The pressure to create a steady stream of quality content is higher than ever. But the faster you move, the easier it is to stumble. We know this firsthand. Over the last decade of running Column Five, we’ve experienced plenty of challenges at all stages of content creation.
Whether it was a creative block or a rookie mistake during ideation or design, these blunders have resulted in major headaches. But they’ve also taught us a lot about what it takes to master content creation. We hate to see bad content happen to good brands, so today we’re sharing our fixes for the worst (but unfortunately common) content creation mistakes.
10 Things to Avoid in Content Creation (Plus Tips)
Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been hitting the same snags for a while, we hope these tips will significantly improve your content creation process.
Mistake 1: Creating What You Want, Not What People Need
In our agency’s early days, we would sometimes focus too much on the content we wanted to create, how we wanted to be perceived as “thought leaders,” and how these things related to what we were trying to sell. The problem? We weren’t thinking about the people we were trying to connect with. We weren’t solving their problems through content or educating them about the things they were interested in. Unsurprisingly, our content wasn’t connecting that well. Unfortunately, this is the number one mistake we see brands making over and over.
The fix: To create truly engaging content, you need to understand the people you’re trying to reach and what they need. Start by creating marketing personas that identify the demographic and psychographic attributes of those people.
To get the info you need to craft your personas, conduct customer surveys, chat with your sales team (they have a direct line to customer problems), comb through in-house data, or shoot off a quick email to ask a client what’s on their mind. This will help you brainstorm much better ideas that serve each persona. This is hands down the best way to come up with content ideas that provide real value. (Also, doing this will put you ahead of the curve. Surprisingly, 45% of marketers don’t vet their ideas through personas, according to CMI’s 2019 B2B Content Marketing report.)
Mistake 2: Not Connecting Your Ideas With Your Content Strategy
Personas are an incredibly helpful tool to guide brainstorms, but it’s easy to focus only on what people want—not how that content will support your larger goals.
For example, one of our data visualizations once reached a million views on Reddit overnight. People loved it, but it didn’t convert because it wasn’t aligned with our content strategy. If you’re in the same boat, you need to make sure your ideas work for your personas and your goals. (BTW, if you haven’t drafted your content strategy, follow our guide to do it.)
The fix: You want your content to move people along the path to purchase, which means they need to hear the right things at the right time. To help align your messaging, map your buyer’s journey. This will help you identify the pain points your customers face at each stage and figure out how to position yourself as the solution.
Additionally, to ensure you really have an effective piece of content, write out the idea, who it’s for, how the idea addresses a pain point, and what action you want them to take after engaging with the content.
Mistake 3: Forgetting to Tell a Story
Story is the key to connecting to people’s emotions. It captures their attention and personalizes their experience, creating a deeper relationship. (It’s why our tagline is “Best Story Wins.“) However, many brands overlook story, thinking they can just throw out a few stats in an infographic or create a brand-centric e-book. This content is much less interesting and, therefore, less effective.
The fix: No matter the medium (infographic, video, interactive, etc.), center it around a narrative. This may be exploratory, allowing people come to their own conclusions, or it may be a guided narrative, where you guide them to a specific conclusion. Either way, you need to know the hook and resolution. For more on that, follow these tips to craft an infographic narrative or check out our 5 tips for better storytelling.
Mistake 4: Thinking About Medium Later
Even if you’ve done your due diligence: built personas, identified pain points, solution, messaging, and story, you might be tempted to plunge in and unleash your creativity to bring your great idea to light—without thinking of the form that idea will take. We were guilty of this early on. Worse, we’d sometimes decide on a specific medium instantly without questioning if it was the right one.
Thus, we’d rush to turn a cool data set into an infographic, when an interactive, video, or written article might have been the best choice. This lack of oversight became painfully clear when we once created a great GIF series that a major publisher loved and wanted to promote—but its publishing platform couldn’t support.
The fix: Remember that medium is just as important as the message. Once you have vetted your ideas according to strategy, explore which medium would be most effective. If you’re not sure what would work, here’s a basic rundown of the benefits of different visual mediums.
Mistake 5: Overlooking Distribution
There’s nothing more frustrating to your promo team than getting looped in on a finished piece of content with no heads up. Without a plan to distribute content, or an understanding of where it’s meant to live, it’s harder to both promote. It’s also important to remember that not all ideas work for all channels. (Remember our GIF fiasco.) Without a vision for your distribution strategy, your content will definitely be less effective.
The fix: Consider which distribution channels would be best to tell your story and connect with the people you’re trying to reach. (Also consider publisher and influencer preferences before you make your choice.) Pro tip: To increase your chances of publication placement, find out how to pitch a content idea to a publisher, and follow our guide to craft a distribution strategy that works.
Mistake 6: Not Doing Substantial Research
Data is powerful, which is why it’s such an effective storytelling tool. However, its power lies in its relevancy.
Back in the day, when we found a great study or data set that helped support a client’s content objectives, we would hit the ground running, then smack into a wall when an updated report, more relevant source, or trending topic came to light halfway through the project. By not doing our due diligence to find the freshest data up front, we wasted time and energy trying to shift gears halfway through.
Tip: Before you decide to move forward with an idea, build in a proper discovery phase. Research how a topic has been covered, what data is available, which information gaps are present (such as angles that haven’t been covered), and identify how you can contribute a new perspective. You can also check out these 100+ free data sources to find the data you need, or follow our tips to find the story in your own company’s data.
Mistake 7: Having A Weak Production Infrastructure
To succeed in content creation, you need more than a great idea; you need the ability to bring it to life. Unfortunately, if you don’t have a solid production process in place, it will cause a domino effect.
This happened to us in our early days. When we hit a snag in production, other projects would get put on the back burner, preventing us from creating a consistent stream of content. Through much trial and error, we have refined our process and built the infrastructure needed to produce quality content consistently. We’re also constantly exploring and experimenting with technologies and organization systems to help us improve everything from collaborative brainstorms to design feedback.
The fix: Build a content team with the right roles to keep things moving. (Luckily, this doesn’t require new hires—you can cover these roles with a two-person team.) You should also make sure everyone on your team is on board with your vision and has the resources and support they need to execute it. Planning well, adopting realistic timelines, and streamlining your process are the best ways to ensure you can follow through on your plans.
Note: With any creative endeavor, you are bound to make mistakes. But look at any speed bumps as opportunities to grow and improve. If you’re resilient when it comes to learning how to create content well, the payoff will be worth it.
Mistake 8: Not Having the Necessary Skills
We certainly believe in experimentation, risk taking, and an improve-as-you-go approach to content creation because we know that it’s easy to get paralyzed by perfectionism. However, there are some types of content that are costly to experiment with if you really don’t know what you’re doing (e.g., interactive design, motion graphics, video production). While it’s worthwhile to learn and expand, sometimes tackling this type of content creation as a true noob can waste money, time, and resources if you hit a snag or do something incorrectly.
The fix: Bring in a pro to provide support or supplement your team’s skills where needed. Not only can they elevate your content, the knowledge exchange can be invaluable. That said, make sure you vet them appropriately.
You want to find the right creative partner, not just a gun for hire. If you’re on the hunt, here’s what to look for in a creative agency, as well as questions to ask them.
Mistake 9: Ignoring or Overlooking Best Practices
Sometimes you might have the basic skill to do something, but you don’t have the knowledge or experience to know what best practices will improve the viewer’s experience (or what mistakes to avoid).
For example, there are many simple things you can do to drastically improve the comprehension of a data visualization. Conversely, simple oversights in design can actually skew data (and thereby damage your credibility).
The fix: Educate yourself on trends and best practices in content creation, or call in a pro to make your content as effective as possible. If you’re DIYing, here are 8 visual content mistakes to avoid, 25 tips to improve your data visualizations, and 15 design tips for your infographics.
Mistake 10: Forgetting Your Brand
No, you don’t want your branding to overshadow your content, but you want people to know who made it. The more consistent your branding, the more people will become familiar with it, the more they’ll expect it and look to you as a resource. (Trust us: You’ll kick yourself if you forget to add your logo or attribution info and your infographic goes viral.)
The fix: Make sure you have a well-crafted, comprehensive brand identity. (Start with our guides to find your brand voice, craft brand messaging, and design a visual language.) Most importantly, make sure you create brand guidelines that are easy to use. This will ensure consistency across content, which is especially important if you’re using an agency or freelancers.
Don’t Forget to Work Smarter, Not Harder
Content creation requires a lot of moving parts. While you don’t want to skimp or cut corners, the more you learn and the more efficient your process is, the easier it becomes. If you want a few more tips and tools:
- Bookmark these 100+ content marketing tools, tips, and resources.
- Check out our team’s top tips to make you a better content marketer.
- Take a look at our easiest fixes for your biggest content marketing problems.
But if you find yourself continuing to struggle with your content strategy or creation, don’t be afraid to call in reinforcements. We’d be happy chat about how to tell your brand story most effectively.