The top problem in content creation probably comes from the fact that too many B2B marketers haven’t had a single conversation with a customer
Most B2B marketers (57%) say creating the right content for their audience is their top content creation challenge in content marketing. This is a shift from “creating enough content” which has reigned as the top challenge for “many years.”
That’s according to the 14th annual content marketing survey by the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) and MarketingProfs. Every year the survey looks at budgets and trends – and seeks to establish some benchmarks. Some 894 respondents from B2B marketing answered the poll this year.
Here’s how the top creation challenges tallied up:
- creating the right content for their audience (57%)
- creating content consistently (54%)
- differentiating content (54%)
- optimizing for search (45%)
- creating quality content (44%)
- creating enough content to keep up with internal demand (34%)
- say creating enough content to keep up with external demand (30%)
- creating content that requires technical skills (30%)
The top three are in bold font because each of these landed more than half of the respondents. I’m going to address how to fix those top three challenges here.
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1. To get content creation right, you have to engage with your audience
If you are having trouble creating the right content for your audience – like the 57% in this survey – I’d suggest re-looking at your engagement with your audience. You may know who they are based on demographics or firmographics, but a classic problem in B2B is that marketers don’t talk to customers directly.
Why? Because account executives and customer success managers typically own the relationship. Marketing has to go through those stakeholders to get a conversation with customers – but those stakeholders are disincentivized to oblige – because they want to save those chips to help them close a deal and earn a commission.
A separate (not CMI) study demonstrates that two-thirds of B2B marketers don’t have calls with customers. You can’t know your audience if you don’t talk to them.
Some 51% of respondents in the CMI survey said they work on centralized teams. Of this cohort, I’d be willing to bet that 90% have never spoken to a customer. There’s no way a salesperson is calling up a customer for a favor for some marketer, in another office, who isn’t on their team, and whom they have never met.
This is a marketing leadership problem. Marketing and sales leaders need to sit down and figure it out. Putting this as a written goal on performance reviews and come up with incentives for sales and customer success to provide marketing with access to customers is a good start.
Some other ways to begin:
- Develop a systematic program for writing case studies;
- Conduct regular surveys of customers – simple and repeatable;
- Review customer comments on business software review sites;
- Partner with product management – good tips for doing so here;
- Partner with the sales team; and
- Read, read and read about the industry – too many companies get tunnel vision about what they are doing and forget to step back and look across the industry.
Some of this can be done individually. For example, if you are in marketing, there’s nothing stopping you from asking sales or the product team to lunch or a conversation (a beer over Zoom or whatever).
One final point, here, is that business leaders and marketing leaders alike need to stem employee turnover. According to the CMI survey, 28% of B2B marketers resigned last year – and another 20% were laid off. Add those two points together and it suggests B2B marketing has turned over 50% of its staff in the last year.
You can’t build a team, or a streamlined process, if you are constantly turning over staff. That knowledge – and relationships with customers – walks out the door. And you wind up paying through the teeth – 1.5x-3x salary – to replace them too.
Worst of all, more leadership attention, and more of the marketing budget, is focused on patching the avoidable gaps and re-work. This, as opposed to, doing what marketing leaders should be doing: removing the obstacles. Like providing access to customers – that enables your marketing team to create the right content, get stuff done and drive growth.
2. Developing content consistently requires a disciplined process
Creating content consistently (54%) ranked second on the list of top challenges. In my experience, this usually stems from a scenario like this:
- A team of one or two content marketers is responsible for all the content;
- Nobody else on the marketing team writes, but everyone has opinions on editing; and
- There is little process – especially for review and approval.
How do you fix this?
- Establish a cadence and deadline. The first thing you do is establish a cadence and deadline for publishing. Whether you publish every day, every week or twice a month, pick a date and stick to it. I publish on this blog here every Tuesday morning. Contrary to popular belief, constraints drive creativity. And deadlines make things happen.
- Develop review and approval criteria. The second step is to develop a review and approval matrix. Everyone on the team does not need to weigh in on ever piece of content. More often than not, having too many people reviewing content waters the message down and slows production. Push approval authority down to the lowest acceptable level. That includes the lawyers. Your lawyers do not need to review everything. Work with them on setting guidelines for content – where you only need their expertise – if you are outside those guidelines. For example, I once worked with an in-house lawyer who only wanted to see something, a press release, a case study, etc., if it mentioned a competitor, pricing or revolved around a product launched in the last six months.
- Everybody on the marketing team writes. Everyone on the marketing team should be expected to contribute in some fashion once per month. If you can’t write, you do audio or video or graphics – or you carve out a little bit of your budget to contribute to the content budget. This includes leaders. This sort of policy only works if the CMO or VP of marketing is out there setting an example. That’s the price of leadership and why you make the “medium bucks” as one CMO once told me in response to “big bucks.”
- Incentivize other teams to contribute. If you put the call out for other teams to contribute to content, chances are you’ll get no response. You have to create incentives – and those incentives should lead to a culture shift – where such contributions are cherished company-wide. The most underutilized tool in a leader’s toolkit is a compliment. If someone’s doing a great job – tell them!
Look this is hard, but only at first. And that’s true of any team. Think about any sports team you’ve ever played on. Did you show up on the first day of practice and everything was fluid? Of course, it wasn’t. It probably took several weeks of practice to get it right. Getting your team proficient at content marketing will require practice too.
The purpose of setting a deadline does two things: a) it conditions your audience when to expect content – because consistency breeds trust; and b) it conditions your team to execute a process efficiently so you can produce content consistently. Consistency matters more than frequency.Think about any sports team you’ve ever played on. Did you show up on the first day of practice and everything was fluid? Of course, it wasn’t. It took several weeks of practice to get it right. Content marketing will require team practices too.Click To Tweet
3. Differentiating content, requires saying different things
Too many companies look to their competition for marketing cues. I can’t tell you how many times over my career I’ve suggested an idea – and the response is – “Are any of our competitors doing that?”
If you look at the competition for guidance – then you are by definition a follower – and not a thought leader.
The so-called “sea of sameness” is one of the biggest problems in B2B tech. Everyone just copies each other. Colors. Fonts. Adjectives. Well positioned bullshit. Generative AI is going to make this worse in the near term. Everyone calls themselves the “leader” in their category and then they ironically use the same ethereal buzzwords to describe how they are different.
Scalable. End-to-end. Robust. You might as well be speaking like Charlie Brown’s parents.
How do you do this? Let people have a voice. Encourage different tones. Staying “on message” is about staying on meaning. It’s not about word choice. There are many ways to say hello that carry the same message.
Follow tips number 1 and 2. Hire freelancers. Employ consultants. Invite guest posts from customers, your community and the industry.
Finally, if you want to be different, you have to describe and do different things. As I’m prone to say, thought leadership actually requires thought and leadership.
Content marketing discipline
Notice I haven’t said any of this is easy – because it isn’t. Then again, marketing is hard – there is nothing about marketing that’s easy these days.
Hire the right people. Give them the support – budget, training, process – to succeed. And then get the heck out of their way and let them get stuff done.
You have to be disciplined to do it well. But if you don’t get started now, you’ll just be further behind by the time the next annual CMI survey comes out.
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The report was produced by the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs. Brightspot, which develops a content management system (CMS), sponsored it. It’s freely available online: B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends: Outlook for 2024.
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Image via DALLE, “draw a picture of a writer in a orange suit hunched over a desk typing on a computer with 5 executives standing over his shoulder pointing at the screen the writer is working on; one is wearing a tee-shirt. Draw in the style of van Ghoh”