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Six common mistakes to avoid when building your content marketing capability

by Stephen Hobbs

June 7, 2021

Content marketing is often treated as an afterthought, but to execute it effectively demands planning and thought. A stream of ad hoc blog posts just won’t cut it. 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 on the purchase journey

Delivering the right content at the right stage of the journey to move consumers seamlessly towards purchase is key to successful content marketing. This enables brands to reach people at the moments that most influence their buying decisions.

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. This means delivering inspiring brand and product storytelling that displays your values, communicates your USP and offers a solution to a problem. But don’t pressure people to buy. At this early stage, it’s about capturing audiences’ imaginations and hooking them in with a shared passion. For example, a sports nutrition brand might publish a blog post about the best post-workout snacks, or create a series of nutritious recipe videos, demonstrating their expertise and positioning their offering.

In the next stage, the consideration or engagement stage, consumers will be clamouring for more detail as they recognise that they have a problem to solve, and they consider your product or service as a potential solution. Brands can now be more specific and exhibit their offering. For example, 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 have finished information gathering and are ready to make a purchase decision. They will be seeking detail, and a customer review or case study can be powerful at this stage. An audio brand could have a short customer video showing someone wearing quality noise cancelling headphones on a train, for example, illustrating how the company’s product delivers excellent sound even amid a sea of ambient babble.

Use audience data to really interrogate 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. Brands should constantly iterate to resonate too, and use this data to personalise content where possible.

2 - Attempting to hijack other brands’ areas of authority

Many of today’s consumers place huge value on authenticity. The brands who are successful have responded to this, crystallising their brand values and being honest and true to these at every turn. Chiefly, it means concentrating on what you are good at, harnessing your expertise, and sharing this value with your audience — not trying to be something to everyone, or trying to hijack messaging where other brands are better positioned to lead.

Being authentic must underpin a brand’s contenting marketing. Share your knowledge, build trust, and become a reliable go-to leader in your field. Crafting authoritative content will drive growth, encourage engagement, shares and conversation, and continue to add value in the long term.

3 - Having a vague or uncertain point of view

Authenticity also underpins a clear brand purpose and a strong and consistent point of view. This is integral to creating content that stands out from competitors’ and, crucially, moves people to take action. Indeed, Kantar Consulting's Purpose 2020 report ‘Inspiring Purpose-Led Growth’ shows that nearly two-thirds of millennials and Gen Z express a preference for brands that have a point of view and stand for something.

Do you know what your brand stands for, and can you substantiate these values in your actions? Clarifying this will enable you to involve and engage consumers in your 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.

Be clear about what you stand for and what you believe in, and build your content marketing strategy around this. Today’s savvy consumers will see straight through the brands who simply jump on the latest topical bandwagon.

4 - Failing to understand the role of each platform within the customer journey

Brands need to understand where their target audience spends time and how they behave on different platforms. Some channels will also lend themselves more naturally 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 present a strong 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; platforms such as Spotify can host podcast and interview content; and brand web sites can host company blogs. Consider a mix of owned and earned (and paid) distribution options — each one plays a different role.

Align your content distribution with your KPIs — who are you trying to reach and what actions are you trying to drive? Different platforms will help you to fulfil different aims, so check referral sources in Google Analytics, and monitor keywords to identify where opportune conversations are taking place.

5 - Not knowing what your audience really wants or needs, or how to give it to them

Understanding your audience is key. Marketers need to know exactly what people want or need from the company’s brand or product, not simply push out marketing messages. Researching your target audience and developing strong audience personas enables you to create content that is genuinely useful to prospective customers, allowing your brand to resonate and engage with the right people. This creates strong foundations for a long term relationship.

Make it easy for your audience to access and consume this content too. Providing engaging digital experiences is key to reaching many of today's audiences, and getting this right keeps people coming back for more. ‘Spray and pray’ is wasteful and damaging…

6 - Fear of failure

Brands need to continually innovate and learn to ensure they are optimising the impact of their content, knowing what doesn't work as well as what does. 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. The data will quickly highlight failings, allowing rapid tweaks and changes to be made to maximise results.

Content metrics are valuable too — find out what content is proving most compelling in terms of type, topic and channel. By continually learning about what delivers and why, you can tweak your tactics and optimise your content calendar.

But beware of vanity metrics such as likes, shares and engagements. These can flatter to deceive and don’t truly measure the effectiveness of content. Harness technologies like Google Analytics, Adobe and social pixels to really understand what actions audiences take after engaging with your 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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