By Ann Gynn published August 15, 2017

24 Experts Share How to Avoid Big Mistakes in Content Marketing

big-content-marketing-mistakesBlunders, overestimations, slipups, flubs, and missteps – though we hate to admit we make them, they often turn out to be our best teachers.

As the winning college basketball coach John Wooden once said, “If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes.”

Regardless of their future value, these teachable moments can also be problematic and painful in the moment they occur. To minimize some of the friction you’ll experience from unnecessary slipups, we enlisted the help of some “doers” who are presenting 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 food and travel focused and one more winemaking focused.
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

Don’t write #content for any other purpose than helping people to solve a problem, says @wilreynolds. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

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

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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 it’s 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 audience, Native Advertising Institute

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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: Brands don’t allow for true test & learn in #contentmarketing budgets, says @GPriceLocke. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

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 you’re all working toward the same goal.
Melanie Deziel, native advertising consultant, Mdeziel Media

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, vice president, social media, T&T Creative

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, author and adviser, Conglomotron

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, co-founder, Story Worldwide

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

Create an edge in your #content to disrupt your buyer’s status quo bias, says @TRiesterer. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

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, content marketing specialist, 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: Scope creep in #content projects. Fix: Create detailed project brief at start. @SFErika. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

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, 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

I often get better results updating an older article than by writing a new one, says @crestodina. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

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

Implementing a visual content strategy brought 10x more traffic, says @rs_raghavan. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

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, managing director of content and senior director of marketing, Monster

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, content marketing manager, Microsoft

Starting now w/ a less than perfect strategy is better than waiting & starting perfect. @ScottLum. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

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

Conclusion

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 comes 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.”

Never, ever be afraid to take a risk, says @bhrome. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Don’t make the mistake of missing out on Content Marketing World Sept. 5-8. 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

Author: Ann Gynn

Ann Gynn edits the CMI blog. She also serves as the Tech Tools editor for Chief Content Officer magazine. Ann regularly combines words and strategy for B2B, B2C, and nonprofits, continuing to live up to her high school nickname, Editor Ann. Former college adjunct faculty, Ann also helps train professionals in content so they can do it themselves. Follow Ann on Twitter @anngynn or connect on LinkedIn.

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  • Roger C. Parker

    Dear Ann: I love the way you breathed new life into a “mistakes” theme by using bold-face text to clearly the mistakes from the “How to Fix It.” Great idea: I suspect that also made it for respondents to organize and submit their advice.

    I also like the way you included a nice blend of high-visibility experts and established experts expanding their brand by speaking at Content Marketing World in September. (I keep having to update my calendar!)
    Roger

    • Ann Gynn

      Thanks Roger. Glad you found it helpful. It’s a great group of insightful individuals. (And sometimes format follows what transpires in the answers — the fun of writing, right?)

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