Editor’s note: Though blunders, overestimations, flubs, and missteps always pop up, we brought back this article to help you identify what content marketing mistakes you can avoid (or fix).
Sure, we can learn from our mistakes. But we also can learn from others’ mistakes and avoid making them. As best-selling author and marketing consultant Roy H. Williams says, that’s the difference between being smart and being wise.
To help you be wiser, we enlisted the help of some smart and wise people who have presented at Content Marketing World.
They share some of the mistakes they’ve encountered – and offer tips on how you can avoid them in your own content marketing programs.
Mistake: Trying to be everything
For seven years, we put out blog posts that showed how diverse Jordan Winery was as a business – posts about cooking, gardening, farming, floral design, travel, winemaking, construction, and news. This kept us from maintaining a loyal subscriber base. The same customer who wants to learn which is the best kitchen knife to use likely doesn’t care about how grapevines bloom or how floods impact vineyards.
How to fix it: We divided our content into two blogs – one focused on food and travel, and one focused more on winemaking.
Lisa Mattson, director of marketing and communications, Jordan Vineyard & Winery
Mistake: Getting off on wrong foot
The biggest mistake I’ve ever made in content production is not listening to customers first – or not looking at suggestions and clues left by search engines that might have told me what people want.
How to fix it: Don’t write content for any other purpose than helping people to solve a problem.
Wil Reynolds, CEO, Seer Interactive
Mistake: Failing to stop and think
I lived by the quantity of content on social media. I manage five brands and was posting six to eight times on Facebook, three to four times on Twitter, and once on Instagram for each, trying to keep my numbers up and it was burning me out. I never had time to really consider the kind of content I was publishing.
How to fix it: I began to publish less but took time to make sure the content I was creating and publishing was quality and would connect with my audience on a deeper level. My numbers soared even higher.
Jason Schemmel, social media manager, Harper Collins Christian Publishing
Mistake: Focusing on a self-satisfaction goal
Quality content is much harder than quantity. Quantity makes us feel as if we are accomplishing something: “Look at all that!”
How to fix it: Do quality, which takes more time but is far more worth the effort.
Stoney deGeyter, president, Pole Position Marketing
Mistake: Setting virality as a goal
Nobody can make anything go viral. It either happens or it doesn’t. I don’t create content for virality.
How to fix it: Create content to be helpful.
Chad Pollitt, vice president of marketing, inPowered
Mistake: Saying yes to every project
Brands often do content marketing on a budget that does not allow for true test and learns, for doing it the right way, yet then judge the results accordingly.
How to fix it: Know when it simply isn’t worth doing if it isn’t going to be done well.
Gordon Price Locke, chief marketing officer, Pace
Mistake: Going rogue
Often, one or more people on the team may have separate KPIs (key performance indicators) in mind, and without a clear discussion, they can end up creating what they think is a great campaign but achieves the wrong objectives.
How to fix it: Before starting, decide what you want to accomplish and design your content campaign and measurement around that objective to ensure that you’re all working toward the same goal.
Melanie Deziel, founder, StoryFuel
Mistake: Going overboard
My mistake was oversharing and saturation of the same core audience.
How to fix it: I now diversify who I send content to, and how often.
Chuck Hester, client services director, Converge Consulting
Mistake: Thinking writers must be experts
Years ago, I told a professor that I didn’t feel qualified to write about a topic because I was unable to provide concrete answers to the problem.
How to fix it: She told me that it wasn’t about knowing the answers, it’s more important to ask the right questions.
Rebecca Lieb, analyst and founding partner, Kaleido Insights
Mistake: Assuming audience will find the content
I’m not a content marketer; but I’ve worked with a team to market my book. My biggest mistake was assuming the virtue of my work would attract an audience.
How to fix it: I have to work hard to make people aware of my book, Good Charts, but it’s worth it.
Scott Berinato, senior editor, Harvard Business Review
Mistake: Serving everything at once
I love the big idea; but sharing the big idea and expecting others to immediately buy in is a fool’s errand.
How to fix it: The key is to share your thought process first, then pitch the idea.
Jay Acunzo, creator and host, Unthinkable
Mistake: Underestimating the power of the status quo
About 15 years ago, I decided traditional advertising had to die soon because it didn’t make any sense in a digital world. If I knew then what I know now, I would have understood how the status quo resists change.
How to fix it: Create and provide supportive services to help clients slowly transition from siloed analog organizations to integrated digital ones.
Kirk Cheyfitz, principal consultant, Kirk Cheyfitz Content+Strategy
Mistake: Listening only to customer research
“Voice of the customer” research creates commoditized content. Responding only to known or stated customer needs with offerings not dissimilar from your competition means the only distinction your content can claim is the logo of the company on it.
How to fix it: Create an edge or uncertainty in your content to disrupt your buyer’s status quo bias and overcome the biggest barrier to success: your prospect’s aversion to change. Be original and fresh to create clear differentiation.
Tim Riesterer, chief strategy and marketing officer, Corporate Visions
Mistake: Believing the experts know all about their markets
A common theme in the mistakes I’ve made in content marketing is this: I did not understand the market well enough. I relied too much on the input I got from the companies until I realized that they rarely know what’s going on in the market. They may look at data or dashboards, but they rarely take the time to talk to their clients. You won’t find the right answers just looking at what you already do and know.
How to fix it: I now require that I get to talk to at least two clients whenever I begin a new project. If that’s not possible, I conduct survey research or similar. It always brings new points to the table.
Joakim Ditlev, owner, Content Marketing DK
Mistake: Failing to set boundaries
We’ve all had the projects with never-ending scope creep.
How to fix it: I use a comprehensive scope of work or project brief, as appropriate, to make sure all those involved in a project agree on deliverables and timelines, what success looks like, and what constitutes project completion.
Erika Heald, consultant, Erika Heald Marketing Consulting
Mistake: Talking in varied tongues
Our biggest challenges in internal discussions come from language confusion.
How to fix it: Before a project, we use language boards where we compare SEO research on the terms customers use to the terms subject matter experts or stakeholders use.
Ahava Leibtag, principal, AHA Media Group
Mistake: Forgetting the audience
We’ve all made the mistake of writing what we want to read (or what we think we’d want to read) rather than asking our audiences what they want or otherwise using data to drive content strategy. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed writing pieces that bombed in terms of ROI and groaned through others that performed exceedingly well.
How to fix it: The lesson is to write for your audience, not for yourself.
Amanda Changuris, associate director of corporate communications, BNY Mellon
Mistake: Posting without proofing
Hitting “publish” and sending an email that still says, “text here, text coming” isn’t exactly helpful to your 1 million-plus audience list.
How to fix it: Always triple-check which buttons you’re clicking on when you’re editing an email newsletter, scheduling a blog post, and creating a social media post.
Zontee Hou, senior strategist, Convince & Convert
Mistake: Buying into the hype
Marketing technology is overrated. But changes in tactics have made a huge difference.
How to fix it: I’ve learned I can often get better results updating an older article than by writing a new one. I wished I’d discovered that years ago.
Andy Crestodina, principal and strategic director, Orbit Media
Mistake: Limiting content to the written word
We focused on educating users on various aspects of visual content creation by writing tons of blog posts. Though there was good traction initially, things never really picked up.
How to fix it: We got interesting feedback from a teacher whose students were more hooked to viewing animated videos instead of reading their textbooks. We opted to see if this preference worked with adults and started using more visual content. We created a lot of video templates and GIFs to directly help our users. We witnessed 10 times more traffic thanks to this strategy. You need to experiment a lot and innovate every year.
Srinivasa Raghavan, CEO and founder, Animaker
Mistake: Thinking good writers always are good content marketers
One of my most difficult lessons has been that good writers don’t automatically make good content marketers. The ability to convince and cajole an audience to take a brand-specific action while still delivering value on a consistent basis is hard, and it takes more than the ability to craft a pretty sentence to get it done.
How to fix it: I interview content marketing candidates differently, looking for their insight into the audience, conversion optimization, and marketing objectives more broadly instead of focusing heavily on their writing sample.
Andrea Fryrear, president and lead trainer, AgileSherpas
Mistake: Letting assumptions drive decisions
When I first started out at Monster, I assumed a big portion of what we’d do for content would be labor market news. But I quickly realized from looking at our analytics that our audience didn’t care about macro trends, they wanted information to help them specifically with their job search.
How to fix it: While we still do some news, it’s always driven by the takeaway for the article – is this something our reader can act on and, more importantly, wants to act on?
Margaret Magnarelli, executive director for audience acquisitions and growth marketing, Morgan Stanley
Mistake: Waiting for perfection
When we first developed a content marketing strategy we didn’t have a perfect strategy. We knew we wanted to engage prospective customers and build our audience.
How to fix it: We recognized starting now is better than waiting and starting perfect. In the first year, our primary success metric was the share-ability of our content. In the second year, we focused on increasing the quality of our content and optimizing distribution strategies. It wasn’t until the third year that we could show success in generating leads and support for social selling. Content marketing was an evolutionary process for us.
Scott Lum, social media marketing manager, Microsoft
Mistake: Underestimating the power of email
I didn’t build my email subscribers list early enough or focus on segmentation.
How to fix it: I now focus on email subscribers as there is nothing more valuable in the business. I also have segmented that list based on the challenges and needs of my audience – so I can tailor my communication to fit those audiences. It makes it much easier to get super specific with your content.
Donna Moritz, digital content strategist and founder, Socially Sorted
If you’re afraid to make mistakes in your content marketing, the best advice from these experts comes down to a single step: Don’t be.
As Ben H. Rome, marketing manager of American Industrial Hygiene Association, says, “Never, ever be afraid to take a risk. Innovation and resonance often come from that risk. If you ask the audience to take that leap with you, the better connection you’re going to make and the stronger your message and your brand will become.”
Don’t make the mistake of missing out on Content Marketing World 2019. How to fix it: Hear from these experts and dozens of others in 200-plus presentations. Register today and use BLOG100 code to save $100.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute