How to Buy the Wrong Content Marketing Tech

With my team facing historically high goals for the company, I proposed a new piece of content-marketing tech to reach them. I thought it would solve everything. It didn’t. Here’s what I learned.
Headshot of author David McCarthy
David McCarthy
Expert Contributor
December 17, 2020
Updated: January 6, 2021
Headshot of author David McCarthy
David McCarthy
Expert Contributor
December 17, 2020
Updated: January 6, 2021

The marketing team I was on — a lean group of seven hungry, super-team-talented individuals — was facing a new, somewhat terrifying set of OKRs.

Seemingly overnight, our goals had doubled after a corporate partner was unable to deliver the number of leads they had committed to. Amid a critical juncture for the business, we were facing significant lead generation and qualification gaps that we had to close. And we had just six weeks to do it.

Our team needed ideas quickly: marketing plays, content, purchased email lists — anything that could convert website visitors and social followers into leads and engage them enough so that we could hand them over to sales.

I pitched the idea of interactive content like quizzes and interactive e-books. I had recently learned of an app that enabled content marketers to quickly “develop” interactive content without much reliance on designers. My thought was that we could scale our interactive-content library in a matter of weeks and hope a few go viral (relative to our audience), just in time for the launch of our new goals. All we would need is some time and a bit more investment in our paid ad efforts like Facebook ads and Google paid search.

My teammates — likely some of the best I’ll ever work with in my career — encouraged the experiment. “Let’s try it,” they said. Two weeks later, we launched a campaign promoting the first piece of content. I spent much of that day refreshing our campaign dashboard, waiting to see the numbers rise quickly like a thermometer on a hot day.

They never did. The app failed to deliver the results we expected, and even worse, it did what no software should do: complicated our workflows. Here are four reasons why it — and I — failed.

 

1. I Based the Proposal on the Wrong Needs

My proposal was likely doomed from the start. The impetus for it was inverted, the intention for it lopsided. The proposal to launch interactive content centered first on our needs and preferences — to generate leads and qualify them — rather than our audience’s needs.

I wanted email addresses and clicks. Our audience wanted something engaging, something that they could use immediately. Instead, they received something much different.

 

2. I Didn’t Push for a Better Trial

Around the time we partnered with the app’s vendor, they had altered their pricing options, cutting the contract down to six months instead of 12, which lined up perfectly with our business needs. However, they also truncated the trial period by half, giving us less time to test the performance of the interactive content on our website. Even worse, our trial period fell during a holiday, essentially cutting our actual trial sample size by half again.

You probably know how the story ends. In the time we had to run the trial, all of our website traffic plummeted as expected because of the holiday, and, predictably, our in-app conversions and data did too. The declines made the trial largely inconclusive and the grounds to proceed with the contract shaky at best.

 

3. I Didn’t Give My Teammates More Time to Evaluate the App’s Workflow

While we had a nimble team, we were not entirely autonomous. Our goals, as well as our workflows, were ultimately interconnected. What the content team produced, our insanely productive demand-generation team would prep for distribution and launch into our audience’s world via email, paid social and paid search.

But the app wreaked havoc on the already-stretched-thin demand-generation team. In our CRM, the app duplicated entries, overwrote precious campaign data and required tedious manual set-up to ensure the data our audience provided routed to the right places. A longer trial and a collective exercise to map this app’s workflow could have highlighted these potential issues and risks beforehand.

 

4. It Was a De-Implementation Nightmare

At the beginning, my content marketing teammate and I were amazed at how effortless it was to drop these pieces of interactive content on some of our most visited pages. Create the content, copy the content’s embed code, paste it into the backend of the popular page and update. Within a few days, the top 100 articles on the website had a piece of lead-generating interactive content within them, the perfect “mousetrap cheese for visitors. The relatively steep price seemed worth it. We sat back to watch those leads pour in.

But they never did. So toward the end of the contract, when the team determined renewing it wasn’t cost effective, we had to remove code from every page, a nightmare of tedium, monotony and waste.

 

Painful Lessons That Endure

Looking back, my errors in judgment — the short-sightedness, the lack of customer-centric imagination, and common-sense blindspots — were embarrassing, though not surprising. The app was my first “major” tech proposal in my career, and it likely won’t be my last, perhaps even for interactive content, given its growing popularity.

I respect the lessons that experience taught me, as grating as they are to relive:

  • To solve for the audience.
  • To push vendors for what our team really needs.
  • To get honest, collective buy-in from the people the app affects.
  • And to answer the question, “What if we turn this app off?” before implementation.

I’m hopeful these lessons steer me to better recommendations in the future, ones that prioritize our customers rather than solely our OKRs.

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