When content flops, it’s often because of one fundamental flaw: It didn’t resonate with people.
If your content hasn’t been as successful as you’d hoped, you may be unknowingly committing one of the three cardinal sins of content marketing:
- Talking about yourself. Content isn’t a tool to pat yourself on the back or brag about how cool you are. It should be a conversation starter, an introduction to who you are and what you’re about. If your content only blares how great you are, no amount of fancy graphics will distract from your self-indulgent message. Your job is to serve people through content, not sell to them.
- Saying what you want to say. 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 creating content only about the subjects you’re interested in, or trying to keep up with trends (videos or interactives, for example), 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, prattling on about how your product or service will benefit your reader or viewer 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 people’s lives easier, your content should be an extension of that, such as cheat sheets, checklists and handy how-tos.
If you’ve fallen into the above traps, tweak your perspective and take a people-first approach.
To create content marketing that works:
- 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, such as who they are, what they do, what they worry about, what their goals are, what questions they have. (If you haven’t created personas before, try this 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 tie 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.
- 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.
- 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 in a genuine manner.
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 avoid chiming in on matters beyond your area of expertise or outside your target demographic’s interest. When you do join in public discourse, do so with caution.
- DON’T disguise your sales material as content. Turning a sales brochure into an infographic doesn’t enhance its 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. Tip: Give your content a second pass to remove any salesy language.
- DON’T speak above or below people. How you say something matters just as much as what you’re saying. If your language seems pedestrian or 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 jargon and 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 generally 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.