Content marketing isn’t rocket science, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy either. Like anything, it takes continuous trial and error and making a fair number of mistakes along the way before you start getting things right. The good news is that there’s value in analyzing those missteps — regardless of whether they’re your own or someone else’s — because it can help you avoid them yourself.
What follows is a collection of content marketing lessons that I’ve either learned the hard way through the mistakes I’ve made, or lessons I’ve gleaned from others after hearing about the challenges they’ve faced. Hopefully reiterating those lessons here, along with some sound advice, helps to save you some time and frustration.
Lesson #1: You need at least one dedicated resource.
A lot of companies, particularly small ones, think that they can tack content marketing on to their existing marketing team’s responsibilities without adding any headcount. In theory it’s a good idea, but in practice it just doesn’t work. That’s because not only does the approach have the potential to distract your existing team from its other responsibilities, it also makes it virtually impossible to give your content program the attention it needs to drive meaningful results.
So, if you are serious about content marketing, invest in the right people to build your program. A good place to start might be a managing editor, who can help set your strategy and then manage the internal and external resources necessary to execute it. Here are some of the qualities he or she should have:
Lesson #2: You need a strategy.
It’s easy enough to do a bunch of activities — write a few blog posts, send out a couple of tweets — and call it content marketing. You might even get some results doing so. But to get the most out of your content marketing program and actually build your brand, engage your prospects and customers, and drive sales, you need more than activity. You need a strategy.
That means taking the time to:
Understand your audience, what they care about, what their pain points are, what motivates them to make a purchase, and what the buyer journey they’re on looks like. Compiling your findings into buyer personas will help crystalize your understanding of your audience and make it much easier to tailor your content to them.
Develop clear conversion goals so that you know exactly what actions you want people to take as a result of consuming your content. Remember, there always needs to be a next step for your audience. Maybe it’s visiting a particular page on your website, downloading a white paper, or contacting a salesperson. Think about what conversion goals are appropriate given where your audience is in the buyer journey.
Decide what types of content to create, what that content should be about, and how to deliver it at each stage of your buyer’s journey.
Once you’ve done all of this, map the information into a content matrix like the one below, which should serve as the backbone of your content strategy.
Lesson # 3: Content marketing is about more than just content creation.
It may sound like a rookie mistake, but who among us hasn’t devoted time and energy to creating a great piece of content only to realize after it was done that we didn’t have a solid plan for what to do with it? That’s why it’s a good idea to start thinking about how you are going to use your content while you’re still in the process of producing it. One idea that I’ve found works well is to come up with a matrix of all of the possible content distribution tactics you can use, and to then tier those tactics based on the type of content.
For example, you might publish a simple piece of content like a blog post to your website, share it socially, and include it in your weekly newsletter. You might do all of those things for a bigger piece of content like an eBook too, but also host a webinar about it, post a corresponding presentation to SlideShare, or try to engage with particular industry influencers.
By documenting what your options are and what your typical content distribution strategy would look like for different types of content, you can always ensure that you’ve got a good plan in place to amplify your content.
Lesson #4: Rely on data, not your gut, to make decisions.
For some reason, metrics seem to be the bane of many content marketers’ existence. Perhaps that’s because we naturally tend to be more creative than analytic. But here’s the thing: Unlike your gut, metrics generally don’t steer you in the wrong direction and they certainly don’t lie. Instead, they give you a clear indication of how your content marketing program is performing.
Personally, on more than occasion I’ve created a piece of content and felt confident it would be a hit, only to see it flop. Conversely, I’ve written things that I felt weren’t as strong as they could be that actually performed quite well. Rather than assume what your audience is going to like, it’s much better to know what they like based on data. By analyzing what performs well and what doesn’t, and trying to figure out why based on the data, you can glean important insights that will help you to adjust both your content and your strategy going forward.
Lesson #5: The best way to learn is to do.
It’s easy to get so caught up in planning, formulating processes, developing a strategy, and trying to get everything just right, that months go by without creating and distributing any actual content. Since most of us don’t have the luxury of time, that can be problematic. Yes, all of those things are important and are worth your time and energy, but they can’t be created based on theory. They need to be developed based on actual practice.
Don’t fall into the analysis paralysis trap. Instead, start creating some content straight away and testing it in the market. Learn from that experience and evolve your strategy and processes as you do. Not only will you have something tangible to point to when you talk about your content marketing program, you will also have some opportunities to gain actual insights about what you’ve done and to adjust accordingly.
What about you?
I hope these lessons are helpful. But there are of course many more that are worth sharing. What content marketing lessons did you learn the hard way and what advice can you give so others don’t make the same mistakes?
Guest author: Kevin Cain is a freelance content marketing and communications strategist with more than a decade of experience in the financial services and consulting industries. Follow him on Twitter (@kevinrcain) or check out his blog on content strategy.