Why content marketing isn’t succeeding in Asia (and how it can)

Andrea EdwardsIn this guest post that first appeared on LinkedIn, Andrea Edwards has nine pieces of advice for how to make content marketing work.

For 18 months I’ve been working exclusively with brands to launch content marketing strategies and campaigns across Asia. It’s been an exciting time, but a challenging one too. The challenges are varied and have been learnt the hard way. So if you want to skip a little bit of pain, I encourage you to take heed.

Content hub

First and foremost, if you do not have a destination for customers to visit, you are wasting your time. Content must have a home. Your customer likes your story, they want to come back for more, but where is back? Don’t make them work hard to find you, they’ve got other options.

Also how do you get a consolidated view (read: ROI) without a content hub? So the first thing you must do, if you are serious about content marketing, is build a content hub for your business.

In Asia, you can be part of a global hub, but it’s extremely challenging to own that asset (and it’s slow to get your content up), so I encourage you to build your own site, or at least build your regional site within the global site. Too many marketers in Asia feel powerless within the global business set-up. We need to change that because while global content is relevant, local content is when you really see an impact. Of course, it’s expensive to do multi-language sites, so start with English first if this is an issue.

Another important point when designing a hub – traditional Website companies are not necessarily best equipped to build a content hub. You must have people who understand content driving and collaborating the front-end design.

Here’s a few favorite Content Hubs. There are many more – Adobe’s CMO.com,GE Reports, Gap Gemini Content Loop, IQ by Intel, and Think With Google.

Call to action

Once you have your content hub, you want people to do something else – read more, call you, attend an event, download a whitepaper, subscribe to an email, etc… So please make sure the customer can do something else, but don’t expect them to become a lead after reading one piece of content – do you become a lead after one piece?

Customers and prospects may come back time and again to read your content before they do anything else, so make sure you’re aware of what they’re up to and what they’re interested in, driving them in that direction with great content, not sales! Keep them on the site, keep them engaged, keep them coming back, but focus on delivering value first – focus on tantalizing them. Sales are for later.

Also when working out what to measure, think about how content is consumed, versus what is currently measured. This Outbrain piece ‘Why Time on Page Is a Broken KPI for Content Marketing’ is a must-read to ensure you don’t think you’re failing when you’re actually succeeding!

Content strategy

It’s well documented that companies who fail do not have a content strategy. Defining this up front is CRITICAL! Who is your customer? What do they care about? Read this Marketing Insider article: Why Customer-Focused Content Should Be A Priority for more on that.

Right at the beginning, work out who the human is at the other end of your current marketing/sales programs, and then define a strategy that is going to help that person be successful AND build their loyalty to you.

There’s loads of information on this, but look at Adobe’s site I suggested earlier CMO.com. Adobe sells to CMOs and it owns the CMO conversation on this site. Read the content – it’s about helping CMO’s be successful.

L’Oreals Makeup.com teaches customers make-up tips – great right?

Neither are directly selling to customers, but you bet they are in the end. And why wouldn’t you buy from them if they made your life better, easier, more fulfilled, or whatever other goal a brand puts behind its content strategy?

HubSpot has always been that brand for me. I’m grateful to them.


This is a big issue in Asia. Who owns content marketing? Right now, the door is open for marketing and communication professionals within brands to step up and become the rock stars of their business. Because content marketing needs central ownership inside the brand.

You need someone who drives this internally. Someone who chases people across the business to get involved, contribute content, share content, and generally get behind the initiative to make your content successful.

The owner has to have a lot of guts, because they’ve got to stand up to everyone and they’ve got to face the doubters and drive it through anyway. It’s not easy in this region, but that’s how it succeeds. So whoever is the owner, your first job is to get the top boss’ ear and convince them this stuff works. They need to champion what you’re doing, and then you need to be insanely focused on ensuring you are successful. It’s a wonderful opportunity for anyone with big goals and big dreams for the future.

Oh, and don’t think an outsourced agency can do this bit. We can’t. You need an owner inside, and you need a powerful and supportive partner outside to deliver content and to back you up.

This is your opportunity to shine. Go for it. You got the guts to be a star?

Stop with the projects

The madness of the projects has to stop – it doesn’t work. You can’t test this stuff over small amounts of content and over short periods of time. The cyclical, quarterly business model is the way marketing used to be. It’s all changed now. Define your audience and build a relationship over the long term. It’s the only way it can be successful and a project is not going to help you “see if it works”.

