Content is a marketing force of nature. As today’s consumers become increasingly self-directed in their buying journeys, brands have an opportunity to reach out with valuable information.

If your brand isn’t present in this research-driven ecosystem, your competitors will quickly bridge the gap between resources that your audiences are seeking out and solutions that are available on the market. It’s crucial to step up and provide thought leadership within this ecosystem, and as brand leaders point out – the investment in time and resources are worth it:

1. Content provides a touch point in the conversion funnel for prospects to become deeply educated about your brand.

2. Content positions companies as market leaders with an exact understanding of their customers’ needs.

3. Relative to the potential ROI, content is a relatively inexpensive and highly efficient marketing asset that, as Rishi Dave points out, appreciates in worth over time – content yields results over the long-term.

But content marketing doesn’t always work. Brands run the risk of wasting valuable dollars on initiatives that fall flat. To be successful, content marketing needs to be a well-oiled machine. The key to optimizing success through content marketing is to understand why initiatives fail. Here are the 5 most common reasons:

1. You’re focusing too heavily on direct response conversions

Paths to conversion are complex, as prospects will need to follow multiple steps before becoming customers. Content is a part of these natural buying journeys; however, may not be the last step before the point of conversion.

Often, marketers will measure the success of their content strategies by measuring who is converting immediately – as opposed to measuring content as a touch-point in the entire buy cycle.

This narrow view can cause marketers to stop investing in their content programs prematurely, causing initiatives to fall flat. With an incomplete analytical picture, your content marketing program will fail before it even has a chance to take off.

2. Your product doesn’t convey value

Content isn’t magic. It’s often an entrance and re-engagement path to expose audiences to your brand. If people aren’t converting, it’s probably because of (1) the possibility that your call to action isn’t strong enough and (2) the fact that your product isn’t compelling enough.

Often, marketing leads and content owners will jump to blame the content. The truth is, however, that it’s impossible to convince audiences to buy a compelling product. They’re smart and know that great content will never be a substitute for a company with a strong value proposition.

3. Your conversion funnel has big, gaping holes

Traffic acquisition is only part of the marketing equation. In addition to building an audience around your content, you need to make sure that you’re effectively engaging and converting prospects through the sales process.

You need to make this series of steps very clear, with an end-to-end marketing framework that connects the dots with your sales and customer support teams. This step of the marketing process is where your left brain comes in to complement the great content that you’re producing – often, your content marketing lead will need to enlist the help of an analytics or automation expert.

4. You’re misdefining the term ‘lead’

Greg Alexander of sales and marketing consulting firm Sales Benchmark Index explains this concept eloquently in a recent blog post for LinkedIn:

“A lead is a lead when a prospect moves from interest to intent. Interest is simply defined as someone who is casually interested in reading about your point of view on a subject. Intent is simply defined as someone who is actively trying to solve an urgent problem by researching possible solutions.”

The best way to distinguish between interested audiences and prospects with intent to buy is to understand the behavior of your best customers, explains Alexander. In addition to examining aggregate level data, it is equally important to look at individual level.

5. You’re writing like a robot

Marketing leads often make the mistake of creating content that is very narrow in scope and directly related to your products and services. Content 101 tells you that your storytelling shouldn’t be salesy -- but it shouldn’t be stifling either.

Often, marketers and founders are reluctant to veer off course from their core products and services. Too much rigidity, however, can stifle your creativity and communication.

Remember that the heart of content marketing is the ability to provide thought leadership within your community. Imagine that you’re writing a magazine, and feel free to keep the dialogue open ended.

Final Thoughts

Content marketing is more than -- well, content. To succeed, your brand needs a thorough distribution strategy that effectively engages your audience. Technology can help you, but ultimately, the effect is human. Make audiences insanely happy, and encourage them to engage.

At the end of the day, content marketing is as much business development as it is marketing. Embrace both dimensions for a powerful content strategy.