By Ann Gynn published September 17, 2020 Est Read Time: 11 min

These Content Marketing Rules Are Made to Be Broken

Should you let content marketing “rules” rule your content marketing?

That’s a resounding no from 23 experts presenting at Content Marketing World 2020.

But they aren’t advising you to break the rules just because you can. Breaking rules successfully requires thinking and exploration. Here is their carefully considered advice on which content marketing “rules” are crying out to be broken.

Everybody needs a blog

It’s myopic to fixate on blogging. There are so many diverse ways of connecting with an audience. You still should own the content you create. Blogs have been the standard go-to in large part because we can host them and manage the end-to-end content experience. But websites can do a lot more than be standard out-of-the-box blogs. If creating content that connects is the goal, blogs aren’t always the best way to achieve that. – Andrea Fryrear, co-founder, Agile coach and trainer, AgileSherpas

It’s myopic to fixate on #blogging to connect with audiences, says @andreafryrear via @CMIContent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Stick to what works

The content marketing landscape changes so quickly with new technology and shifting audience trends, a good content strategy must be versatile and willing to try new channels and constantly working to understand the audience. – Brian Piper, director of digital content strategy, University of Rochester 

Follow the formula

We often start with a formula when it comes to creating web copy, sales pages, and even emails, but formulas can never be a substitute for knowing your audience. An overreliance on formula keeps you from asking hard and important questions, and it allows you to move forward with overconfident assumptions. It can also make you risk-averse, but risks are always worth taking. Be willing to step outside the formula to discover something new. – Lindsay Hotmire, CEO, Lindsay Hotmire Creative

Repeat what works elsewhere

Stop copying what others do. Stop the template approach. Pick one thing that you assume to be true and flip that assumption. For example, a bank content marketing team should break the rule that says its content needs to be super serious and boring because it’s in a regulated industry (and who made up this rule? It sucks!). It’s not true. Take one big assumption in your industry and flip it on its head. And shake it for change, too. Hell, it’s a bank – so you know – ka-ching! – Kathy Klotz-Guest, founder, Keeping It Human

Do what has worked

The rule of doing what’s worked in the past. If another brand found great success with a particular tactic, you’re not likely to achieve the same success. The potential may have faded. The best way to break the rules is by creating your own. It’ll ensure that your efforts stand out. – Dennis Shiao, marketing consultant, Attention Retention

The best way to break the rules is by creating your own, says @dshiao via @CMIContent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Create content for content’s sake

Creating content just to make sure you’re in the content marketing game. Look at all the brands that said absolutely nothing about coronavirus. If you have nothing to say, be brief and move on. – Ahava R. Leibtag, president, Aha Media Group 

View content as text, images, video, audio

We should be thinking about “content” as cultural currency because this is how people engage with it – as a means to connect to their people. – Marcus Collins, marketing professor, University of Michigan Ross School of Business

We should be thinking about #content as cultural currency because this is how people engage with it, says @marctothec via @CMIContent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Focus on benefits

Stop talking about benefits. This rule has been around since I started in technology marketing in the ’80s, and it’s time to dump it in the same junk pile as avocado appliances and orange shag carpeting. Your buyers are seeing the same benefits from everyone in your category and they are not impressed.

You need to tell buyers exactly why you are best qualified to deliver those benefits, and yes, that will mean talking about your company’s unique capabilities or even (gasp) specific features. When you truly understand your buyer persona in the context of their buying decision and journey, you can address their questions and concerns and stop all the blather. – Adele Revella, CEO, Buyer Persona Institute 

People have short attention spans

Don’t believe people have short attention spans. If you deliver valuable content, they will give you all the attention in the world. – Adam Morgan, executive creative director, Adobe

If you deliver valuable #content, people will give you all the attention in the world, says @askadmo via @CMIContent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

People don’t like long content

Reject the notion that people don’t want or won’t consume long-form content. The truth is people can and will binge a TV series in a day, and they can and will read a several-hundred-page book in a matter of hours. If content hooks and satisfies them, audiences will stay with it. If that story you uncover warrants becoming an hour-long podcast or a three-part series (like ours did), make it so. – Michelle Park Lazette, senior writer, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland

Go for quicker successes

Tap the brakes on short-lived campaigns. Instead, pull over into the slow(er) lane, and build an engaged audience one subscription at a time. And do it in a car you own, not one you rent. Take your audience for a long, mutually beneficial road trip, not a quarter-mile drag race. – Rich Schwerin, senior content strategist, Autodesk 

Be consistent

Consistency is overrated. I’m not saying you shouldn’t stick to a content calendar or go a month without posting a new blog article. I am saying you should be willing to change things up and change them up quickly.

Got a new format for your podcast you’d like to try out? Go for it and ask your audience for feedback. Have a post that you can’t wait to share until a space on your editorial calendar opens up? Just share it now. If you know your audience, you’ll know when it feels right to take a small risk like these, and, in my experience, they’ll appreciate the surprise. – Chris Luecke, podcast host and founder, Manufacturing Happy Hour

Be willing to change things and change them quickly, says @CWLuecke via @CMIContent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Get everybody’s approval

The rule of having 29 approvals necessary before publishing anything should be broken. Certainly there is a place for approvals, editing, and collaboration, but don’t put people into approval hell. – Christoph Trappe, chief marketing officer, The Authentic Storytelling Project

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT: How to Survive Content by Committee

Don’t be promotional

The “rule” that content can’t be promotional or product-focused should be broken. That’s content too.  It can’t be ALL the content you do, but content marketing purists are too snooty about the bottom-of-funnel stuff. It can be amazing, too. – Doug Kessler, co-founder, Velocity

The 'rule' that #content can't be promotional or product-focused should be broken, says @dougkessler via @CMIContent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Ask for forgiveness, not permission

The ask-for-forgiveness, not-permission rule gained popularity in startup culture over the past decade. While it may be a perspective that lends itself to business innovation, it also has its downsides. – Erika Heald, founder, Erika Heald Marketing Consulting

Publish frequently

Don’t force yourself to publish new content on a schedule if you’re putting out crap. It’s better to release high-quality content less frequently than to publish low-quality content on a consistent schedule. – Ruth Carter, evil genius, Carter Law Firm 

Stick to the schedule

Content marketing schedules are terrific, and they work when things run smoothly. But if recent events taught us anything, it’s to drop the schedule and adapt to the changes to stay relevant. While I am still a proponent for planning, I think flexibility should be in the back of all our minds. Inga Batur, senior editor and writer, Zavarovalnica Triglav 

Post on all available social channels

Your brand doesn’t need a presence on every single social media platform, including the big four – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram. If you can’t manage it well or it isn’t making a significant impact for your business, don’t waste time on it. Focus on the tactics that make a difference and forget the ones that don’t. – Rachel Mann, digital engagement supervisor, American Fidelity Assurance

Be everywhere your customers are

You don’t have to be everywhere your customers are online. That was always a myth and a horrible waste of everyone’s time. Instead, be strategic. Say no to more things. Say yes to earth shattering. If it’s not working, stop producing content altogether. There are no more excuses for you to not create truly remarkable information for your customers. – Joe Pulizzi, founder, Content Marketing Institute

Say no to more things. Say yes to earth shattering, says @JoePulizzi via @CMIContent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Content marketing is not selling

The rule that should be broken is that content marketing has nothing to do with selling. Because content marketing is focused on building loyalty and trust, many people think that it has nothing to do with selling products. Every company is in business to make money. They must sell their goods or services to do that.

Content marketing is one way to help sell products, whether your content marketing campaigns even mention a product. Building loyalty and trust makes people want to purchase your goods or services. Every content marketing campaign should be aligned with what product marketing teams are doing. – Andi Robinson, global digital content leader, Corteva Agriscience 

Stay in your marketing lane

Marketing and sales departments should not actually know their place. For marketing to be more effective, they need to integrate with sales and tap into the sales department for deep insight into their buyers. Similarly, the sales team should not be standing on its own trying to source the content and documentation they need to close a sale. They should be speaking with the marketing department and regularly brainstorming on the best type of content that can be created and used in the sales enablement process. – Viveka von Rosen, chief visibility officer, Vengreso

For #marketing to be more effective, it needs to integrate with #sales, says @linkedinexpert via @CMIContent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Stick to marketing

Because content is the face of your customer experience, content can’t be stuck in marketing alone. Instead, content leaders need to reach across the aisle to product teams, customer service teams, even IT, to create a holistic vision of how content contributes to the larger customer experience.

Creating isolated content-driven experiences, no matter how awesome they are, means creating a disconnected experience with your brand, which isn’t good for your brand or your customer. Content marketing needs to evolve into something driven at the organization level. Read more here. – Matthew Rayback, creative director, Adobe

Don’t do anything just because the experts say so

Cathy McKnight, vice president of strategy and consulting at The Content Advisory, offers this sage advice: “Don’t do something (or not do it) because that’s what the experts say. Keeping doing (or not doing it) until it no longer works for your brand.”

That’s the key to breaking rules – figure out which ones will prevent or inhibit you from achieving your brand’s goals. Then, grab a hammer and smash away.

Figure out which rules will prevent or inhibit you from achieving your brand’s goals. Then, grab a hammer and smash away, says @AnnGynn via @CMIContent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet
Catch these speakers and many more at Content Marketing World this October. Don’t follow the deadline rule – register today!

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Ann Gynn

Ann Gynn edits the CMI blog. 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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