3 Content Marketing Pitfalls to Avoid

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

This blog is based on my answer on Quora.

For small and medium-sized businesses, typical pitfalls are often quite different than those of larger businesses, especially in business-to-business operations.

In such SMB B2B context, content is often produced by substance experts, not professional content writers, as such a content requires deep expertise. At the same time, smaller organisations seldom have budget for a full time content creator who is both professional in the subject as well as in content production, and such skills are almost impossible to find from freelancers or agencies. Sure, not all B2B content requires an expert, but most do. As experts are often well educated, learning to write is a lot easier than turning a writer into an expert.

If your content team consists of substance experts, not professional content writers, the pitfalls are as follows.

#1: Professional plans are too difficult for amateur writers, that is, experts

Many best practices, like buyer personas, content strategy, content calendar etc. are great guides for professionals, however, amateurs cannot often execute those plans.

Substance experts are potentially the best content creators, yet they have to learn the craft of writing first.

The plans have to be really loose, vision-like, allowing lots of freedom on execution and provide just enough guidance about the general direction.

Whether you are leading yourself as a content creator or a team of experts including probably your boss, you have to approach it like a personal trainer at local gym. Take very small steps, celebrate early wins, introduce just one new thing at the time. Once that new thing has turned into a habit, you can add the next.

The real goal is to learn content production by doing it, and once you have speed, you can start to steer the operation. Then, and only then, you will benefit from real, professional strategy. But there is also another reason why starting from best practice, professional planning, is often a bad thing.

#2: Failure to search, and thus find Content-Audience Fit

Content marketing operation is a startup, or another startup if you are a startup. Content competition is always, always, different than the competition you face in your business, and the audience you can get differs from the profile of your customers. You are really searching for both the audience and the content that fills an unfilled need of that audience.

Sometimes you’ll get best sales results by targeting an audience in which only a small percentage is your potential customers. Non-buyers may be really important for spreading the word and to reach the buyers, you see.

Content-Audience Fit (CAF) is often found, not planned and decided. Very rarely you'll find it immediately. There is so much you don’t know about the audience nor the content that fills the need of that audience. You have to experiment a lot. And when you find what works, then rinse and repeat.

Think YouTube channels. When a channel starts, it’s often experimenting, but once the CAF is found, it repeats one or a few proven content formulas.

If you would have followed the traditional "first we need a strategy, then we execute it" path, or a water flow model as we in software industry like to call it, you would have made the strategy based on poor or non-existing data and made hypothesis you don’t even plan to test. However, when you approach it like lean startups do, agile way, you learn by experimenting things you want to learn: build-measure-learn.

#3: Failing to get real results

Most approach content marketing like marketing was done in the old days, and too often even today, when it really is not accountable for real results. Yes, you can still argue that content marketing is good for your brand, awareness, it brings a ton of traffic etc., but when times get hard, it’s hard to keep the budget if you cannot prove it really drives sales.

Content marketing that drives sales moves customer towards sales or to a sale. Inbound, if you like. It generates leads, it nurtures leads, it teaches audience things they need to learn in order to buy… Such an operation is a funnel, and it is a path. 

Sometimes content marketing is almost fully responsible of a (online) sale, sometimes it brings leads for sales. In the latter, the value of a lead can vary a lot, thus you and sales need to agree on how valuable those leads that have been nurtured with content really are. It often requires that sales gets a large enough volume of fairly similar quality leads to learn how many they can win and how much effort it takes. If the numbers make sense, that is the customer is profitable to acquire, they want more, much more. And you’ll find that marketing budget is for those who cannot prove the value of marketing, and those who can, get an unlimited budget which lasts as long as you bring more money in than you spend. When such a "license to print money" phase is reached, CEO can easily find investors to bring you that unlimited budget. A friend’s firm just got 10 million in such a situation.

Written by Antti Pietilä

Antti is the founder and CEO at Loyalistic (Simple Content Marketing Software for B2B Companies) who loves to help SaaS-companies to grow at Software Entrepreneurs (@ohjelmisto_ry) and cycle. Say hello to him anytime @anttipietila.