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Thou shalt not: The 7 sins of content marketing

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Our content marketing efforts aren’t working. Not for us and not for our audiences:

  • Only 30% of B2B marketers rate their organisations as “effective” at content marketing.1

  • 86% of buyers say content is neither useful, relevant, nor aligned with needs of people in the buying decision.2

  • Almost four out of five IT pros don’t complete forms for fear of the inevitable sales call follow up.3

Gartner has recognised the issue too. From its position last year at the “peak of inflated expectations”, content marketing has taken a nose dive into the “trough of disillusionment”.4

Here are seven sins of content marketing that could be undermining your efforts.

1. Sell to businesses, not people

B2B purchases are far riskier than most B2C buys. Buyers are taking their time, effort, credibility and, sometimes, even their jobs. That means decisions aren’t based solely on reason – emotion also plays a part. Research from the Corporate Executive Board found that the more personal risk a purchase entails, the more emotional buyers feel. Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt talks about this in terms of the elephant and the rider. The rider is rational and considered and attempts to rein in the instinctual and emotional elephant. You need to appeal to the rational side of your audience and the emotional.5

2. Play hide and seek with valuable information

Why is it so hard to find the information you need in B2B? To get what you’re looking for, you often have to part with your personal details. And four out of five IT professionals don’t want to fill in gated forms for fear of a follow-up call. What’s more, 99% of those IT pros are looking for product reviews, but rarely find them early in the buying journey. B2B is a way behind B2C when it comes to peer review, influencer marketing, and advocacy. IT analyst firm Gartner is leading the way with a peer insight and review capability. We think that’ll be the start of a new wave of openness and transparency in B2B.

3. Fail to make change compelling enough

Change invites risk. When we can’t make change seem worthwhile, buyers will default to a “do nothing” state. 58% of stalled deals are lost because it’s easier to do nothing.6 The old adage says: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” So, consider how you can make change feel positive, and the status quo seems negative.

4. Get case studies wrong

Case studies often end up more like press releases: chest-beating and self-aggrandizing. They should be an opportunity to show what your customers have achieved. In doing so, you’ll naturally touch on your expertise and solutions. But, more importantly, you’ll show you understand your customers’ challenges and give your prospects confidence that they can achieve their goals with you.

5. Create a gap – and fail to fill it

Customers want topical, market-centric content – not product and solution messages. But, when you create this content, you can also create a gap. Prospects may struggle to see how your capabilities fit into the bigger themes or trends that your content discusses. So, you need to fill the gap between market-centric content and content about your products and services. This is where practice leadership comes in: helpful advice and thought leadership that’s grounded in reality and action.

6. Teach grandma to suck eggs

All too often, our content fails to say anything new. Or different. Or interesting. The Corporate Executive Board (CEB) has identified five content types in its hierarchy of information.

“General information” has to be credible and relevant to become “accepted information”, which in turn has to be newsworthy to become “thought leadership”, which has to be frame-breaking in order to be considered “insight”. Finally, insight has to lead to a supplier to be considered
“commercial insight”.

Commercial insight wins the day by “teaching the customer something unexpected and new about their own business needs and challenges that leads exclusively back to the supplier.” We can use their model to check whether marketing messages are likely to pass the so-what test.5

7. Fail to get to the finish line

Everyone’s heard it: at least 70% of a buyer’s journey is complete before they contact sales. Often, we’re only interested in that 70%. So, how do you bridge the gap and get to 100%? Consider content that compares solutions, calculates ROI and helps create a business case. And think beyond the sale – how can you give buyers long-term confidence in your brand?


  1. Content Marketing Institute’s 2016 Benchmarks
  2. IDG Connect, 2016
  3. Spiceworks, 2016
  4. Gartner: Digital Marketing Hype Cycle, 2016
  5. The Corporate Executive Board Company, 2013
  6. Sales Benchmark Index

This post formed part of our B2 Magazine. If you haven’t seen this, check it out here >

Eoin Rodgers

About the author

Eoin is Director of Strategy & Planning at DirectionGroup. His focus is on developing buyer centric content and communication strategies for our clients across the technology sector. Eoin's areas of specialisation are digital, social, content marketing and sales enablement.

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