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Top 10 Content Marketing Strategy Mistakes, and How to Correct Them (Part 1 of 3)

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"Content marketing strategy" is a phrase that gets thrown around quite a bit, but how well do we really understand it?

Let's break down this terribly abused phrase into its three components:

Content refers to the creation of something (anything) that is on some level enjoyable to consume.

Marketing refers to the act of promoting and distributing content to guide consumers toward a defined goal.

Strategy refers to the processes for getting content distributed to and consumed by the right audiences.


Content marketing isn't just about writing blog posts and hoping that's effective for search engine optimization. Content marketing is about actively creating and distributing work that's intended to lead consumers toward some predefined goal.

Unfortunately, that basic concept is lost on many content marketers, which is why (for example) a frequent result is an underperforming blog.

So let's delve into the top 10 content marketing mistakes and how you can avoid or correct them.
 
1. Your content doesn't have specific goals

When you look at all of the content on the Web that is designed to sell something, you can distill it into four categories.

  1. Viral: Content that is designed to spread organically. Usually, the content is at the extreme end of a spectrum: It could be hilarious, cute, heartwarming, controversial, or downright scary. Usually, it has little substance beyond the initial spark that makes viral content unique; thus, it has a fairly short shelf life.

    The main goal with viral content is to get your consumer to click the social share buttons.
  2. Discussion: Content that is designed to spark a conversation within a community. Like viral content, it could also be hilarious, cute, heartwarming, etc.; but, unlike viral, its shelf life is much longer. The content can play on the same extremes as viral, but it's more thought-provoking.

    The main goal with discussion content is to get its consumer to leave comments and to interact with other readers.
  3. Lead: Content that is designed to draw people into some sort of opt-in. This content exposes a gap in the consumer's knowledge and hints at a promise of closing that gap if the user enters his email address or fills out a lead form.

    The ideal lead conversion outline takes the viewer on a journey, at the end of which he realizes what can be summed up in three words: "I need help."
  4. Sales: Content similar to lead content, but with one important difference. Instead of getting the consumer to say "I need help," this content convinces him into making a decision to alleviate whatever problem he needs help with: "I will buy this."

Many content marketers don't recognize or make distinctions among those four types of content; accordingly, they want every piece of content they create to perform all of those tasks. Of course, the result is a confused mess, and content consumers take no action at all.

Strategy comes into play when you get all of those content types to work together, attracting consumers with viral and discussion, deepening the relationship with lead content, and closing the loop with sales content leads to sales and back again.

Ever notice how you can spend multiple hours on some websites but not others? Understanding how content works is what separates such sites from all others.

2. Your content doesn't have anything to sell

The biggest tragedy of the information age is that you've been led to believe you can build an audience first and figure out how to make money later.

To a certain extent, that can be true, but only if you have a goal in mind first, such as "I'm going to use my blog to market my consulting business, but I won't make my consulting services public until I've reached X number of subscribers."

However, because many of us who do content marketing don't look beyond what we see on the surface, we start creating content with no idea on how it's supposed to lead to money. So people launch digital products (usually e-books) because they think it's the right time, without knowing whether anyone is going to buy.

Conversely, when you start with something to sell, you can reverse-engineer your content to expose the gap that your paid product solves. On the outside, it looks like you have nothing to sell, but the truth is you've been priming your consumers and waiting to release products based on benchmarks you've established (such as number of email subscribers).

3. Your content didn't bother asking for the transaction

If there are four types of content, that means there are four types of transactions we can ask people to take:

  1. Viral = Share with a friend.
  2. Discussion = Leave a comment.
  3. Lead = Enter your email address or fill out the form.
  4. Sales = Enter your credit card number.

That said, you have only two ways to ask for those transactions: direct and indirect.

Anyone who has kids can easily understand the difference between these two: "Mommy, can I have some chicken nuggets from McDonalds?" vs. "Oh man, Jimmy just said he got that new toy from the Happy Meal and said it was reeeeeealllly cooool. By the way, have I told you you're bee-you-tee-ful."

Jon Morrow of BoostBlogTraffic.com is a master of the indirect ask for discussion content, usually using the last paragraph to inspire and to draw comments. Consider the closing paragraphs to "How to Be Unforgettable":

I don't know about you, but when I pass into the great beyond, I won't be thinking about comment counts or traffic stats or the number of subscribers on my mailing list. I'll think about the guy who decided not to commit suicide, the young girl who made enough money to get off food stamps, the overworked dad who was able to quit the rat race and spend time with his kids.

Those are the things that matter. Those are the things we are working for. Those are the things we need to build our entire businesses around.

That's why we're here. That's why we matter.

So get to work.

Your readers are waiting for you.

Powerful right? I mean, how could you not want to comment on that?

Now, on the flip side, you have Derek Halpern of Social Triggers, who uses a much more direct approach. In the conclusion of his "How to email influential people" video, he says this:
 
I want you to do two things. First, leave a comment below this video and tell me what types of emails do you respond to, and what types of emails do you ignore. Be as specific as possible...

And second, send a link to this video to a friend if you think it could help them get in touch with people they'd like to get in touch with.

Derek's close is also powerful, even though it's as direct as direct gets.

Both of those closes are effective because they are authentic to their creators' style.

As you develop your style, study how other creators who close the various types of content, and ask yourself what about it works and what about it feels generic. Because nothing kills a piece of content faster than when it feels generic.


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Tommy Walker is an online marketing strategist and the host of Inside The Mind and The Mindfire Chats, fresh and entertaining shows that aim to shake up online and content marketing.

