Skip to content

7 Content Marketing Truths That Would’ve Saved Quibi From Going Qui-Bye

Over a billion dollars invested in short-form content.

That’s the nine-word origin story of Quibi. An abbreviation for “quick bites,” Quibi was designed to be a mobile disruptor, a short-video streaming service featuring big-name celebrities.

It seemed like the perfect recipe for content success – people with huge fan followings in content that would appeal to audiences with supposedly the shortest attention spans in history. And it was led by two stalwarts in business and entertainment: Meg Whitman and Jeffery Katzenberg.

But six months after launch, Quibi went bust.

And yet, streaming services are experiencing a boom. Millions of people stuck at home sit in front of screens, stretching their evenings into the early morning and losing weekends to binge-watching that original series on Netflix,  season after season of that classic sitcom on Hulu, or recommendation after recommendation on YouTube.

How did Quibi miss? Business school students may dissect its failure for years. But savvy content marketers will quickly spot these seven errors in the thinking behind Quibi’s plan.

1. Length isn’t a magic number

Quibi’s creators assumed people watching on mobile devices would pay for content delivered in short “chapters” they could consume on the go. But long-form streaming services have mobile apps, too, and they’re fully equipped with pause buttons that let viewers watch as much or as little as they have time for.

As it turns out, people using mobile devices choose what to watch the way most viewers do – based on the content they’re interested in, not on the most appropriate length for their current situation.

The importance of length is a common question – and debate ­– in content marketing. A Google search reveals many headlines and snippets advocating for going long. But the real answer – it depends – shows up in the details.

Read this advice from a HubSpot blog post: “For SEO, the ideal blog post length should be 2,100 to 2,400 words, according to HubSpot data.”

But that sentence doesn’t reflect the full context. HubSpot explains the analysis of its 50 most-read blog posts found word counts ranging from 333 to 5,581. More than 30% – 16 of those successful posts – came in at less than 1,500 words.

Takeaway: Don’t rely on word count or video length as the starting (or selling) point for all content creation.

Length isn’t everything. That’s one #ContentMarketing truth that could’ve saved @Quibi from spectacular failure, says @AnnGynn via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

2. A big budget doesn’t guarantee big success

Quibi raised $1.75 billion. When it folded six months later, reports indicated it only had $350 million left to return to investors.

That’s not just a flop; that’s a bomb.

Content marketers know success isn’t predicated on the budget line. While 69% of B2C and 79% of B2B marketers say their content marketing programs are successful, 41% of B2C and 47% of B2B marketers report budgets of less than $100,000. (And 29% of B2C and 27% of B2B have no established content marketing budget.)

Takeaway: Don’t assume success is out of reach if your content marketing budget is small – or that it’s a given if your budget is big.

Don’t assume success is out of reach when your #ContentMarketing budget is small – or that it’s a given if your budget is big, says @AnnGynn via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

3. New, shiny things don’t always catch the eyes

As Ahiza García-Hodges writes for NBC News: “Quibi also lacked the advantage held by … Disney+, HBO Max, and NBC Universal’s Peacock, which had deep catalogs of content that was already popular with viewers.”

As someone who works in content marketing day after day, you know content fatigue – the been-there, done-that feeling. So when a fresh or innovative idea comes along, you want to jump at the opportunity to do it to get out of your content rut.

But that’s only a smart decision if your audience feels similarly.

Takeaway: Ask your audience before you create the next big thing – or even that small thing that’s outside your brand’s content comfort zone. Pull together a focus group, do a survey, or at least ask a handful of customers and employees outside of marketing for their input.

4. Pushing the sale pushes away the prospects

Quibi projected over 7 million subscribers in the first year. It got less than 75,000. Analysts point out Quibi never offered a free viewing tier – it always focused on paid subscribers (though it did offer a free 90-day trial.)

There’s a problem with only seeing the audience as a collection of wallets. Sometimes, people need to trust the content provider – especially a new player – before they hand over their credit card information (which Quibi required even for free trial periods.)

YouTube launched in 2005, but it didn’t add a paid option, YouTube Red (now YouTube Premium), until 2015. NBCUniversal took a similar strategy with its streaming service, Peacock. Launched last year, it has both free and paid subscription options.

Successful marketers know content marketing is not about the direct sale. It’s about building an audience with the goal of getting them to ultimately take a profitable action (i.e., a sale).

Successful marketers know #ContentMarketing is not about the direct sale, but rather building an audience with the goal of getting them to take a profitable action, says @AnnGynn via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Takeaway: Focus on building an audience. As audience members start to view your brand as a trusted resource, they’re more likely to buy when they need your products or services.

5. Your audience can also be your cheerleaders

Quibi purposely coded its content so viewers couldn’t take screenshots or share the content. They wanted to protect the copyrights of their content. In doing so, they minimized the value of their subscribers’ role in promotion – prohibiting them from creating memes and sharing screenshots on their social channels that could have generated more interest in Quibi content.

A month after launch, Quibi realized its mistake and updated the app to allow sharing.

Content marketers know a share or mention by their audiences is usually worth far more than a paid ad impression. As research shows, people are far more likely to trust a brand and buy from it when they learn about it from a family member or friend.

Takeaway: Create opportunities to enlist your fans into promoting your content, brand, and products.

Ignore meme culture – and other opportunities to enlist fans to share your #content – at your peril. @Quibi learned this #ContentMarketing lesson the hard way, says @AnnGynn via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

6. Myopic content delivery creates a bad picture

Quibi was all about viewing on mobile devices. As people stayed home because of the pandemic, the vision for on-the-go content took a hit. Quibi wasn’t built for viewing on TV screens. The team fixed that only after its April 6, 2020, launch.

Sure, Quibi made the change within a few months of launch. But why didn’t the team think to do it before it went live? Maybe the Quibi leaders couldn’t see outside their mobile-only tunnel – pandemic or not.

Successful content marketers know – and the pandemic has been a great reminder – that they need to adapt and change as their audience’s behavior, informational needs, and interests evolve. Whether it’s a delivery method, a content format, or topics, it’s important to track the happenings in your audience’s lives that relate to your business and content purposes.

Takeaway: Create and deliver content for varying audience interests and behaviors.

7. Never think you know better than your audience

Quibi involved some of the most successful and powerful people in the entertainment and business worlds – leading experts in what they do. The company had over a billion dollars to work with and still couldn’t connect with the intended audience.

Always get outside the conference room and the talking heads. Talk with people on the frontlines – your internal teams (like customer service and sales) and your external audiences (your customers, readers, viewers, and listeners).

Takeaway: Ask questions. Listen to the answers. Embrace the naysayers and the cheerleaders because both have valuable input.

Creating content for an audience this way is far more likely to bring success to your brand. And even if you don’t hit it out of the park at first, at least you didn’t lose a billion dollars.

Never miss an important content marketing truth. Sign up for CMI’s free weekday or weekly newsletter.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute