Like most other content strategists, I spend a lot of time writing about what well-planned, well-executed content marketing can do for you, your brand, your product, etc.

One area that tends to be neglected, however, is what content marketing can’t do. Because, while content marketing has obliterated the barriers that used to make it hard for us to reach our target audience, it’s not a magic potion. Slapping lipstick on a pig doesn’t fool anybody: People still know a pig when they see one.

So let’s take a look at a few situations where even the very best content marketing can’t save you.

Your content is more fairy tale than fact

Mama was right: Lying leads to the Dark Side. Or maybe that was Vader. But you get my point.

The message

Don’t lie. Saying something over and over doesn’t make it true. Not even when you’re plastering it all over social media. Sure, you might get people to believe you for a little while. But it won’t last — and that’s when the people who swallowed it will turn on you.

Because there are really only two explanations for why you would lie about your company and its products or services: Either you’re too dumb to realize the stuff you’re publishing has no basis in reality (bless your heart), or you think your audience is too dumb to catch on. Neither makes you look good.

It’s not much better if your message — while not an outright lie — isn’t the whole truth, either. Bragging that your peanut butter is gluten-free, for example, wouldn’t be untrue. But it wouldn’t be the whole truth, either, since (barring cross-contamination), all peanut butter is gluten-free. And your audience would end up wondering the same thing: Are you too dumb to know that peanut butter is naturally gluten-free, or do you think your audience is too dumb to know it?

The product

Early in my career, when my future was still hidden in the futuristic mist, I used to look forward to getting the J. Peterman catalog more than I anticipated a new release by one of my favorite authors. The J. Peterman catalog didn’t just sell clothes; it sold possibilities. The details of the clothes paled in comparison to the stories of the people who wore them, and they made you believe, just for a minute, that you, too, could share that life.

Fortunately, J. Peterman products were pretty good. But what if they weren’t? Eloquent product descriptions might lure a few people to buy once, but they’d spot the deception pretty quickly. And they’d blame you for promising magic but delivering a shopping curse.

There is no message

Not all written content needs a purpose. Some writing is like art: It’s there to be enjoyed and admired. There are lots of places to publish that kind of content, but your blog isn’t one of them. Every single post on your blog should have a purpose. Identifying that purpose isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Fortunately, there’s a magic question that will lead you to the answer: What do you want people to do, think, or feel after reading this?

Don’t stop there, though. Once you have that answer, ask, “Why is that important?” It may take a few rounds for you to peel back all the layers and get to the real purpose — but, when you get there, you’ll know it. And it will make your content sooo much better.

You hide your blog


I’m constantly amazed by how many businesses don’t include a link to their blog in their site’s navigation bar. They spend all this time and money writing posts only to play hide-and-seek with would-be readers. And it’s not just little mom-and-pop businesses — it’s brands that should know better.

Don’t believe me? Go to Payless Shoe Source and try to find their blog. It’s there, but they make you work for it.

Still not convinced big companies are missing the mark so badly? Try these:

Search engine competition is brutal. It’s also tough to grab attention on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter. But those are the only people who will find your blog content if you don’t include a link in your navigation bar.

Don’t hide your content. Your die-hard fans might look until they find it, but a lot of people won’t make the effort.

You’re talking to the wrong people

This is another one I see all the time. In fact, I did it myself. When I first started my blog, my posts were targeted to other content writers. But I eventually realized how dumb that was — after all, I was aiding and abetting the competition. Your content should target people who buy what you do rather than people who do what you do.

This also applies to keyword research. The terms you use have to match the knowledge level of the people who are searching. If your primary keyword, for example, is “GDPR,” you’re going to attract people who already know what that is. And that’s fine if those are the people you’re targeting. But if you’re targeting online merchants who are just now trying to figure out the rules that govern an online store, you’re not going to attract them with a keyword they’ve never heard of.

You make it hard for customers to get help

Have you ever been “ghosted” by a company? I have. They act like you’re the most important person on earth until you make a purchase. And then they make it as hard as they can to reach support. And that creates a couple of problems. For one thing, you wind up with angry customers who will see it as their mission to warn their friends and family. And then there’s the potential for a public airing of dirty laundry. If people can’t get help in private, they’ll take it public, reaching out on Facebook and Twitter, where the whole world can read about how badly you messed up.

Well-executed content marketing is incredibly powerful, delivering three times as many leads as traditional marketing for approximately 30% of the cost. But, if it’s not based on a solid business model — and exceptional execution of that model — it’s no more than lipstick on a pig. Get the basics right so that your content can do what content does best: reach the right people at the right time, with the right message.