By Jodi Harris published June 8, 2012

Learn The Mistakes Brands Are Making With Content Marketing… So You Don’t Repeat Them

With a discipline as (relatively) young as content marketing, brands are bound to encounter some learning curves on the path to success. Yes, it’s true that more and more organizations are recognizing the need to transition from a mindset of “always sell” to one that focuses on “having a story to tell.” But frequently, they lack a clear understanding of just what that journey entails — the purposes, processes, and procedures involved in producing great content — causing even the most forward-thinking and nimble of companies to trip over itself in the race to execute a content program.

Of course, with every misstep comes new insight that will help you continually improve your content efforts. But who wants to make a mistake when you can avoid it by following the advice of experts?

Here, the content experts who work with the CMI Consultants program share a few of the mistakes they see brands making in their brand content marketing efforts — and a few lessons you can learn from the companies that are getting it right.

The biggest mistake brands are making is the ready-fire-aim approach. Many brands aren’t taking the time to map their content to buyer roles, personas and objections, and are just publishing scattershot content. Instead, brands need to make sure to plan content around the behaviors that they want to occur — generating conversions — vs. just publishing and hoping the leads come to them. I wrote in more detail about this topic, and our colleague Jay Baer’s thoughts at Content Marketing World on it, in What’s Missing in Your Content Marketing Approach.- Will Davis (@willdavis)

The biggest mistake most brands are making right now is they either aren’t strategically organizing their content marketing and publishing with purpose, or they’re just yammering on about themselves. There’s often a subtle difference between audience-centric content and brand-centric content. But the result is vastly different. People just stop listening to you when you just want to talk about you. For example, a picture of your product with, “Doesn’t this make you smile?” is just slightly different than simply asking, “What made you smile today?” But the responses will be vastly different in tone and volume.- Jason Falls (@JasonFalls)

Content marketing is not extended staff bios or a company’s commercials on a YouTube channel. Where a lot of companies fall down is assuming that creating unfocused, kinda-, sorta-related content (videos, tweets, magazines) will magically pull in views and leads because, hey, content! Before any communication goes out to a brand’s audience, brands need to be aware of its purpose and how that purpose ties back to what the brand stands for and why target audiences will give a rat’s …. Doing so builds consistency and reinforces trust.Also, not enough branded content’s end goal is audience participation. Without enabling your customers to advocate on your behalf, your fancy-pants web video is stuck in paid/owned territory and has missed the boat on all that sweet earned media potential.As for who’s doing it right, it seems to be the brands that plug into a movement and ride its momentum across all storytelling channels. Think Toms Shoes or the mind-blowing Creators Project by Intel and Vice Media.

Tom Gierasimczuk (@gierasimczuk)

The greatest sin I’ve seen with brands and their content marketing is inconsistency, both in messaging and distribution. Content marketing isn’t something you do only with an editorial calendar and a newsletter or a blog. There has to be an overall editorial plan that includes all communications channels — including internal to employees. Sometimes brands overlook that the biggest audience that may need education is their employees. Don’t assume that because your education goes to the outside world that your employees are following along. Knowledgeable employees are an important part of maintaining that consistency. Companies that use content marketing well also understand how to go deep within specific verticals and use it for education. They also track and analyze their results, and make adjustments along the way. A content marketing plan should be a living document that evolves as you go along, rather than hardline rules that must be followed.- Carla Johnson (@CarlaJohnson)

The first is to assume that content marketing competes with your other tactics — and so one mistake is to “take” money from an existing tactic and feed it into a “content marketing” or “social” program. Rather, they should infuse content marketing processes into their existing tactics and build upon that. Traditional advertising methods still work, but when infused with content marketing processes and ideas, they can be so much more effective. As to what brands are doing it really well — I would say it’s those with the idea of building business cases for it. In all the client work I’m doing, marketers are no longer really having to go argue for budget for these kinds of programs. They are truly building content marketing processes into their businesses and doing it really well.- Robert Rose (@Robert_Rose)

The biggest mistake is the fact they don’t talk about stuff their prospects and customers actually care about. Seriously, brands need to stop telling us how awesome they are and start teaching people everything there is to know about their industry, niche, field, etc.What are brands doing well??? Hmmm, as a whole, I honestly can’t say I’m seeing brands consistently across the board do any content marketing well yet. Sounds mean, but it’s just the fact.- Marcus Sheridan (@TheSalesLion)

I think brands that continue to organize along the lines of marketing, public relations, customer service, and sales silos are the ones that continue to make mistakes in their implementation. Let’s call it the “Balkanizing of Corporate Communications.”When the communications effort is Balkanized, then the opportunities to leverage and multipurpose content are minimized, if not lost altogether. This means a great customer service success story fails to get utilized as content for closing sales, and so on. Within large corporations, Balkanization of communications will be overcome when the communications departments look more like a CNN Newsroom than a cubicle farm.- Russell Sparkman (@fusionspark)


It feels like 1999 again. Back then it was, “We need a website and we need it now.” Now it’s, “We need a Facebook page and we need it now!” The mistake is that companies are focusing on WHERE they want to be without knowing WHO they want to engage, WHAT they want to say, and HOW they want to say it. And what we are left with are Facebook pages with 25 likes and Twitter accounts with 14 followers.What many are doing well is hiring consultants, like CMI, to help them figure this all out. Companies recognize the need to differentiate, and many realize they can do this with content.- Michael Weiss (@mikepweiss)

The most common mistakes I see companies making with content marketing include:

  1. Treating content marketing as a campaign. If you’re doing it right, content marketing is a practice, not a static campaign with a start and stop date.
  2. Robotic email automation based on “set it and forget it.” It’s not about sending the email on a schedule. It’s about creating a valuable experience. And it should also be about tuning on the fly to improve what you’re sending based on the behavior and activity the email generates.
  3. Not looking beyond basic demographics to get to know their prospects. How in the world do you develop relevant content if you don’t know the people your content is supposed to engage?
  4. Not maintaining clean databases.
  5. Forgetting that all content should have a call to action. What do you want them to do next?
  6. Not creating imaginative ways to get more use out of content assets. Break large pieces into smaller pieces, combine small pieces to create a larger asset, repurpose content into different formats. If you only use it once and let it languish on your website, then you’re wasting your investment.
  7. Focusing too much on their products and company — being salesy.
  8. Treating content marketing as a tactical silo within the marketing department.

Things I’m starting to see brands do well include:

  1. Creating better webinars that share expertise instead of being glorified product demos.
  2. Embracing more channels and content formats, stepping outside their comfort zones.
  3. Spending more time considering what prospects and customers want to hear, rather than what they want to say.
  4. Developing focused initiatives for specific niches. IBM’s Smarter Planet, Adobe’s, and Cisco’s Connected Life Exchange are three examples off the top.

Ardath Albee (@ardath421)

The biggest mistake is thinking that “content” is just newfangled sales materials. Most content marketing fails on the utility scale. Content that is inherently useful is inherently successful.- Jay Baer (@jaybaer)

What I keep seeing over and over again is that they are treating it as an add-on rather than integrating it into the mix. When done right, the strategy behind a company’s content marketing will be integrated with all its other channels. Print ads and social networks will be tied together. A new video campaign will have ties to the newsletter.Too often a company may be creating great content, but they are not sharing it with everyone that they can. They take the “spray and pray” mentality, rather than really focusing on how they are going to get people to see it.- C.C. Chapman (@cc_chapman)

Like most marketing efforts, a clear focus on your audience needs, a bit of advanced planning, and a united, ongoing team effort will give you an advantage when it comes to achieving content success. But there are plenty of other lessons you can learn from those who are exploring the content landscape. What advice have you followed that has saved you time, effort, or embarrassment in your content marketing endeavors? We’d love to see you share your thoughts in the comments.

Want more guidance for meeting your content marketing challenges? Our CMI Consultants would be happy to help. You can also learn more on how to get executive buy-in for your content efforts when you attend Content Marketing World on September 4 – 6 in Columbus, Ohio, where you can listen to and meet many of our consultants. 

Author: Jodi Harris

Jodi Harris is the Director of Editorial Content & Curation at Content Marketing Institute. As an experienced content management consultant, Jodi focuses on helping businesses analyze their content needs and resources; build infrastructure and operations; and create and distribute relevant, engaging brand messages across multiple media channels and platforms. Jodi has developed and managed print and digital content projects for marketing, entertainment, automotive, health care, and biotech publishers, as well as for entertainment industry and media brands. Follow Jodi on Twitter at @Joderama.

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  • Kevin Cain

    Great, post Jodi and one that is really useful. There are a lot of common themes throughout the responses and it is always really helpful to remind people of them. Would great to be some more specific how-to posts on how to avoid these mistakes.

  • Joe Pulizzi

    I honestly can’t get enough of this post.  Some great insights here.  Thanks Jodi for putting this together.

  • Jodi Harris

    Thanks Kevin! I completely agree, and we’re going to be focusing on these themes in more depth in some upcoming CMI posts. 

  • Muhammad Ayaz

    Thanks Jodi for educating us and I would love to implement these suggestions.

    Thanks for sharing great advices!

  • dbum

    I think the biggest issue isn’t crafting content around core values. Without core values, content will be scattershot. If core values are identified, then the market is identified and attracted to whatever value you offer to them.