Pitfall! Steering Clear of 5 Common B2B Content Marketing Missteps

Woman Jumping Over Pitfalls Image

Woman Jumping Over Pitfalls Image

It’s been almost 40 years since Pitfall!, the classic side-scrolling platformer for the original Atari, was first released. David Crane’s creation went on to become one of the first console video game hits, selling more than 4 million copies, and is now remembered as an influential breakthrough for the medium.

Why did Pitfall! gain such rampant popularity? Because it was realistic and relatable!

I’m not talking about the pixelated 2D graphics or exotic jungle setting. I’m talking about the basic premise of problem-solving. The game is full of traps, hazards, and challenges, but there’s always a way around them. “Oh hey, a giant pit full of alligators. How will I get to the other side? Perhaps by grabbing hold of that swinging vine…”

via Gfycat

Today’s B2B content marketers may feel like they’re navigating a landscape filled with pitfalls — dangers or difficulties that are easily encountered but not immediately obvious. To help you on your journey, we’ve identified five of the most pervasive pitfalls so you can spot them and avoid them.

5 Pitfalls in B2B Content Marketing & How to Steer Clear

From messaging to strategy to execution, these are five of the most counterproductive missteps that are commonly made by modern content marketing practitioners.

1 — Speaking to the Many Instead of the Few

If you’re talking to everybody, you’re talking to nobody. This is a critical guiding philosophy, which may run counter to the way many marketers and writers were trained. (Especially those with backgrounds in journalism or media.)

There’s a natural compulsion to make B2B content as accessible and broadly applicable possible, in order to maximize the potential reach. But with so much information and so many resources at the fingertips of today’s decision makers, marketers need to get more specific and direct. Joel Goobich of Vestorly called out “vague, generalized content” at the top of his recent list of B2B content marketing mistakes shared at Forbes.

“Why would your B2B audience want to consume content that doesn’t speak directly to them and their interests?” he wonders. “Often B2B content is overly generalized and lacks a target audience and specific industry focus.”

What To Do: Narrow your scope. Get a clear handle on the audience(s) you want to reach, and the unique qualities, characteristics, or challenges that differentiate them from other segments. Don’t be afraid to turn away those readers or viewers who won’t find the content useful. Then, make sure your measurement strategy aligns with this selective approach. In other words, de-prioritize vanity metrics like impressions in favor of those measuring business impact.

2 — Strategizing SEO Around Keywords Instead of Intent

Keywords have been the driving force in search engine optimization for many years, serving as a cornerstone in the strategic framework for many content strategies. And keywords still have a valuable purpose. But more and more, achieving success with SEO initiatives is about understanding search intent and aligning with the motivations of searchers. There are several reasons for this:

  1. Unless you operate in a novel industry or vertical, it’s likely that the most valuable keywords you’re targeting are highly competitive. Focusing on search intent lends itself to longer-tail keywords and semantic searches, opening up more topical areas to pursue with your content.
  2. Accounting for intent rather than solely looking at keywords makes the content better. Traditionally, businesses have had a tendency to say, “This keyword has high volume and is relevant to our industry, let’s write blog posts that tie it to our product.” But if it’s not a keyword with transactional or commercial intent, then such an angle will likely miss the mark with searchers.
  3. For this reason, intent-based SEO content is more successful. It moves creators away from outdated tricks like keyword-stacking, and toward methods that actually help content rank today. A recent post from Backlinko notes that “satisfying Search Intent is ultimately Google’s #1 goal,” while pointing out that Google’s latest Quality Rater Guidelines (released in October of 2020) are “OBSESSED with Search Intent.”

What To Do: Make search intent the foundation of your SEO strategy, giving keywords and search phrases the context they need to be meaningful. The informative post from Backlinko above, as well as Google’s report on how intent is redefining the marketing funnel, are enlightening reads on the subject.

“Make search intent the foundation of your SEO strategy, giving keywords and search phrases the context they need to be meaningful.” — Nick Nelson @NickNelsonMN Click To Tweet

3 — Failing to Connect with Relevance

One reason Pitfall! was such a hit back in the early 1980s is that it struck a resonant chord with audiences, who were transfixed by its treasure-hunting adventure theme following the 1981 theatrical release of Raiders of the Lost Ark. This same dynamic was at play with early arcade breakthroughs like Space Invaders and Asteroids, which channeled the sci-fi enthusiasm fueled by movies like Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

What do the people in your audience care about? Don’t limit your thinking to their professional interests. One of my favorite case studies from our clients at LinkedIn highlighted a company called SolarWinds, which recognized that its IT customer base tended to share a special affinity for sci-fi and Star Wars especially. So they did a promotion on LinkedIn that involved giving away a multitool in the shape of the Millenium Falcon.

SolarWinds’ manager of demand and marketing later said the campaign’s engagement was “probably the highest I’ve ever seen for any campaign that I’ve run across any platform.”

What To Do: Scrutinize your content hooks — the introductory sentences of articles or the early seconds of a video — to confirm you’re drawing an immediate thread of relevance with your audience. Never put yourself or your solutions first. And, in accordance with item No. 1 on this list, aim to be narrow instead of broad.

4 — Speaking to the Mind and Not the Heart

Business decisions are made on the basis of rational and logical drivers, out of necessity. But they are not made solely through those lenses. Humans are complex and emotional beings, not robots. In our recent round-up of B2B content marketing predictions for 2021, Ty Heath suggested that 2020’s pandemic “will accelerate the shift to a ‘right-brain’ movement,” with greater emphasis on humor, storytelling, and emotion.

Engaging your audience at a deeper level will help you build genuine trust, which is the single most essential ingredient for long-term business success.

What To Do: Challenge yourself and your team to create content that goes beyond dry informational details, specs, features, and product benefits. Cultivate a brand voice that is professional but not overly formal and stuffy. Build trust through storytelling.

5— Failing to Learn from Failure

Although Pitfall! was a bit before my time, I learned much about trial-and-error from my early experiences with 8-bit video games. Back then, it was all about learning from your mistakes — “Oops, I just fell into the lava and died … I’ll remember that was there next time through.”

Content marketing isn’t quite the same, because we’re not just playing through the same level over and over again, but there are always constructive lessons to be taken away from a dead end or disappointing outcome. Learning and growing often requires a willingness to fail. The alternative is constantly playing it safe, which in the end isn’t really all that safe.

In her own prediction for 2021, Carla Johnson cautions against this urge, which may be heightened in a precarious economic environment. She argues that responding to the demands of 2020 left marketers with “no room for trial and error,” and that in the coming year, “B2B content marketing will be about taking smart risks that lead to more innovative work.”

What To Do: Experiment! Make small bets and take measured risks as you seek out fresh ways to engage and connect with your audience. Ironically, one of the biggest mistakes we can make as B2B content marketers is being too afraid to make mistakes.

“Ironically, one of the biggest mistakes we can make as B2B content marketers is being too afraid to make mistakes.” — Nick Nelson @NickNelsonMN Click To Tweet

Here’s to Smooth Sailing in 2021

Every marketer is bound to hit their share of snags and setbacks this year. But if we stay vigilant in avoiding the pitfalls we can anticipate —like the five cited above — and embrace the unpredictable hardships as opportunities to learn and adapt, we’ll make it through and come out stronger on the other end.

For more guidance and inspiration to carry you through the new year, check out our top 10 content marketing posts from 2020.


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