crappy christmas gifts like content marketing
November 19, 2018

Is Your Content Marketing Like a Crappy Christmas Gift?

The holidays are supposed be about the spirit of giving. Likewise, good content marketing is supposed to be generous and considerate of your audience’s needs.

As marketers, we should think of the content we create as a valuable offering that’s worth our target audience’s time. It should be something that makes them want to thank us.

Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

Whether it’s a lame blog post, a boring video, or a worthless e-book, all too often marketers give people content that makes them wish they had the receipt. Here are six ways poor quality content is a lot like crappy Christmas presents.

1. White Elephant Gifts

White Elephant exchanges and Yankee Swaps can be a fun gift-giving game. Sometimes you get a few laughs, and sometimes you actually go home with an interesting item or two.

Yet, there are also times when you bring a nice bottle of wine to the exchange and end up going home with a furnace filter that’s the wrong size, a jigsaw puzzle with missing pieces, or an oven mitt that looks like a dead fish.

Element has a traditional Yankee Swap at our yearly holiday party. There are always a few things folks conveniently leave behind. One of the most notoriously bad gifts was a five-gallon bucket of paint.

When the underlying statement of a gift is “Here, throw this out for me,” why even give it?

The Content Marketing Example: Useless, Spammy Content

There are plenty of so-called digital marketers out there creating content that’s pure garbage. Maybe it’s made for the sole purpose of cramming keywords onto a page. Or, maybe some burnt out employee was tasked with writing yet another article or posting to social media and simply didn’t care. You can tell when someone just threw some random junk in a gift exchange because they were forced to, and obligatory content can feel the same way.

Garbage content is a waste of time, especially if you’re cluttering up the newsfeeds and email inboxes of prospects with useless noise. You’re basically saying, “Here, delete this.

2.  Age-Inappropriate Gifts

Remember being a kid and having that one aunt or great grandma who was never really sure how old you were? She was the one who gave you clothes that were two sizes too small or thought you might like the board games like Candy Land or Chutes and Ladders when you were 12 years old.

Yes, you smile and say, “thank you,” but in your head, you can’t help thinking, “WTF?” That’s why just about all of us can sympathize with Ralphie getting those pink bunny pajamas in the classic movie A Christmas Story.

The Content Marketing Example: Dumbed Down Content

The marketing equivalent of this gift-giving faux pas is making the mistake of talking down to your audience. This happens when content is too basic for your readers. We label things as “expert advice,” when in reality, anyone with access to Google could find the answer in less than five seconds.

If people read your content and say to themselves, “No $#!+, Sherlock!” you’ve got a problem.

That’s why Element’s writers work directly with our clients’ subject matter experts and take a journalistic approach that allows us to create quality content for any industry.

3. Unsurprising Gifts

The only thing better than being surprised with a gift is being the giver and watching the look of surprise on the face of the person opening the gift. On the other hand, the look of disappointment is devastating.

My father-in-law loves unwrapping gifts. He takes his time, relishing every moment and expressing his gratitude. But one year … things went a different way.

He had a pile of small gifts sitting next to him, and we were going around the room opening one present at a time, person by person. The first thing he opened was a pair of nice black dress socks, which he’d asked for. Then, so was the second, and the third, and the fourth, and it kept going and going.

After a while, it stopped being funny, turning awkward and a little bit sad instead. But then, by the ninth pair of black socks it started getting funny again.

The Content Marketing Example: Sleep-Inducing Content

Rule numero uno of content marketing is “Do not be boring.”

Sadly, quite a bit of content is boring as all get out. In fact, it’s downright disappointing. As content marketers, our goal should be to surprise, delight, and provide value with anything we create. The goal is not to put the audience to sleep as we prove how smart we are. Every line we write should make the target audience want to read the next line.

Of course, it’s not just about text-based content either. Read our article about 8 Ways to Create Unconventional Content for some ideas on avoiding marketing material that feels like just another pair of socks.

4. Personalized Garbage Gifts

Personalized gifts featuring your name or likeness can be pretty cool. Or, they can be completely pointless. They even make personalized toilet paper, which is funny, but seriously? In many cases, personalization is just a way to take a mediocre gift and make it seem thoughtful. Do you really need a toaster that burns your selfie into the bread?

Hey, this is a gaudy keychain/mug/ornament with your name on it, so I bought it for you!

A spatula with a monogram doesn’t flip pancakes any better than a normal spatula.

The Content Marketing Example: Automation Fails

Marketing automation makes it easy to personalize messaging. We’ve all received those emails with our names in the subject line or the copy. You’ve probably seen personalization failures as well, which immediately make you fully aware that the email was sent by a bot and not an actual person.

email fail

Just like with gift giving, there’s nothing wrong with personalizing email marketing or digital ads. However, when the content (or the gift) just plain stinks, it doesn’t matter that it has someone’s name on it. Your audience won’t want it.

Check out our series of posts from Marcus Sanford to learn about how to do marketing automation right!

5. Not-Really-For-You Gifts

It’s possible to give gifts while having a completely selfish motive. The classic example of this is the husband who gives his wife some sexy lingerie. Come on … who is that really for?

One year, I found a stick of Old Spice deodorant in my stocking. My wife said it was because she liked the way it made me smell, but I have a feeling it was also because she doesn’t like the way I smell without it.

Even worse are the utilitarian gifts that come with expectations for the recipient. “I got you this nice waffle maker … so you can make me waffles for breakfast!

The Content Marketing Example: Self-Serving Content

One of the biggest mistakes in modern marketing is creating content that’s way too selly way too soon. It completely centers around the business and its products and services rather than the customer’s needs.

We try to make it seem like an article, video, or infographic will have tons of useful and eye-opening information. But, it’s painfully obvious that the business is only doing this for its own gain, not because it actually cares about solving its prospects’ problems.

A good way to avoid this trap is to create content like case studies that follow a “Hero’s Journey” centered around stories to which your audience relates.

6.  Bait-and-Switch Gifts

It stands out from every other present under the tree. The gift wrap is immaculate, obviously done by a professional. The bow on top is exquisite, the kind you save from the big black garbage bag and stick on another gift next holiday season.

You pick up the package, and it’s heavy. This must be something amazing!

Then you open it. And it’s a fruitcake. But, at least you got a nice bow out of it.

The Content Marketing Example: Over-Promising, Under-Delivering

The old bait-and-switch has always been a shady marketing tactic. One of the most recent examples is the clickbait article. It comes with a flashy headline, promising you an incredible story that you just have to read. But, it ends up leaving you feeling duped and disappointed.

The same thing can happen with gated content. You promise your potential leads the world if they will just enter a name, email, employer, industry, size of company, job title, current needs, approximate budget, phone number, and mother’s maiden name.

Then, when they finally hit submit and gain access, your content fails to live up to its promise. That lead is going to unsubscribe from all communications and unfollow you on social media faster than you can say “Complete the CAPTCHA to continue.

If you want some tips to help you avoid that sort of disappointment, check out our article how to create content that cuts through the clutter.

It’s the Thought that Counts

There’s a reason we say, “It’s the thought that counts.” You can tell when someone put thought into a gift. They actually considered the recipient’s needs, desires, preferences, and personality.

In marketing, “the thought” is the strategy and research that goes into your efforts. Above all, that strategy must include a solid understanding of your organization’s ideal customer. When you know what worries, inspires, satisfies, angers, and entertains your audience, you’ll be better equipped to use content marketing effectively.

Element specializes in helping clients paint a picture of the kinds of people they want to reach and outlining how marketing guides prospects along a journey towards choosing your business.

We work with companies to combine strategies involving content creation, public relations, web development, demand generation, video production, digital/traditional ad campaigns, social media, and more to produce an integrated strategy that’s like the perfect gift basket.

Find out more about Element’s marketing services or contact us to see if our agency is the right fit for your needs.


Kasey SteinbrinckDirector of Content Marketing
Kasey Steinbrinck has been creating content since he was just a little kid, writing stories and making radio shows on his Fisher Price tape recorder. He went on to produce local television and wrote for an area newspaper before discovering the power of telling stories online. Kasey worked as a content marketer, blogger, and copywriter for two ecommerce companies before joining Element in 2015.