When your content marketing program is starting, almost anything is likely to make a positive impact on your audience and your business goals. With minimal effort, you might see new consumers engaging with your business, brand conversations picking up speed, website visits increasing, or even more leads and sales inquiries rolling in.
As time goes on, you may find progress slows or stops altogether. Some of the causes may be things beyond your control, such as the competition for audience attention, shifts in consumption behaviors, or evolving consumer trends and needs. But some of the reasons are within your control. Even minor mistakes and missteps can throw your entire content program out of whack.
Here are four common mistakes often made by content marketing teams, along with signs, symptoms, and corrective actions to put your content engine back on course.
Mistake 1: Creating content without knowing your who, what, or why
Your content is great – it’s creative, well-written, and holds value for your audience. You’re producing tons of stories in a wide variety of formats for viewers to choose from, and you’re sharing them everywhere your consumers are likely to find them.
The problem is, according to your traffic and engagement metrics, the audience doesn’t seem to care. Your efforts don’t get much traction on any content platform, and those who view it move on quickly without engaging.
Signs to look for
Great content that doesn’t resonate or spark the desire to connect with your business may indicate your content lacks an audience focus or a clear content mission (aka your unique purpose). This often manifests as a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none syndrome – you aim to appeal to anyone and everyone instead of building deeper, subscribed relationships with the one audience group that stands to benefit most from your content.
Here are a few signs that you may be guilty of this:
- You publish content without knowing what success looks like or how your content works to help you achieve it.
- You can’t explain who your target audience is, what their needs and interests are, or what content they need to progress along the journey from casual viewer to active customer.
- Your content doesn’t speak from a unique point of view, leaving your audience struggling to distinguish your assets from those of your competitors.
Solution: Create a content marketing strategy
It’s common to think you need to cast the widest possible net with your content to get enough traction – who wants to miss an opportunity to connect with a potential customer? But even the highest-quality content in the world won’t help your business if you don’t have a clear view of why you’re creating it, for whom, or how it will help push your business towards its goals.
You can start to develop a content marketing strategy by answering these three questions:
- What goals do we want our content to help us accomplish, and what will that success look like?
- What audience stands to benefit most from the stories we share?
- How will we make those stories uniquely compelling and valuable, so they’ll stand out among our competition?
TIP: Time-strapped organizations often skip strategy creation because they think the sooner they get content assets into the market, the quicker they see results. But a content marketing strategy doesn’t have to be complex and time-consuming to build. In fact, you can use this guide to creating a strategy in simple steps.
Mistake 2: Your content is narcissistic and lacks empathy
You’ve worked hard to create content that puts your business in the spotlight and casts your experts as leading industry players. But while your unique views may be on an upswing, they’re not translating to an uptick in customer behaviors or inquiries.
This can happen when brands forget that content is a conversation – both parties need to see the benefit of the exchange. If your business talks a good game but fails to give its audience a voice, demonstrate an understanding of their problems, or express a genuine interest in providing help, your audience may see your content as irrelevant noise and refuse to engage more deeply.
Signs to look for
Content solely focused on your business, its offerings, and its views on relevant topics shows your business is more interested in speaking than listening – a sure turnoff for today’s marketing-fatigued consumers.
Remember, the goal isn’t just to get users to view your content, it’s to get them to take meaningful action on it – subscribe to your newsletters, register to download your lead-gen assets, or make a purchase. It’s hard to make that happen without earning their trust.
Here are a few signs you may be guilty of this:
- Your content talks about your products and solutions instead of the customer problems they solve.
- You start conversations on your social media platforms, but rarely respond to your community members’ comments or engage in relevant discussions that you didn’t start.
- Your content experience doesn’t make it easy for your audience to interact with your offerings on their own terms.
Solution: Make your audience the star of your content experience
Instead of focusing on your marketing goals, focus on your customers’ desired outcomes – and not just the transactional ones. Remember, consumers aren’t abstract constructs – they’re real people who want to be seen (and valued) as individuals. They have unique needs, goals, challenges, and passions – both business and personal. If your content experience shows an understanding of and empathy for those attributes, it will be much more likely to resonate.
