By Ann Gynn published August 28, 2018

30 Experts Identify Biggest Mistakes in Content Marketing

biggest-mistakes-content-marketingMore than once, I’ve had to stop reading a poorly edited book because I couldn’t take off my editor’s hat.

Professionals in any industry observe others’ work and silently critique it. That analysis often leads you to one of two results: insight into what you could do better or a welcome relief because you are doing it better.

Some of the presenters at Content Marketing World offer their out-loud critiques of what could be done better in content marketing. Use their observations to gauge what you’re doing well and where your content marketing program has room for improvement.

Do it half-hearted

The biggest mistake, the root of all evil if you want, is not committing fully to the cause. There is not much glamour in doing content marketing – it is a slow, sometimes grueling process that can’t be forced but must gradually penetrate all pores of an organization. It requires a passionate team that won’t give up easily, will pick their battles wisely, and most importantly will work consistently day in day out for a long, long time.

Alenka Bester, head of digital content marketing, Zavarovalnica Triglav

The root of all evil in #contentmarketing is not committing fully to the cause, says @alenkabester. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Publish for the sake of publishing

It’s amazing, but I still see companies that post for the sake of posting, with no specific goals in mind and no plan for the type of content they want to create. They’re unhappy with the lack of results, their teams are frustrated with the lack of direction, and they aren’t even sure what they’re trying to achieve. Be thoughtful and deliberate in your content creation.

Zontee Hou, senior strategist, Convince and Convert

Stop posting content for the sake of posting #content with no goals in mind. @Zontee_Hou #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Let the clock go on

The biggest mistake I see is taking too long to implement a good strategy.

Christoph Trappe, chief content engagement director, Stamats Business Media

Taking too long to implement a good #contentmarketing strategy is the biggest mistake, says @ctrappe. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Come up short

The battle against “short-termism” in content marketing is very real. So many marketers only care about here-and-now results rather than the long-term game … More often, we’re forever reminding our clients and team members to keep a collective eye on the ball. Sugar-rush results are tempting and temporary. Long-term results yield a greater return and snowball into lasting customer relationships.

Deana Goldasich, CEO, Well Planned Web

Long-term results yield a greater return & snowball into lasting customer relationships. @goldasich Click To Tweet

Forget the invitation

Putting out loads of content with no “ask” or capture is a big mistake. You don’t have to gate your content, but if someone gets to the bottom of your article/page and you don’t ask them to take a next step, you’ve lost an opportunity.

Jessica Best, director of data-driven marketing, Barkley    

If you don’t ask a reader to take a next step, you’ve lost an opportunity, says @bestofjess. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Load up the calendar

All of the biggest mistakes fall into the category of creating something simply to fill an editorial calendar, not because it accomplished any other business or messaging goal.

Tamsen Webster, founder and chief idea whisperer, Find the Red Thread     

Don’t create #content simply to fill an editorial calendar, says @tamadear. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

See social media as an advertising channel

It’s a big mistake when people (and businesses) look at social media purely as a means to advertise.

I was part of a meeting when a company was figuring out if they should invest more time in Twitter. I will never forget these words from the managing director, “Will Twitter make the company an extra $150,000 per year?”

Every channel has its own type of culture with an unwritten role of engagement and connection. The example I highlighted is not isolated, most brands go into channels to sell from them instead of digging deeper to become part of the culture.

Mark Masters, owner, The ID Group

Most brands go into #socialmedia channels to sell, not to become part of culture. @markiemasters #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Fail to think of digital reader

Not writing for the web is the worst I’ve seen. It’s having something great to share, but making it literally unreadable – no subheadings, long paragraphs, no charts, no images. It is extremely hard to make myself read it and not run away immediately. Sometimes I cannot help but run away.

Leslie Carruthers, president and owner, The Search Guru Inc.

Your #content may be great to share, but it’s literally unreadable on the web. @thesearchguru #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Focus on me, me, me

Over 90% of websites are still ego-centric corporate brochures. What about resources and education for prospects and customers? Why do we have to dig so hard to learn something?

Jeff Leo Herrmann, president, Madison, Michigan and Market

Over 90% of websites are still ego-centric corporate brochures, says @JeffLHerrmann. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Forget to provide value

Talking about yourself, with no value to the reader is the biggest mistake. In particular, corporate blogs that are nothing more than a self-promotional PR channel seem to be all too common.

Ali Wert, content marketing manager, Frontline Education

Corporate blogs that are nothing more than self-promotional PR are all too common, says @allisonwert. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

See the audience as one faceless mass

My biggest pet peeve is talking to your customer or prospect as if you don’t know them. Sometimes I see content with no regard for who is on the other side of the table (or computer screen). I see companies trying so hard to get their message across, which often results in spewing product marketing jargon in a one-dimensional outburst of features and benefits.

We are not marketing “at” people, we are having a conversation with them and trying to teach them. We need to utilize any knowledge we have about them and weave it into our conversation just like we would prepare for a sales call or interview or any interaction.

Peg Miller, head of content strategy, Xactly

I see #content with no regard for who is on the other side of table or computer screen. @PegMiller #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Go 100 miles per hour

Rushing to create content by using assumptions and internal points of view rather than taking the time to really understand your audience and their needs is a common oversight. Research and consumer-insight gathering is a critical step in the planning process that is often missed by brands big and small.

Nicole Martin, vice president, strategy and analytics, Pace    

Research & consumer-insight gathering is a critical step missed by brands big & small. @StrategySavvy Click To Tweet

Ignore that content is part of the business

Some content marketers create content they think would be cool or interesting or fun without thinking about how it connects to revenue and how it connects to customer need.

Margaret Magnarelli, vice president, marketing, Monster

Some create cool #content w/ out thinking about how it connects to the customer, says @mmagnarelli. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Change it all

I’ll take it personal here. The worst mistake that I have made is trying to change everything at once. When you change too much at once, it can be difficult to know which change had the greatest impact.

Amy Higgins, director of content marketing, Sojern

When you change too much at once, it’s difficult to know which change had greatest impact. @AmyWHiggins Click To Tweet

Disappear, then quietly start again

Someone recently revived an email list after not emailing me for over 18 months. It was a totally out-of-the-blue thing. It came with no explanation about why there had been a long hiatus. Now they’re doing monthly emails, and it all feels very artificial, like a forced march because they think they should be doing it. They don’t seem excited to have started communicating with me again, and I find very little value in what they’re sharing (it’s all about them). At this point it’s like a car crash – I can’t look away (i.e. unsubscribe) even though I should.

Andrea Fryrear, president and lead trainer, AgileSherpas

A brand restarted its email campaign after an 18-month hiatus without explaining why, says @AndreaFryrear. Click To Tweet

Take a discombobulated approach

The three most common content marketing mistakes I see are: 1) Irregular content delivery – the most successful content marketers make an appointment with their audience. 2) Chasing the social stream – instead of trying to be on every channel all the time, the most successful content marketers kill it on one channel at a time. 3) Targeting too broad an audience – want to be a killer content marketer? Get rich. Target a niche.

Andrew Davis, CEO, Monumental Shift

It’s a mistake to be on every #social channel. Kill it on one channel at a time. @drewdavishere. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Look at the too-broad picture

Not considering your audience is the worst transgression you can commit. It’s the one mistake that is the great equalizer. It kills small business and large corporations alike. Broad coverage that pleases everyone might have worked when options were limited, but with the competitive content market we’re in, you need to identify one audience, fulfill one need, and dig deep to establish your dominance. Commit it to memory: Thou shalt not forget your audience.

Bethany Chambers, director of audience engagement, North Coast Media

Broad coverage that pleases everyone will not work in a competitive #content market. @writegirl1215 #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Be tone deaf

I came across a major household appliance brand on the internet recently. Its Nordic marketing team seemed to have fun creating vox pop videos about certain features of their goods. The videos were supposed to be funny, but they made my toes curl. They were supposed to drive engagement with their 50,000-plus followers, but there were just a handful of reactions. They were supposed to give a personal tone of voice, but they talked down to the audience.

In such cases, content marketing is not just a waste of time and budget. It will scare people away and will cause damage to your brand. Make sure you tell your story the right way. If not, you are better off not working with content marketing at all.

Joakim Ditlev, founder, Content Marketing DK

The brand’s vox pop videos were supposed to be funny, but they made my toes curl. @jditlev #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Force it

Brands forcing humor around particular social, news, or world events is a mistake, especially if they don’t really have an audience in that particular arena.

Ben H. Rome, manager, marketing, American Industrial Hygiene Association

Forcing humor around social, news, or world events is a #content mistake. @bhrome #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Go crass

A big mistake I see in content marketing is insensitivity to holidays/observances. The Martin Luther King Day sale!

Chuck Hester, vice president, Marketing Lucidity Direct

Being insensitive to holidays and observances is a big mistake in marketing. @chuckhester #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Use bad or “fake” news

Anyone who leverages current tragedies or politically false information to promote a brand, product, or service is making a big mistake.

