If your content isn’t getting the likes, shares, or views you were hoping for, it’s easy to blame a number of factors. Perhaps you didn’t get featured in the publication you were hoping to, you didn’t post at the right time, or the design wasn’t right. While these may be legitimate issues, when your brand’s content marketing doesn’t hit, it’s often because of one fundamental flaw: It didn’t resonate with people.
The goal of content marketing is to build relationships through content, to become a trusted and reliable resource in people’s lives. You can only do that if your content provides actual value.
Unfortunately, far too many brands are investing in content that is ineffective because they don’t have a grasp on how to provide that value—or how to communicate it correctly. This is often due to ignorance or a lack of self-awareness.
If your content hasn’t been as successful as you’d hoped, you may be unknowingly committing one of the cardinal sins of content marketing.
The 3 Cardinal Sins of Content Marketing
Just because you’re creating content consistently doesn’t mean you’re “doing” content marketing well.
We’ve seen a proliferation of bad brand content cluttering websites and social feeds. Granted, it may not be inherently awful, but it isn’t effective, which means it’s bad. Often it’s because the marketer is falling into one of these bad habits:
- Talking about yourself. Content isn’t a tool to pat yourself on the back or brag about how cool you are. It should be considered a conversation starter, an introduction to who you are and what you’re about. But if your content is only focused on how great you are, no amount of fancy graphics will distract from your self-indulgent message. Remember: Your job is to serve people through content, not sell to them.
- Saying what you want to say. So maybe your content isn’t a thinly veiled sales brochure, but is the subject matter interesting to the people you’re trying to connect with? Is it relevant to them? Does it solve their problems? Enhance their lives? Help them do something? If you’re only creating content about the subjects you’re interested in, or trying to keep up with trends (e.g., videos or interactives), you’re missing the core function of content marketing. Your job is to give them what they want and need—not what you want or what you think they want.
- Talking about your value instead of showing it. Even if you’re not directly selling yourself, talking about how your product or service will benefit your reader or viewer too much is just as off-putting. The role of content is to reinforce your value, not repetitively mention it. For example, If your new software is all about saving time and making peoples’ lives easier, your content should be an extension of that (e.g., cheatsheets, checklists, handy how-tos, etc.).
If you’ve found yourself falling into these traps, it’s time to tweak your perspective and take a people-first approach.
How to Create Content Marketing That Works
Here are a few dos and don’ts to ensure you’re creating content that connects with people and helps your brand achieve its goals.
- DO create personas to help you vet ideas. Get inside the mind of the people you’re trying to reach by mapping their demographic and psychographic attributes (e.g., who they are, what they do, what they worry about, what their goals are, what questions they have, etc.). If you haven’t created personas before, try our step-by-step guide. Once you’ve mapped your personas, you can hone your ideas to ensure they will provide value to the groups you’re tailoring your content for. Remember: People who search Google are looking for answers. Your content should give them what they want.
- DO cap every idea to your brand goals. In addition to choosing relevant subjects, every piece of content you create should support your brand goals—and you should be able to justify why it does. For example, if you are trying to increase sales of your new organic granola and one of its differentiators is high-quality ingredients, a guide to organic ingredients would clearly map to your goal by providing a useful resource to health-focused people. (If you don’t have a clear grasp on your brand goals, you might need to build a brand strategy from scratch.)
- DO ensure content reflects your brand. Your visual and verbal identities are valuable tools to communicate who you are, and content is a great way to showcase that identity. Whether you’re designing an e-book or drafting your next tweet, make sure you’re writing in your voice and visually representing yourself accurately. If you don’t have a brand style guide yet, try these easy exercises to find your brand voice and check out our visual identity checklist to design the elements you need to effectively communicate.
- DO peel back the curtain. People don’t want to interact with a faceless brand. They want to know who you are, what you care about, and what you support. Showing (again, not telling) people who you are is a great way to bring them into your story and cultivate a genuine connection. You can do this easily by creating content that showcases your company culture. (See our culture marketing 101 guide for great content ideas.)
Note: Some marketers think that because they aren’t selling a cool product like Apple or BMW they’re limited in the content they can create. Not so. Here are a few brands that create great content for their fairly boring products.
- DON’T join conversations you have no place in. Newsworthy conversations can seem like a great opportunity to engage, but it doesn’t do you any favors to chime in on something that’s outside your area of expertise or outside your target demo’s interest. That doesn’t mean you can’t ever join in public discourse, but do so with caution. (Here’s how to newsjack without being a jackass.)
- DON’T disguise your sales material as content. Just because you turned a sales brochure into an infographic doesn’t mean it provides more value. People are savvy. If you only have one shot to engage and you start off too pushy, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. (FYI, if you don’t know the difference between sales content and marketing content, we break it down here.) Tip: Give your content a second pass to remove any sales-y language.
- DON’T speak above or below people. How you say something matters just as much as what you’re saying. If your language feels too pedestrian or too inaccessible, people will tune out quickly. If you know who you’re creating content for, you should know their level of knowledge and how they’re used to being spoken to. Also, beware of obnoxious jargon or buzzwords. Just talk to people like they’re people.
- DON’T waste their time. Long-form content can play an important role in your content strategy, but most of the time you’re creating content for very busy people. If you can say something in 200 words or visualize it in a simple graphic, don’t drone on and on. Remember that design and data visualization can do some heavy lifting when it comes to communicating complex info.
Note: One of the most important ways to judge your content’s success is through metrics. As you tweak your content strategy, make sure you’re using the right metrics to track your performance.
Above All, Keep the Focus on People’s Needs
Your goal should be to entertain, educate, or inspire people through your content. Luckily, there are plenty of opportunities to do this throughout the buyer’s journey. Just focus on providing value at every stage, and you’ll nurture stronger relationships.
That said, we know it takes a lot to consistently create good content. For more tips and inspiration:
- Try these 9 fresh ideas to tell your brand story.
- Use this brand messaging framework to make sure you’re communicating effectively.
- Check out these 7 tips to create content that provides true value to people.
- Bookmark these 100+ content marketing tools and resources to make your team’s life easier.
And if you’re still struggling to tell your brand story (or just don’t know where to start), we can get you on the right path. Just holler.