38 Experts Share the Worst Content Marketing Advice

By Ann Gynn published June 11, 2019

It’s graduation season, the time of year when advice abounds. But let’s be honest, not all advice given to new grads, new employees, or even seasoned professionals is worth following.

We asked the experts presenting at Content Marketing World 2019 to share the worst content marketing advice they ever received or heard. They had a lot to say. The thoughts they share form a don’t-do-this guide covering everything from strategy and SEO to quantity and quality.

Just do it

Something is better than nothing. This belief is detrimental to businesses. As soon as you hear yourself say, “this will do,” or “let’s just get this sent out,” you’re in trouble. Posting something average, be it an email, social post, or blog is just going to put people off from wanting to read your content in a depreciating cycle. – Andrew Pickering and Peter Gartland, founders, Andrew and Pete

Don’t write it down

Make it up as you go

Get started and figure it out as you go. I can’t think of another strategic business discipline where people are so comfortable with a dabble approach. It’s the fastest way to spending money with no return – and a great way to discourage your marketing staff, too. – Sarah Mitchell, founder, Typeset

Give them a taste first

“Let’s just test it.” “We’re looking for the appetite.” “We just need to prove it works so let’s just get some stuff up there.” I dread sentences like those. Unless a brand has a clear reason why it’s creating content, it won’t stick, no matter how much glue you use. – Ahava Leibtag, president, Aha Media Group

Create it now

Write and distribute first

My pet peeve is when people are told to start with their tactics and channels. How can you know HOW and WHERE before you know WHO and WHAT? – Michael Weiss, vice president, Creative Circle

Go for clicks

Getting the click is enough. Content should drive a specific change in thinking in behavior after the click. That’s the real goal. – Tamsen Webster, founder and chief message strategist, Find The Red Thread

Sell, sell, sell

Nothing raises my hackles like overtly sales-focused advertising positioned as content marketing. I know sales are often the end goal, but content marketing should employ a light touch and soft sell – if there’s any attempt to sell at all. – Amanda Changuris, manager, social media marketing, AAA – The Auto Club Group

Fill up the funnel

When you reduce content marketing solely to working people through the sales funnel, you lose a big opportunity to build a true relationship. Marketers who think that content is all about revenue haven’t walked a day in their customers’ shoes. It’s about helping first, and then the sale will come. – Carla Johnson, speaker, author, storyteller

Pick the demand-gen lane only

Content marketing is just a demand generation thing. It is, of course, fantastic for that. But to limit content to that single swim lane is to miss a huge opportunity: content for brand creation, positioning, and audience building. By all means, pour awesome content into the revenue machine. But save some budget for big things: Celebrate your beliefs. Demonstrate your values. Walk your talk. – Doug Kessler, co-founder, Velocity Partners

Don’t think selling

Content marketing isn’t about selling. Oh, yes it is. It’s about selling helpful ideas that lead people naturally to seek to solve their problems with what your product enables to gain value (business outcomes) that wasn’t attainable before. – Ardath Albee, CEO and B2B marketing strategist, Marketing Interactions Inc.

Treat content like ads

Show perfection

I once heard someone say every piece of content put out by a brand should look perfect, like an ad. Know what people love to ignore? – Adam Ritchie, principal, Adam Ritchie Brand Direction

Think marketing first

Follow the crowd

Blanket statements made about what strategy, topics, format, length, etc., that all marketers should follow. Just because some people – or even a lot of them – are seeing success with account-based marketing or video or (insert hot trend) does not mean it’s right for your business challenge, audience, etc. – Carmen Hill, principal strategist and writer, CHILL Content

Do what the other monkey does

Stay in the successful comfort zone

“If it’s not broken, don’t fix it” can be good advice, but, if you follow it for too long, it can mean you’re creating ho-hum, boring, additive content. Sometimes you do need to move out of your comfort zone and break your content mold in order to refresh your audience’s brand connection. – Erika Heald, marketing consultant, Erika Heald Consulting

Do what the data says

Having a blind “data-is-everything” mentality. Is it even the right data? Ask better questions to make sure what you’re looking at is meaningful. And let’s find the big human stories IN the data. They are there and it’s our job to tell them in creative ways. No great marketing video gets shared over and over by customers with a header, “Hey man, check out these emotionally compelling pieces of data!” You’re in the storytelling business – data is just part of how we get there. – Kathy Klotz-Guest, founder, Keeping it Human

