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Six common pitfalls to avoid when building your content marketing capability

Stephen Hobbs
10th May 2021

For too many organisations, content marketing is still being treated as an afterthought. It’s no longer enough to simply create a handful of articles and publish them to your blog, expecting audiences to find them and act on them. We look at six common pitfalls organisations often encounter when creating content, and how to avoid them…

1 - Failing to understand your audience and their needs at every stage of the funnel…

Brands want to reach consumers at the moments that most influence their buying decisions. Delivering the right content at the right stage of the journey, moving consumers seamlessly towards purchase, is key to successful content marketing. Crafting the right content means understanding what your audience wants and needs at any given moment. Which is why those ad hoc, one-off content ideas sent down from the C-Suite are almost always a waste of resource.

For example, in the awareness or discovery stage, people are researching products or services and will be open to learning about your brand and its offering. Inspiring brand and product storytelling that displays your values, communicates your USP and offers a solution to a problem is a must. Just don’t pressure people to buy. At this early stage, it’s about capturing audiences’ imaginations and hooking them in with a shared passion, so, for example, a gym brand might publish a blog post about the best exercises to strengthen your glutes, or an educational video about running technique, demonstrating their expertise and positioning their offering.

In the next stage, the consideration or engagement stage, consumers will be hungry for more detail as they recognise that they have a problem to solve, and they consider your product or service as a potential solution. In short, your prospect has become a lead and you need to help them trust you.

This is the time to showcase your wares, so an automotive brand might post a short product video demonstrating its latest model’s fuel economy and spacious interior to highlight a solution to a common challenge — combining cost-effectiveness and comfort.

In the final stage, consumers are ready to make a purchase decision, and will need the nitty gritty that gives your brand and product the edge over competition. A customer review or case study can be powerful at this stage. An outdoor clothing brand could have a short customer video shot on a head mounted cam, for example, showing how the company’s hiking boots look great and still grip in wet and muddy conditions, convincing viewers to choose your brand over your competitors’.

Use audience data to drill into what your audience needs, what they respond well to, and what has worked well (or not so well) in the past. Approach every piece of content as a value exchange. Constantly iterate to resonate, and use this data to personalise content where possible.

2 - Straying beyond your organisation's areas of natural authority…

Authenticity is a buzz word of recent years, and brands would do well to take notice. Being authentic means being honest and true to your brand values and your brand ethos. It also means concentrating on what you are good at, harnessing your expertise, and sharing this value with your audience — not trying to spread yourself too thin or muscle in where other brands are better positioned to lead.

Brands’ content marketing must reflect this. Share your knowledge, build trust, and become a reliable go-to leader in your field, whether it's state of the art audio equipment or luxurious soft furnishings. Content authority will drive growth, encourage engagement, shares and conversation, and continue to add value over a long period of time.

3 - Having an inconsistent or unclear point of view…

Authenticity also underpins a clear brand purpose and a strong and consistent point of view. This is key to ensuring that your content stands out from competitors’ and, critically, makes people feel something. Indeed, nearly two-thirds of millennials and Gen Z express a preference for brands that have a point of view and stand for something, according to Kantar Consulting's Purpose 2020 report ‘Inspiring Purpose-Led Growth’.

A brand must know what it stands for, substantiate these values in its actions, and involve and engage consumers in its cause. Take Patagonia as an example. The outdoor clothing brand is committed to sustainability and reducing consumption, and its content marketing consistently reinforces this stance, with a focus on educating, discussing and provoking thought — not selling.

One of its recent Instagram images showed a rainbow over the Alabama Hills, commenting on its ‘rapid transformation’ due to the ‘popularity of rock climbing surging at an unsustainable pace’. The image linked to a blog post on the ‘Stories' section of Patagonia’s web site, which talked about the environmental dangers of overuse.

Successful brands are clear about what they stand for and what they believe in, and effective content marketing strategies are built around this. Simply jumping on the latest topical bandwagon will smack of desperation.

4 - Failing to understand the role of your platforms within the customer journey…

Distribution is key to powerful content marketing. Brands need to understand not only who their target audience is but where they spend time and how they behave on different platforms. Some channels will also be better suited to certain content types than others.

For example, Facebook Instant Articles is an effective way of building a following using short blog articles, while LinkedInPulse articles are an ideal platform for B2B businesses to share opinions and news. Beyond social channels, gated ebooks can be created on dedicated landing pages, providing an effective means of data capture; podcast and interview content can be hosted on platforms such as Spotify; while blog posts can be hosted on a brand's web site. Consider a mix of owned and earned (and paid) distribution options, as each plays a different role.

Focus on your KPIs — who are you trying to reach and what actions are you trying to drive? Align your content distribution with these goals. Different platforms will help you to achieve different aims, so check referral sources in Google Analytics, and monitor keywords to identify where pertinent conversations are happening.

5 - Not knowing what your audience looks like across the different channels, or how to target them…

Marketers need to understand their audience and what they want or need from the company’s brand or product. Simply telling them what the marketing department wants to tell them won’t cut it. By researching your target audience and developing strong audience personas, and creating content that is genuinely useful to these prospective customers, brands can resonate and engage with the right people. This lays the foundations for an enduring relationship.

Think about how your audience can access and consume this content easily too. Providing engaging digital experiences is key to reaching many of today's audiences, and getting this right means people come back for more. ‘Spray and pay’ is wasteful and damaging…

6 - Fear of trying new things — and of failure…

Some content will work better than others, and brands need to continually innovate and learn to ensure they are optimising its impact. The answer lies in data.

For example, A/B testing (or ‘split testing’) is a great way of testing different headlines, video length, images or copy, for example, and this will ensure your hard work garners maximum results. And, knowing what doesn't work is as important as knowing what does. The data will quickly identify failings, allowing snappy tweaks and changes to be made.

Use content metrics too — find out what content is proving most compelling in terms of type, topic and channel. Continually learning about what hits the spot and why (and what doesn’t) means you can tweak tactics and optimise your content calendar.

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But don't be flattered by vanity metrics. Likes, shares and engagements might make you feel good, but they don’t truly measure the effectiveness of content. Technologies like Google Analytics, Adobe and social pixels are needed to really understand what audiences do after engaging with a company’s content. Brands must hone in on the KPIs that produce real insights.

Failure is a necessary part of innovation, evolution and success.

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