Editor's note: The first installment in this series covered three content marketing mistakes, and the second tackled four others. The third and final installment, below, lays out the remaining three of the top 10 content marketing mistakes.
8. Your content doesn't tell a story
At some point along the way, we content creators forgot an important, universal truth: Story matters.
The idea of "being engaging" is beyond misunderstood; it's usually described with other clichés, too, but what it really boils down to is telling a better story.
That might seem obvious, but so much content lacks story (not that all content must have it). You see tons of tactics and "how to" articles, or theory and philosophy; but, without the story thread to tie it all together, the content has no soul.
The metaphor I use to describe the problem is the classic tale of the knight who slays the dragon—in step-by-step outline:
- Step 1: Grab sword.
- Step 2: Mount horse.
- Step 3: Find dragon.
- Step 4: Pierce through heart.
- Step 5: Rescue princess.
Where's the struggle? Where's the love, the romance, the passion, the reason to care?
I'm not sure where the problem lies, but it could be that most "content marketers" don't understand the two basic types of storytelling: direct vs. indirect (just as in asking for the transaction).
In a direct story, you're telling your content consumer about something that happened to you or someone else: "Jane used the tactics found in this post and saw a massive increase in her traffic."
Really, even though you're telling someone else's story, you want to tell it in a way that allows consumers to recognize themselves throughout the content. The more they connect with the subject of the article, the more likely they will be to take whatever action the content calls for.
Indirect content, on the other hand, is a little sneakier. The content itself might seem straightforward information, but it really has its consumers simultaneously telling a second story in their head:
- "What would it be like if I did...?"
- "Oh! I could use that here..."
- "I've always wanted to try..."
Those are the types of interactions you want to go for.
Honestly, it's a tricky skill to master, and the only way to really do it is by practicing deliberately and keeping an eye out for it when it's being done to you.
Also, realize that if you're looking to build a long-term relationship with your content consumers, what you publish, and the order you publish it in, tells a story all its own.
As a content creator, your personal story needs to progress, too (see mistake No. 10). Without that, again I ask, What's the reason to care?
9. Your content never leaves home
Part of the way you keep the interest of your long-term content consumers is to get your content to leave home.
You can do that by writing guest articles or posts on other sites and blogs, making the front page of a social news outlet, or even appearing in the mainstream media.
If your content never leaves home, you don't give your loyal readers anything to root for. Your content also won't be exposed to a fresh audience, which means it won't be challenged to grow.
As for distribution, look beyond the big social networks, to less mainstream communities. Reddit, Delicious, HackerNews are good starting points, but you can get even more niche than those. And, again, do your research. You should be researching not only new places to guest-post but also the people who are the ones determining whether a piece of content is "worthy" of publication.
Usually, niche sites are tastemakers for the rest of the Internet. Too often, however, "content marketers" overlook such sites and instead try to stand out on the major platforms. The reality is, the people you appeal to on the niche sites will help propel your content into the Facebooks and Twitters of the social media world.
10. Your content never grows up
Finally, when you've been developing content for an extended period, your content has to grow up, or you risk losing your core audience.
Every television show in its third season and every teen pop artist on the verge of becoming an adult faces such a dilemma.
Many would argue that your content doesn't have to grow up, because "there will always be people just starting out." That's just a cop-out: That's what your archives are for.
When your content doesn't grow up, or at least reinvent itself at some point, you'll find yourself repeating yourself. And you'll be completely unhappy with the creation process.
It's at that point that you should take your content, full throttle, in a direction that pushes beyond your boundaries and forces you to become a better creator. (You might, for example, start a membership site or write a book or attempt to raise $100,000 on Kickstarter).
Whatever your next step, it shouldn't be resting on your laurels. Many great content creators let themselves stagnate and never reach their full potential.
If you've made it this far in this series of articles, I know you care about the content you create, so promise me that you will continue challenge yourself in unexpected and exciting ways.
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No one said content marketing was easy, but with the right guidance it doesn't have to be complicated, either.
I'd love to help with any immediate challenges you might be having. So please leave a quick comment, below, to let me know. Be specific, because I want to give you specific suggestions.
Also, if you know of others who've been having trouble with their content strategy, would you mind sharing this article with them?