8 Content Marketing Mistakes I Made in My First Year as a Marketer
I’ve now been doing content marketing for a little over a year and a half. If you’ve read my story before you know that I got my start working for a regional sleep clinic in Alaska. And when I started, I had zero knowledge of sleep medicine, and had never even heard of content marketing before.
All I had for qualifications was a fresh English degree in hand, some decent video shooting & editing skills, and a passion for writing.
Fortunately for me, the owner of Alaska Sleep at the time, Kevin Asp, had been a longtime fan of the Mad Marketing podcast, and was so inspired by Marcus’s personal story with River Pools and Spas that he contracted The Sales Lion to train me in the ways of content marketing and how to use HubSpot.
In all honesty, if it wasn’t for their training and guidance on which types of articles I needed to write to help drive traffic, leads, and sales for the business, I know for a fact it would have taken me much longer to find success (if ever).
But things worked out. I learned everything I could about sleep medicine, and I applied the lessons I learned from George and Marcus to grow Alaska Sleep to become one of the most trafficked sleep medicine websites in the world (last month’s traffic hit 218,564 visits, and total traffic brought to the site since I started is currently at 1.6 million).
Things at Alaska Sleep were pretty great. It’s an amazing company that really helps people receive treatment for debilitating sleep disorders, which is another reason I think I was successful – because I genuinely cared about being the go-to source for information about sleep medicine. If you’ve ever gone more than one or two nights in a row without adequate sleep, it’s not hard to empathize with people that miss out on quality sleep every single night.
However, as much as loved working at Alaska Sleep, I found that what I really enjoyed the most about my job was talking to people about content marketing and how I was helping grow a business. That, and once Kevin Asp sold the business to start new chains of sleep clinics across the country (as well as start an Inbound marketing company of his own teaching other sleep clinics how to do content marketing) the new owners didn’t really have the buy-in for content marketing that he had. They understood the value enough (because they could see the results flowing in), but they didn’t truly get it. They often challenged me on articles I wanted to write (that I knew would be beneficial to the business), and wanted me to take on a more traditional marketing role – something that I just wasn’t passionate about.
Around that time (a little over a year into working at Alaska Sleep) Marcus held a contest on TSL asking for Hubcast/Mad Marketing listeners to share their content marketing success stories for a chance to win a ticket to Inbound 2015 (the new owners at Alaska Sleep didn’t believe the conference was of enough value to send me). I however knew the value I had gotten at Inbound 2014 and also knew that Inbound 2015 would be critical to my continued education. So I wrote my story, won the contest, and made it to Boston.
Before Inbound 2015, Marcus also just happened to come to Alaska as the keynote speaker for the state’s first content marketing summit. I met up with him, and we went salmon fishing with Kevin Asp. We talked about life, content marketing, and future job goals. Two days later (to my complete surprise) he offered me a job at The Sales Lion.
Fast-forward six months and I now get to do what I really love doing: teaching people how to have the kind of success I had brought to Alaska Sleep.
However, as I’ve been training clients new to content marketing, and as I continue to grow and learn as a content marketer myself, I realize that my work at Alaska Sleep wasn’t perfect. While I did a lot of things right, there were still some things that I could have done much better. In fact, I can think of eight mistakes I made that could have helped the company become even more successful.
Fortunately, I’ve had the pleasure to train the new content marketing manager of Alaska Sleep, and am having her work to correct those mistakes. I also hope that by sharing these mistakes, anybody who reads this may take them to heart and apply them to their own content marketing efforts.
Content Marketing Mistakes I Made in My First Year
1.) I didn’t give buyer personas the attention they deserved
One of the first major mistakes I made was that I never really fleshed out my buyer personas. For whatever reason, I didn’t really think of it as that critical of something to do. I had, in my head, the people I believed were my company’s buyer personas were.
As I was writing most articles, I was always thinking that the person with the sleep disorder was the one reading the articles. The typical client at Alaska Sleep is an overweight, 40+ year old male with a 17-inch or larger neck. He sleeps less than six hours per night, and is therefore chronically tired. He’s also at high risk for a slew of medical problems including heart disease, heart failure, and stroke, in addition to having a higher chance of having a work or driving related accident from dozing off or falling asleep while performing dangerous tasks.
I called this persona Sleep Apnea Steve.
However, while diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnea accounts for about 90% of Alaska Sleep’s business, there are still over 70 sleep disorders. They range from very common disorders like insomnia (which we didn’t often diagnose or treat as it’s more a psychological problem or a symptom of another medical issue), to very rare disorders like Klein-Levin Syndrome (where people sleep in excess of 20 hours a day).
I still wrote articles on many of these other disorders, and I even had some eBooks, offers, and workflows (more on workflows pretty quick) setup for things like insomnia, restless leg syndrome, and narcolepsy, but I never really fleshed out these other personas. To me, they were very much like Sleep Apnea Steve: they had trouble sleeping, wanted to know why, wanted to know how to diagnose it, and how to get treatment. So for every sleep disorder, I kind of had the same persona for them in my head.
Even if all those sufferers fit a very similar persona, not fleshing them out really hurt my efforts in a few different ways. For one, it’s not always the sufferer themselves that come looking for answers. Very often it’s concerned spouses that do the initial research on behalf of their loved ones.
Many of the sufferers don’t recognize their nighttime sleep apnea symptoms and only notice how tired they feel during the day. Their spouses hear them snore loudly and grow understandably concerned when they stop breathing periodically during sleep. Plus, men in general are too proud or stubborn to seek treatment themselves. It’s their wives that do the research and call sleep clinics to schedule appointments.
And yeah, I wrote some articles for these spouses about how they can talk to their partners about the dangers of sleep apnea, but most of the actual sleep apnea articles were aimed at the sufferers themselves, not their partners, the ones most likely to be reading the articles.
What I should have had was personas on at least the top three sleep disorders aimed at both the sufferer themselves and their partners. And not just spouses, but also personas of parents of children with sleep disorders. Once again, I wrote articles for parents, but didn’t include them as personas.
And the biggest mistake with not creating personas was that I didn’t have as adequate of workflows for these personas…
2.) I didn’t create enough comprehensive workflows/drip campaigns
In a lot ways I’m pretty proud of the workflows I created. I made quite a few automatic emails to go out to leads based on site behaviors, form field entries, list memberships, and email engagements.
However, I made at least two mistakes with my workflows.
You can probably guess the first one: I didn’t target enough personas in my workflows. They weren’t really any aimed at personas other than my one positive persona, Sleep Apnea Steve, and my only negative persona, Non-Alaskan Nathan.
For my negative persona, if somebody requested a sleep assessment (which has to take place in the state of Alaska) and they said “No” to my form entry asking if they lived in Alaska, they would get an email saying something along the lines of: “we’re sorry, but we can only help those present in Alaska. But here’s how you can find a sleep clinic near you, and here’s some educational resources you can have to help you learn more about your disorder.”
However, the emails in my workflows weren’t always being read by the person I had written them for. What I should have done was have a form field entry asking if the person filling out the form were the ones with the sleep disorder, or if they were seeking information on behalf of a concerned loved one.
In that way, I could have written better, more targeted emails to the person actually receiving the email, rather than assuming the information was good enough for any reader.
The second major mistake I made with workflows is that most of them were rather short: if you answered a form field this way, you got this email; if you downloaded this offer, you got this email; if you were added to this list, you got this email. But most workflows stopped at one email.
My longest workflow had to do with my eBooks. If you downloaded my sleep apnea eBook you got an email asking if you’d like to download my Sleep Study eBook. If you took the second book, you’d get asked if you’d like the third. If you took the third, you got asked if you’d like some pricing articles. And if you accepted the pricing articles, you got an email asking if you’d like to schedule an appointment.
This was a pretty great workflow. Unfortunately I should have had many others like them.
3.) I didn’t recognize the value of quality lead scoring
Better lead scoring could have helped me create better lists, which would then have helped me create better workflows.
In fact, I had done some decent lead scoring, but I hadn’t really created many lists to reflect when a lead might be ready to have a conversation with one of our sleep educators, or to schedule a consultation, or to schedule a sleep study.
For the most part, I left it up to the leads themselves to determine when they wanted to start a conversation with us.
One specific instance made me realize I had nearly dropped the ball on utilizing lead scoring and almost let a lead slip away.
In March of 2015, a visitor had come to the site, read an article, and downloaded an eBook on CPAP therapy devices. In August this same person ordered a specific machine that was portable and could be taken camping. For that machine, I had written a review article and created a landing page to order the device from our clinic.
Just for the heck of it, when he placed his order for the machine, I took a look into his contact profile. And oh…my…God…this guy, while he had only filled out two forms in six months, had repeatedly come back to the site to view the article and the landing page. He had visited the website over 50 different occasions and viewed the article and landing pages almost as much. He had barely checked out any other pages at all. He only wanted to know about that particular machine. And it was as if he was trying to convince himself to buy it, but just couldn’t take that last little leap until 6 months later.
Fortunately, we did get this customer’s business. And I hope for as much time he spent reading about that machine, he has gotten his fair use out of it.
But, if I had set up some better lead scoring lists, especially one concerning number of site visits, I would have caught onto him much earlier, and could possibly have sent him a specs sheet, or a testimonial, or some other piece of content that may have gotten him to close sooner.
4.) I didn’t take the time to learn how to utilize social media for business
I’ve never been too big on social media in my personal life. I have a Facebook page, which I use to put pictures on every once in awhile or say happy birthday to an old friend, and I have a LinkedIn page and Twitter account, but I spent more time setting them up than I have actually utilizing them.
Personal preferences aside, one of the reasons I didn’t put too much effort into ASC’s social media management was because of previous efforts. A marketing company had been hired to outsource ASC’s content marketing efforts. This was a company that specialized in business growth through social media.
However, their efforts never really took off. They got the clinic’s Facebook page quite a few likes, but none of that really translated into paying customers.
When I took over and started publishing my articles on all of our platforms, I noticed that most of our social media engagement came from other professionals in the sleep medicine fields.
Doctors, nurse practitioners, sleep technologists, and respiratory therapists all loved to read, like, share, and retweet my articles (some even contacted me to see if they could download my eBooks to distribute to their own patients), but I never saw much traffic from current or potential patients. Not to say that the engagement from professionals was undesirable, far from it. It was helping the clinic grow as a major thought leader in the industry, and gave tons of credibility to our business.
But still, the social media side only ever accounted for around 3% of traffic and less than 1% of business (if that).
I continued to do the bare minimum social media work: posting new content when it came out, and reposting at least one older article a day.
I did take some awkward stabs at social media monitoring in the beginning. I set up some feeds looking for Alaskans that posted keywords like “tired, snoring, sleep apnea, etc.” If, for instance, someone tweeted, “my dad’s snoring is so loud I can hear him from downstairs.” I’d get on there and reply with something like, “It sounds like your dad could have sleep apnea. You may want to show him this article…”
Super awkward. And kind of creepy. So I abandoned stalking the feeds.
But that’s not to say that we couldn’t have found some big wins on social. I think that if I had run some very targeted Facebook ads, we could have drummed up some more business from social. But I was so focused on owning organic search that I never really took the time to learn the social platforms and how to best utilize them.
5.) I should have utilized more smart content
For whatever reason, I didn’t use smart content for a long time. Maybe subconsciously I believed that a visitor only needed to come to the site once, read an article or two, get an eBook, and they’d be so convinced by my words they’d request a sleep assessment right away.
But as mentioned earlier with the crazy travel CPAP guy, I was way off base. Diligent people do their homework. And sleep assessments, and subsequent treatment options, can be very costly, so it shouldn’t have surprised me that people would have to take multiple trips to the site to learn as much as they could before requesting our services.
If I had used more smart CTAs, forms, landing pages, and also been utilizing buyer personas correctly, I could have created more personalized experiences for returning visitors and helped nurture them through their buyer’s journey much quicker.
6.) I didn’t get the company involvement/buy-in I really needed
I had the blessing of the CEO, but most of the other employees were skeptical about my job position at best. They all thought what I was doing was just another ploy that wouldn’t pan out in the long run, and therefore only participated as much as their job required of them (which was basically sending me any new questions they heard).
What the company should have done was have a content marketing workshop to make sure everybody was on board and understood the value that content marketing could bring. Instead, it took me close to a year to show them.
When I started, other people knew that the CEO wanted to pursue a new way of marketing and growing the business, but they didn’t really understand it.
I would explain as best as I could what I was doing and why, but they just thought of me as the website guy.
I haphazardly tried getting them involved. I had everybody sign up for blog article notifications so they’d know what I was publishing in case people called or visited the clinic with specific questions about something they read. But a quick look into “emails opened” in HubSpot showed me not many of them ever read my content.
Not only that, but at least initially, what I was doing seemed to annoy the sales team. When somebody went on the site and requested a sleep assessment, I had all the requests go to one of our technicians, who would call people back to see if they could be scheduled for a study. However, this person started having to deal with making a large volume of calls to people that were not good candidates for our business (many people requesting the studies were from out of state).
To solve that problem, I made CTA’s and landing pages that explicitly stated any person requesting a sleep assessment had to be present in Alaska. I also had a form field entry asking if they lived in Alaska. If they said yes, a dependent field popped up asking which of our 4 locations they were nearest. An internal email would then go to an admin at that location, and they would make the call. This greatly reduced the stress of having one person make all of the sales calls, and also helped create the qualified leads we were after.
But many of the employees still didn’t know how to properly leverage the website when talking with customers. When customers came in to one of the locations or called with questions, the administrators and technicians dealing with them could have easily referenced articles, or even better, gotten their email addresses and promised to send them more information.