Need proof of success? Give the guys responsible for OpenForum at American Express a call. Has this small to medium business site been successful for them as a business? You betcha!

C-level buy-in

I talked about getting the bosses ear earlier, but the reality is, you need the entire c-suite on board. You need to get them excited. You need to turn them into your biggest fans. If you do not have their buy-in, you can do OK at content marketing, but seriously, do you want to be super proud of the work you’re doing and win global awards? Well that’s the difference between doing it all yourself and getting the whole business behind you. It has to start at the top and they need to show real support for your work. You need your c-suite to become content marketing leaders for your business and industry.

Employee advocacy

Which maps into employee advocacy nicely. Get your C-suite trained on content marketing AND personal branding first. Get them committed and involved. Then get your entire employee base trained and launch an army of employee advocates for your business. The average person has 500 connections, so if you have 500 employees reaching out on your brands’ behalf to their 500 connections, that’s the ability to influence 250,000 people. Get them doing it every week and we’re really talking impact right? But the content HAS to be good. They have to be proud to share it. It needs to reflect well on them.

An example this week. If you know anyone that works at Microsoft right now (and I’ve got a lot of them in my network), chances are you saw them share this great piece ‘Microsoft employees transform lives and strengthen communities in biggest year yet for charitable giving’. And why wouldn’t you? It’s a great piece and something to be proud of.

A product pitch – only your unthinking employees share that stuff!

Social media assets and focus

Another challenge in Asia is social media and integrating this team into the content marketing strategy. None of this can be separate, and the gutsy owner I was talking about before needs to make sure this happens.

Also check out your social media assets. Is the content good? Do you have an 80:20 ratio of 80 per cent valuable customer focused content Vs 20 per cent selly sell? I can almost guarantee you don’t and the majority of brand social assets I review are not that interesting for customers. Take a hard look at your social sites, have clear goals for what you want them to achieve and then deliver great content, mostly about the customer.

Be patient

Finally, PATIENCE. You won’t see ground breaking results quickly. You might get lucky for sure, but usually it takes a lot of work, focus, persistence and absolute determination. You’ll have your nay-sayers around you – they’re always there right? But you must understand true content marketing success takes patience and a lot of it.

And you must make sure your bosses get this important point to. Otherwise you’ll quit before you even get started, heading back to the old way of doing marketing, and you’ll probably be one of those companies predicted to be out of business by 2020.

Right, well there’s a few lessons I learned. Could’ve shared a lot more (amplification in particular), but it’s already too long right? I do try to write shorter blogs you know.

Andrea Edwards is director of content marketing and training at Novus Asia


  1. Discontent
    20 Feb 16
    3:56 pm

  2. Asking an asian marketer to invest hundreds of thousands in content without seeing any return for months, probably years….big ask…especially for singapore…the content here is so shit, its deplorable. Bimbo bloggers blagging their way to glory.

  3. Jeffrey
    21 Feb 16
    3:55 pm

  4. Content marketing is a failure….a lot of people have gotten quite rich promoting it so I expect considerable pushback, but look at the facts. Billions have been invested but consumers just haven’t shown up.

    No one really cares about content from a brand…it’s only the dubious research that keeps insisting that they do.

    I mean seriously, people want to have conversations with and read about rock stars and sports personalities…not have online relationships with sugary drinks and sanitary pads.

    Coca Cola has 645,000 subscribers in the whole world (the highest among advertisers)….isn’t that pathetic?

  5. Andrea Edwards
    21 Feb 16
    4:43 pm

  6. Bimbo?! Ha ha! Good luck at life and business with that attitude sunshine

  7. Pootie
    21 Feb 16
    11:17 pm

  8. All these content shills make me laugh….really….you can talk up content till you’re blue in the face but here’s the stats.

    King of online content these days is a moron from sweden who calls himself PewDiePie…7 mill + followers on twitter and 42.5 mill youtube subscribers…some of the shittiest content Ive seen but hey 42 million out of maybe 3 billion kids love it. Does that mean this guy can sell nike or beats headphones? NO..in fact the moment he does try it, he’s history.

    If Im a cmo why would I go to adobe where I know they’ve got some agenda to sell me on something or the other…why wouldn’t I just subscribe to a HBR Marketing newsletter?

