Content marketing, in some form or another, has been around for hundreds of years. Nowadays, professional marketers like us might define it as “a type of marketing that involves the creation and sharing of online material (such as videos, blogs, and social media posts) that does not explicitly promote a brand but is intended to stimulate interest in its products or services.”
But if you want to cut to the heart of it, it’s basically just storytelling. It’s one of the oldest forms of communication going, and brands have been harnessing its power to advertise their products in various ways for a long time.
The Edison Electric Lighting Company, for example, understood the value of creating material to promote their product, which is why, in 1882, they created bulletins to spread the word about the benefits of electric lighting.
But if content marketing was a ‘thing’ back then, it’s an altogether different beast now.
In 2017, it takes the form of sophisticated, data-driven, relevant storytelling that achieves a particular aim for a brand, and businesses are piling huge sums of money into it. Spend on content marketing in the UK is expected to rise to £349 million in 2020 – an increase of 179.2% from 2014.
Similarly, the Content Marketing Institute’s 2016 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends (North America) found that half of B2C companies intended to increase spend on content marketing in the next 12 months, and the content marketing software market alone is expected to grow more than $32.3 billion in 2018, making it one of the fastest growing areas in high tech.
But, with businesses large and small investing so much time, money and effort into content marketing, is there a risk they’re going to get it wrong?
Content marketing can be a fickle, fast-moving endeavour, and a result, it’s easy to make a mistake. Here are 10 things you should never assume about content marketing if you really want to make sure every penny of your budget is spent in the best way possible…
1. “My data is 100% complete”
We all know we should be using data to fuel our content to ensure it’s reaching the right people (at the right time, in the right place, in the right medium), but mistake number one is thinking your data is 100% complete.
Sure, you might have conducted plenty of research to tell you who your target audience is and where they’re hanging out online. And you might even have used data to inform what kind of content you need to create. But if you haven’t reviewed it recently, it’s high time you did. Keep gathering fresh information, and consider using new tools and sources to ensure your data is as accurate as it can be.
2. “My target audience will make time to read this”
Another common mistake is assuming your target audience is as invested in your content as you are. The fact is, your target audience is busy: they will only give you as much time as they have before something else pulls them away or diverts their attention.
So, make sure you’re creating content that hits the spot, and don’t make it unnecessarily long or complex. Deliver your message in the time you know your customer has, and if you promise a five-minute read, stick to it.
3. “My target audience only wants content delivered in this form”
If you’ve carried out persona work to identify the format your content should be delivered in, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what your customers want. But, assuming this is always what they want is a bad idea.
Personas are hugely valuable and will help you stay focused, but they won’t always represent 100% of your audience. Therefore, don’t be afraid to serve something up in another form once in a while. Just be sure to monitor the success of the content if you do this so that it can inform your approach going forwards.
4. “I can come up with great ideas on my own”
Even the brightest and most brilliant minds in the business hit a creative block if they work alone, so don’t make the mistake of thinking you can generate an endless flow of content ideas as a one (wo)man band.
This might mean adding new creative minds to your business, or just assigning time for internal meetings dedicated to brainwriting and brainstorms, but whatever the case, collaboration is essential.
5. “More words = more engagement”
Another assumption you should never make is believing that a higher word count will automatically mean you’re going to get more engagement with your content.
A 3,000-word piece on Google’s latest algorithm update sounds impressive, but if you could have summed it up in 1,500 words, you’ll have saved an awful lot of time (of your own, but more importantly, the readers’) while still having the same impact. It’s true that minimum word counts are useful for SEO purposes, and while some research shows that some pieces of long-form content can have more engagement, there’s not a concrete correlation.
Never fall into the trap of putting more words on a page for the sake of it, especially if the message or the quality of your content suffers as a result.
6. “It has to be 100% original to be effective”
When you work in a creative role, it’s easy to assume that the best creations are the ones that have never been thought of before. But when it comes to content marketing, that isn’t always true. In fact, it’s rarely true: how many subjects haven’t already been written about before?
That’s not to say you should steal an idea or copy a competitor directly, but sometimes, repurposing an idea from an organic competitor (and doing it better!) is a good thing to do.
7. “This is a great opportunity to drive sales”
Content marketing inevitably all boils down to one thing: to sell more. There’s no doubt it’s an effective mechanism for driving sales (whether that’s indirectly through increasing brand awareness, or directly via improving the number of leads, for example), but the very reason it works is because it’s not about marking a hard sell.
So, don’t make the fatal assumption that your target audience is going to be happy to be ‘sold at’ through your content marketing.
Instead, be subtle about it: if you’re marketing fridges, for instance, your content should be geared up around selling the lifestyle while using the appliance, rather than banging on about how good the appliance is, how many happy customers you’ve served or the fact it represents great value for money. Ultimately, it’s all about delivering value to your audience rather than explicitly asking them to take out their credit card.
8. “Quantity is just as important as quality”
There’s an argument that putting out more and more content, whatever the form (such as features, guest posts, blog posts and social media posts), means there’s more chance of it being read. However, it’s not as simple as this. The days of keyword-stuffed, information-poor content performing well on search results have long since passed, and Google’s ever-more sophisticated algorithm will value content that’s of the highest quality.
Above and beyond this is the fact that your readers will also value your brand more highly if you focus on producing high-quality, rather than high-quantity, content. So, don’t make the assumption that any old thing will do so long as you’re publishing something – quality always beats quantity. But if you can do both? So much the better.
9. “Content marketing can meet every objective at once, even with a small budget”
Another thing you shouldn’t assume – no matter how desperate you are to stretch your budget – is that content marketing can meet all your objectives at once. Your goals are going to be many and varied, such as improving conversion rates, increasing digital PR coverage, boosting social engagement and improving in page rank, for example.
While good content marketing can tick all these boxes, it won’t be able to hit all your goals at once. The only way you’d ever be able to do that is to throw a very large budget at it, and a tremendous amount of resources too, so put your goals in priority order.
10. “Content will provide overnight success”
Finally, at a time when much of what we do is instantaneous - especially online – it can be easy to assume that content marketing will provide you with overnight success. But that’s simply not true.
Good content marketing takes time, and often, you’ll need to wait at least three to six months to reap rewards – even the best content in the world takes a while to show up in SERPs. However, if you’re patient and understand that content marketing is a long-term approach to marketing, you’ll succeed: it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Armed with this knowledge, a commitment to producing high-quality content and best-in-class SEO practices, and a promise to put your audience front and centre, you’ll make every penny of your content marketing budget count.
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