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Do you feel a little out of place in content marketing?

My family and I went away with friends Labor Day weekend. We stayed at a remote lake house overlooking Lake Englebright in Nevada County, California.

Each day, as we traversed the dirt road from the house to the boat launch, we’d marvel at the ranches and livestock. A few times we saw a lone donkey roaming the fields with a good many horses. Someone quipped, “He must feel like an ass.” It got a good laugh.

Now, you know the phrase “dummy,” of course.  Thanks to the publishing giant Wiley, you concede you’re a dummy when buying a book to learn the fundamentals of some field or practice. “Ass,” at least in this story, means “out of place.”

So we’ll say if you’re a dumbass, it really means you feel a bit out of place as a content marketer and would like to learn some fundamentals.

We’re all kind of dumbasses really. As we play the content marketing game, everything is an experiment. We seldom know enough to know what outcomes to expect.

Given that I spend massive chunks of time writing, reading and analyzing content, I thought it might be helpful to point out the mistakes I believe dumbasses commonly commit in an effort to help you avoid them.

1. Dummies fire first

Ready, aim, fire is the classic formula for hitting a target, but fire, ready, aim continues to be modus operandi for dummies far and wide. Content marketing doesn’t work that way.

Industry research continues to reveal seriously sad stats indicating the majority of content marketers are not confident their efforts are effective. And when asked if they’ve documented a content marketing strategy, sadly, this group is forced to admit they have not.

Effective content marketing programs begin with strategies. The strategies need not be complicated. They simply need to define:

  • The role of content marketing in the marketing strategy at large
  • Audience segments and media preferences
  • The buyer’s journey and how content will map to it
  • The people responsible for creating the content and the processes required to get the work done
  • How progress will be measured and reported

2. Dummies don’t listen

As crazy as it sounds, an alarming number of content marketers aren’t tuned into the needs and wants of their audience. Great content marketers know exactly what to create because they listen to their audience.

Here’s how to tune your listening skills:

  • Create personas that define ideal customers with details such as age, gender, profession, education and income levels, lifestyle, ambitions, fears and buying patterns
  • Identify problems prospects must address
  • Ask the people in your company with customer-facing roles to help you compile a list of questions prospects and customers ask
  • Determine topics that have performed well in your niche based on social media shares and comments
  • Track news and trends with Google Alerts and social monitoring tools
  • Conduct surveys via email and/or with site visitors
  • Ask prospects and customers what interests them

3. Dummies perpetually pitch

Old habits die hard. So, though they may attempt to develop content marketing programs, marketers often cling to publishing advertising, PR and sales-based stuff, which run the risk of repelling readers.

Worse still, marketers sabotage the trust they aim to build by attempting to disguise salesy content as educational. I see this all too often in the form of webinars, which are promoted as lessons, but delivered as product presentations.

If you want to establish trust, ditch the pitch. Focus on delivering useful content free of “pay me now” sales tactics. You’ll succeed in building an audience. You’ll have ample opportunities to nurture leads and will offer your product when the prospect expresses interest.

4. Dummies pinch pennies

Content marketers can be dangerously frugal. Is it a symptom of being juked into thinking content marketing is inexpensive? I believe so. The process might go something like this…

  • Marketers learn they can turn up the content efforts and turn down the media spending, then
  • Attempt to generate a steady flow of content, but
  • Discover they need help from writers, designers, producers, etc., so
  • They sub the work out to whoever will do it for the lowest fees

The result? At best, you get words on pages (maybe keywords on pages). You might increase traffic, but it’s unlikely you’ll build relationships, generate sales or develop brand advocates.

5. Dummies value volume

Self-appointed content marketing experts preach the need for volume, and companies often respond by forgoing quality. Publishing crappy content will not produce the desired results. In fact, it will backfire.

Commit to creating quality content by:

  • Hiring the best talent
  • Investing the time required
  • Surpassing the quality of content competitors create
  • Carefully checking the accuracy and quality of everything
  • Purchasing or creating quality images and graphics

6. Dummies play it safe

“Me too” content runs rampant. All day, every day you’ll come across highly derivative blog posts, infographics, podcasts and such with zero differentiation. There’s no point in looking for the brand’s signature because none exists.

Smart content marketers refuse to blend in. They don’t default to the safe route. They blaze trails.

Aim to cover new territory. Develop a unique voice. When you write about popular topics, spin it somehow. Put your fingerprints all over it. Make it deeper, bolder, funnier, more controversial, more conversational, and better looking.

“In order to get eyeballs on your content, you first have to get people’s attention. How do you do that? By being different. Saying something no one else is saying. Saying it in your own voice instead of business-speak. Delivering your content in a fresh, new way. Taking the time to add engaging elements to your message, so it’s fun to watch or read.” — Kathryn Aragon, “Marketers, You’re Doing it Wrong”

7. Dummies are anti-social

As preposterous as it may sound, a huge number of content marketers leave social media out of the equation. Content marketing and social media are bedfellows. Marketers, your social media depends on content and vise versa. [Read “The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Social Media Marketing.”]

8. Dummies go it alone

I wrote “30 Action Items to Get Serious About Influencer Marketing” to help you understand the principle of reciprocity and how to use it to gain influence.

Influencer marketing and content marketing are best friends.

It’s important to understand how important it is to create content for and with influential leaders in your niche. Go it alone and you’re bound to forever feel alone. If you’re not satisfied with a miniscule audience, the secret to seeing it multiply is to capitalize on the reach and resonance that can only be delivered by influencers.

9. Dummies don’t nurture leads

Dare I straddle the line between content marketing and email marketing? I do dare. They too are wed.

Dummy content marketers don’t see it this way. They worship web traffic, but fail to understand how small a percentage of visitors are actually ready to buy.

If you rather not be a dummy you must recognize a lead nurturing program is vital to your content marketing efforts.

Email Marketing ebook [Download our new eBook to learn the basics of lead nurturing.]

10. Dummies come and go

Q: What is the number one reason blogs or content marketing programs fail?

A: They stop.

Sometimes they don’t fully commit to stopping. So they pause. Both are recipes for failure.

Big gaps in your publishing frequency create big doubts in the minds of your audience. There’s simply no place in content marketing for drifters. Or sprinters. Or dab-your-toe-inners.

You have to publish regularly, often, and forever more. If you can’t see yourself blogging, creating media, and following through with email two years from now, you should give up the idea of content marketing two minutes from now.

11. Dummies expect miracles

Hopefully, no marketer has led you to believe content marketing will generate fast and obvious results because it won’t.

“Quick fix” is absent from the vocabulary of the savvy content marketer. Your company needs to accept content marketing has a specific role in your overall marketing strategy, will require tremendous resolve, and a good deal of patience.

Make a long-term commitment and push forth even if short-term results don’t fill your sails. Ditch the campaign mentality. Stay focused on your audience, strategic objectives and execution.

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