10 Traits of the least effective content marketers — 8-Point Arc

The mistakes made by the least effective content marketers are common and consistent.  Learn what they are and links to ways you can solve for them.


At the writing of this post, we have processed almost 700 brands and 1.5M pieces of content. The nature of what we do is to score content marketing effectiveness. The reality is that we see some very high-scoring, highly effective content marketers. Unfortunately, we also see the opposite.


Here are some of the common traits we see in the least effective content marketers we have scored:


1.    It’s all about me. Nobody likes this guy at the party. Don’t make it all about your brand and product. Very often we see brands that promote their own brand or product 10 to 20 times more than educating or communicating benefit/value.

Understand your selling-to-educating ratio and be sure its balanced.


2.    It’s still all about me, but I’ll pretend it’s about you. This guy may be worse than #1. Lack of authenticity is a brand (and party) killer. We see brands that throw an educational bone to appease buyers before hitting them with the sell. It feels cheap and inauthentic and we see it in brand data all the time. And yes, we can measure authenticity—there are differences in the content profile.


3.    The Flux Capacitor. In Back to the Future (nothing like a good 80’s movie reference) we had no idea how the flux capacitor really worked. It didn’t matter. We just knew the benefit was the magical gift of time travel. It would have been a pretty boring movie if Robert Zemeckis (the director) chose to spend 45 minutes detailing the features of the flux capacitor.


Far too many brands treat feature/benefit communication as feature/feature and more feature communication. Don’t make your audience deduce what the benefit is for them.


4.   Digital Tumbleweeds. No Hollywood portrayal of the old west is complete without a tumbleweed rolling through a scene to cue the viewer that the scene is taking place in the middle of nowhere. We see the equivalent of digital tumbleweeds all the time.


Blank HTML pages, dead links, pages with one line of copy and a single link, content pieces that haven’t seen activity in years. If we stare long enough, a little digital tumbleweed rolls by.


It’s a killer for your customer experience. Clean it up.


5.    Shoddy Construction. My wife and I were recently shopping for a new home. We came across an absolutely stunning, newly constructed home. It had everything we wanted, dramatic tall ceilings, beautiful kitchen and incredible spa bathrooms. Then my wife, who is much smarter than I am, started to point out example after example of poor, shoddy construction.  Suddenly the beauty and allure of this home turned uglier and uglier as we wondered what poor construction was lurking in areas we couldn’t see.


Pages with poor response, duplicative content, confusing UX will kill the most wonderful content in the world. We always get a sense of the construction quality when we begin to spider a content universe. If we have to jump through a bunch of hoops due to a bunch of non-standard hacks, you can bet that is reflected in the experience. 


Don’t cue your audience to wonder if the value proposition is rotten at the core due to some shoddy construction. Some brands have some work to do.


6.    TMI. Certain parts of the story are meaningful for particular moments in the buying process.  When the buyer is in a rational, decision-making part of the process, it’s probably not best to present story set-up. Conversely, when the buyer is just learning about your brand and deciding if they are in market, being hammered with your offer is probably not appropriate. Too many brands throw everything out all the time in a“lets see what sticks” approach.  That may be okay if you’re actually paying attention and making changes based on what sticks. But don’t just leave it all out there.


7.    Hoarders. Some branded content offerings are the equivalent of those narrow pathways surrounded by piles and piles of content.  It is overwhelming to navigate. Our current record for content offered by 1 brand is 22,000 pieces of content.  How is a buyer going to navigate 22,000 pieces of content???  You need enough content to support your personas, there is a point of diminishing returns on content volume offered. You need to strike the balance.


8.    Federalist Papers. I remember in high school having to read the Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. I don’t remember anything about what was in them except how excruciatingly painful it was having to read them. 


Don’t do that to your audience. Some brands still present mountains of copy in their main site.  Obviously you are going to present some copy in a blog post, but don’t do it in your core site pages. 


9.    Asking questions without listening to answers. As an introvert, deciding when to jump into a conversation takes some effort. Someone asking a question is welcome relief, except when your answer is ignored. 


Some brands make this mistake. Don’t offer opportunities for dialogue (forums, product reviews, live chat) if you’re not prepared to support them properly.


10.    Impatient Storytellers. Parents can relate to this one. You know those nights when you are dog tired and your kids want story time before bed?  They pick out a book, you read the first four pages and then cut to the end.  Remember how that worked until they were three years old and they began to sniff out that the story didn’t make sense? Your buyers aren’t three years old; they know when they’re getting an incomplete story.

We see incomplete storytelling quite a bit. Don’t skip pages in the story to make it easier on yourself. Balance your brand story.

BONUS Trait: Copy Cat. Remember that really popular person in high school? Now remember that person that followed the popular person around; dressed like them, talked like them, weirdly seemed to want to BE that popular person? Remember how uninteresting and weird they seemed?

Content marketers do it too and it's not attractive or effective.  Find the white space in the market, be authentic and unique and go after it.


We see these traits all…the…time.  The amazing part is we don’t even have to look at the content. We see patterns in our data that signal to us these things are occurring. Which means we can detect these problems quickly and accurately.


Please don’t hesitate to reach out for more information on how to remedy some of these issues.


Brian Dames


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