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5 Misunderstandings That Sabotage Your Content Marketing

You know when you hear a line you’ve heard a million times and suddenly you see it in a different light? That moment often comes courtesy of a deep thinker and relayed by a great storyteller.

I get that feeling regularly thanks to CMI Chief Strategy Advisor Robert Rose’s weekly note. If you’re not subscribed to the Weekly Alert, you missed some of these aha moments. To remedy that, I’ve gathered a few of my favorites from the year.

Get ready to accept that some familiar words, phrases, and quotations don’t mean what you think they mean – at least not when it comes to content marketing.

1. Truth

No other column caused as many back-and-forth discussions in the editing stage as the one called Based on a “True” Story. And that makes sense since it tackles the big, meaty topic of what truth is. Robert made a pretty clear distinction between facts and truth, which he set up this way:

The topic of ‘truth’ is popular right now. During a news report about a recent controversial documentary, the filmmakers were asked, ‘Does a documentary need to present both sides of a story to get to the truth?’ They very quickly said ‘no,’ then went on to explain that they’re telling a story and, thus, are presenting a specific perspective. They’re presenting their truth – the truth of the hero of their story.

On my first read of this column, I felt a bit like Luke Skywalker scoffing, “from a certain point of view?” at Obi-Wan Kenobi’s explanation of how his claim that Darth Vader killed Luke’s father was true.

I worried Robert was suggesting marketers play similarly fast and loose with the facts. But then Robert gave the example of an Apple video showing people creating complex presentations on an iPad Pro.

I’m sure everything they’re doing can actually be done. It’s fact … But here’s the thing. No one I’ve ever met (and I see a lot of business presentations) has actually created their sophisticated keynote presentation using the iPad Pro. It doesn’t matter. The Apple video is simply based on a true story.

Robert helps us see truth not as something indisputable (in other words, not as different from facts), but as the outcome of a well-told story – perhaps even that aha moment:

Storytelling is the act of choosing what happens and in what order to create the truth that changes an audience’s perspective.

It’s our job to create that shift, after all.

#Storytelling is the act of choosing what happens and in what order to create the truth that changes an audience’s perspective, says @robert_rose via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

2. Audience

Ask Robert a question and his reply likely will prompt an aha moment (and possibly end up as fodder for the weekly column). That’s what happened when one marketer emailed Robert for advice on how to monetize his “audience” of 100,000 names and email addresses.

The answer he got wasn’t necessarily what he expected.

When I asked how many of the people on his list had subscribed, he told me that most had registered for access to a webinar or an asset as part of lead-generation campaigns. I informed him he didn’t actually have an audience, but rather a database of names.

A database of names does not make an audience, says @robert_rose via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

And, Robert explains the really important difference.

A marketing database is made up of people who transacted some amount of their personal data in exchange for an asset. People in an audience may have started with a transaction, but they have an expectation (and a hope) that whatever they’re going to get next is at least as good if not better than what they got previously.

In other words, if you’re mistaking a database for an audience in your content marketing strategy, you’re overlooking an important opportunity (and a key obligation).

As content practitioners, we are the ones responsible for delivering delightful customer experiences. It’s not just our ability to deliver a positive outcome for a customer that determines success, it’s also our ability to intensify the positive expectation of delight to follow.

3. Buy-in

This word gets to the heart of a misunderstanding that explains one big reason why content programs lose funding. What does executive buy-in really mean?

Robert shares the story of a marketing director who seemed to do everything right. She made a business case supported by a financial analysis and road map for a new role for herself and a new centralized content strategy. She got approval to move ahead. Six months later, the project and her role were put on indefinite hold.

Here’s Robert’s explanation of what happened:

As it turns out, the executive committee only approved her project because they could find no strong objection to anything in her plan. No one felt excited about or even desired the change. She’d made an efficient business case with solid performance metrics none of them could say no to. But she hadn’t made them care.

And because they didn’t care, they didn’t defend the project. Ouch. Robert explains the difference between getting “buy-in” and getting executives to be “all in”:

(T)oo often, I’ve seen innovative projects die on the vine just because bosses didn’t squeal with delight when they heard about them. Still, it’s useful to understand that executives’ buy-in doesn’t mean they’re all in when it comes to your ideas.

Robert suggests assessing support through a survey response technique known as a Likert scale:

  • We’re in strong agreement.
  • We agree.
  • We’re neutral.
  • We disagree.
  • We strongly disagree.

It may not be as exciting as delighted squeals, but the results will give you a realistic understanding of whether you won hearts and minds or simply were granted permission.

4. Timeless content

Given how much time goes into creating a great piece, it seems logical to make your content timeless or evergreen and leave out details that would peg a piece to a time period.

Robert says aiming for timeless content is a mistake:

… ‘(T)imeless’ content does not automatically mean that the content will stand the test of time. Nor is content that stands the test of time necessarily ‘timeless.’

Aiming for timeless #content is a mistake, says @robert_rose via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

Instead, he says, aim to create classic content – “something of lasting worth, of the first or highest quality.”

What qualifies as classic content? Robert offers The LEGO Movie (which didn’t shy away from of-the-moment jokes or characters) and John Deere’s The Furrow, a magazine that’s been published for 124 years and which subscribers save and return to again and again.

Though things don’t really become recognized as classic until they last, Robert suggests a way to aim for that goal:

…(F)ocus on the importance of great storytelling, exploring topics deeply, creating distinct points of view, and not necessarily being afraid to use timely examples to help tell a story. We can focus on creating content that people will want to revisit again and again.

Create ‘classic’ content – #content that people will want to revisit again and again, says @robert_rose via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

5. ‘What gets measured gets managed’

Does everyone let out a faint groan when they hear that? It’s a common quote in business presentations where it’s usually used to make a case for measuring everything you can.

Not only is that quote often misattributed to Peter Drucker or W. Edwards Deming, it’s also fundamentally misunderstood. Robert explains that the quote comes from researcher V.F. Ridgway – and it means almost the opposite of what most people think it means.

The full quote reads: “What gets measured gets managed – even when it’s pointless to measure and manage it, and even if it harms the purpose of the organization to do so.”

Most marketers have experienced the distraction of measuring pointless things. The question is how to avoid it. Robert offers this useful reminder:

Don’t make things matter because they’re measurable. Make them measurable because they matter.

Don’t make things matter because they’re measurable. Make them measurable because they matter, says @robert_rose via @cmicontent.#ROI Click To Tweet

Your turn

What aha moments on content strategy and content marketing have you had this year? What terms and quotes do you hear misused or misrepresented in the content world? Did Obi-Wan lie to Luke or did he simply tell a story that shifted his perspective?

Let me know in the comments.

Get the chance to get your aha moments in person. Learn from Robert Rose and others at Content Marketing World this October. Register now for the best early bird rates.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute