A great thing happens every time a new trend appears: Some early adopters lead the path, then a lot more people join in, and then, as the growth of a trend begins to plateau, it starts to be innovated upon. That side image over yonder is the growth for the trend that is content marketing:

Interest in content marketing has been increasing since 2011, as shown here in Google's Trends Report.

As content marketing has grown to become a household term in marketing departments, experts have come to establish best practices around it. This innovation stage has reached the point where a lot of marketing teams now treat content the same way that product teams treat product.

Changing Your Mindset

If your team hasn’t already done so, it should consider adopting the mindset of treating the content you publish as a product. Once you make this change, you’ll soon begin to change the way that you approach your content creation process.

Remember, when a person visits your site and interacts with your content, your goal should be to have them engage with it. The assets (and your content is an asset!) that you distribute aren’t merely fodder for your visitors.

If your content is published only because it’s scheduled in an editorial calendar then its chances of success are diminished before you ever hit publish. Everyone would rather spend their Internet time on something fun or useful instead of on boring, scheduled posts.

If your team hasn’t already done so, it should consider adopting the mindset of treating the content you publish as a product.

That’s true even of people that love your brand. And if you’re publishing fodder in the hopes of getting sales, then you’re going to need a chain to ground yourself back to reality. It simply does not work that way.

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You want every single one of your published work to resonate with your audience. Your team’s work should, ideally, inspire or entertain them to the point that when they close the tab, they’re still thinking about your content a minute later.

Your content should be so fun or inspiring that half a day later people are still spinning off new ideas based on what you published. Your visitors should be telling their friends about how much they enjoyed it.

Competing Against the Giants

That sounds a little contrived and ill-thought out but think about it for a moment. If you’ve read a couple of articles today, how many of them were still actively occupying your thoughts even 60 seconds after tabbing away from them? It’s not easy to achieve that kind of mindshare.

Your content assets need to be excellent. Look back at that graph in the intro again. That growth means that more content is being published now than ever before and your works are competing against millions of other pages, videos, quizzes, and emails. You’re competing against companies that invest hundreds of thousands of dollars into their content.

Polish your content off the same way you’d polish off a product before releasing it. No serious business would release a subpar product and expect it to hold out in the unforgiving marketplace. The same applies to content marketing. Don’t make the mistake of releasing mediocre “products” merely because you have to meet some arbitrary quota.

Polish your content the same way you’d polish a product before releasing it.

It will devalue your brand as a source of entertainment, knowledge, fun, or whatever your brand’s marketing goal is. You cannot afford to dilute your brand when you’re in the same market as content behemoths. And you absolutely are in that same market.

Maintain a Pristine Path

It’s important to remember that not even a polished piece of content will aid in content discovery. Content creation and content distribution are two separate activities. Even when creating amazing content, the onus still lies on you to ensure that people hear about it. That being said, great content will help with visitor retention and it will build a stronger affinity towards your brand.

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Everyone loves quality content and if you discover something great from a brand, you’ll almost certainly be inclined to check out what else they may have published in the past. Especially if the content they publish is relevant to you and can resonate with you on some emotional level. You’ll probably want to hear what they’ll have to say in the future as well. That’s how great content helps with retention. Not necessarily product retention, but readership retention of the blog augmenting your content.

Your team needs to treat content as segments of the path in your brand journey. Every piece that you publish serves as an additional segment in that path. Every piece should also serve to strengthen that emotional relationship that your previous posts have established. It is extremely unlikely that any single piece of content is going to serve as a door directly to your actual product offering. If you think that you can spend a day writing up an article and hope to convert new visitors from that content alone, then unfortunately you’re far too optimistic.

Hold the Proposal

That’s not the reality of the marketing world. This is also the same reason that when people launch products on Hacker News and Product Hunt, they’ll get up to tens of thousands of visitors, but maybe 100 sign ups. Most people don’t dive into a commitment the first time they’re introduced to something.

You don’t propose to someone the first time you meet them. You don’t even technically start dating them the first time you meet them. You have fun and determine whether there’s any chemistry. Your content products need to catalyse that chemistry, and keep it alive as time goes on.

Humans are lazy, risk-averse, skeptical, or simply don’t see the full benefit of using so many of the products offered in online marketplaces. This isn’t a cynical view of people. It’s the reality. We’re all time sensitive and limit the amount of cognitive overload we’re willing to spend on evaluating new things. It’s simply easier to filter out most of what we come across.

Humans are lazy, risk-averse, skeptical, or simply don’t see the full benefit of using so many of the products offered in online marketplaces. This isn’t a cynical view of humanity. It’s the reality.

Thinking that you can overcome these human dispositions with a single article is, unfortunately, near delusional. Do not allow yourself to think that the call to action from a single point of contact should always be a sign-up. Should it ever be a sign-up?

Focus On Your Core

Your content products are what build up brand equity with your audience over time. The more equity you build up, the more likely you are to convert those regulars into actual users or customers. You just have to be strategic on when to cash in on that equity.

Your brand should only create content and experiences that your ideal audience will resonate with: It should not create content that any audience will love because any old audience is not your audience. Even if you blow away the minds of the readers in group B, that same content may be irrelevant to Group A—your core market.

By diluting the ratio of relevant content that Group A expects, you risk alienating people from your core market, even with a single piece of content. There’s always the chance that someone is considering unsubscribing or has been losing interest, and your single piece of irrelevant content may push them to making that call.

Create content that your core audience is happy with and actually willing to share. Create content that they’d enjoy more of in future. Create content that will be enjoyable by new audience segments, such as those with tangential interests to your core audience, but never alienate your core readers.

This isn't Rand Fishkin, founder of Moz, but it sure looks like him. Never the less: Avoid attempting to capitalize on your content with filler posts from an inflexible editorial calendar as this can cause your audience to come down with a bad case of Brand Fatigue.

Limit Your Messaging

Moz has a wonderful term called brand fatigue, which is when a reader sees a specific brand so much that it causes them to filter out any messaging from them. This may be due to irrelevant content or overwhelming communication volume from that brand.

Brand fatigue is why posting religiously on an editorial schedule is dangerous to your brand. Posts published on an inflexible calendar have a higher probability of being filler content. This path leads your audience down the fatigue road. This really sucks because even when you release amazing content, they may skip over it due to that brand fatigue.

This way of thinking extends to Facebook, email and any sort of feed with algorithmic performance checking. When you publish something on your blog, you’ll almost certainly be sharing it socially and mailing your subscribers about your new content.

If you’re pushing five mediocre content pieces in a row and people feel impartial about it, you’ll be hit with penalties when your subscribers stop opening your links. You may be content with having only some of your audience opening some of your content some of the time, but those algorithms are far more ruthless than that.

This is yet another reason why you need to try to keep all of your content quality as high as possible. Instead of publishing more often, publish less frequently and focus on keeping engagement high. If you’re getting pressure from the top about posting more content, build up the courage to push back.

Remind your team that just because you’re a content marketer doesn’t mean all you do is publish content. Invest your time into doing research, invest your time in creative writing. Invest your time in outreach and analyzing data. Never be afraid to push back. Your content is your product, and you are its product manager. The best product managers say no more than they say yes. Become a great product manager.

Remind your team that just because you’re a content marketer doesn’t mean all you do is publish content. Invest your time into doing research, invest your time in creative writing.

To drive this idea home, picture a product team design session. Successful products don’t get designed and later search for an audience. Successful products don’t get launched and have their goals established mid-lifecycle. Rushed, semi-polished products don’t turn out to be great hits (with a few exceptions like Flappy Bird). Those same principles apply to content marketing, and that’s exactly why you should treat it like you’d treat a product.