10 Content Marketing Rules to Live By

Updated: Nov 19, 2018

Over 90% of companies now use content marketing, with 56% saying they are extremely committed to their efforts. So, how can they ensure their hard work pays off? What wise words or instructions can be imparted for achieving content marketing success?

If you ask me, there are 10 content marketing rules organizations should live by...

Rule #1: Build Audiences vs. Subscribers 

You engage an audience. You build relationships with an audience. You nurture those relationships into brand advocacy. At some point along the way, your audience hopefully subscribes to your content. You’ll never truly succeed if you strive only to increase your number of subscribers. You must instead focus on building, and continually engaging, an audience of people.

These people are the heart of your content marketing strategy, and their needs and values will vary depending on where they are along the customer journey. As pointed out by the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), a target audience may not even consist of customers but rather industry influencers. You need to identify, understand, and write specifically for these different audiences. Read more here.

Rule #2: Prioritize Craft and Creativity 

When asked their opinion, 74% of B2B marketers said their organization values creativity and craft in content creation/production. This means being more mindful and intentional with content creation; embracing a marketing mindset of innovation, collaborative development and even risk-taking; and “letting content dry” so that you can review it with fresh eyes.

It’s absolutely true that customer experience is today's greatest competitive differentiator. Ask yourself: how can you more creatively use content to reimagine customer possibilities and deliver more extraordinary experiences?

Rule #3: Have Realistic Expectations

THIS. IS. SO. BIG. Still nearly 40% of B2B marketers do not agree that their organization has realistic content marketing expectations. Assuming your content marketing plan is effective (not all are), industry pundits suggest you can see measurable results within a year or so.

This should be a wake-up call for executives that flippantly say, “We’ll re-evaluate our strategy in three months once we can measure the impact of our [insert content tactic here].” I’ve had quite a few calls where clients have said this verbatim. The results of effective content marketing, while powerful, take time to achieve as you fine-tune your strategy. Give yourself time and be patient. This brings me to my next point…

Rule #4: Embrace the Marketing Pivot

Marketing Guru Carrie Majewski recently guest blogged about this concept: “To [me], the term ‘pivot’ [means] to try. To welcome a new tactic, strategy or idea without fear of failure. To appreciate that any compelling marketing strategy requires constant innovation, adjustment and evolution. To recognize that to pivot means to expand in thought, purpose and intent.”

Don’t be afraid to embrace change. An organization's success depends on its ability to experiment and pivot when necessary. You’re not going to have it all figured out immediately.

Rule #5: Value Quality over Quantity

This is another big one. Many marketing agencies unfortunately prioritize the wrong values. When writers are at the mercy of executives (who are not managing accounts or producing content), it’s all too common to see quantity trump quality. Profits become the No. 1 driver, versus superior content that produces targeted results for clients.

This is a huge reason I started my own business, and why I strongly recommend companies seek credible freelance content marketers who can give them the personalized attention and quality they need.

Rule #6: Document Your Strategy

According to CMI, organizations with a documented content marketing strategy experience higher levels of overall success compared to those that have a verbal strategy only or no strategy at all. I think the process of documentation can be overwhelming for many brands. They think they need sprawling spreadsheets when in reality they just need to get something down on paper. CMI Founder Joe Pulizzi’s “napkin” story is a perfect example of the simplicity of documentation. In a self-titled “Content Marketing Love Letter,” he writes:

“Next to my computer was a cocktail napkin (I still can’t recall why). On that napkin, I wrote something to the effect of this:

In three years, we will run the leading online destination for content marketing, the leading content marketing magazine, and the largest content marketing event on the planet.

Just over six months later, in May 2010, Content Marketing Institute was born. The concept took off immediately. People came to the site. Social sharing was off the hook. It was hard to believe it was working.” Get something, anything, down in writing. And there you have it, you’re documenting your content marketing strategy!

Rule #7: Ensure Executive Buy-in

About 75% of companies that do not have a content marketing strategy plan to develop one by end of year. When those that do not have plans to develop a strategy were asked why, one of the top responses was “no buy-in from executives.”

This is difficult, especially if you have little to no decision-making power within your organization. Whether you’re looking to kickstart a plan, expand your strategy or make changes, it’s imperative that you build momentum and get buy-in from the top. If you’re facing hesitation from execs, figure out why and combat their concerns:

“There’s too much content, we can’t break through the clutter”: Quality content, or just content? Remind them that 95% of branded content doesn’t account for customer engagement. You can be the ones to do it right.

“Our legal department is too restrictive, there’s no way we’ll get around them”: Totally understandable. You don’t want to publish something that could harm your brand or create a PR nightmare. But in the words of Elon Musk, “You can either watch it happen or be a part of it.” With 91% of B2B and 86% of B2C companies using content marketing, you can't afford to be a watcher. Trust your writers on their expertise and skill. Giving them a little creative freedom will go a long way.

“It’s nearly impossible to see ROI”: Is it, though? Remind them of the importance of aligning content marketing goals with sales metrics. You can figure out how content influences bottom-of-the-funnel results, drives revenue, and fills the sales pipeline.

Empower executives and decision-makers with indisputable facts and hard numbers.

Rule #8: Coordinate Your Departments

Another big reason given by companies that do not plan to develop a content marketing strategy is “lack of cohesion and coordination among departments.” Content marketing is an organization-wide initiative and must be supported accordingly. While it falls under the jurisdiction of your marketing team, other departments must collaborate and coordinate as needed.

Rule #9: Create Credible Content

Nearly all companies (94%) say they ensure their content is fact-based or credible.

This means producing reliable and original content that gives credit where credit is due (people won't trust your brand if they can't trust your content). Clearly cite research sources and industry influencers (you’d be shocked by how much content fails to link to original research, if at all). And of course avoid spammy tactics to boost your content's search rankings (you’re writing to real people with real values). This brings us back to point No. 1: work to build real relationships and deliver real value, versus building subscribers.

Rule #10: Have Fun!

A lot goes into effective content marketing, but the most important component is the element of enjoyment. Make your content marketing plan purposeful and intentional. It’s imperative that you enjoy what you’re doing and feel a sense of fulfillment from your efforts.

Above all, have fun!