A lot is written about how to succeed at content marketing. It’s a complicated thing to get right and there’s a how-to guide for every element.
Marketing leaders and their supporting casts do their best to implement a practical subset of this advice, within inevitable resource constraints.
Many of them do a really good job, getting a lot of things right.
Until they don’t.
Like the racing driver who is on a personal best lap, only to wreck at the penultimate corner, they make mistakes that undermine everything they’ve worked so hard to construct.
In this week’s post, I’ve highlighted eight errors that exhibit nasty consequences but are relatively easy to avoid (or fix).
Avoid these self-destruct buttons and you will stand a better chance of delivering a successful B2B content marketing strategy.
The marketing team invests time and brainpower to develop a coherent brand, combining visual elements (colors, fonts, images) and personality (voice, tone, style).
It all works well together, and your target audience begins to recognize and appreciate the content your company publishes.
Then a piece—or even a campaign—goes out that sounds completely different.
It’s like turning on your favorite TV show and seeing a different actor—with a very different voice and style—playing the lead.
What on earth just happened? What does it mean?
The audience grows accustomed to your brand’s voice (assuming you define it properly and are consistent in applying it to your content) and is distracted by the dissonance a change in voice creates.
Everything your company publishes should sound like it comes from the same place, if not the same person. One voice, always. Don’t let it slip.
The next implosion happens if your company fails to act when a piece of content strays beyond your brand guidelines.
Comprehensive brand guidelines explain the elements mentioned earlier—why they were chosen, why they matter, and how they should and shouldn’t be applied.
Piece by piece, across a range of channels, content gets published that employs the brand as it was intended.
Then, for whatever situation-specific reason, a content producer decides to “ski off-piste”.
Perhaps they couldn’t convey their message using images the brand allows, so they tossed in a few of their own to jazz things up.
Or maybe a non-standard font caught their eye and they decided to use it in their latest deck.
It happens. People get creative.
The real problem arises when it continues unchecked.
Off-brand content and marketing materials must be intercepted and rejected.
Ideally, your content production process will culminate in a managing editor’s review designed to catch any non-conforming elements. But not all content goes through the formal production process.
Be diligent, even—or perhaps, especially—with people who’ve worked with your brand for a long time. Complacency breeds contempt.
If you’ve read any of the posts I’ve published about the buyer’s journey, you’ll know that content for the awareness and evaluation stages should be product agnostic.
At those early stages in their journey, buyer’s are trying to answer questions; they’re not ready to buy anything.
The most valuable thing you can do for them is to share relevant, helpful information.
And much of that information will be about their situation, not your solution.
If you get salesy too soon, you’ll come across as aggressive and destroy any trust that you’ve built with the prospect.
More helpful, less pushy competitors will steal the prospect’s attention and you’ll have a hard time winning it back and closing the sale.
As part of your content planning and production process, be clear what stage of the buyer’s journey each piece is targeting.
Then, ensure that content for the awareness and evaluation stages is sufficiently product agnostic.
Sooner or later, every content team finds itself in a crunch.
Whether it’s a predictable resource shortage due to planned absence or a crisis elsewhere in the business that diverts team members’ time and attention, there’s content to be published and not enough hands on deck.
It’s tempting to say, “we’ll just skip this week’s post” or “one less video won’t make a difference,” but the impact can be much worse than it seems.
Consistency takes time to build. Your audience gradually becomes accustomed to finding news posts at a particular time and place.
Miss an episode and you’ll leave them disappointed.
Miss a few episodes, here and there, now and then, and your reputation as a regular contributor of valuable content will crumble.
The same is true for your reputation with search and social media algorithms, which reward regular content production.
Build a buffer of unpublished content into which you can dip when the need arises.
Choose a production cadence that you can easily sustain when fully resourced, so that you can still keep it up when resources are depleted or distracted.
And when the crunch happens, stand firm. Don’t let temptation undermine your consistency.
So much great content ends up seen by almost no one because the budget spent on distribution is too low.
It costs as little as a few hundred dollars to dramatically increase the reach of a social media post.
Blog posts should never be published without some sort of multi-channel promotion.
If you can’t afford to promote your content, why invest the resources to develop it in the first place?
There’s a minimum amount you need to invest for content marketing to be successful.
Make sure an appropriate slice of that pie is directed to content delivery and promotion.
In an attempt to keep content flowing—or to reduce the resources needed to make it flow—marketers are tempted to lean on third-party resources, both human and digital.
Ghostwriters are an excellent resource for generating large volumes of content in response to a subject brief. They do the heavy lifting of research and copywriting, leaving you to edit, polish, and publish.
Generative AI tools are arguably even better, hoovering up relevant material from the web and presenting it in a structured way.
However, neither is a true substitute for in-house content production.
Although human ghostwriters and AI tools will both try to imitate your voice and style, they can’t entirely replicate your opinions and beliefs.
Authenticity is what makes genuine, hand-crafted content stand out from the robotic, generic noise.
Your buyers are highly attuned to finding authentic content and discarding the rest. It’s called their BS meter.
To sustain authenticity, every piece of content your company publishes should sound like it comes from the same person or team.
Ask yourself, “Would I have written that?”, “Would I have said it that way?”, “What do I have to say about this subject?”, and, “Do I believe everything that’s written in this piece?”
If there’s a gap, don’t let it go to press.
Re-edit the piece, inject your legitimate opinions and style, then check it again.
Another way to quickly lose trust that you’ve built up with your audience is by ignoring their feedback or dismissing it as overblown or insignificant.
When you invite comments, read them, think about them, and respond appropriately.
Publish the good, the bad, and the ugly—and take ownership of all three.
If someone has a legitimate concern or complaint, make it right in public. Don’t try to conceal it or “take it offline” unless it raises privacy concerns.
By all means, moderate the conversation so that bots, trolls, and the truly crazy aren’t given meaningless airtime.
But be careful not to dismiss legitimate, if misinformed, feedback.
Nothing shines brighter than transparency, candor, and a genuine interest in dialog and making things right.
I’ve left this one until last because it’s the most insidious, prevalent, and preventable self-destruct mechanism triggered by B2B content marketing teams (or the leaders responsible for funding them).
Content marketing takes time. Often, much longer than leaders expect.
My rule of thumb is 6-12 months for a content marketing strategy to deliver meaningful results—even longer if it’s the first time the company embarks on content marketing, since there’s a lot of foundational work to be done.
I hear many leaders asking for “quick wins” and “early results”—sometimes in as little as 90 days.
Sure, they can happen. But I’m not going to make that kind of promise.
There are usually some low-hanging fruit to be gathered and quick wins to be had, but that’s not the same as sustained return on content marketing investment.
To realize those long-term, sustainable gains, the strategy must play out over a longer timeframe, with resources assigned accordingly.
Giving up on content marketing tactics before they’ve had a chance to bear fruit is commonplace in today’s fast-paced, instant gratification society.
Stick to your guns. Stick to the plan. Stick it out when the going gets tough and results don’t seem to be coming as thick and fast as you’d like.
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Image credits: Adobe Stock