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Content Marketing by Dummies

Are you breaking any of the 12 deadly sins of content marketing? Content marketing strategist Barry Feldman points out what to avoid.

Content marketing by Dummies by Barry Feldman

You’re not a dummy, are you?

Thanks to the publishing giant Wiley, we often concede to dumminess when buying a (Blank) for Dummies book, but only to accept the fact we must learn the fundamentals of some field or practice.

In my mind, the more deserving bearer of the dummy label belongs to those who have put in the learning time, but proceed to ignore the lessons. Of course, one must admit, we’re all dummies of sorts as we play the content marketing game because almost everything is an experiment. We seldom know enough to know what outcomes to expect.

Given that I spend massive chunks of time writing, reading and analyzing content, I thought it might be helpful to point out the mistakes I believe dummies commonly commit in an effort to help you avoid them.

Dummies fire first

Ready, aim, fire is the classic formula for hitting a target, but fire, ready, aim continues to be modus operandi for dummies far and wide. Content marketing doesn’t work that way.

Industry research continues to reveal seriously sad stats indicating the majority of content marketers are not confident their efforts are effective. And when asked if they’ve documented a content marketing strategy, sadly, this group is forced to admit they have not.

Effective content marketing programs begin with strategies. The strategies need not be complicated. They simply need to define:

  • The role of content marketing in the marketing strategy at large
  • Audience segments and media preferences
  • The buyer’s journey and how content will map to it
  • The people responsible for creating the content and the processes required to get the work done
  • How progress will be measured and reported

Dummies don’t listen

As crazy as it sounds, an alarming number of content marketers aren’t tuned into the needs and wants of their audience. Great content marketers know exactly what to create because they listen to their audience.

Here’s how to tune your listening skills:

  • Create personas that define ideal customers with details such as age, gender, profession, education and income levels, lifestyle, ambitions, fears and buying patterns
  • Identify problems prospects must address
  • Ask the people in your company with customer-facing roles to help you compile a list of questions prospects and customers ask
  • Determine topics that have performed well in your niche based on social media shares and comments
  • Track news and trends with Google Alerts and social monitoring tools
  • Conduct surveys via email and/or with site visitors
  • Ask prospects and customers what interests them

Dummies perpetually pitch

Old habits die hard. So, though they may attempt to develop content marketing programs, marketers often cling to publishing advertising, PR and sales-based stuff, which run the risk of repelling readers.

Worse still, marketers sabotage the trust they aim to build by attempting to disguise salesy content as educational. I see this all too often in the form of webinars, which are promoted as lessons, but delivered as product presentations.

If you want to establish trust, ditch the pitch. Focus on delivering useful content free of “pay me now” sales tactics. You’ll succeed in building an audience. You’ll have ample opportunities to nurture leads and will offer your product when the prospect expresses interest.

Dummies pinch pennies

Content marketers can be dangerously frugal. Is it a symptom of being juked into thinking content marketing is inexpensive? I believe so. The process might go something like this…

  • Marketers learn they can turn up the content efforts and turn down the media spending, then
  • Attempt to generate a steady flow of content, but
  • Discover they need help from writers, designers, producers, etc., so
  • They sub the work out to whoever will do it for the lowest fees

The result? At best, you get words on pages (maybe keywords on pages). You might increase traffic, but it’s unlikely you’ll build relationships, generate sales or develop brand advocates.

Dummies value volume

Self-appointed content marketing experts preach the need for volume, and companies often respond by forgoing quality. Publishing crappy content will not produce the desired results. In fact, it will backfire.

Commit to creating quality content by:

  • Hiring the best talent
  • Investing the time required
  • Surpassing the quality of content competitors create
  • Carefully checking the accuracy and quality of everything
  • Purchasing or creating quality images and graphics

Dummies play it safe

“Me too” content runs rampant. All day, every day you’ll come across highly derivative blog posts, infographics, podcasts and such with zero differentiation. There’s no point in looking for the brand’s signature because none exists.

Smart content marketers refuse to blend in. They don’t default to the safe route. They blaze trails.

Aim to cover new territory. Develop a unique voice. When you write about popular topics, spin it somehow. Put your fingerprints all over it. Make it deeper, bolder, funnier, more controversial, more conversational, and better looking.

“In order to get eyeballs on your content, you first have to get people’s attention. How do you do that? By being different. Saying something no one else is saying. Saying it in your own voice instead of business-speak. Delivering your content in a fresh, new way. Taking the time to add engaging elements to your message, so it’s fun to watch or read.” — Kathryn Aragon, “Marketers, You’re Doing it Wrong”

Dummies are anti-social

As preposterous as it may sound, a huge number of content marketers leave social media out of the equation. Content marketing and social media are bedfellows. Marketers, your social media depends on content and vise versa.

Dummies go it alone

I hope I was clear when I wrote “Influencer Marketing: Proven Tactics to Put to Work Now.” Though I attempted to make many points, my most important point was you need to use the principle of reciprocity to gain influence. As I wrote, influencer marketing and content marketing are best friends.

If you missed the post, please read it and understand how important it is to create content for and with influential leaders in your niche. Go it alone and you’re bound to forever feel alone. If you’re not satisfied with a miniscule audience, the secret to seeing it multiply is to capitalize on the reach and resonance that can only be delivered by influencers.

Dummies don’t nurture leads

Dare I straddle the line between content marketing and email marketing? I do dare. They too are wed.

Dummy content marketers don’t see it this way. They worship web traffic, but fail to understand how small a percentage of visitors are actually ready to buy.

If you rather not be a dummy you must recognize a lead nurturing program is vital to your content marketing efforts.

Dummies don’t respond

If there’s one widely embraced content marketing tenet I’m reluctant to endorse, it’s the editorial calendar. Sure, if yours is a multi-person team, with multimedia-producing initiatives, and multi-step content marketing processes, scheduling can be useful.

However, allowing your editorial calendar to command every move you make is a mistake. New media changes at the speed of screen flicker. You need to be nimble. Respond to what’s hot. Take in the news and make some of your own.

Plan all you want and as needed. But also, plan to make adjustments.

Dummies come and go

Q: What is the number one reason blogs or content marketing programs fail?

A: They stop.

Sometimes they don’t fully commit to stopping. So they pause. Both are recipes for failure.

Big gaps in your publishing frequency create big doubts in the minds of your audience. There’s simply no place in content marketing for drifters. Or sprinters. Or dab-your-toe-inners.

You have to publish regularly, often, and forever more. If you can’t see yourself blogging, creating media, and following through with email two years from now, you should give up the idea of content marketing two minutes from now.

Dummies expect miracles

Hopefully, no marketer has led you to believe content marketing will generate fast and obvious results because it won’t.

“Quick fix” is absent from the vocabulary of the savvy content marketer. Your company needs to accept content marketing has a specific role in your overall marketing strategy, will require tremendous resolve, and a good deal of patience.

Make a long-term commitment and push forth even if short-term results don’t fill your sails. Ditch the campaign mentality. Stay focused on your audience, strategic objectives and execution.

Did I get something wrong? What did I miss? Your ideas are welcome here. We’re all in this thing to improve. And learn.

  • Jeroen

    Story of my life