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The 3 Biggest Content Marketing Mistakes CMOs Make

Recently, I had the privilege of joining Jeffrey Hayzlett’s panel on digital media innovation at the CMO Summit in Dallas. One of the questions Jeff asked was, “What are the three biggest mistakes that CMOs make in relation to digital media in general and content marketing in particular?” This post covers some of the topics we discussed and to which I think marketers should devote more thought.

Big mistake #1: Believing that true branding can only be achieved offline

It’s no secret that the majority of brand marketers’ dollars still go offline. The largest brand marketers spend less than 10 percent of their marketing budgets online, and the rest goes to TV, radio, print publications, and offline content marketing (e.g., product placement in movies and sponsored soap operas). It sounds strange, as we know people spend much more time reading content online, listening to radio on Pandora, and watching their favorite shows on Hulu. So why don’t the brand dollars follow?

The main reason is that traditional online advertising like banner displays or search ads  doesn’t create the same emotional experience we get when we engage with brands offline. If I asked if you can remember any banner ad you saw lately, there’s a good chance you’ll struggle. Ever find yourself talking about a “cool” banner ad with your buddies at a summer BBQ? You get my drift.

The same goes for search advertising — it’s important to have it because you want to be the one customers choose when they are specifically looking to buy something. But brand advertising is trying to entice awareness, consideration, affinity, and remembrance —not necessarily an immediate purchase. A Gillette ad on TV doesn’t expect you to jump off the couch,  run to the closest drug store,  and buy something NOW.

True branding benefits, the positive image or feeling we associate with a product’s name or logo, can be achieved in the online space when you let your brand participate in or contribute to the consumer’s online experience. Here are some tips:

  • Use smart online video ads, which do not simply take your TV ads and deliver then online, but rather considers the size of screen, interactivity, and social opportunities.
  • Consider social media campaigns that interact directly with consumers and influencers to humanize your brand in ways that were never possible before.
  • Develop content in several different formats to provide a true value-add for consumers of your category, services or products. I’m not talking about ads here; I’m talking about informative, educational or entertaining content  in text, video or a combination of formats.
  • Release content on a regular basis to develop a cohesive brand story.

Portraying a brand message that will resonate with an online audience and drive them to develop an affinity for the brand in a meaningful way must be fueled by content. This is a marketer’s opportunity to connect with consumers who are  looking for a particular brand online, as well as those who aren’t even necessarily aware that they have a need for your product or service yet.

This is why General Mills developed, a site filled with great recipes and cooking ideas, and why put a full-time editorial staff in charge of offering customers personal finance tips, industry trends, and more.

Big mistake #2: Failing to think about content holistically

Another mistake many marketers make is to view their brand content through blinders (you know, those black things put on the sides of a horse’s eyes so they only look straight ahead). You need to think about your content in terms of how it relates to and impacts all other aspects of your business and marketing efforts. You may have developed some content specifically to exist on your website. Ah — you tweeted about it. Oh — and you posted it on your Facebook wall too. Great. Now what?

  • What about your PR efforts? Didn’t they yield some great articles in leading publications? When these were published, did they move the needle for you?
  • What about the videos you placed on YouTube or videos created by your consumers to demonstrate their use of your product?
  • What about those bloggers who wrote something about your business?

It has been proven that nothing works better on us as consumers than a friend’s recommendation. And second to that is a recommendation from a stranger. Your TV ad is far behind.

Bottom line: Think about earned media amplification. Earned media includes all content assets that are not owned by you and can live outside your own online presence — on blogs, YouTube, or anywhere else. It doesn’t need to replace driving traffic to your owned content assets, but it can surely augment it.

Big mistake #3: Only considering bottom-line results

This is a big one. Some CMOs heard that everything is measurable in digital. Therefore, the only key performance indication (KPI) that the VP of Digital is now tasked with is bottom line, tangible results.

But what results should CMOs measure? Tying the true impact of online advertising to offline purchase patterns is a daunting task that is more often qualitative (based on feedback) than quantitative (based on data). This means that (surprise, surprise) the digital team will focus on short-term gains that are directly tied to measurable results, such as online sales.

When you’re Amazon, this makes perfect sense. But what if you’re a consumer packaged goods (CPG) brand, and the majority of your sales are offline in retails stores like Wal-Mart? Do you want your digital team to ONLY use direct response tactics that will drive sales on your eCommerce site, or do you also want to reach as many people as possible and influence the choice they’ll make next time they’re walking down the grocery aisle?

Digital marketing teams with a results-only mindset will disregard the value of branding and will not consider other benefits of a content marketing strategy.

Content engagement doesn’t necessarily translate directly to sales conversions online or offline. The ROI or sales will likely not be immediate. If the audience consuming content is further up the purchase funnel, the goal of your content may be to make consumers aware of your existence. You need to be patient before they’ll be ready to move to consideration or purchase. Content marketing is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. The benefits of high quality content marketing are great but come over time and therefore should be evaluated over time.


The world of marketing is always evolving. There’s a way to do branding online, and it’s all about content. Provide people with quality content, embrace recommendations and favorable content created by third parties, be patient and you shall win the marathon with long-term consumers.

[Disclaimer – Some brands mentioned above are clients of Outbrain, putting scale behind their content marketing efforts by getting their content recommended across the Outbrain publisher network.]