    I think content that tries to shill products is just as see-through as advertising, and consumers regard it as ticks on a dog.

    The best content Ive seen is crowd-built…like specialised forums….when consumers need them, they know how and where to find them.

  9. Andrea Edwards
    22 Feb 16
    1:31 pm

  10. Jeffrey, I think you’re quite right in many ways, but I don’t agree it’s a failure. I think many many brands are just not understanding how fundamentally different it is to what we did before. People do want to know about pop stars and other celebrities, so they’re distracted – really distracted. The idea of content marketing is to create content that’s so good it earns the right to exist in the world the consumer is living in, Vs before when consumers went to a brand for knowledge. I think we’re really only at the beginning of this revolution – particularly in Asia – and many will fail at it. They’ll fail because they haven’t flipped their mindset to be relevant to the consumer. That’s always where it goes wrong because brands are awesome at speaking about themselves! I could talk about failures all day, but I recommend this Joe Pulizzi piece and agree with him, it’s going to get very weird indeed http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/2016/01/content-marketing-weird/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=Act-On%20Software&utm_content=email&utm_campaign=Content%20Marketing%20%5Cu2013%20It%5Cu2019s%20Going%20to%20Get%20Weird&utm_term=READ%20THIS%20ARTICLE. Finally, I know it works – for me personally, for the company I work for (increase of 1000% in inbound leads after we launched our hub) and in many other cases. No space to write it here though. Finally believe me on one other thing – the content creators are not the ones getting rich here. Walk into any content agency and you’ll see what I mean. This is definitely still a burgeoning industry for Asia

  11. Simon Kearney
    22 Feb 16
    3:13 pm

  12. Great piece Andrea, spot on. It will take time for content marketing to really take off in Asia but the smart marketers and business people get it, just look at how many start ups focus on content vis-a-vis advertising and PR. There’ll always be pushback especially from folks whose business models are under pressure. The problem with new marketing sectors is the tendency of the enthusiasts to promote it as the be all and end all, and the detractors to damn it utterly. Content marketing is a fixture in the marketing mix, just like advertising and PR and it’s good to see someone speaking some sense about best practice.

  13. Henry
    22 Feb 16
    3:18 pm

  14. I also agree with Jeffrey in a couple of respects, but would argue that if consumers actively want to see and hence, actively seek what you’re offering (the example I use is the SuperBowl commercials) then it can be defined as successful content, not simply advertising. Which ties in neatly to Andrea’s point that “The idea of content marketing is to create content that’s so good it earns the right to exist in the world the consumer is living in, Vs before when consumers went to a brand for knowledge.”

  15. Neal Moore
    22 Feb 16
    3:33 pm

  16. I wonder how many marketers and agency folk subscribe to Think With Google (https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com) or use its planning tools (https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/tools/) – what do you think that is? It’s content marketing; genuinely useful, well presented information that enables you to do your job better which, at some point, is likely to include buying more inventory from Google.

    I think a lot of people are confusing content marketing with branded content, which is a whole other ballgame. Either way, advertising certainly isn’t working with more than 50% of all publisher traffic and 56.1% of all ads not even viewable by humans (http://venturebeat.com/2015/08/08/the-digital-ad-business-is-broken-says-former-forbes-com-ceo/).

    At least when Intel reports 3million unique views per month on iq.com they know it’s not bots because it’s their site and their data (http://blog.newscred.com/content-marketing-strategist-luke-kintigh-explains-how-intels-iq-drives-2-2m-uniques-a-month/) – which is just two of the many additional benefits of content marketing.

  17. Andrea Edwards
    22 Feb 16
    3:57 pm

  18. Hey Pootie, I absolutely agree with you and was having a discussion just the other day about “influencers” like PewDiePie. The thing is, this is a tiny subset of content marketing, and while many focus on it as the big piece (or content marketing full stop), it’s still only one possibility within the mix. For me personally, I don’t like the lack of authenticity around this, but that’s a personal opinion. Companies like Disney appreciate it’s potential though, as demonstrated when they bought Maker Studios – http://techcrunch.com/2014/03/24/disney-maker-studios/. On your other point on CMO.com, I just don’t agree. CMO isn’t my destination, but HubSpot and CMI Content are. Would they ultimately like to sell me something? Quite right. But in the meantime, I’m getting incredible value from the knowledge they are delivering and I’m also an advocate for what they do. And yes, I’d still subscribe to HBR, but a resource delivering 150 different content resources when I’m a time poor CMO? That’s very attractive if the information is of value. The idea of content marketing to shill products is where we fundamentally disagree. The best content hub examples are so subtle, you can hardly see a brand mention at all. But what’s wrong with delivering value and growing your business? I mean it’s not charity right? I think you’ve seen some of the worst examples, but don’t ignore the awesome stuff – GE Reports as an example. GE doesn’t sell jet engines to its readers, but it is talking to the large base of mum and pop investors – which is super important to it as a business. Makeup.com – if I was a 15-year-old girl today with a resource like that, I’d certainly buy from the place that made my life easier… Content marketing is so much bigger than much of the discussion taking place. It is so much more powerful than many give it credit. I’ve been in this space for more than a decade. It works and I’m going to keep driving it forward, because I know it’s true power

  19. Adam Hodge
    22 Feb 16
    4:45 pm

  20. Jeffery.

    You have some fair points but your suggestion that Coca Cola is the leader in this space at 600,00 is way off.

    Red Bulls’ YouTube channel alone has 4.5M subs. And to measure content ‘success’ by an arbitrary subscriber number (and on one site only) falls short of being even remotely accurate.

    But for arguments sake, lets say a raw count on You Tube views is a fair guide, their top 5 most viewed videos currently (Danny MacAskill x2, Stratos, The Athlete Machine and Art of Flight) total over 166 Million views to date. I’d suggest that is 166M times that show when done well (here is the key) consumers do CARE about content from a brand.

    Good content. Entertaining content. Novel Content.

    Pathetic?? Not from where I sit. Far from it.

  21. Dave McCaughan
    22 Feb 16
    5:05 pm

  22. interesting summary. thanks. does content marketing work ? of course. ask the Medici ( well those of the 14-16th centuries. It worked great for them. as most magazine lifestyle publishers of the last century ( it was a huge source of revenue for them ). ask Walt Disney ( generations of kids grew up with his content strategy and it seemed to work ). It is a very old and proven technique to build awareness, interest, demand and maintain loyalty. applying age old rules to modern media formats and have patience.

  23. LOL
    23 Feb 16
    12:49 am

  24. If the content is shit, how does the marketing of it matter?

  25. Chris J Reed
    23 Feb 16
    9:09 am

  26. Brilliant article Andrea. The power of content marketing is overwhelming and examples of how it’s used in everything from employer branding (check out the CEo and company page of Marriott on LinkedIn for example) to lead gen (check out Darren Woolley on LinkedIn who generates all his leads this way for example) are all around us.

    It’s not just B2C there are some fantastic examples of using it in B2B that the critics here seem to have dismissed without any foundation.

  27. LOLZ
    25 Feb 16
    1:22 am

  28. Its embarrassing watching companies spread their ‘content’ on Facebook. Fake fans, half the likes are fake, the other half are the comany’s employees who think they are scoring points with management by liking every stupid post.

    Disgraceful state of affairs.

  29. Michael
    25 Feb 16
    12:28 pm

  30. LOLZ – kind of agree, but I would say that LinkedIn is the biggest offender here. The amount of irrelevant, poorly written content I am targeted with daily on that platform has completely turned me off as a user. The recent algorithm changes have made it even worse. Now it comes not only from people I am linked to (and who I am able to cut if need be) but also randoms. I am sure LI thinks it is ‘targeting’ me with ‘relevant’ content, but it really isn’t.

  31. Darren Woolley
    1 Mar 16
    2:16 pm

  32. Thanks for the mention Chris. We have actually made content marketing (as the engine of an inbound marketing strategy) work very effectively in a B2B professional services company. Not just from a brand and marketing perspective, but also a business perspective with a doubling in revenue.

    Andrea, these are terrific guidelines for all marketers. The biggest issue is discipline both strategically and in execution.

    As the proof is in the detail, here it is as another piece of content: http://www.trinityp3.com/2015/01/inbound-marketing-strategy/

  33. Justin Wong
    30 Jul 16
    9:05 pm

  34. Totally with you on the point about projects. Corporations here tend to only think in quarters. Marketers must be freed of this cycle and make long-term plans, especially for content marketing.

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