The enemy within: why your content marketing is failing

sanjayAgencies and clients are grappling with their content marketing strategies and failing to exploit its potential. In this guest post, Carat Global’s Sanjay Nazerali explores the reasons why and points the finger at the enemy within.

Having been appointed as co-head judge for a set of awards to celebrate the best in cross-border content marketing, I pondered one key question: when we know how powerful content marketing can be, why isn’t it more dominant?

When we know it cuts through clutter, adds value to people’s lives, builds trust and relevance, why don’t we do more of it?

I can only conclude that “the enemy is within”, that we’re not making more of content marketing because of five internal obstacles.

Overcome them and we can restore marketing to what it was always meant to be: relevant, valuable, and compelling:

Kill the silo, hero the content

People are confused about who ‘owns’ content marketing – both agencies and clients still tend to work in silos and one content-driven campaign can span so many different channels that it can be difficult to manage.


There needs to be a joined up way of working that makes responsibilities clear: Who initiates? Who produces? Who is compelled to embrace and extend it?

Longform beauty in a short-term world

It is difficult to measure the effectiveness of a piece of content and this is leading to campaigns that create short term impact, when content is often better at creating long term value. The industry needs to get clever/creative in how they measure the value content adds.

This also means looking beyond ‘obvious’ metrics. Sales tend to be the short term goal but what about other business impacts you want to create, such as providing data on how people use a product, or demonstrating environmental improvements caused by encouraging people to extend the life of a product?

These can be just as, if not more, valid when it comes to measuring content’s ability to engage.

99% right, 100% wrong

Content can provide a perfect moment of intimacy with a consumer when it provides something wholly personal, relevant, helpful and valuable.

Indeed, we live in a world where data is giving us the opportunity to be more targeted and tailored than ever – and yet brands are still sending people the same content as they are using on their 48 sheets!

It should therefore come as no surprise that ads are being blocked at an alarming rate. However, while brands need to embrace content’s ability to get so close to a customer, they need to also take care.

When content is not quite right, when it’s delivered at the wrong moment or place, it risks being even more damaging than a generic commercial.

Remember Yeats: Tread softly for you tread upon my dreams.  Content is powerful; treat it wisely.

Dad dancing isn’t cute

For a branded content campaign to work you have to understand cultural proximities to ensure that your brand is relevant and adds values or it simply won’t work. E.g. a bank working with a cool music festival to reach the so-called millennial market is unlikely to work, because of the cultural disconnect between them.

The challenge is to find a cultural context where the brand can legitimately add value, rather than one which the client or agency falls in love with.

Rising above culture

Cross-border content campaigns are some of the hardest to pull off as you have to find a concept that will have resonance for anyone, irrespective of where they live, which can then be adapted according to local culture/nuances.

However, finding that common human consideration that will work across markets can be one of the most rewarding moment for any marketer.

A great example of this is the Mastercard ‘Priceless Moments’ campaigns we are involved in. ‘Moments money can’t buy’ is a universal concept,  but the really clever thing about the idea comes in the way it has been activated locally.

In China, social listening identified that Mothers Day is a big deal; especially with the huge cultural changes of the past 10 to 15 years leading to people not spending enough time with their family as work hours have lengthened.

The idea of giving ‘mum’ a priceless moment resonated, resulting in us bringing one mother and her family to enjoy an evening at the cinema – and in the middle of the screening we showed a movie we had made all about her.

The campaign went viral around the world as, while being made in China, it was a concept that anyone could understand.

HSBC has also cracked what it means to take a universal idea and translate it into the right local context. For them, the big concept was around businesses harnessing allies to help them grow.

For Asia, the example they used showed that the ‘experts’ that Chinese fisherman use to help them catch more fish were, somewhat unexpectedly, cormorants.

What’s brilliant about this is that, not only did it make it highly relevant in APAC, it was fascinating for people everywhere – making it not just local, but multi-local – and that really is genius, award-winning, international content marketing.

Sanjay Nazerali is global chief strategy officer with Carat Global and co-head judge at the World Media Awards



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