A Guest Post by Kyle Gray
The road to content marketing success is a narrow one with many temptations on each side. Today I want to share 7 deadly sins that can kill your content marketing campaigns. These temptations seem harmless enough – a little shortcut here, some improvisation there and everyone’s fine, right? Unfortunately, no, that’s the seductive nature of these sins – everything seems fine until, like Julius Caesar, you end up with a knife in the back of your marketing campaign.
Let’s explore these 7 deadly sins and see how we can avoid each of them.
Deadly Sin #1 Greed – No Content Strategy
In the Odyssey, the protagonist Odysseus is nearing home with the shore in sight. He received a gift of a magic bag filled with wind to help him return. It’s been a long adventure, and he decides to rest his eyes knowing he’s finally about to be at home again. As he slept, his crew became curious about the bag and opened it. The wind ripped out of the bag all at once, causing a storm that drove them far away from their homeland and safety.
Content marketing is your bag of wind to drive to the shores of business growth. If you do not understand the purpose and strategy of your content, you’ll end up like Odysseus, far from home despite a lot of effort. Like his crew, you may become greedy to get results from your content quickly, but this usually only damages trust with your audience, as they sense your “salesyness.”
Many who commit this sin see their content marketing as an “artistic pursuit” rather than a key part of their business. They create when they feel inspired… unless they’re too busy when they feel inspired. The content they create is inconsistent with message and purpose and does not end up getting that long-term traction.
To escape the trap of this sin, you must realize that no single piece of content is going to get you the results you want. Only content that is consistently created and serves a clear purpose will drive growth and engagement.
Deadly Sin #2 Pride – No Clarity On Your Audience
Consider the story of Narcissus, the beautiful hunter who fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. He lost his will to live and stared at his reflection until he died.
Many prideful marketers will create content that they find interesting without considering their audience. They follow their own impulses, spending hours creating content they think is amazing, without considering their audience’s true needs and desires. Like Narcissus, they stare at the reflection of themselves in their content, and their brand suffocates.
Content marketing is not about you – it’s about the people you want to serve, help and educate with your skills and knowledge. To succeed you must understand your audience, not just with the direct problem you solve, but every aspect of their life and business. The clearer your understanding, the more traction your content will get.
Understanding your audience is not something that can be done overnight – you must constantly be in contact with them. Talk to your current customers, get them on the phone and learn about their lives. Attend events where your customers will be and see what topics are engaging them. Be active in forums, groups, and communities where your audience spends time and asks questions.
Deadly Sin #3 Gluttony – No Storytelling In Your Content
The Garden Of Earthly Delights is a painting that depicts all kinds of extravagance, and some have interpreted it as a nostalgic glance at a lost paradise or a warning against life’s temptations. The internet is similar to this garden in many ways, in that there is such a wealth of information available, with more being created every day. But information without wisdom, without context, without meaning, is just noise.
Content marketing without storytelling is simply adding to the great feast of information online without adding any wisdom or insight. There is so much noise online these days that people are overwhelmed. Even good information gets consumed and forgotten as quickly as a passing thought.
Story adds value to the great things you teach in your content by adding context, purpose and the “human element”. By being vulnerable and sharing your story within your content, you separate yourself from the information gluttony that’s happening online. Best of all, story makes your content more memorable and engaging for your audience.
Getting started with your story can be challenging if you don’t know where to begin. You probably have hundreds of stories to choose from, but which should you tell? The trick is to align your stories with key decisions your customers make in the “buyer’s journey.” To make this easier for you, I’ve created an infographic to outline what I call The Crossroads Formula; this process combines classic storytelling methods with the psychology of the “buyer’s journey” to help you tell better stories faster.
Deadly Sin #4 Sloth – No Editorial Calendar To Plan Content
Falstaff is a character who appears in many of Shakespeare’s plays. His character provides comic relief as a fat, vain and lazy knight. He spends most of his time drinking with criminals and living off of borrowed money.
The slothful content marketer lives in the same way. They create content for today, never planning into the future. Whatever topic is at the top of their mind when it comes time to create gets created, but they never plan out content in advance. This means they miss opportunities and they waste their time having to constantly research and decide on new ideas.
Good content marketers look to the future – they use an editorial calendar to plan content weeks or even months into the future. This makes it easy to research and brainstorm in batches. This helps you develop bigger themes in your content and create things that support and enhance each other. You can look to the future to create content that’s relevant to industry events, holidays and milestones.
Deadly Sin #5 Wrath – Creating Epic Content Without Using SEO
The Iliad is a story about a 10-year war between Greece and Troy. The war started when Helen, a beautiful woman married to a Spartan King, eloped with Prince Paris of Troy. Many thousands of people died because of this forbidden love and cost both cities much more than they gained from battle.
A sinful content marketer is a Greek king, launching a war without considering the consequences. They invest heavily in their content and create great things, but they do it without making sure that it’s what people are searching for.
If you want to create epic content, you must make sure you invest your time and effort wisely. This means doing your SEO homework, finding what people are searching for an opportunity to make better content than what’s already available. Creating great content for a keyword that does not get searches or is too competitive for you to rank for will only result in a long siege of marketing with no winner.
Deadly Sin #6 Lust – Sacrificing Trust For Vanity Metrics
In the Bible, there is a story about a king named David. David (who should be off at war) is on the roof of his palace and spots a beautiful woman bathing. He summons her to his palace and finds that she’s married already. But David is a naughty boy and uses his power and influence as the king to get what he wants. He sends her husband to the front lines of the war to die in battle.
As content marketers, we are lustful for traffic, for conversions, for results. We so often over-focus on these metrics that we lose sight of many of the other benefits of content marketing. This usually leads us to create in a bubble, chasing vanity metrics and using cheap tactics to boost our numbers.
Remember that the goal of content marketing is to build trust and relationships. Trust is your key resource with your audience – if you lust for results and try to boost your numbers with deceptive headlines, pop-up ads, and other disruptive techniques, you tax the long-term value of your brand for short-term gains.
Give generously with your content – strive to create a relationship with your audience that’s productive and valuable. Focus on creating trust and a good experience with your audience and you will reap the long-term rewards of content.
Don’t forget that content is not only a tool to build relationships with your audience, but with other influencers in your space! Collaborating on content is one of the easiest ways to start to grow your network while you serve your audience. I have a strategy I call The Harvest Method that turns every piece of content you make into an opportunity to collaborate.
Deadly Sin #7 Envy – No Style Guide For Your Content Creation
One of the most famous leaders of all time, Julius Caesar was brutally murdered at the hands of his close friends and fellow statesmen. Though they claimed they were “liberating Rome from a dictator,” they were also envious of his power and control over the massive Roman Empire. Unfortunately, this assassination eventually led to the empire’s collapse.
Envious content marketers see great content everywhere, but never take the time to define what their style is and what makes them unique. Without being clear on their own style and the quality and process that defines their content, they fail to establish a consistent voice. This leads to a sort of “betrayal” at the hands of the writers they hire for help. The writers aren’t clear on expectations and end up totally missing the mark on the content you wanted to create. An article that needs to be totally rewritten or is in its fifth revision can feel just like a knife in the back.
A style guide is an essential tool for content marketers. It can dramatically simplify working with other writers. A good style guide will keep your voice and style consistent in your creation, which has a subtle, yet important influence in building trust with your audience.
With a style guide, you can to enlist the help of others in your creation. Without one, bringing on new writers is like herding cats, but once you have one, you can build an army of writers that can create in your voice.
A good style guide covers high-level information like the kind of quality you want to see in your content. It also helps you get clear on the tone of voice, the personality and the emotions you want to convey. Finally, it also provides highly detailed information on the nuts and bolts of what you want to be created.
Now you know these 7 deadly sins and how they seduce and confuse content marketers. Knowledge is not enough, though – you must take action to ensure you don’t end up like one of these warning stories.
I want to help you avoid these common traps. Often the biggest obstacle to overcome is taking the first step. In my book The Story Engine, I lay out simple strategies and systems you can use to tell a better story in your content and tell it at scale (so you don’t have to spend all day writing yourself). Best of all, I include a ton of free templates for content strategy, style guides, editorial calendars and much more.
To get you started, I want to give you one with no strings attached. Here’s the reader favorite, The Content Strategy Template, with a 15-minute training video to help you get started!
Kyle Gray helps entrepreneurs create powerful storylines for their businesses that drive sales, growth, and engagement. He has worked with hundreds of startups and small businesses to create scalable content marketing strategies. His book The Story Engine outlines his process for making content marketing and brand storytelling easy and effective.
Also published on Medium.