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The Worst Content Marketing Is What Everybody Else Is Doing: How to Get Ahead and Stay There

The minute a marketing technique becomes a fad, it becomes a breeding ground for mediocrity. Content marketing is the latest example. People today have the idea that content marketing is a magic bullet for branding, SEO, loyalty building, lead generation – you name it, content marketing can do it. As a result, everybody is publishing, whether or not he or she has creative talent, marketing talent or something to say. Predictably, these types of content marketing are failing, and chewing up a lot of time and money in the process.

Here are suggestions for doing content marketing that actually works.

Content Must Be Useful

One of my more successful content marketing efforts in recent months was a series of posts about business jargon that appeared on the Jeff Bullas blog. These posts succeeded in getting views, comments and shares because they contained very useful information.

Being clever is great. Being original is great. But very often content creators focus too much attention on being clever and original, and not enough on being useful. This is a costly error, where the best-case result is something akin to a Super Bowl ad: Off the charts brilliant, nobody remembers the brand, and the company is out millions of dollars. Let’s not even think about the worst-case scenario.

Posts like the jargon series are a pain in the butt to create. They require hours of research and meticulous writing and editing.  The idea behind these posts isn’t particularly original; tons of posts about business jargon are published every month. And the style, while clever enough, is hardly a match for many of the wittier jargon posts I’ve read. What makes these posts stand out is their breadth and problem-solving value: A writer or editor can reference this information day in and day out to find non-jargon replacements for 150 of the most common offenders.

Keep Quality Standards High

Content marketers feel pressure to publish from many directions. Management likes to see a lot of published material because it creates performance metrics that are easy to capture. Never mind that the 100 articles published all sucked. We published 100 articles!

SEO likes quantity because every published piece of content represents a unique backlink. And while leveraging SEO in content marketing is a good practice, creating links for the sake of numbers is a dubious approach. If the links lack relevance, or if there are too many of the same type, the SEO impact will be negligible or even negative.

Content marketers themselves easily gravitate to quantitative metrics, because pointing to results – i.e., the number of published pieces you produced – helps justify your job. On the other hand, if managers see you thinking or having brainstorming sessions all day long, they may regard you as unproductive or some type of loon.

For sustained success in content marketing, one must resist the pressure to publish. While a certain amount of quantity is necessary to move the dial, quantity should never come at the expense of quality. Mediocre content results in mediocre branding, mediocre SEO and mediocre lead generation. One really superb article is worth more than 10 or even 100 articles that merely go through the motions.

The key to success is to set quality standards that are high enough to impress your target audience, yet not so high as to take production below critical mass.

Sell Internally

While content marketing is very much a fad among marketers, it remains unfamiliar to co-workers and company leadership. The issue of quality versus quantity no doubt makes perfect sense to content marketers, but is not an issue the firm’s management staff considers regularly. To gain and sustain internal support for programs, content marketers must spend a good deal of time educating the internal team and selling it on the value of their strategic plan.

How exactly do you sell your program internally? Using quality versus quantity as an example --

·      Cite authoritative articles such as this one or this one or this one or perhaps even the one you are now reading.

·      Establish your own credibility. If management is skeptical about content marketing, they may be skeptical about you as well. Attending seminars, earning certifications and building relationships with established marketers outside the firm are ways to demonstrate your expertise to those internal skeptics.

·      Set realistic goals. Even a truly great piece of content won’t make your program an overnight success. Like most marketing programs, content marketing takes time. If you under promise and over deliver, you’re far more likely to keep your program moving forward.

One additional thought: As a content marketer, are you honing your sales skills? For any marketer, having sales ability is a tremendous asset, because it enables one to build consensus, get buy-in, leverage successes and overcome failures. However, content marketers have a tougher sales job than many other marketers, since activities such as SEO, paid search marketing and email marketing are generally accepted as being credible and having inherent value. Content marketing, on the other hand, needs to be sold as something credible and valuable before one can even begin to sell a specific course of action.

David Ogilvy famously said, “If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative.” We can adapt this idea to content marketing by saying, “If you can’t sell it, you can’t create it.”

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