The content marketing train is showing no signs of slowing. According to the Content Marketing Institute, in 2018, 61 percent of B2B marketers are producing more written content while 64 percent are producing more audio and visual compared to 2017. That’s because content marketing works — but that doesn’t mean that it’s risk-free.

To understand the biggest risk when it comes to producing content, we spoke to leading industry practitioners and experts.

What’s Worse, a Sunk Cost, or a Lost Voice?

Whatever dimension of business you’re talking about, the first risk that comes to mind is cost. Sunk costs in particular. Bill Cushard, director of marketing at ServiceRocket, explained that the most significant risk of content marketing is the delay between producing content and seeing ROI, “One major risk of content marketing is not seeing a return on investment for a long period of time. It could take months, or even longer. Unlike paid ads, which could have an instantaneous conversion rate, content marketing is a long game, building editorial authority and audience trust over long periods of time. The risk increases with every dollar invested in the early months,” he said.

In addition to not seeing and ROI, Alan Santillan, content and SEO outreach specialist at G2 Crowd, explained that content marketing is an “extremely resource intensive” way to promote your business or grow online traffic. “A business that commits to content marketing must execute the strategy correctly in order to see beneficial returns on investment,” Santillan said. “Creating high-quality content that ties in SEO elements of user intent and keyword semantic relationships can be tough to start, and take a lot of extra hours to track, but the traffic it brings in continually proves valuable,” Santillan said.

However, Louisa McGrath, content manager at Rebrandly, pointed out that — while low and delayed ROI is a concern — brands need to be even more wary of developing content that diverts customers away from the brand’s original message, voice and values. “When planning out content, it can be tempting to choose titles based on what competitors are doing or the keywords with the best prospects for traffic. But it's important to take a step back and ensure that every piece fits with the overall image you want your brand to convey. If your content is inconsistent with other aspects of your marketing and communications, this can hurt the trust people have in your brand,” she continued.

So, while brands may be tempted to produce content that can go viral with the intention of a speedy ROI, it’s vital that those same brands identify topics and conversations that relate to their products, services or values. For instance, an intranet software vendor that creates content about workplace culture may be at risk of eventually straying into topics that have little to do with their product. The end result is not just a lack of ROI, but an unwanted reputation in an unrelated industry that's either difficult or impossible to leverage for the sake of the company's true objectives. 

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How to Keep Your Voice

Brands lose their voice by following popular trends at the expense of the customers needs and wants. The remedy, according to Jamey Bainer, director of strategy and planning at Pacific, is understanding the target audiences wants and needs prior to producing content. “[Losing your brand voice and purpose] usually happens when someone goes straight to “let’s write this” or “let’s make this thing” without first asking what the intended audience wants or needs,” Bainer said.

According to Bainer, each idea should be reverse-engineered from your customers' wants and needs. "If you’re trying to inspire them, what gets them excited? If you’re trying to sell them something, what questions do they have about what you sell? Where do they ask them, and who do they trust to provide the answers? Start with this and you’ll have a much better shot at delivering something meaningful,” he continued.

Finally, McGrath advised brands to further mitigate the risk of a wayward voice by adhering to set guidelines to which content creators can refer to. That way, marketers and content creators can’t veer too far away from the brand’s core message, no matter what type of content they decide to create. “Brands can prevent this by setting out clear and concise brand guidelines and communicating them with all marketers and freelancers that contribute content. In the Rebrandly office, we have some keywords on the walls and whiteboard to remind us of our values and brand personality as we write,” McGrath said.