Should you let content marketing “rules” rule your content marketing?
That’s a resounding no from 23 experts presenting at Content Marketing World 2020.
But they aren’t advising you to break the rules just because you can. Breaking rules successfully requires thinking and exploration. Here is their carefully considered advice on which content marketing “rules” are crying out to be broken.
Everybody needs a blog
It’s myopic to fixate on blogging. There are so many diverse ways of connecting with an audience. You still should own the content you create. Blogs have been the standard go-to in large part because we can host them and manage the end-to-end content experience. But websites can do a lot more than be standard out-of-the-box blogs. If creating content that connects is the goal, blogs aren’t always the best way to achieve that. – Andrea Fryrear, co-founder, Agile coach and trainer, AgileSherpas
Stick to what works
The content marketing landscape changes so quickly with new technology and shifting audience trends, a good content strategy must be versatile and willing to try new channels and constantly working to understand the audience. – Brian Piper, director of digital content strategy, University of Rochester
Follow the formula
We often start with a formula when it comes to creating web copy, sales pages, and even emails, but formulas can never be a substitute for knowing your audience. An overreliance on formula keeps you from asking hard and important questions, and it allows you to move forward with overconfident assumptions. It can also make you risk-averse, but risks are always worth taking. Be willing to step outside the formula to discover something new. – Lindsay Hotmire, CEO, Lindsay Hotmire Creative
Repeat what works elsewhere
Stop copying what others do. Stop the template approach. Pick one thing that you assume to be true and flip that assumption. For example, a bank content marketing team should break the rule that says its content needs to be super serious and boring because it’s in a regulated industry (and who made up this rule? It sucks!). It’s not true. Take one big assumption in your industry and flip it on its head. And shake it for change, too. Hell, it’s a bank – so you know – ka-ching! – Kathy Klotz-Guest, founder, Keeping It Human
Do what has worked
The rule of doing what’s worked in the past. If another brand found great success with a particular tactic, you’re not likely to achieve the same success. The potential may have faded. The best way to break the rules is by creating your own. It’ll ensure that your efforts stand out. – Dennis Shiao, marketing consultant, Attention Retention
Create content for content’s sake
Creating content just to make sure you’re in the content marketing game. Look at all the brands that said absolutely nothing about coronavirus. If you have nothing to say, be brief and move on. – Ahava R. Leibtag, president, Aha Media Group
View content as text, images, video, audio
We should be thinking about “content” as cultural currency because this is how people engage with it – as a means to connect to their people. – Marcus Collins, marketing professor, University of Michigan Ross School of Business
Focus on benefits
Stop talking about benefits. This rule has been around since I started in technology marketing in the ’80s, and it’s time to dump it in the same junk pile as avocado appliances and orange shag carpeting. Your buyers are seeing the same benefits from everyone in your category and they are not impressed.
You need to tell buyers exactly why you are best qualified to deliver those benefits, and yes, that will mean talking about your company’s unique capabilities or even (gasp) specific features. When you truly understand your buyer persona in the context of their buying decision and journey, you can address their questions and concerns and stop all the blather. – Adele Revella, CEO, Buyer Persona Institute
People have short attention spans
Don’t believe people have short attention spans. If you deliver valuable content, they will give you all the attention in the world. – Adam Morgan, executive creative director, Adobe
People don’t like long content
Reject the notion that people don’t want or won’t consume long-form content. The truth is people can and will binge a TV series in a day, and they can and will read a several-hundred-page book in a matter of hours. If content hooks and satisfies them, audiences will stay with it. If that story you uncover warrants becoming an hour-long podcast or a three-part series (like ours did), make it so. – Michelle Park Lazette, senior writer, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland
Go for quicker successes
Tap the brakes on short-lived campaigns. Instead, pull over into the slow(er) lane, and build an engaged audience one subscription at a time. And do it in a car you own, not one you rent. Take your audience for a long, mutually beneficial road trip, not a quarter-mile drag race. – Rich Schwerin, senior content strategist, Autodesk
Consistency is overrated. I’m not saying you shouldn’t stick to a content calendar or go a month without posting a new blog article. I am saying you should be willing to change things up and change them up quickly.
