Brands who don’t find success in content marketing have at least one thing in common: They either expect results too quickly or they have goals misaligned with their overall strategy. To avoid these results, align your content marketing to your brand’s goals.

Hang around me long enough and you’ll hear me rant about jogging.

I hate it…

  • For myself, as I much prefer the quick pain of sprints
  • For those who aren’t yet ready/conditioned to run but who take it up as the de facto means of getting into shape

You see, running, per se, isn’t the problem. The problem is in the way we too often use running: You shouldn’t run to get in shape; you get into shape to earn the right to run. The average person commits 1,500 foot strikes in the course of running a mile, which is far too risky for untrained, often de-conditioned bodies.

It would be much better for these newbies to start off slow, lose weight through diet and moderate exercise, THEN — if all checks out with their doctor or a certified strength coach—they can work up to jogging.

If you’re wondering “What the hell does this have to do with content marketing?” the answer is everything. Too often I see marketers unwilling to say “You’re not ready for jogging” to brands as they begin the long and arduous content marketing journey.

Tough conversations will ensue, but we’ll all be better for having them. Also, if we aren’t willing to have these conversations, ugly things will (continue to) happen.

  • We must be willing to be honest with brands, sharing with them that doing too soon what you don’t yet do well is a recipe for disaster.
  • We must accept the fact that while we know one size does not fit all, many brands take what they read at face value, thinking they can simply dive in and find success.

I’ve beat the first drum numerous times in the past, so I’m not going back down that road. (If you care to read more on the topic, this is one of my favorite posts: How The Production Mindset Threatens To Ruin Content Marketing )

But the second point is one I’d like to explore a bit.

What content marketing alignment looks like: beyond links, engagement and conversions

I wrote a post for Moz [3 Tactics That’ll Make Writing Tighter as Easy as 1–2–3] that shared with the community three ideas for writing shorter, punchier content and the rationale for doing so. The post is based on my years of experience as an editor and writer, where I’ve seen what most commonly derails what would otherwise be good content: verbosity.

I’m well aware of the studies showing that long-form content is better for links and long-term traffic. But I’m even more aware of three all-important facts:

  1. Very few brands can/will/do execute long-form content well.
  2. There is LOTS more poorly performing long-form content.
  3. People are better served with content that helps them reach their goals, and that often means fewer, NOT MORE, words.

If your brand has the team/talent in place to write longer pieces of content, by all means do so. But if you don’t have such a team, writing long-form pieces of content isn’t going to help you. In fact, it might even hurt you. Too often I see brands that create e-books, 1,500-word blogs and expensive infographics that lack the quality to warrant links and significant engagement. But during the evaluation of the performance of the content never is quality a part of the discussion.

It’s simply, “This didn’t work. Content marketing sucks.”

I’d like to see more of strategists and marketers move away from being so prescriptive and open the door toward being more descriptive.

Let’s focus on value, not benefits.

What’s good isn’t necessarily good for you.

Instead of leading the discussion with “long-form content is likely to get more links,” begin by considering the value the audience can derive from the content we create, and length is simply one small part of a much larger pie. Why not look for ways to deliver real, powerful impact with content, period?

If it’s shorter, all the better. But let’s move the discussion away from being first and foremost about the brand, placing more emphasis on what people want, need and might ultimately benefit from.

And even if these brands are never able to create short posts that perform as well as long-form pieces, well, that’s when we deliver our “You’re not ready to run yet” advice. Yeah, sure, many will ignore or advice, preferring to find out the hard way that doing often what you don’t yet do well is a bad, and potentially painful, idea.

In the end, however, these people will follow one of three paths:

  • Become part of the content marketing rubble we see everyday online,
  • Discern and define a workable solution they can live with, even if it’s not ideal,
  • Seek our help.

To my mind—as harsh as it might sound—those marketers who are committed to sticking to their guns and delivering the best information without regard for who chooses to listen win anyway:

  • There will be less competition
  • We’re likely to get work from people who appreciate what we offer and, most important, recognize the value of that work for their brand.

My motto for 2023 is simple: I’m most interested in helping brands who, first, want to help themselves.