Why would a format fail?

As content creators, we often get caught up in the details of our work – the words, the images, the overall message we want to convey. But before any of that comes the format, which acts as the foundation on which we build our content. Without a solid format, even the most thoughtful and engaging content can flounder. So what leads a format to fail, and how can content creators avoid those pitfalls?

What is a Format?

When we talk about format, we’re referring to the overall structure and layout of a piece of content. This includes things like:

  • The general category it falls into – e.g. blog post, video, podcast episode
  • Where it will be published – e.g. website, YouTube, podcast platform
  • How information is organized and presented – headings, sections, visuals
  • The tone and style used

The format provides a kind of scaffolding that supports the actual content. It shapes the user experience and influences how information is absorbed and interpreted.

Why Choose the Right Format?

Selecting the right format for your content is critical for a few key reasons:

  • Reaching your target audience – Different demographics tend to engage with different formats. For example, video and podcasts cater well to younger audiences, while longform blog posts appeal more to an older crowd.
  • Optimization for search engines – Search engines factor format into relevancy and ranking. Having content in multiple formats (e.g. blog posts and videos) can improve visibility.
  • Suitability for your goals – Certain formats lend themselves better to specific goals like educating, entertaining, selling, etc. Matching format to intent helps you achieve the desired outcome.
  • Standing out – Having a novel or unexpected format can help your content distinguish itself in a sea of familiar formats.

In short, the right format helps attract the right people, get discovered online, accomplish your objectives, and create something truly unique.

Why Might a Format Fail?

When it comes to format failure, there are a few common culprits:

Mismatched Audience and Format

If your audience skews older and more traditional, an unexpected format like a TikTok video may not resonate. Conversely, a younger demographic may find certain formats like white papers and ebooks dull. Failing to match format to audience is a recipe for poor engagement.

Overreliance on Trendy Formats

Jumping on the latest viral format can backfire if it’s not an authentic fit for your brand. For example, brands rushing to make their own version of the “flip the switch” challenge on TikTok often came across as inauthentic. Don’t force formats that don’t align with your content goals.

Thin or Low-Quality Content

Certain formats like videos and podcasts rely heavily on high-value content to fill their runtimes. Not having enough solid information to work with can stretch your format too thin.

Poor Execution

You may have a format with potential, but fail to execute it well. For example, a podcast with bad audio quality, or a video with sloppy editing. Shoddy execution can ruin even the best formatting choices.

Overcomplicating the Format

Sometimes the allure of creativity leads us to over-engineer our format in ways that distract or detract from the content. Fancy flourishes should enhance, not complicate.

Examples of Format Failures

To make format failures more concrete, let’s look at some real-world examples:

Google Glass

Google Glass was wearable technology that projected information directly into the user’s field of vision via a built-in display. While the concept was intriguing, the format failed for a few reasons:

  • The interface was awkward and distracting when doing everyday tasks
  • Wearing an obvious computer on your face made Google Glass users stand out in unflattering ways
  • Privacy concerns around a head-mounted camera arose

The novelty of the format backfired by disrupting social norms and failing to integrate smoothly into people’s lives. Google eventually pivoted Glass to focus on business and industrial uses.

Twitter Stories

In 2020, Twitter tested a new “Stories” format – short ephemeral photos and videos that disappear after 24 hours. This mimicked the popular Stories format across Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat.

But Twitter Stories failed to gain traction for a few reasons:

  • It felt like a blatant attempt to duplicate a format popular elsewhere, rather than an authentic addition to the Twitter experience.
  • There was no compelling reason for disappearing content given Twitter’s nature as a public conversation platform.
  • The fastest-growing user segment on Twitter is older adults, who are less attracted to the Stories format.

By essentially trying to make Twitter act more like Snapchat, Twitter Stories clashed with the existing format norms on the platform.


Back in 2011, Google launched its own social network called Google+ to compete with Facebook. It failed for multiple reasons despite Google’s resources and user base:

  • The core format of being a social network was not compelling enough to pull people away from entrenched platforms like Facebook.
  • Features like Circles for organizing connections were not intuitive or useful enough to drive engagement.
  • There was no sense of a unique social graph or network effect – most users’ connections just duplicated their other networks.

Essentially, Google+ lacked a formatting innovation or hook that solved an unmet need – it existed as a “me too” platform without standing on its own.

How to Choose a Winning Format

The examples above illustrate how even big brands can fail when they don’t get the format right. So how do you go about selecting a format poised for success? Here are some tips:

Know Your Audience

Survey your target audience to learn their content preferences. What formats do they engage with most on social media or through email? Where are they spending time online? Build on existing behaviors.

Set Clear Goals

Know exactly what you want to achieve – educate, entertain, sell, etc. Consider which formats are naturally suited to those outcomes. For example, tutorials work well for teaching.

Prototype and Test

Try creating small test versions of different formats before committing. Share them with a sample of your audience and get feedback through surveys or focus groups. Iteration is key.

Analyze the Competition

See what formats competitors are using – then zag when they zig. If everyone in your niche creates whitepapers, maybe produce a series of videos instead.

Stand for Something

Build your format around a unique viewpoint or positioning. For example, Vice News’ edgy, unfiltered approach stood out in the news space.

Leverage Data and Trends

Stay on top of data around media consumption and digital culture. For example, the rise of podcasting as people seek audio content. But chase trends carefully rather than following blindly.

Focus on Quality Execution

A format will fail without strong execution even if the concept is good. Invest in mastering the production values for any format you adopt.

Evolve Based on Feedback

Be open to tweaking your format over time based on user feedback. Treat your format like a living thing that can adapt rather than a static finished product.


Format goes beyond superficial style – it directly impacts the way your audience engages with your content. Suboptimal formats lead to confusion, disinterest, and missed opportunities. But the right format resonates deeply when tailored to your goals, audience, and unique positioning. Avoid format failure by prototyping options, learning from data, and evolving your execution. With deliberate formatting choices, you can craft content that cuts through the noise to captivate your audience.

Format Potential Pitfalls Keys to Success
Blog Post Getting longwinded, overly promotional Clear structure, scannable sections, useful information
Video Poor editing and production value, thin script High-quality visuals, snappy pacing, entertaining presentation
Podcast Rambling off-topic, distracting background noise Tight editing, strong host personalities, compelling conversation flow
eBook Too salesy, dry writing, dated information Helpful advice, readable style, evergreen topic

This table summarizes common format pitfalls to avoid, along with factors that contribute to successful execution across popular formats like blog posts, videos, podcasts, and eBooks. Keeping these keys to success in mind while steering clear of potential downsides can help ensure your choice of format effectively supports your content.

Here are some additional tips for choosing the right format:

Test engagement with different formats

Try publishing content across multiple formats and see which ones resonate most with your audience by measuring engagement, downloads, conversions, etc. Let actual data guide your format choices.

Evaluate your resources

Consider your available team skills and production resources. Developing video or podcast content requires different skills than writing blog posts and ebooks.

Define key objectives and KPIs

Have clear goals and success metrics for each content format. These may include visibility, lead generation, dwell time, retention, etc. Use these KPIs to determine which formats perform best.

Adapt formats for different stages

Use different formats for the awareness vs decision vs retention stages of the buyer’s journey. For example, use video for awareness, gated content for consideration, email newsletters for retention.

Personalize formats

Leverage data and testing to tailor formats to different personas and segments. Create formats optimized for boomers vs millennials, enterprise vs SMB, etc.

Repurpose and promote content across formats

Take one core piece of content and publish it across multiple formats. Then cross-promote content formats to drive users from one to another.

By tapping into data, optimizing for objectives, adapting to audience needs, and maximizing promotion, you can develop a content format strategy built for success.