“A life that is burdened with expectations is a heavy life. Its fruit is sorrow and disappointment.”

― Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

You absolutely should have expectations for your content marketing efforts.

You should expect success.

You should expect to see more Web traffic, more leads, and more sales — over time.

You shouldn’t expect it to succeed immediately, much less quickly.

When you start an exercise program, results come from effort over time. You wouldn’t run a mile for the first time and then expect to run a marathon the next week (that’s 26.2 miles for you non-runners or Greek historians out there).

With a plan and continual, weekly effort you can go from a single mile to completing a marathon. I’ve done it. It takes months.

The problem isn’t having expectations.

The problem is having unreal, unicorn-pooping-leads expectations.

Unrealistic expectations will poison any content marketing effort (or anything else in life for that matter).

Here’s a personal lesson learned.  

The Danger of the Lead Pooping Unicorn

Social and Shakespeare, #AtoZchallenge
Why is social fun? Because random conversations on Twitter turn into unicorns prancing about in mankinis, that’s why.

Managing expectations is a sore spot for me. I’ve been on the “shit rolls downhill” side of attempting to meet outsized expectations. The fruit of sorrow and disappointment does not taste good.

I spent four years working with copier dealers and/or managed service providers. Inbound marketing was brand new to many of these guys (I say guys because, yeah, it’s mostly men) and they were excited about it.

That’s a good thing.

The bad thing is that many of our early engagements were oversold. There were two primary reasons for this:

  1. our owner was excited about the potential of inbound marketing to help these companies (a very true thing) and over-promised a few delivery items (at least one of which we had no control over)
  2. We (especially me) were applying the wrong metrics based on misinterpreting HubSpot lead conversion and associated Web data

There was a third, belated, realization as well — how crucial email marketing is as a component of inbound. Because of how we were pitching, we over-focused on the “new” aspects of marketing for this industry (blogs, whitepapers, CTAs, forms, etc.) at the expense of the boring old stuff like email (whether you call it inbound or content marketing, email is still crucial).

How crucial is email? Let’s just say this: You have my permission to throat punch anyone who says some variation of “email is dead.”

Without going into detail, these twin founding sins (and one giant “duh”) really hurt us with early clients.

Over time we became much better at managing expectations of how inbound (and content) marketing was going to work in the context of the copier/managed services industry.

However, these guys are often impatient. After explaining that we’d need five to six months to start showing results (leads, traffic boosts, etc.) and getting agreement that was OK, we were asked three months in “why aren’t I seeing any results.”

We joked that these guys wanted “lead pooping unicorns.” I’ve paid some money. I’ve expended the bare minimum of effort. I want my magical unicorn, pooping leads all over my website.

They said all the right things and nodded in the appropriate places, but when it came down to it — the expectation was “where’s my dammned unicorn??!?!”

Of course these guys also didn’t track their previous marketing results, but were immediately all-in on tracking using HubSpot without the benefit of any customer database integration or help from sales teams to identify good leads.

Their expectations of quick results — despite continual reminders to give it time — were disastrous in the long-run.

There was another unrealistic expectation intertwined into the expectation of speed. In two of three clients, we were pushing new products and services that these companies had not yet made headway in.

So compounding the frustration, on their end, of not having new leads for new services that their customers didn’t even know they had, was the frustration on our end that we’re giving you entirely new leads and it’s not our fault your sales team can’t close all of them.

As I type this, I can feel the frustration all over again. I’m frustrated at mistakes we made (we weren’t perfect). I’m most frustrated that we weren’t ever able to make ourselves well-understood enough about original expectations and were too timid on pushing back on abrupt switches in the focus. Our expectations as an inbound marketing team were also to blame.  

This “speed” element of expectation ties into the “B for Believe” in content marketing. You have to be in it for the long haul. Or, as Guns N Roses would say:

Said, woman, take it slow and it’ll work itself out fine
All we need is just a little patience

Said, sugar, make it slow and we’ll come together fine

All we need is just a little patience

Patience, hm yeah…

While you CAN build your own “lead pooping unicorn” with content marketing, it takes belief and patience (and skill, of course).

A Word About You

In addition to having patience and belief, you also need to actually give a damn about your customers.

Content marketing cannot paper over contempt for customers or fix a broken sales team.

If you rely on a sales team for all or a portion of your sales, your content marketing strategy will never fully take off if they suck.

If you fully care about your products and services and how they meet the needs of your customers but your sales team sucks . . . that’s right, content marketing can only temporarily prop up a bad sales team.

Don’t expect content marketing to be a silver bullet that allows you to trick customers and/or give you a free pass so you don’t have to deal with your shitty sales.

Photo by Karen Powers on Unsplash

Changing Expectations

Be ready to change your expectations too.

As you dive into content marketing, you’ll discover new ideas over time.

You might start off thinking that Facebook is your best option for social media, but realize that Pinterest (or LinkedIn or Instagram or something else) works better for you. Initially, you might think video is going to be a slam dunk for you only to realize that straight-forward blog content is more effective.

Allow reality to temper and guide your expectations.

At some point you have to realize you don’t know what you don’t know and simply pay attention so you can take advantages of the twists and turns in your content marketing journey.

There’s an old saying about battle, “no plan survives contact with the enemy.” Don’t be so wedded to what you expect to see that you ignore the better opportunities that reality offers you.

Have Great Expectations

So have those Great Expectations, as long as they are realistic.

OK, well, mostly realistic — sometimes you will want to shoot for the stars, but that’s really a conversation for another day.

Stay flexible. Stay patient. Keep those expectations high.

When you do that you very well could end up with your very own lead pooping unicorn.

About the Cheeky A-Z Guide to Content Marketing.

There are groaning shelves of books and whitepapers you can read about content and inbound marketing. What’s missing from (some) of them is the stuff between the cracks. The dirty, nuts and bolts examples of things that can go wrong and the random things that can go wonderfully well. I decided to run down the alphabet a letter at a time and highlight personal lessons learned from creating content for 25 years and from applying those content creation lessons to content marketing over the past decade-ish. I hope you enjoy.

About the Author bryantduhon

Editor. Dad. Husband. Writer. Content marketer and strategist. Serial constructive procrastinator. Pizza eater. Beer drinker. Not always in that order.

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