By Bruce McDuffee published March 2, 2014

The One Mistake Standing Between You and Successful Content Marketing

gauge-bs detectorSurveys (including those in CMI’s Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends yearly series) generally agree that approximately 90 percent of marketers are using content marketing in one form or another. Surveys also generally agree that only about 40 percent feel their content marketing efforts are effective — and only about 10 percent of marketers feel their content marketing efforts are very effective. There must be a lot of frustrated marketers out there when it comes to using content marketing strategies to grow revenue.

Although there may be many reasons for ineffective content marketing, I contend that there is one mistake that practitioners make that keeps them from producing successful content marketing. In fact, it’s one I think we all make at some point in our content marketing journey — and one that some marketers continue to make year after year. 

The good news is, it’s easy to fix. Fix this one mistake and you, too, will become a member of the exclusive “very effective” group of content marketers.

The mistake? The only topic your content talks about is you — your company, your products, or your services.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that you should never create content about your business or its offerings. You need product-specific content for those prospective customers in the latter 30 percent of their buying process (or lower funnel, if you prefer). Spec sheets, application notes, case studies, and testimonials play an important role in the latter stages of the buying decision process. Most firms already have plenty of this type of content, and use it wisely.

But leading your outbound marketing efforts with these types of product-based content is old-school marketing, and it’s no longer very effective at generating demand and revenue growth. Why? Because when you lead with self-promotional content, you’re talking about something that matters to you alone — not what matters to the people in your target audience. Product-based content misses the target during the first 70 percent of the buying process! 

Are you guilty?

If your top-funnel content includes a lot of first-person pronouns, like “we,” “ours,” “us,” “I,” and “me,” chances are very high that you are making this mistake. On the flip-side, if your content marketing is not effective, chances are the majority of your content talks about your products, services, or the firm.

In order to grow revenue and gain market share, you must get the attention of and engage with members of your target audience during the early stages of their decision-making process (i.e., 70 percent of the purchase funnel). To gain their attention and engage with them, your content must be focused on them — their pains, their needs, their interests, and their challenges. 

Here are some typical examples that indicate “The Mistake” is being made in your organization:

  • You’ve built your content strategy around convincing your target audience that your specific product is the best one on the market.
  • You write a “How to Choose” guide that cleverly suggests your product is the best solution.
  • You conduct a webinar that focuses on highlighting the attributes of your product or firm.
  • You write an application note detailing how to use your product in that context. 

Our built-in male bovine fecal matter detector (MBFM)

As business buyers, or even as individual buyers, we all have a highly sensitive MBFM (aka BS) detector built into our purchasing brains. Bait-and-switch is one such tactic that generally causes these meters to max out. When the meter goes into the red, we tend to assign negative marks to the companies that triggered the meter, so there’s little benefit in trying to fool the meter with tactics like masquerading product promotion as helpful education.

Other examples of MBFM triggering content:

  • As a prospective buyer, if I am promised an educational webinar and instead get a product promotion, my MBFM meter goes crazy.
  • When I’m promised a document that will help me choose the right product for my situation, and the recommendation turns out to be for the product manufactured by the company that produced the document, my MBFM meter red-lines right away.

When this type of masquerading content triggers my BS meter, that firm gets a negative mark in my memory. Good experiences correlate with higher growth rates and bad experiences correlate with lower growth rates.

How do I know this is the No. 1 mistake? Granted, my evidence is not based on statistically significant data, but it is based on abundant anecdotal evidence.

Ninety percent of the B2B marketers I talk to about content marketing get excited about it. That’s a great thing! However, when questioned further, they almost always tell me about this piece of content or that piece of content they’ve designed to convince customers to buy their company’s product. Again, this type of content is great for latter stages, but it fails as content for the all-important early buying stage.

Furthermore, if we consider some stats from the 2014 CMI Benchmark report, the fact that 82 percent place “Brand Awareness” as the top goal screams “It’s about me, myself, and I.” Perhaps the number one goal of our content marketing should be to help make the people in our target audience be better at their business goals.

Easy fixes for the problem

If you think your company and its marketing team is making this critical mistake, try these action items to immediately improve the success of your content marketing:

  1. Stop pitching your products.
  2. Stop trying to be clever by masquerading a product promotion as a helpful piece of content.
  3. Start giving away your expertise in the form of free education or interesting information — without promoting your product.
  4. Start making a clear distinction between content that is meant to clearly define your offering and content that is meant to engage your audience by providing them with useful education or entertainment

If you are willing and able to make these changes and carry out content marketing as described here, I can virtually guarantee you, too, will soon be responding to the next CMI survey that your content efforts fit the “Very Effective” category.

For more great ideas, insights, and examples for advancing your content marketing, read Epic Content Marketing, by Joe Pulizzi.

Author: Bruce McDuffee

Bruce McDuffee helps manufacturing companies significantly increase organic growth by teaching them how to engage with a much larger portion of the target audience through education and sharing their expert knowledge. At his company, Knowledge Marketing for Industry (KMI), he is fond of saying “Knowledge marketing sails where product marketing fails.” Check out his most popular SlideShare presentation, The Manufacturer’s Growth Manifesto and follow him on Twitter @BruceMcDuffee Bruce is happy to entertain more discussion via email or phone conversations (see his LinkedIn profile for contact information).

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