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Overcoming the top content marketing pitfalls

Lack of editorial skills and self-awareness can cause real problems for a business. Here are the three most common content marketing pitfalls and how to avoid them.

Content marketing is on the rise. The most successful brands allocate 40 per cent of their budget to content marketing and 38 per cent of marketers plan to spend more in 2018, according to the Content Marketing Institute.

Why is that the case? Marketers are enticed by the opportunity to engage with prospects earlier in the purchase decision-making journey. Research from CEB shows that buyers are typically 57 per cent of the way through a purchase decision before they approach any vendors. Content allows brands to build relationships in that research phase, and can help ensure brands end up in the final consideration set.

Creating content that is genuinely useful but also drives business value is a delicate balance which can be difficult to achieve. We need to be wary that readers’ expectations about content can differ from the objectives we are trying to achieve. One Economist Intelligence Unit study reveals that 75 per cent of high ranking business executives use branded content to research new business ideas. Yet, rather than using it to complete a transaction, they look to become informed about new marketplace trends and developments.

This is an area where many marketers miss a trick. The same study shows that 93 per cent of brands connect their content directly to a product or service, 75 per cent say that mentions of their products and services are a frequent part of their content strategy and 70 per cent measure their content’s effectiveness by the number of inbound leads they generate. Yet only 16 per cent of executives are reading content to make a purchase decision.

So, what happens when marketers are looking to sell but consumers are looking to learn? Raconteur’s 2017 research into C-Suite content consumption shows that a majority of executives will give branded content a chance, but if it fails to impress they won’t engage with that vendor again.

That might sound like a frightening statistic, but there is a real opportunity here for brands to create high quality content that will shape the decisions of senior business leaders.

Just 5 per cent of branded content receives a huge 90 per cent of engagement. Business leaders are willing to read branded content, but they want to be inspired and informed in the same way they are by The Times, The Wall Street Journal or the FT.

To help you join the elite of content marketers, here are three common pitfalls you need to avoid.

Expecting immediate results

Many of us have been enthusiastic about setting quantifiable objectives to help prove the ROI of marketing initiatives. Dwell time, bounce rate and pages per session can give an idea of how your readers are interacting with online content. Cost per click, conversions and MQLs let marketing professionals signal their worth to the rest of the business.

However, it’s easy to become distracted by the influx of metrics and make hasty judgments about the value of a piece of content.

Publishers – which have created ‘content’ since before the word was invented – tend to judge the output of their work by qualitative measures. Does this publication meet the brief? Does it communicate our desired message? Are we filling an information gap? Has anyone else written about this subject in such an incisive way? Then, they listen to audience feedback. Did this article resonate with the readers? Was it inspiring enough to send onto colleagues and friends? These questions are more important because they are in line with what your prospects are looking for – to learn.

That doesn’t mean content isn’t a revenue generator, but it is a long sell. It’s highly effective to engage and build relationship with an audience, but this needs to be done through proving your value consistently over time, ultimately leading to higher-value deals and contracts. It’s critical to invest in creating content for the long-term and ensure that your editorial quality is high, in order to see returns.

Assembling the wrong team

To create high quality content, you need the right combination of experience, skills and expertise. You need an editorial eye to recognise first-class writing, curate the flow of storytelling and deliver high impact data design. The team must have the skills to see when sources are misquoted, when copy is wrong and when something is poorly written.

A project manager will help you maintain relationships with the best contributors for the initiative, bring experience in appropriate online and offline distribution vehicles to the table and have knowledge of page format, layout and word counts.

But the real challenge is often to find the right writer. This task can often fall on someone in communications or marketing. But what makes good marketing copy is not always what drives engagement in the learning process. It is worth taking the time to hire a content editor or bring in a consultant to help manage the process end-to-end.

Being unwilling to relinquish control

Your organisation is probably just as keen to avoid losing customers with its marketing communications as it is to gain them. The issue here is that this usually means the content it produces will be dry, with an inoffensive tone of voice that doesn’t necessarily commit to an opinion, so as not to offend or be too ‘out there’.

The real difficulty can sometimes come from legal and compliance – there may be topics that are too risky to have an opinion on. It’s best to make sure all parties are clear on how to align marketing and compliance objectives. Look to get buy-in early on and agree clear boundaries about what you can and cannot discuss in your content strategy.

Many brands start out with the right content motivations, only to be disappointed because the end result doesn’t discuss ‘them’ enough, stress their expertise or use their spokespeople. Some brands can get even pickier: “Is this tone in our brand guidelines? Does it feel like ‘us’ enough?” At this stage, it’s important to resist the temptation to make your content too brand focussed. Raconteur’s recent research into C-Suite content habits shows that two thirds believe branded content is boring, repetitive and predictable.

Interesting content initiatives can be provocative. But provocative content is often also what creates fans in your target demographic. Whenever you create any content, don’t think: “Might anyone be alienated by this?” Think: “Will anyone be engaged by this?”

If you can connect with the people who buy into your vision and your position, that’s the right target market with which to have a relationship.

In summary

  • Think long-term in order to see returns from your content – building a relationship takes time
  • Ensure you have the right expertise, internally or externally, to create the best possible content
  • Don’t be afraid to take a stand – this is often the best way to engage your target audience

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