In a rush to hop on the content-marketing train, too many companies are neglecting a classic lesson: Produce content that viewers actually want.
This valuable bit of guidance originally aired in the late 20th century (on Feb. 9, 1997, to be precise), back when content marketing was called “advertorials” and “thought leadership.” It was presented in Episode 167 of The Simpsons, “The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show,” in which new character Poochie—a sunglasses-wearing, surfboard-toting dog—is introduced to goose flagging ratings of “The Itchy & Scratchy Show” (the animated show-within-a-show that the Simpson children watch).
Poochie completely fails as a character and as a content strategy. But he’s a perfect example of what happens when out-of-touch executives impose their own ideal of “cool” on the creative process while ignoring why viewers tune in to their content.
While researching an article on leading content marketing programs, I heard about Poochie proclivities often enough to realize that they qualify as major pitfalls. Here are a few other content marketing do’s and don’ts to keep in mind.
1. Don’t sell: “Are you ready to produce content that doesn’t list features, sell the product or service, or overtly promote your business?” asks Mark Pinsent, social and content lead for digital marketing agency Metia. “Is your team ready to authentically invest in engaging conversations with your audience for the purpose of satisfying [customers’] personal goals?”
As Pinsent points out, those goals should relate to your brand. But cultivating those conversations with (not to) customers and prospects requires time. Just ask Xerox. “Our approach is to take the long view,” says Ken Ericson, director, global social marketing for Xerox. He says that Xerox B2B decision-makers “need a place for advice and insight, and they don’t want to feel like they’re part of a sales pitch.” By providing a stream of quality editorial content over time, Ericson says, his company strives “to build trust and advocacy for what we do as a company.”
2. Do measure: This is sort of a no-brainer, but many companies still fail to measure their content in an effective way. Doing so requires establishing a clear link between metrics and business objectives. That’s no small feat given the current abundance of digital measures (e.g., visitors, page views, length of stay, social media shares, product/service information requests, events attended, etc.). “Measurement, by far, is the biggest challenge” in taking content marketing to the next level, asserts Dan Berthiaume, principal of CMO Communications for Adobe.
Therefore, the best content marketing programs begin by measuring everything and then wisely winnowing down their measures to those with the most direct links to business objectives—all while consistently reevaluating the efficacy of each metric. Successful content marketers continually ask why they’re tracking specific metrics.
3. Don’t pitch a Poochie: Establishing clear content marketing objectives (linked to business goals, of course) and continually refining how progress is measured doesn’t guarantee the elimination of shoddy practices and ideas. Some of the best content marketing programs start with some major mistakes. The marketing chief of a leading B2B consultancy told me that his firm first created a blog site by trying to emulate those on The New York Times and Harvard Business Review. That approach quickly proved faulty because of two things: First, the company couldn’t produce nearly enough content (at least three new posts per day) to keep the site fresh; second, its readers believed that it better to be educated and informed on a narrower band of topics than to be presented with a broader collection of subjects.
Missteps like those can impact the team, as well. Not only did the Simpsons’ introduction of Poochie turn off viewers who were repelled by senior marketers’ hackneyed idea of “cool,” but it also sapped morale in the writers’ room. Doh! That’s an old lesson worth keeping in mind today as more marketers enlist their subject-matter-expert colleagues to play content producers.