Recently we discussed 10 mistakes that rookie content marketers routinely make and how readers can overcome them. Now, it’s veteran content marketers’ turn.
Just because someone is a seasoned pro in content marketing does not make him/her immune to mistakes. Actually, experience tends to breed its own biases in our profession, and this opens the door to a handful of mistakes, misunderstandings and fallacies that we see over and over again.
The root cause of these problems, at least the big ones, is narcissism, but we’ll get to that.
First, though, it would be instructive to examine the true role of content marketing and what would be the optimal outputs of this activity. That will give us a helpful comparison for demonstrating the pathology of narcissism we see among many content marketers.
Every Company is a Media Company
Tom Foremski at Silicon Valley Watcher first promoted the idea that every company is a media company nearly a decade ago, and much of the world has since caught up to his prediction.
Publishing information online comes at a near-zero cost, so media outlets such as the New York Times or CNN have to compete with bloggers in coffeeshops and citizen journalists with camera phones.
By the same token, companies have many more channels to spread their messages than buying a four-column ad in their local papers or commissioning an advertorial in a business magazine.
If you are in content marketing, you know all of this already. However, too few content marketers make the leap from understanding their opportunity to function as a media company to actually behaving like a media company.
As Foremski pointed out in a July 2014 post on his blog, “Media companies provide a service.”
Think about the implications of this for a second. If you are to provide a service, that means there must be demand for this service. And if your service is information, that means there must be an audience who wants specific information.
Therefore, a successful media company must publish information that the audience wants.
And you know what no audience wants? Endless information about your own company.
If the New York Times just sat around talking about the New York Times, it wouldn’t have a business. Instead, it reports news, if offers opinions, it has a travel section, and it has restaurant reviews.
In short, it provides a valuable service. This should be every content marketer’s goal, as well.
What Goes Wrong
“The mistake is that most people treat content marketing like marketing and not like content,” writes digital strategist James Ellis at Recruiter.com.
This would be akin to the New York Times interrupting a front-page news piece 20 lines in to promote in the text discounted subscription prices, or a cinema pausing a film at the halfway mark to tell viewers how tasty the popcorn in the lobby is.
And yet, many content marketers spend years — sometimes whole careers — unable to fight off the impulse to share a marketing message about the company when they should simply be concentrating on the service they provide.
These company-centric messages add up over time until finally the company begins to sound like those people you see at every party who can only talk about themselves.
That’s why we describe this marketing as unintentionally narcissistic. Most likely, the company itself isn’t stroking its own vanity by being so egocentric … but that’s not how it looks to the audience.
And how something resonates with the audience is kind of the point, right?
So, just as the classical narcissist lacks empathy, the me-first company messaging lacks audience awareness, defeating the whole point of content marketing as a service.
All that said, there is one deadly sin countless marketers commit, and it is rooted in real vanity.
Nothing enables a runaway ego quite like telling someone, “You need to position yourself as a thought leader.”
This behavior is typically borne out of strategy: Becoming a thought leader gives the content marketer a big, engaged audience on which to build.
Being so physically attractive that you stop traffic also provides certain unique opportunities, too, but just about any human being would get consumed by his or her own vanity in the pursuit of that goal.
And just as Narcissus drowned while staring at his own reflection, the thought leader loses all credibility during the pursuit of that title through positioning, i.e. talking about oneself incessantly and at the expense of meaningful conversation.
Ironically, we have found that the best way to get ahead is to help others. This includes giving shout-outs to helpful resources and their authors when appropriate, promoting the good work others do, and making introductions and connections that are mutually beneficial for others.
In turn, the people you have helped along they way will return the favor. This is the lesson in the allegory of the long spoons, by the way.
Speaking of sins and hellfire, the last few common content marketing mistakes among industry veterans are all rooted in sloth.
Complacent, Lazy Content Marketing
Among veteran content marketers, we see three behaviors that are inexcusable:
● Under-promoting content
● Using bad, untested headlines
● Being inconsistent in content output
By under-promoting content, we mean posting something and just hoping it will get found.
Remember, “If you build it, they will come,” only worked in Field of Dreams, and even then assistance was required from the paranormal realms.
Poor headline writing seems to come from a disconnect between the audience and the content creator. Think about it: You might spend hours, days or weeks producing a piece of content, then when it’s all done, the impulse is to go, “Wow, what do we call this thing?” just like the talent scout in “The Aristocrats” joke.
But that joke works for the same reason that you can’t sell your headline short.
“On average, 8 out of 10 people will read headline copy, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest,” Brian Clark wrote several years ago at CopyBlogger. “This is the secret to the power of the headline, and why it so highly determines the effectiveness of the entire piece.”
Headline optimization, then, must get baked into the process, even if this calls for a second person to actually write the headline. That’s how it traditionally worked at major newspapers, after all. Reporters wrote the stories, and editors wrote the headlines.
Still, there is no good reason not to test your headlines. Split test when possible, and audit previous pieces to understand what worked and what didn’t.
Finally, just as with traditional media companies, your output needs an editorial calendar, and you must stick to it. If the local paper fails to go to press, or it arrives at subscribers’ doorsteps a half hour late, complaints and unsubscribes start to pour in.
Imagine that your audience would react the same way if you failed to post regularly. Even if that’s not the case right now, if you build an engaged audience, you will eventually grow into those expectations.
Slacking on promotion, headlines and output is a matter of laziness. Maybe that laziness comes from a feeling of complacency, burnout or whatever. All of those can be avoided by implementing a solid system in which people are held accountable for each step of the content marketing process.
Again, this goes back to framing your content marketing efforts as if you were a big media company. Now that we all have the technology to compete with and replace legacy media companies, we have the responsibility to match the value they create.