8 Content Marketing Mistakes to Never Make Again

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

New year, new goals, new ways to get there.

As noted in Help Scout’s yearly review, we hit 2 million unique visitors on the blog for the year; not to mention all of the stellar product improvements.

But that’s in the rear view mirror — today I’d like to cover some of my biggest mistakes made, and those pitfalls I will be hell-bent on avoiding this year.

1. Forgetting the content marketing hierarchy

If content marketing had a hierarchy of needs, sitting alone at the top would be motivation. Make that a key part of your strategy this year.

Exaggerating the point in order to make it, a great Help Scout customer support article with no motivation will get taken back by the reader to Zendesk. “Thanks for the advice… see you later!”

Consider it the Official Controller Principle: if by the end of an article your product looks as good as a Nintendo controller vs. a MadCatz controller, you know your content has motivation.

Well-written content serves as advice but isn’t afraid to show that your product is the best accessory to make it happen. “Look at these results you can get… by the way, our product makes this a breeze.”

2. Creating no connection to the product

It’s time we put a stop to excessive use of tangentially related content.

A big mistake I made in the past was getting tunnel vision in my attempts to turn the Help Scout blog into the best customer loyalty blog on the planet—instead, I should have used the blog as a platform for customer success.

Our audience (and our product) doesn’t directly relate to “customer loyalty programs,” yet I was writing about them anyway. In essays like The Empathetic Path to Inbox Zero, I finally started getting it right.

In days past I would have kept things generic. “Filters” would have been mentioned for those using a help desk. This time, I held no punches: if you want to get results, I recommend you use Workflows built into Help Scout.

The way to approach this is to start with high-level advice. Make a general assumption—that they are using a help desk, for instance—and for specific examples, actually mention features within your product.

I showcased how filtering emails creates opportunities for retention, can highlight VIP customers, and can be used to escalate older conversations—and I showed people how it’s done with Workflows and Help Scout.

Seems simple, even stupid to mention, but most people are so averse to selling that you could land on their company blog multiple times and never know what their product does (guilty as charged; never again).

3. Pure speculation on What Readers Want™

Neither data nor passionate, well-reasoned arguments are an acceptable substitute for reality—when’s the last time you actually talked to customers?

The average content marketer’s ability to avoid this simple solution is akin to people writing in to Dear Abby instead of talking to the person they’re gabbing about. “I wonder if…” conversations should go the way of the dinosaur.

Remember that conversations with your customers don’t just communicate ideas, they create them. Don’t ask customers what they want to read, but talk to them in order to find out what they’re struggling with and what results they’d like to achieve.

4. “Let’s do some content marketing!”

A statement that presupposes the false belief that there is content which does no marketing—do it right, and it’s all marketing.

There’s a reason why Valve’s Employee Handbook stands as one of the best recruiting tools ever released. It’s content, too.

The question starts with what you are trying to accomplish:

  • Are you trying to help readers get results?
  • Are you trying to show-off how talented your team is? (Pro-tip: talent wants to work with other talent).
  • Are you trying to encourage the web to talk about a new feature?
  • Are you trying to give your company voice and personality?

There are many roles that content fills, and they all do marketing of some kind.

5. Not doing the work required to have insight

Writing something useful starts with learning something useful. You cannot have your cake and eat it, too—you either do the work needed to have insights, or you end up posturing.

6. Forgetting about content for Jobs-To-Be-Done

What do customers hire your product for? They pay to get that result, so remember that they will also “spend” time reading information that helps them get those results better and faster.

Reducing the number of “I didn’t know your software could help us do that” comments is the content team’s responsibility, too.

7. Refusing to address the elephant in the room

To save face, we will avert our gaze to everything but the actual problem. Let me lend some tough love: you don’t have a tactics problem, you have a content problem. Sometimes what you are creating simply isn’t good enough.

Here’s some advice on writing. I’ll be publishing a handful of pieces on the subject this year to address this inclination to be blissfully ignorant.

8. Ignoring modelling and customer spotlights

A satisfied customer will always be your best salesman—are you giving them a platform to speak? Prospects want to see how a company “just like me” is able to get results with your product.

Customer spotlights are the answer. We have one upcoming on how InVision supports 700,000 users with Help Scout — what company struggling with email support wouldn’t want to read about that?

You have two great ways to make this happen:

  1. Let them write for you. The disadvantage here is that they may not enjoy writing, or whoever is representing the company may not be a strong writer. But when you land someone who has something to say, this can be a stellar post to publish. Ex: “How we took the headache out of building our knowledge base with Help Scout Docs.”
  2. Interview them and showcase their results. This allows you to command the writing aspect. The article is still in your voice and not as “genuine” as an article written by them. However, since you’re able to prune the interview and bring out the best parts, showcases like this can still be very motivating.

Whatever you do, don’t forget to use your blog to highlight how customers are getting results with your product. They’ll love to share, and people sitting on the fence will love to read.

About the author: Gregory Ciotti is a marketer and (embarrassingly infrequent) writer. Previously, he led content marketing on Shopify’s growth team and was executive editor on the communications team.