You’ve seen it all before – the motivational quotes, the ‘productivity hacks,’ the random fun fact or statistic. “Content Marketing,” in it’s most basic form, is fairly ineffective.
In 2021, we have (surprisingly) seen even more bland content surfacing. We mainly attribute this to the disruption to our previously established workflow due to COVID-19, and the realization of many companies that they’re behind on addressing their digital business landscape. As a result, they will jump to an idea of “what works.” Or rather, they are jumping to what they believe will work, based on the last time the business checked in on the digital marketing space.
You can cruise the internet for only a few moments, and you will encounter local businesses attempting this form of content marketing. Every time, the results are the same: a barren Facebook or Instagram page, full of 0-2 reactions per post (usually by a close associate of the business), and general disinterest.
You might even come across what we find to be the most painful “miss” of content marketing – an open ended question, meant to inspire shared experiences in the comments, with absolutely no one responding.
Don’t let this happen to your business! There is plenty of good reasoning as to why this format doesn’t work (and possibly never did). We’ll also get into what you should be doing instead.
Where Does Content Marketing Go Wrong?
The main culprit of this failed approach is a concept marketers know all too well. It’s called the “Silver Bullet.” Beware of anything sold as a “one-size, fits-all, completely transforms your business” solution. That’s exactly what a silver bullet is. In a horror movie, a silver bullet can even kill a werewolf! In business… not so much. Although, that won’t stop people from claiming whatever new shiny object comes across you desk will solve all of your problems. That’s why other sites will occasionally replace the silver bullet metaphor with a phrase like “shiny object syndrome.”
More often than not, salesman will oversell and represent a valuable proposition, such as content marketing, as a solution to all of the business’ woes. We all know how this story goes: a few months later, the social media platform of choice has been completely abandoned. When you ask the business about it, they say something like: “We tried Instagram, but it didn’t really work for us.” They haven’t revisited it in months, and it doesn’t seem like they intend to. It hurts to see businesses miss out on key opportunities in this way. Maybe you’ve been guilty of this yourself.
Here’s the thing – Instagram never works if you use it wrong. Most things don’t work when used improperly. If you’re one of the businesses out there who have made decisions like this, don’t beat yourself up too hard! Abandoning the medium (instead of altering their message) is an easy mistake to make.
Quality vs. Quantity
Many times, when a small business outsources social media posts or content marketing, they are presented with a content calendar. The content calendar is a schedule of what posts will occur and when. The goal is to provide an organized view and fill the month (or other designated period) with the required amount of posts. As a premise, it’s a helpful organizational tool!
However, this is exactly where many local content marketing agencies go the wrong way. They emphasize quantity over quality – touting an impressive number of posts, or blistering consistently on generating content. This tilts the output in favor of quick, easy to edit images, with a mild ‘taster’ of information at best.
Everyone has seen a simple Canva mockup, in the company colors, asking “Did You Know?” More often than not, the message goes even further, with a caption attempting to inspire a purchase right now. But this isn’t truly content marketing. This is branded content (and yes, that’s a big difference).
This is a misguided attempt to please the client, who has been mislead on the value of content marketing. If the client believes content marketing is ‘free’ and supposed to generate leads, it won’t be long before the content calendar is full of these lackluster posts. “Did you know we carry X? Call us today!” We can actually hear you groaning from the other side of the computer. We’ve all seen it, and we all know it does nothing but reek of desperation. Not only dose it fail to secure any customer, but it actually repels them.
Content Marketing is not a game where the prospects buy “today.” In fact, immediate action is not the goal of content marketing at all. That’s the goal of paid traffic, or PPC marketing.
PPC Marketing requires a financial investment to reach your target audience – and it will, with efficiency. However, some businesses are either not in a position for such a commitment, or simply don’t want to spend to expand.
This is exactly how content marketing ends up getting sold as a silver bullet. Technically speaking, you do not have to pay money to start content marketing. You can throw up some photo or video content, apply the company branding, and be well on your way to drawing new eyeballs to your brand!
This is an outdated perspective, mainly based on how content marketing used to work. Social Media was a disruptor just a few short years ago – before Facebook’s lawsuits, aggressive competition between platforms, and attempts to become the main arbiters of public opinion. Maybe then, things were a bit different. Now, the landscape has changed. Let’s dive in.
Organic Reach is a Lie: Content Marketing “Best Practices,” and Other Myths
Many times, content marketing is mislabeled as a method efficient seizing organic traffic. “Organic Reach” as a goal for social media posts is mostly a lie, when considering the platforms for business purposes.
For years now, Facebook has been limiting the amount of your audience which is shown a page post. It’s algorithms are just as complex and murky to us as Google – however, just like Google has SEO experts analyzing and running tests, social media platform have garnered similar attention and testing.
After your Facebook Page reaches 10,000 “likes” for example, only one percent of your audience will see a post organically. The point of this is to give you some benefit of posting, but steer you towards paying to display ads to the reach your full audience.
When these discoveries became public, the online community was outraged. Yet, this is the nature of all marketing portals (and in fact, was planned for early in Facebook’s inception). In the years since, we have seen more and more of a ‘curated’ feed determined by our algorithm. We no longer see posts in the order they are posted on the timeline – so why are you still scheduling your posts for ‘peak hours’ such as 10 am or 12:30 pm? Why are you posting three times a day, to try and score the most organic traffic possible?
These methods don’t achieve what they’re trying to accomplish, because they can’t. Not understanding the strategy of modern content marketing, and going the ‘best practices’ route is often the undoing of content marketing campaigns.
By selling content marketing to business owners as a ‘free alternative’ to PPC, content marketers have boxed themselves into a corner. They need a high volume of content, created at a high speed. This often comes at the expense of the quality.
That’s exactly why we see these style of posts, everywhere. Even though we all on some level understand they do not work. Most businesses have attempted some version of these posts (you’ve likely chuckled at an example or two already), and have minimal results to show for it.
So then, how do we effectively leverage content marketing? If the ‘standard path’ doesn’t deliver results, what does?
Expanding Content Options
If organic traffic is the goal, SEO-focused content marketing should be the method.
One of the key misnomers is conflating ‘social media marketing’ with ‘content marketing.’ There are many different forms of content which can be created. These “nuggets of wisdom” style social media posts are only one style, of one form of content. The difference between social media marketing and content marketing is significant. Social Media posts, infographics, and “fun facts” are one form of content marketing. They are the form that comes to mind most often, and don’t tend to work as well. The main reason for this is because they’re often thinly-veiled sales pitches disguised as content. We’ve all seen them before, and we can all tell the difference from a mile away. Don’t repeat this mistake!
Content Marketing does work, but it needs to be created for the medium you’re viewing it on. It needs to have strategic purpose, research, and unique perspective to stand out from the noise.
Social Media is not the only place to attempt content marketing. This article, for example, is a different form of content marketing. It is a piece of content, designed to rank for particular keywords related to our business. This provides a certain level of targeting, because people who are uninterested in the topic will never google it. You have found this page because you were looking for answers. Business owners without the questions are not likely to come across it.
We know what audience would read an article on this topic, and we’ve done our research to determine a consistent volume of people search for it. What’s more, we researched our competitor’s content, as well as the general level of competition for our keywords.
The result? A laser targeted article, cutting through the noise. There is a general ‘tone’ these days, in similar articles. It panders a little too much to the keywords, and comes off as bland. I’m sure you could go back to your search results and find 2-3 examples, which only contain those surface-level, bite-size nuggets of wisdom. They all have the same structure, too.
First, they want to ask “what is [the thing you just searched]?” The opening preamble to all of these posts is the author’s best impression of a Wikipedia entry, designed purely for the search engines.
This is the same mistake as those social posts, made on a different medium. Except now, it’s a checklist-formatted blog instead of a “did you know” factoid on a company Instagram.
There are tons of “5 Ways to Fix Your Content Marketing” articles,… and you already know most of what you’ll skim through in the 30 second, before you ultimately decide to close the bland article and try a new one.
That’s why this article does not do that, and instead provides long-form content, with a human tone, full of (hopefully) valuable teaching moments for you – the user. That’s what we should all be focusing on when we generate content. Who is it for, and why will they like it?
Content Presentation – Unique vs. Best Practices
The primary goal of all content is to stimulate the end user’s mind. When adhering to these endlessly repeating formats, what you’re doing is creating “me too” content. These attempts do nothing to separate your business from the thousands of others attempting these strategies. They’re wasted energy.
It takes only a moment, for example, to imagine the standard format for a “How to” Youtube video these days. We all skip the first few moments to get to the content we’re looking for. So, why is there that long introductory preamble before getting to the meat and potatoes of your content?
Most of the time, the answer is SEO. That entire portion you skip through has been designed to (hopefully) achieve a higher ranking. It has then been combined with the most eye-grabbing thumbnail the creator could assemble, in attempt to stand out and win your click.
The reason this strategy often fails is that it is done so very often. By everyone. It’s not remarkable, and the handful of results in this style tend to feel interchangeable. Search “Top Movies,” for example, and you’ll see exactly what I mean. At least one to two full minutes of wasting your time before “Here are the Top X Movies,” and the content actually begins.
The average user is sick of this, and has been for years. Don’t fall into the trap of keeping up with the Joneses on internet content format. They’re doing it wrong (we promise).
Imagine how much more successful your video would be, if it was short and to the point? Sure, you’re missing out on some SEO points – but the point of search engines is not to show what pleases the algorithm the most. It’s to give the user a satisfied experience.
You may start a little lower in the search results with this approach, but the user engagement will propel you higher in the long run. Satisfying the end user is the goal, and all of these algorithms monitor user activity signals to determine which result truly fulfilled the search.
Finding Your Brand Voice
Your content cannot have the same ubiquitous tone as ‘best practice’ optimized content, because every other business is already doing that (and has been for years). The businesses who are going to conquer that version of the landscape have done so already, often locking out new competitors due to the increased competition surrounding those keywords.
Ideally, your business will have it’s own style of delivering content. It’s own preferred video editing technique, which is not a carbon copy of the 3-4 Youtube channels which appear next to it. It’s own branding and modified style of image posts, which does not look like every other business’ attempt at Instagram. And even it’s own writing tone, which cuts through the internet and let’s people know exactly what you stand for.
This is called your brand voice. While a lot of companies will regurgitate the same lessons about developing a customer avatar, ‘audience persona,’ or whatever new euphemism they’ve coined for it, they’re often ineffective at establishing one that truly diversifies you from competitors.
You don’t need a fancy questionnaire, or a cute checklist which requests your information to use for follow-up sales contacts, to determine what your brand voice is. Even if you use one of these common methods, you’re bound to change your mind or update this persona regularly.
Target Points has a different method. We recommend accepting brand voice as an interactive process. You will learn more by doing, analyzing your audience’s response, and incorporating that into the next batch of material. While researching competitors is a key part of understanding what your audience will react to, it does not gleam any insights into why they prefer one competitor’s content over the other. That’s what we really want to know.
Developing unique selling propositions is a time-tested, understood value of most businesses. That concept has to be applied to the brand’s digital image as well. People can get the SEO-optimized, bland article content from anyone else. They will only see our unique, human perspective here. That’s one thing that sets us apart.
Having a unique voice allows you to take positions, and show your audience what’s important to you. If this message resonates, you can develop an authentic following, and become an actual thought leader in your industry. The issue with doing it the way “everyone else is doing,” is that there is no reason to listen to you above any other competitor.