Tim Hayden, president and co-managing partner, Brain + Trust Partners

Anyone who leverages tragedies or false info to promote brand is making big mistake. @thetimhayden #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Worry about the competitors

Anything that begins with an executive sending a competitor’s content to their team and asking why they don’t do something like that. This happens ALL. THE. FREAKING. TIME. I can’t imagine a worse behavior. It’s effectively telling your team, “Hey, can we blend in a little bit more? Can we be more average? Let’s go do some commodity work, team!” Ugh. Hashtag no.

Jay Acunzo, founder, Unthinkable Media         

Being more like your competitor tells your team to be more average, says @jayacunzo. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Ignore the opportunities

This is broader than just content marketing, but the worst thing I see companies doing is focusing too much on matching what their competitors are doing and not enough time focusing on gaps and innovation.

Courtney Cox Wakefield, manager, digital marketing, Children’s Health

Stop focusing on competitors. Start focusing on gaps and innovation. @courtewakefield #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Don’t think about measurement

I have seen this mistake over and over and each time I am shocked when I see it. Companies will spend significant budget on content marketing but not build any system to measure the results. Unlike direct response marketing campaigns, content marketing requires well-structured analytics to prove the value of the efforts. Developing a plan for measurement and attribution is as important as the plan for the content itself. There is no value in investing in content if you don’t ever know what works.

Eli Schwartz, director of organic product, SurveyMonkey

There’s no value in investing in #content if you don’t know what works. @5le #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Treat content marketing as an add-on to existing staff roles

One of the biggest mistakes is not hiring someone to do content marketing full time. If you just have current employees try to create content in their free time or on the side, your publishing will be sporadic, unfocused, and eventually peter out when you don’t see results in the first six months.

J.P. Medved, content director, Capterra

Without a full-time staff commitment, #contentmarketing will peter out. @rizzleJPizzle Click To Tweet

Create flimsy content

The most irritating trend I keep coming across is terrible research posing as “thought leadership” – content relying on extremely outdated stats or misinterpreted facts, often without adequate sourcing to help the reader assess what they’re reading.

Jonathan Crossfield, chief consulting editor, Chief Content Officer magazine

I come across terrible research posing as thought leadership w/ outdated stats or misinterpreted facts. @Kimota Click To Tweet

Make without thought

Publishing content that has little research or reason behind it is a big mistake. It annoys me to receive an email or see a post from a brand that offers me no value or helpful insight. That’s why I signed up or followed them in the first place, to get more value.

Jason Schemmel, social media manager, Harper Collins Christian Publishing

It annoys me to see a brand #email or post that offers me no value, says @JasonSchemmel. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Give it a yes or no

Telling influencers you won’t publish their content is one of the biggest mistakes. If the content isn’t ready, help them get ready. If you don’t like the topic, help them with other topics. You will sever the relationship and potentially sway that member’s passion toward your brand to your competitors due to the rejection.

Jeff Julian, CEO, Squared Digital

Don’t tell influencers you won’t publish their content. Work with them to get what you need. @jjulian #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Forget the responsibility of heart

The whole concept of selling to the heart and using emotions to sell comes with a tremendous responsibility that companies are failing to consider. The state of the heart of humanity around the world has been fragile. Humanity has endured over 50 years of fear-based messaging and the impact is telling. If you are going to use a strategy of selling to the heart, be incredibly mindful of doing no harm. It would be even better if you focused on leaving a trail of empowerment and healing behind you.

Nichole Kelly, chief consciousness officer, The Conscious Marketing Institute

Selling to the heart comes w/ tremendous responsibility many companies fail to consider. @Nichole_Kelly Click To Tweet

Call out mistakes

I’m going to get meta on you. I hate callout culture. I see a lot of bullying among marketers who show off their expertise by putting other people down (e.g., “Look at this crappy email I received yesterday.”) While I understand there’s a lot we can learn from others’ mistakes, I wish there was more humility in how it’s done. When you blur out someone’s name, most people won’t figure out who’s being mocked, but the person being mocked is all too aware. That’s in poor taste, in my opinion. #KeepItKind.

Clare C. McDermott, head of research, Mantis Research

I see a lot of bullying among marketers who show off their expertise by putting others down. @clare_mcd Click To Tweet

Final thought

As you’ve read through the list, you’ve likely found a lot you’re doing right in your content marketing programs. And you may have discovered a few nuggets, an aha moment that helps you think about changing or incorporating something new into your content marketing program.

So take a few deserved pats on the back and then hunker down to make a few improvements for even greater content marketing success.

There’s still time to spend a few days learning more about how to grow and improve your content marketing. Join these and other insightful presenters at Content Marketing World Sept. 4-7 in Cleveland, Ohio. Register today and use code BLOG100 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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