7 Big Content Strategy Mistakes Marketers Make—and How to Avoid Them

I’m not a marketer. I never took a marketing class in college. Sometimes I don’t even understand the charts we look at during the weekly revenue meeting. But if I really put my mind to it, I could totally drive a big-budget marketing initiative. I’d spend some money, I’d look at some spreadsheets, and everything would work out just fine.

See how crazy that sounds?

And yet, marketers doing content for the first time often take the “How hard can it be?” attitude toward content strategy. As Shane Snow noted, 2015 is going to be the make-or-break year for brand publishing, but brands that rush into publishing without developing smart, robust content strategies will be doomed from the start. As an editor who’s worked in branded content for some time, I’ve seen it happen more often than I care to admit.

These are some of the most common content strategy mistakes that plague first-time brand publishers. Avoid them at all costs.

1. They try to run before they walk.

At Contently, nothing excites us more than an ambitious brand. You want to tell great stories and lots of ‘em? Wonderful. But creating great content takes time and effort, and if you don’t have a robust team in place to handle the demands of content creation and production, you’re going to get overwhelmed pretty damn quickly.

My colleague Richard Sharp calls it the “crawl-walk-run” methodology: start slow, examine what you’ve learned, re-evaluate your strategy and goals, and tweak your approach. Produce a handful of stories a month for six months, then do a content audit. Take what you learned about your own content and the competition, and use it to produce a higher volume of stories for another six months. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Creating great content isn’t a sprint—it’s a marathon.

2. They don’t have a concrete workflow.

“What does your internal review process look like?”

If I had a nickel for every time this question was answered with a confused or panicked stare, I’d have a really inconvenient amount of nickels. Too many first-time publishers think that the work is done once their agency or their freelancers deliver the content. Sure, the hard part might be over, but there’s plenty left to do—and if you don’t know who’s going to do what, you’re going to have a serious mess on your hands.

So who owns what? Who’s responsible for making sure the stories are on point when it comes to voice and tone? Who’s responsible for shepherding the content through legal review? Who should your agency contact about budget changes? Who’s responsible for production? What about social promotion?

Before you invest in content, create an established workflow with clearly delineated ownership at every stage—and be sure that any agencies or contractors you’re working with know exactly how it works. It’ll save everyone time and energy and prevent a lot of unnecessary frustration.

3. They underestimate the work involved.

Great content takes work. A lot of work. After all, that’s why people like me have jobs. But first-time publishers often don’t understand just how many hours go into creating a single story. Research, writing, securing an interview source, plus photo selection, editing, fact-checking, web production, and promotion can all add up to hours of work for each piece. That’s why bandwidth almost always becomes a problem for brands that try the DIY approach.

Trying to squeeze all of those hours into an already packed schedule isn’t just frustrating—it’s expensive. If you’re a director of marketing, you’ve already got plenty to do, and something critical is bound to get deprioritized or downright ignored if you’re spending hours on content creation. That can lead to costly failures elsewhere within your purview, not to mention dragging out the publication schedule. It’s often cheaper to hire outside experts who can create better content faster and in greater quantities. Plus, they’re, you know, experts.

4. They underestimate the competition.

The world of media is flatter than ever before. Any brand can emerge as a preeminent media publisher by creating outstanding content. By the same token, a brand’s content efforts can fail if they’re only focused on beating the other guy without first considering the competition from established media brands.

Think about it like this: Suppose you’re a big-box retailer of hardware and home improvement goods, and you want to get into the content game. Once you do, you’re no longer just competing with other hardware retailers—you’re competing with established media brands like Better Homes & Gardens, Dwell, and even PBS. Be ambitious, or be forgotten.

5. They don’t have specific goals.

I’ve worked with far too many first-time brand publishers who had no real idea what they wanted their content marketing to achieve. They seemed to think that publishing content on a blog tucked in some obscure corner of their site would magically boost their marketing mojo. Like South Park’s underpants gnomes, their approach was essentially:

  1. Publish content
  2. ?
  3. Profit!

Helping them become successful meant asking questions like: “Do you want to be seen as a thought leader in your industry? Do you want to drive conversions? Do you want to change how your brand is perceived by consumers?” Once they identified their goals, the next step was helping them put some measurable KPIs in place. And yes, “Is it working?” is another question too few brand publishers ask themselves—but don’t get me started on that.

6. Distribution gets forgotten.

Many brands seem to think that promoting their content via social is all they need to do in order to get eyeballs on their stories. The reality, however, is that publishers are playing in a very crowded field, and investing in distribution is a must. As Forbes recently noted, “only 26% of marketers are investing in content distribution, even though more than half believe they need to.”

If you’re new to brand publishing, earmark a few thousand dollars a month from your budget for a great distribution service. After all, what good is content if no one sees it?

7. Brand mentions. Brand mentions everywhere.

This is every brand editor’s pet peeve. I’ve touched on this a couple of times before (here and here), so I’m not going to belabor it again. In short: If you want people to see your brand as a trusted source for home improvement advice, give them content that’s genuinely helpful and engaging. Leave your brand out of it. No one’s going to trust a brand that’s giving them advice about deck maintenance and trying to sell them a belt sander in the same breath.

Look, I get it. Everyone’s publishing, and you want to publish, too. Your boss is probably riding you about it as we speak. But investing a little time on content strategy up front will save you countless hours down the road. And think very seriously about hiring a professional to help you sort it all out.

Image by Ostill/Shutterstock

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