Twitter: @tommyismyname
LinkedIn: Tommy Walker

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  • by Hunter Boyle Mon Mar 11, 2013 via web

    Great post, Tommy. Right out of the gate you've nailed the difference between content that gets traffic, and that which gets conversions and results.

    I love the examples of the different closing types from Morrow and Halpern, two content all-stars. Looking forward to the rest of this three-part series!

    Cheers -- Hunter

  • by Tyler Hakes Mon Mar 11, 2013 via web

    This should be a great series. Really looking forward to future installments that will hopefully get into some of the more advanced strategies.

    Cheers,

    T

  • by Melissa Kelly Mon Mar 11, 2013 via web

    Thanks for the great insight Tommy! I love the first point you cover about content having goals. The viral aspect for social is very important. I'd like to add that I find success when content also relates to current events. For example March Madness 2013 is about to begin and I just posted the article "7 Marketing Tips from March Madness 2013" and it's quickly getting picked up. Check it out here: http://www.webdamsolutions.com/digital-asset-management/march-madness-2013-...

    Looking forward to the rest of this series!
    Melissa

  • by Padma G Mon Mar 11, 2013 via web

    I read nearly all the posts on Marketingprofs but rarely leave a comments. Your post draws the reader to add to the discussion! My first!

    The analysis and breakdown of the various forms of content is precise and to the point. The closing remarks build on this energy and leave the reader waiting for parts 2 and 3.

    I would like to state one point: Most of our readers skim through a blog or a website during a break on their regular work day (unless their work itself involves responding to blog posts, and buying online!). So, it is imperative that the closing statements in any content marketing page, push the reader to perform a certain action. "Please comment below", "Click here to make the payment", "Add to your wishlist" etc. These powerful single liners can make the difference between a kill and a skim through.

    So, I personally adopt and recommend strategy 2 (Derek Halpern) as it makes a reader act NOW vs strategy 1 which makes a reader ruminate and respond. Many a times, the immediate response (thinking it over) never translates into an action.

  • by Tommy Walker Mon Mar 11, 2013 via web

    Thank you so much everyone for your comment's.

    @Hunter I think it's important to start distinguishing between these content types too, so that we as a community can really start digging into the response types that work. Direct marketers have been doing this for years, but now because there are so many variables with response, it's important we start becoming versed (maybe even specialize) in these different areas.

    I'd be interested in analyzing more styles of close, are there any online writers you can think of that have a gift for drawing comments?

  • by W Brad Wheller Mon Mar 11, 2013 via web

    Hi I enjoyed this content with tips for content marketing, great information,
    I open emails that are fresh original and plain. No fancy stuff or hype. I may read if email is from the sender's own domain, I hover over the from column in chrome to check the sender email domain.

  • by Jared Farr Mon Mar 11, 2013 via web

    Thanks Tommy, I never really thought people were aiming for comments, if I did I'd probably comment more. Hence this comment!.

    Thanks!

  • by Nick Stamoulis Tue Mar 12, 2013 via web

    "Ever notice how you can spend multiple hours on some websites but not others? Understanding how content works is what separates such sites from all others."

    I think it's worth asking yourself why you spend so much time on XYZ sites. What do you like about that site compared to one your only visit once in a while? How did that site make your "must read" list? If you can figure out what captured you it's much easier to see what you need to do for your own content.

  • by Tommy Walker Tue Mar 12, 2013 via web

    @Nick, if I could +1 your comment, I would :-)

  • by Deacon Bradley Thu Mar 14, 2013 via web

    These are great Tommy. Most of my content is aimed at helping someone achieve a specific result. Let's say (for example) I write a killer post about an amazing one-handed way to tie your shoes for dads. I wouldn't necessarily consider it "viral," but discussion, sales, and leads doesn't seem to fit well either. What do you think?

    [Geeze, I've never gone through so much trouble to submit a comment :)]

  • by Hunter Boyle Thu Mar 14, 2013 via web

    Thanks for the reply, Tommy -- and for tossing back a great (tough) question regarding the closing styles that elicit lots of comments.

    I don't think the names I'm going to mention will come as any surprise. And for me it's not just the close as a final paragraph, but rather the tone that's interwoven throughout posts/content, plus the relationships these bloggers cultivate with their audiences by being sharp, honest, often funny or provocative, and direct about taking reader feedback seriously.

    IMO some bloggers who do all of that very well include: Scott Stratten, Marcus Sheridan, Erika Napoletano, Chris Brogan, Lisa Barone, Rand Fishkin, Jason Falls, Jay Baer, Sonia Simone and Brian Clark. And because they do that whole enchilada well, their audiences are massive (and rightfully so), which says a lot about the power of great writing vs. content designed primarily to fill space and get search results.

    Thanks for using *this* comments section like it should be used. Eager to read parts 2-3 ...

  • by Tim Carter Mon Apr 1, 2013 via web

    Thanks for this relevant article. I've been writing a blog for about a year and I may have just figured out what I was doing wrong. Thanks again.

  • by stephanie mcbride Sun May 5, 2013 via web

    Thank you! This is valuable information -- clear, thoughtful and delves deeply in a logical way. I look forward to the series. But my question: How do I remain authentic (I am much more subtle than Derek Halpern) and achieve my goal of taking my readers on a journey that prompts them to act? I am not looking for a formula, just an awareness of human behavior.

  • by Process Street Wed Nov 12, 2014 via web

    This is great. Cool post on content marketing mistakes - big area of focus for us right now. Need more content like this :D.

    Please check we actually wrote up a checklist we are using to promote our posts:

    http://www.process.st/2014/08/content-marketing-checklist/

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