Take the easier route

Focus on the “low-hanging fruit” first. Anyone can tackle the easy stuff. If you want to position you or your company as a thought leader, you’ve got to put content out there that helps your customers solve problems that no one else can help them solve. That’s not easy. That’s not low-hanging fruit. – Courtney Cox Wakefield, group manager, digital marketing, Children’s Health

Snack it

Focus on snackable content. For a long time, this advice led to a lethal form of reductionism that slowed many content marketers from mastering long form, which has implications for mastering the integration relationship between shorter and longer form content and for understanding how to make short-form, high-impact content. – Carlos Abler, leader of content marketing strategy, 3M

Pick one format

Make moving content

More video. Basically, it’s the suggestion to do a tactic because it’s a trend without actually planning strategy around content. The tactic-first advice is short-sighted. Planning a content strategy as it aligns to business objectives, the customer journey, and buyer personas will produce content that is much more apt to increase engagement and subsequently increase revenue. And yes, video may be part of the content strategy. – Pamela Muldoon, campaign and content strategist, The Pedowitz Group

Optimize for SEO

Stuff it

You should target x number of keywords per page. – Wil Reynolds, founder, Seer Interactive

Base keywords on available data sources

Advice I frequently hear around topic/keyword research. The troubling advice involves relying on data sources that use paid advertising data, inaccurate organic search volume metrics, and heavily outdated/sampled static databases to drive content and editorial decisions. Starting with flawed metrics leads to inappropriate expectations and content that isn’t differentiated. – Jeff Coyle, co-founder and chief product officer, MarketMuse

Don’t worry about keywords

Do everything

There’s a pervasive mentality that you have to be on every channel and offer every type of tool. Not every company will benefit from a podcast or a Snapchat presence. Not every industry will value e-books or SMS. Content marketing must fit the needs and behaviors of your specific audience and potential customers. – Zontee Hou, co-lead of consulting, Convince and Convert

Go wide

Publish as much content in as many different channels as possible. Now that’s a recipe for disaster. – Joe Pulizzi, founder, Content Marketing Institute

Build it and they will come

Similar to the movie Field of Dreams, I’ve had someone tell a friend if you create good content then customers will come. That’s just not true these days. You have to be hyper-focused on distributing to the right people at the right time. – John Hall, co-founder, Calendar.com

Get more eyes

Lower your content output

Create less content. Don’t create less, just be more deliberate. – Christoph Trappe, chief content officer, Stamats Business Media

Act like a reporter

Content marketers frequently hear the advice that they should think like journalists. We should not take this guidance at face value. Here’s the heart of the issue for me: Journalism is objective. Marketing is not. The ultimate goal of marketing is to create change. Having an agenda is part of our purview. – Katie Martell, communications consultant, Boston Content

Hire great writers

Realize perception wins

Perception is reality. At a previous employer, I was having a discussion about developing authentic content for our audience -suburban moms with 2.3 kids and SUVs. I said in order to create authentic content for moms with small kids, it should be written by moms with small kids – not who was currently writing it (college students without kids, old men, etc.). The response I got from a C-suite executive was, “Perception is reality. If the reader perceives it as being authentic, then it is authentic.” – Scott Spjut, assistant vice president, social and digital content, Fifth Third Bank

Make it legendary

Create epic content. Epic may drive viral, but helpful drives sales. And it’s so much easier to be helpful than epic. – Tom Martin, president, Converse Digital

Get a third party

Hire an intern

You can outsource your content marketing to a college kid. – Ruth Carter, evil genius, Carter Law Firm

Publish regularly

Consistency is everything. Consistency is super important, but it is only effective when the content is high quality, otherwise, you’re just consistently boring your audience. – Michaela Alexis, LinkedIn speaker, trainer, and co-author of Think Video

What’s the worst advice you’ve heard?

You’ve heard many of the mantras detailed above. Which ones irritate you the most? Are any of them actually good advice? Have a different piece of worst advice to share? Share in the comments.

Catch the great advice these and other experts have to share in their presentations at Content Marketing World Sept. 2-6 in Cleveland, Ohio. Register and use code CMIBLOG100 to save $100. Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute


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