When I first started working as a content writer, it seemed like I had found my dream job. I felt really proud of what I was doing, I wanted to share it with the world — and by the world I mean my mom. I would send her everything that I wrote, from the techiest pieces to the ones focussed on customer service and the I’m-the-only-one-who-find-this-funny ones.
But no matter how much you love your profession, it’s still work, and it won’t always be all fun and games. I’m no longer at that first job, and I have since gained experience collaborating with various businesses at different growth stages.
Over time, I realized what type of content I got a kick out of writing — pieces where I can bring some of my own interests and personality to the table, or those very research-focused, covering an engaging topic — and what type made me want to quit my job on the spot and do a full 180, crazy, on my career. The latter, for me, are the blog posts, articles, or however you want to call them, that are openly trying to sell something. (I would never send those to my mom.)
Now, we all know marketing content is needed to generate leads and help drive sales. However, and especially talking about blog posts that represent 92% of the content organizations are producing, it doesn’t always need to follow an in-your-face-formula of talking about the company’s product or service and ending with a CTA prompting people to leave their contact details and/or download another piece of content. In fact, if all your blog posts fit into the same structure and aren't varied at all, you might actually be hurting your content marketing strategy.
The Challenges of Content Marketing
Content marketing has seen a bigger investment in 2021 than ever before. Hubspot’s latest State of Marketing Report shows an increase of 12% in the number of marketers investing in content, from 70% in 2020 to 82% so far this year. Even though video formats have seen an increase in popularity, blogs remain a close second, with other content forms tendentially more used for sales-oriented — case studies, white papers, or checklists — lagging behind.
So with blogs still taking the center stage of written content, they need to deliver on a lot of goals defined by marketing teams. Hubspot’s report mentions brand awareness, increasing sales, and increasing engagement as primary goals for marketers, and this is where it gets tricky. Finding the content sweet spot to achieve all this doesn’t come without its challenges, and I’m going to highlight three that I have recently come across.
Standing Out from the Competition
In this day and age, people are flooded with content. If you type “what is the best CRM” into your search engine of choice, you’ll get pages and pages of links ranging from blog posts by companies who offer CRM solutions to third-party lists highlighting the best ones in the market. How is anyone supposed to stand out in this digital crowd?
If you produce the sort of salesy content that is obviously trying to place your product or service as the top choice out there, you’re already missing out on the chance to capture a possible customer’s attention.
Try to see it from their perspective.
You open a few links and quickly glance over the content. Each piece belonging to a different business is trying to convince you their option is the best. But unless you keep browsing, eventually going on to learn more about the product and its specificities, and finding more information that helps you decide, you won’t really know if it’s the best option for you.
Hubspot reports that 47% of buyers view three to five pieces of content before engaging with a sales rep, but if that first piece misses capturing their attention, it might be a missed opportunity.
As a content marketing trend to watch, Sales Hacker’s Brooklin Nash mentions “creating content that's more engaging than all the ‘Ultimate Guides’ and ‘Top 55’ lists,” which really is an easy solution blunt sales-focused content tends to go for. As a customer, being faced with all these my-product-is-the-best-here’s-why-you-should-buy-it blog posts isn’t really engaging, even less so when the direction the text is going in — the good old CTA at the end — is obvious. Instead, businesses should aim to create marketing content that is unique and different from what competitors are putting out.
Limiting your Topic/Audience Focus
When you’re in a specific line of business, the tendency may be to focus your content on the topic(s) that most relate to it.
Let’s say you work in customer service. There are certain subjects that are always going to keep popping up, like automation, industry trends, agent turnover, among others. That’s not a bad thing, since you should define the topic categories that are relevant to your business, and then come up with more granular ideas for subcategories to keep your content varied and engaging.
If the angle of your blog content is always buy-buy-buy, you’re not going to have much legroom to find these subcategories or offer fresh perspectives on the most commonly seen topics. It doesn’t make for a very cohesive text — or an interesting read, for that matter — to be moving away from the obvious and giving a compelling spin to your blog post and then end it by dropping a sales bomb.
The same goes for your audience.
If you are only focused on selling, you are most likely only going to target the decision-makers at the companies you want as customers. But by producing content that is relevant to other people, you can increase your chances of being read. Sticking to customer service as an example, you could publish a piece on how to keep employees happy and motivated at the job. A business buyer wouldn’t necessarily come across it, but an agent or team lead could, finding out about your product and advocating for it.
By thinking more broadly about your content topics and your audience, you are potentially reaching a wider audience. Let’s not forget that driving sales isn’t the sole objective marketers have in mind. There is also brand awareness and increasing engagement. You won’t reach those by always sticking to the sales lane.
Repetition is key to a lot of things; unfortunately, continuously writing the same type of content doesn’t help at a content writing job.
If a company’s content marketing strategy and blog are meant only to be used as a vehicle to help the sales team, then inevitably, as I’ve already mentioned, all content will end up being very similar. As a result, it will be repetitive and won’t stand out among the readers, but it will lead to frustrated content writers.
Speaking from experience, this is a very real effect. Salesy content alone doesn’t give writers much chance to find new angles for the business topics they need to cover, and they can end up getting frustrated with the work they are producing. This, in turn, can impact business as unhappy employees are commonly less productive and more likely to leave your company.
That’s not to say marketing content writers can’t or won’t write all different kinds of blog posts, even the salesy ones. However, it does good to give people the chance to bring their own ideas to the table, suggest topics they’d like to cover and let their talent shine through in the text.
We are the creative type after all, or at least we like to think so. I once got away with writing an article about the impact of pop culture on language for a SaaS company selling translation services. It wasn’t necessarily helping sales, but, not to gloat, it did often show up on the most popular reads on the blog, meaning it was driving traffic to the website and possibly contributing to brand awareness.
It’s All About Balance
Businesses can only survive by selling what they are offering, so salesy content will always have to feature in a content marketing strategy.
It just can’t be the sole player.
Balancing it with pieces that are more in-depth or that cover a topic from an outside-the-box angle is key to building a written content base that is relevant and engaging.
Today’s customers have access to 5.39 billion pages of content from all over the world, so if your message sounds the same as everyone else’s, it’s going to get lost in the crowd. It’s not because you are selling a specific product that all your written content pieces need to mention it. Take this blog post. I haven’t once mentioned chatbots.
I might just share this one with my mom.