The following content tactics and techniques are well suited to demonstrate a genuine interest in helping its customers achieve their goals:
- Use social media to create trust, not just transactions: Listen and engage in conversations among your social community members, especially those that your brand didn’t start.
- Drive participation with interactive content: Give audiences something to do, say, see, and feel – to express their views, opinions, and preferences, which helps them feel more personally connected to your content experience.
- Recognize customers and empower them to share their stories of success: Content like reviews, case studies, and testimonials let customers talk about your benefits in their own words, which can inspire other like-minded audiences to put their trust in your brand and the value it offers.
- Customize the information exchange: Giving your audience the ability to decide how, when, and what information they receive from your brand puts the power in their hands while keeping the channels of communication open. At the very least, offer subscribers the ability to opt-out of any type of message. If you have marketing automation capabilities, consider using segmentation and personalization techniques to tailor their content experience based on any interests, behaviors, and preferences they’ve shared with your business.
For example, AT&T Business created a series of four customized guides for its small and medium-sized business customers. Each addresses an IT-related growth challenge. But rather than sending all four to everyone on their mailing list, the company implemented a highly targeted distribution plan powered by AI technology.
The guides were published on the business intelligence site Quartz. Using Quartz’s proprietary machine-learning tool, AT&T (and its content partner Hearts & Science) tracked relevant site visitors, analyzed their on-site activities, and grouped them into 16 communities. Visitors were then served intelligent display ads personalized to the key characteristics of their affinity community and led them to the guide most appropriate for their distinct needs and use cases.
Mistake 3: You’ve let your content experience grow stale and stagnant
It’s normal for content marketing performance to ebb and flow. But if you’re seeing steady or significant declines, it could mean your content program is overdue for an overhaul.
Business conditions, media trends, and consumer interests evolve, which means topics and tactics that once worked like a charm can lose their relevance and impact. And even once-reliable subscribers and followers can become less receptive to your stories if they don’t reflect current needs and priorities.
Content marketing isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it technique. You need to update and adapt your approaches and offerings regularly for consumers to see your brand experience as a vital resource worthy of their attention.
Signs to look for
If we’ve learned nothing else from the Great Disruption of 2020, it’s that clinging to business-as-usual thinking can lead to a company’s untimely demise. Having the ability to experiment, innovate, and adapt your content program as market conditions evolve is the best way to stay top of mind with your consumers – and at the top of your game as a trusted, reliable resource for them.
Here are some signs that you may lack content agility, cracking the foundation of your audience relationships:
- Your creative team struggles to find new ways to write (and rewrite) content on the same old set of topics.
- Your distribution plan includes channels your target audience no longer visits (sorry Pinterest, Snapchat, and SlideShare) or fails to embrace emerging channels and newly available media products.
- Your top-performing search content includes outdated stats, information, and creative examples.
Solution: Audit, evaluate, and act
Flagging performance may not be your direct fault, but it is your responsibility to proactively find and fix obvious signs of stagnancy before they escalate into a full-scale content fail.
The best process for this starts with an audit to get a clear picture of the content assets, formats, target audience, performance, and gaps in coverage customers care most about right now.
TIP: If you don’t have time to do a full-scale audit, try this simple, six-question audit approach to speed things up.
In addition, regularly monitor your analytics so you can quickly identify whether high-performing assets may need updating to preserve their accuracy and see which topics or formats you should retire in favor of ones that are of greater interest.
TIP: A performance dashboard will give your content team an at-a-glance view of the metrics that matter most for your organization’s particular goals and how your content is performing against them.
Once you analyze your insights and evaluate your course-correcting options, you will be better prepared to implement the big and small changes necessary to refresh and repurpose your existing content and create new assets around hot topics of interest.
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Mistake 4: You’re pushing team resources to the breaking point
I’m sure we can all relate to requests to do more with less – it’s practically become the default mantra for every budget-conscious business (and show me one that isn’t), particularly during the current pandemic. Out of necessity and determination, your team pulls together, tightens their belts, and keeps pushing forward as best they can with the resources they have.
But there comes a point when frugality exceeds feasibility, and when marketers try to stretch their content resources beyond those limits, the resulting stress can send shock waves across their team’s productivity, their content quality, and even their brand perception.
Signs to look for
It’s no surprise that a company might need to add a few tasks to their content creators’ to-do lists or ask them to pitch in on an extracurricular project or two in a pinch. But these stop-gap measures shouldn’t be considered a long-term substitute for filling an open position or securing some outside assistance.
When all those little tasks and asks add up to an overwhelming and untenable volume of work, you may start to see signs like these:
- Your normally high-functioning department is now struggling to get their regularly planned efforts off the ground, let alone bring newer content ideas and initiatives to fruition.
- Deadlines are frequently being missed, obvious errors are making it through to publication, and exciting projects sit in limbo because it’s easier to focus on the low-hanging fruit that can be executed quickly.
- Your brand is publishing more content than the audience can consume on some channels/platforms, while others are being underserved or ignored completely.
- Team members are cast in roles or given responsibilities for which they lack the necessary training, technical skills, or support.
- Team morale is shot, staff churn is high, and workers are sharing their clear dissatisfaction with your business on public channels.
Solutions: Educate, prioritize, outsource, or partner on content
Businesses commonly expect their content marketing teams to tackle all kinds of content requests from across the enterprise. This scope creep typically happens when hiring budgets are stretched to the limit or no one else is available to share the writing workload. It also occurs when management sees competitors making waves on a new channel and demands your brand needs a presence there, too.
There are a few ways to address this issue. The best approach depends on the root cause at play:
- Educate: When management doesn’t understand why your content team can’t just create a few more assets to fuel a new channel or fulfill a one-off project, it’s a good idea to create a channel plan.
Sharing this outline of your team’s business case for creating and distributing content, guidelines for engaging with your audience on each channel, and the business benefits can help stakeholders see the bigger strategic picture and recognize there’s more work involved in effective content marketing than just writing up some attention-grabbing copy.
- Prioritize: When there are too few players and too many asks, your team needs to set clear priorities around the content types, channels, and platforms based on which ones offer the strongest potential to further your marketing goals.
For example, if you’re considering adding livestreaming video to your offerings, do a competitive evaluation first. If you find conditions aren’t ideal to achieve success with this format (e.g., you don’t have video editors or production resources; you don’t have a strong audience engagement on the target platform; the market is oversaturated with competitors there), it’s best to leave it off your list until the situation changes.
However, if you discover this new format presents an attractive opportunity or offers a high-priority benefit you have been struggling to provide, look for ways to scale down or pause existing low-performance content activities and free the creative resources necessary to deliver live video content efficiently and effectively.
- Outsource: If your internal content team lacks the bandwidth or specialized talent to produce content at the required quality, volume, or scale you need, outsourcing might be your best option. Contract creatives can bring new skill sets and fresh perspectives to your team and may be more cost-effective than adding a staff position or building the technical capabilities in-house.
TIP: Our how-to guide on outsourcing content creators will help walk you through every step of the process.
- Partner: If your options are limited and you can’t convince upper management to staff up or scale down, consider forging a content partnership.
Co-creating content with the help of relevant industry influencers, high-profile thought leaders, and like-minded complementary brands can be a cost-effective way to shore up your assets without overstressing your in-house content creators. If you have an actively engaged community, tap their creative talents by empowering them to contribute guest blog posts or other types of user-generated content to your coffers.
One shining example of co-creating content with your customer communities comes from e.l.f. cosmetics. The company launched its #eyeslipsface campaign by inviting its fans on TikTok to show off their makeup talents to the tune of an original 15-second music track produced for the challenge. As Carina Rampelt writes, not only did e.l.f.’s initial video garner 2.5 billion views in its first two weeks, but it also sparked the creation of over 3 million user-generated videos, giving the company a practically bottomless pool of ready-made assets that can be remixed and reused in its other content marketing efforts.
@hairbyaliciawebSuper Blonde Start To Finish 🤩#fyp #eyeslipsface #foryoupage♬ eyes. lips. face. (feat. Holla FyeSixWun) – iLL Wayno
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Got problems? Get answers
Though not all content marketing problems have simple solutions, identifying warning signs like the four above is your best first line of defense against the major missteps, miscalculations, and missed opportunities. What other big content challenges are you currently struggling with? Let us know in the comments.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute