR tech and recruitment tech businesses who want to turn content into a major lever for growth. Let's chat.


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