Furthermore, I could have taught more of my peers how to use the HubSpot portal to research the leads who were requesting services/products, so they would know more about what the lead had already read and what information they still needed, to better help them make a decision.
Also, not having participation from my coworkers made my video content efforts impossible.
7. I should have leveraged the power of video to produce amazing content
One of the primary reasons I got hired was because of a few snowboard videos I had shot and edited. When applying for the job I had sent in an article I had written for the university’s paper, and a link to a snowboard documentary I had made. I’m not even sure if the CEO ever read my article, but the documentary definitely got his attention.
Unfortunately, nobody working there really wanted to be filmed. Anytime I approached anybody to ask about shooting a video, I got the same responses: I don’t like being on camera, I don’t like the way I sound, So-and-So would be much better at this.
Instead of shooting videos that had these other employees talking about subjects they were experts on, I instead shot talking head videos of myself (and even made my wife participate too). Most of the videos I shot were on the same topics I had written about in blogs, but with me in front of the camera basically repeating what I had already written.
What I should have shot was some great How To videos for patients (things that are best in a visual medium). Things like: How to clean your CPAP mask, how to clean your CPAP machine, how to adjust your mask, how to replace parts, how to change your humidifier, how to change your machine’s settings, etc.
But I wasn’t persistent enough. I should have talked more with the technicians and technologists and explained how valuable those videos would have been to patients. Instead, I epically failed at shooting videos.
8.) I didn’t update customer lifecycle stages (almost at all)
This one is not really my fault as it’s something that I brought up a lot. But it still goes back to not having buy-in from my coworkers. One major piece of information is missing from all of my digital efforts at Alaska Sleep: ROI.
I have no idea how many customers I have actually generated through my efforts.
And because I have no idea how many customers inbound marketing has brought to the company, I have no idea how much revenue was generated for the business.
I know how many visits I’ve gotten to the site, I know how many leads I’ve amassed, and I even know how many of those leads are sales qualified leads. But I don’t know how many of them ever became customers. And I don’t know how much money those customers have brought to the business.
This sounds crazy, right? What is the main reason most businesses turn to content marketing in the first place? Because they’re told it will dramatically increase their bottom line.
So why couldn’t I figure this number out? It should be kind of simple. Two reasons: 1.) I didn’t have access to the various medical database softwares used to track patients and 2.) I didn’t have the buy-in from other coworkers that could have gotten me those figures.
I got somebody to run a report for me one time in my first three months of doing content marketing at a time when I was getting around 7,000 visits a month and about 20-30 leads.
At that time, the revenue brought in was around $20,000. Subtract my pay, and it’s still a pretty healthy ROI of around $11,000. And that was at the beginning.
Now, with close to a quarter million visits and 200 leads each month (and growing) that number could be amazing.
But I can only speculate.
You might be thinking: “Why didn’t you go over your coworkers heads, and talk to a manager or the new CEO? Surely, they would like to know the ROI.”
I thought that too. In several emails, phone calls, and a few in-person conversations (one of the problems with having a business with multiple locations is the big-wigs tend to be spread out) I tried to make the higher ups make it a priority.
But it never happened.
I left around 6 months ago now, and it’s still hasn’t been done. I’ve talked with the current content manager, and she is experiencing similar lack of buy-in. Nobody will run a simple cross reference of people in both the HubSpot database, and people in the medical database.
They know that the efforts are working because they see the numbers going up. People are requesting sleep studies online and ordering devices at an incredible rate, and other professionals in the state are so impressed with the amount of free informational resources we give out that they’re sending patients our way knowing we will educate them properly.
But for some insane reason, it’s never been important enough to measure how much of that new business is a direct result of content marketing.
I never got the buy-in I needed from my colleagues, and that is my biggest failure.
To be fair, while I call this list my 8 biggest content marketing mistakes, many of them are things I learned along the way by trial and error. It would have been impossible for me to know, as a first time content marketer, the multitude of aspects to consider as I built a small businesses website up to a level that is now on par with sites like WebMD and The American Academy of Sleep Medicine for information about sleep health, and online mega retailers like cpap.com for medical device purchases.
And beyond that, all of these mistakes can be corrected fairly easily. In fact, the new content manager is setting out to do just that, and I have my fingers crossed she can get the buy-in that I was never able to achieve. Unfortunately, like I’ve seen with many other businesses, without an outsider coming in for a content marketing workshop, she’s going to have an uphill battle to fight.
But still, if I can help one content manager avoid some of these mistakes and use my story to improve their own efforts, then writing this article will have been worth it.