Content marketing may well be a recently coined term for an age-old practice, but that doesn’t mean marketers have it easy. With the continuous proliferation of communications channels and media—and ever-increasing customer interest in content for information, education, and entertainment—marketers instead are challenged to present relevant content through the most appropriate channels at the optimal time to the right customers. It’s a challenge that presents plenty of opportunity—for errors.
So we asked a dozen content marketing experts the following: What’s one all-too-common bad practice in content marketing, and what should marketers do instead? Here, their responses.
ALEX KRAWITZ, VP, Content Development, Firstborn
One bad practice in content marketing is when brands embark on a content campaign without first creating a content strategy and a road map for it. Content can be an effective means of achieving marketing objectives, but some fundamental questions should be answered first, the most important being, “Why content?” Also, how is content going to be a workhorse for the brand? What does success—and failure—look like? What should customers walk away with? The answers to these questions form the foundation of a sound strategy. With proper planning, content can work hard for your brand.
TIM RIESTERER, Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer, Corporate Visions
Ask marketers if they think they’ve effectively prepared their content marketing messages and you’ll likely hear a resounding, “Yes.” But the sad truth is that too many marketers make one critical mistake: Their content focuses on themselves, what their company does, and what their product features are, rather than on building messages that live in their prospect’s story.
The fact is, people innately want to hear about themselves, which means that unless you as a marketer are able to provide your prospects with materials that address their company, their challenges, or their potential gains, chances are your message will be ineffective and, therefore, lost.
LIZ MILLER, VP of Operations and Programs, CMO Council
One disturbing practice is the “Field of Dreams” approach to content development: Build it and they will come. A white paper could be great, but if it isn’t relevant, timely, and trusted it’s just collection of words. Marketers need to track how the ROI of their content actually aligns with and impacts the customers’ journey. Does it help customers make a shift from their status quo? Does it help clarify their decision-making process? Does it help confirm that customers made the right choice? Far too many times we see a content glut that impacts one part of the experience funnel and forsakes the other stages of the journey. Unless you understand the customers’ journey, how can you understand what content helps them along that path? It’s a bit like building a field without understanding baseball—it can be done, but not done well.
ERIC MARCY, Vice President of Demand Generation and Marketing Operations, SAVO
One of the most common bad practices in content marketing is failing to deliver context-based resources. Blindly pushing content to prospects and customers without knowing what they need, whom they’ve spoken to, and what messages are resonating is like sending spam. Marketers need to realize that if they provide content that isn’t based on the specific needs of their prospects and customers, they will not only fail to add value to their marketing and sales conversations, but they also will lose deals. Whether it’s qualifying a lead or closing a deal, marketers must deliver the right content when and where it will be most relevant, or else they’re only undermining all the hard work they put into creating the content to begin with. To ensure that the messages and timing are right, marketers should track each interaction their brand has with prospects and customers, and use an automated system to make this information readily available to their sales and marketing teams.
JAMES O’BRIEN, President, Aarra
It’s an extremely bad practice when brands use content marketing as a sales pitch. Content marketing shouldn’t be about touting your product or service; if it is, you’ll turn off your customers. It’s really that simple. Instead, offer up content that your customers actually need that’s either entertaining or insightful. The content should emphasize quality over quantity. Say you sell a line of high-end car wash products. Create a series of videos that will show your customers how to properly wash, wax, and maintain their cars. Share with your customers some of the secrets that the pros use. Auto products company Ammo is a great example: Owner Larry Kosilla has created several videos that educate viewers on topics like cleaning car glass, installing window tints, and engine detailing. The expertise demonstrated in the videos instills a sense of trust in customers that Kosilla’s products really are superior, making customers more likely to purchase.
FRANS VAN HULLE, CEO, ReviMedia
There’s an ongoing debate about what’s more important in content marketing: quality or quantity. If you don’t publish content often enough, you may not attract as many visitors as you would hope. One bad practice is publishing content that doesn’t help you convert visitors into leads or followers. The secret is to strike a balance between quantity and quality, rather than choosing one over the other. A good way to engage your audience and gain leads is to publish content that is relevant and informative to your audience on a regular basis.
MITCH KANNER, CEO, 2 Degrees Ventures
Brands often overlook the possibility of enlisting long-form creative partners for their content marketing endeavors. Agency creative has unique skill sets that allow it to speak to consumers about something and, ideally, change behavior. Hollywood knows how to speak to a large audience with narratives that create or sustain pop culture. If the two marry then the best of both worlds are present to create content with brand context. So, if marketers want to create a story that has the power to penetrate pop culture—one that makes people want to share it and socialize it—they should collaborate with the creative community in Hollywood, where they’ll find content creators and storytellers expert in pop culture.
KEVIN KERNER, Managing Editor, Mason Zimbler US
We’re all content consumers—out there searching for content that meets our needs at any given moment in time. Thus, as content consumers ourselves, we know the difference between good and bad content. What’s the secret? I believe there are two primary ingredients: relevance and creativity. Sure, we’re all looking for content that meets a unique need, but perhaps just as important is that no one’s looking to be bored. Many marketers try to be relevant—and maybe they succeed—but they fail in delivering content with both style and substance. We marketers need to deliver relevant information in creative ways that capture attention and interest. How? By being creative with content ideas. Experiment with formats, themes, and creative images that take a relevant story and make it interesting. Try reimagining content in different ways. It’s better for your customers and, frankly, a lot more fun.
CRAIG FITZGERALD, Editorial Director, IMN
One content marketing practice that needs reform is proper budget and resource allocation to execute effective content marketing programs. While content marketing is a priority for marketers, the marketing budget allocated to it doesn’t necessarily reflect its importance. According to the results of IMN’s content marketing survey conducted this past summer, content marketing was a medium or high priority for 90% of respondents, but for nearly half of respondents (46%) it represented less than 10% of the marketing budget.
As more budget is allocated for content marketing programs, marketers will have adequate resources in place to develop content that they’ll be proud of (only 27% of respondents stated that their content establishes their firm as a thought leader), put channel-specific strategies in place, and use basic program tools, such as editorial calendars, to guide content topics and creation responsibilities.
GEORGE WEBSTER, Director of Content Strategy, Critical Mass
Think of content marketing as providing the most relevant content to the most relevant persona at the most relevant time to generate a lead or drive a sale. An all-too-common bad practice, certainly within large corporations, is that this fairly simple proposition can get lost. The good news is it’s relatively easy to fix. Marketers just need to put someone with real authority in charge of content planning and mapping end-to-end throughout a campaign.
Content marketers’ number one priority should be to map content to the needs and objectives of buyer personas. This would ensure, for example, that existing content is identified and used to maximum effect. It also ensures content gaps are identified early in the content creation discussion. This allows marketers to then draft a content strategy around all the great content they never knew they had, in addition to all the new content they’ll be creating.
CHRIS MARENTIS, CEO and Founder, Surefire Social
Today’s digital marketing world is now awash with content, so marketers need to focus on the quality of the content that is produced versus the quantity. Publishing an overabundance of poor content rather than less frequent but more valuable information is a bad practice. This can make the difference between real engagement and negative consequences for SEO. Additionally, while promotions should be a part of your overall marketing mix, content shouldn’t be promotional. Create educational or informative content that relates to your product, local community, or favorite social causes to show your business’s personality. Prospects are more likely to comment on, share, and like interesting and relevant posts, which ultimately increases your social signals for SEO and overall online visibility for your business.
MATT CREAMER, Executive Editor, kbs+ Content Labs
A common misperception—and a bad practice—is thinking of content marketing as purely an earned-media activity that doesn’t need support with a paid-media budget. It’s a result of too many folks refusing to let go of the old paid-earned-owned media slide in their preso decks, which, elegant as it was, doesn’t accurately reflect a world where lines between PR, advertising, media, and content are increasingly blurred.
There’s no doubt that any content program worth the name needs to have legs on the social Web or be a trigger for PR. But you can’t expect your audience or the news media to do all the work for you. The truth is that even the most compelling, relevant content will benefit from living in paid channels. So, it’s a smart idea to reserve some budget that will give your content a paid push.