Got a new format for your podcast you’d like to try out? Go for it and ask your audience for feedback. Have a post that you can’t wait to share until a space on your editorial calendar opens up? Just share it now. If you know your audience, you’ll know when it feels right to take a small risk like these, and, in my experience, they’ll appreciate the surprise. – Chris Luecke, podcast host and founder, Manufacturing Happy Hour
Get everybody’s approval
The rule of having 29 approvals necessary before publishing anything should be broken. Certainly there is a place for approvals, editing, and collaboration, but don’t put people into approval hell. – Christoph Trappe, chief marketing officer, The Authentic Storytelling Project
Don’t be promotional
The “rule” that content can’t be promotional or product-focused should be broken. That’s content too. It can’t be ALL the content you do, but content marketing purists are too snooty about the bottom-of-funnel stuff. It can be amazing, too. – Doug Kessler, co-founder, Velocity
Ask for forgiveness, not permission
The ask-for-forgiveness, not-permission rule gained popularity in startup culture over the past decade. While it may be a perspective that lends itself to business innovation, it also has its downsides. – Erika Heald, founder, Erika Heald Marketing Consulting
Don’t force yourself to publish new content on a schedule if you’re putting out crap. It’s better to release high-quality content less frequently than to publish low-quality content on a consistent schedule. – Ruth Carter, evil genius, Carter Law Firm
Stick to the schedule
Content marketing schedules are terrific, and they work when things run smoothly. But if recent events taught us anything, it’s to drop the schedule and adapt to the changes to stay relevant. While I am still a proponent for planning, I think flexibility should be in the back of all our minds. – Inga Batur, senior editor and writer, Zavarovalnica Triglav
Post on all available social channels
Your brand doesn’t need a presence on every single social media platform, including the big four – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram. If you can’t manage it well or it isn’t making a significant impact for your business, don’t waste time on it. Focus on the tactics that make a difference and forget the ones that don’t. – Rachel Mann, digital engagement supervisor, American Fidelity Assurance
Be everywhere your customers are
You don’t have to be everywhere your customers are online. That was always a myth and a horrible waste of everyone’s time. Instead, be strategic. Say no to more things. Say yes to earth shattering. If it’s not working, stop producing content altogether. There are no more excuses for you to not create truly remarkable information for your customers. – Joe Pulizzi, founder, Content Marketing Institute
Content marketing is not selling
The rule that should be broken is that content marketing has nothing to do with selling. Because content marketing is focused on building loyalty and trust, many people think that it has nothing to do with selling products. Every company is in business to make money. They must sell their goods or services to do that.
Content marketing is one way to help sell products, whether your content marketing campaigns even mention a product. Building loyalty and trust makes people want to purchase your goods or services. Every content marketing campaign should be aligned with what product marketing teams are doing. – Andi Robinson, global digital content leader, Corteva Agriscience
Stay in your marketing lane
Marketing and sales departments should not actually know their place. For marketing to be more effective, they need to integrate with sales and tap into the sales department for deep insight into their buyers. Similarly, the sales team should not be standing on its own trying to source the content and documentation they need to close a sale. They should be speaking with the marketing department and regularly brainstorming on the best type of content that can be created and used in the sales enablement process. – Viveka von Rosen, chief visibility officer, Vengreso
Stick to marketing
Because content is the face of your customer experience, content can’t be stuck in marketing alone. Instead, content leaders need to reach across the aisle to product teams, customer service teams, even IT, to create a holistic vision of how content contributes to the larger customer experience.
Creating isolated content-driven experiences, no matter how awesome they are, means creating a disconnected experience with your brand, which isn’t good for your brand or your customer. Content marketing needs to evolve into something driven at the organization level. Read more here. – Matthew Rayback, creative director, Adobe
Don’t do anything just because the experts say so
Cathy McKnight, vice president of strategy and consulting at The Content Advisory, offers this sage advice: “Don’t do something (or not do it) because that’s what the experts say. Keeping doing (or not doing it) until it no longer works for your brand.”
That’s the key to breaking rules – figure out which ones will prevent or inhibit you from achieving your brand’s goals. Then, grab a hammer and smash away.
Catch these speakers and many more at Content Marketing World this October. Don’t follow the deadline rule – register today!
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute