6 barriers to great B2B content (and how to smash them)

Estimated reading time
11 minutes
19th January 2021
Author: Kate Terry
Posted in: Content operations, Content production

After research by Radix Communications found that 68 percent of B2B marketers are not proud of their content, Karla Rivershaw, Head of Marketing at Turtl, and David McGuire, Creative Director at Radix, set out to discuss the key barriers that keep smart marketers from producing great content. They cover six reasons why marketers are held back, and how to address each of them.

Key takeaways: 

  • Marketers in B2B are often not pleased with the content they produce, particularly those who are closest to the content creation and production process
  • Across countries and organizations, research shows a set of common challenges that most marketers face
  • Organizations, especially enterprise, can’t seem to agree on what good content actually looks like, suggesting a need for objective, transparent, and aligned measures and metrics
  • There is a perceived trade-off between content quality and content quantity, as 49 percent of marketers say that budget is a big problem, while 90 percent say too much work prevents great content
  • Marketers can overcome key challenges by changing the conversation with data, defining content by its results, and pushing back to find time for new ideas

(You can read the full report by scrolling down here)

1. Interfering stakeholders

86 percent of marketers say they have an issue with interfering stakeholders – more than half of them stating that it’s a really big problem for them.

David: Every stakeholder thinks they’re a marketer—or a lot of them do—both from a strategy point of view and equally for us as copywriters.

Doug Kessler speaks a lot about this. We interviewed him for the survey and he said that getting your stakeholders aligned is not an obstacle to doing your job. It is your job. It’s that central to getting good marketing done. It’s getting your stakeholders all on the same page. It’s one of the biggest trickiest things I think B2B marketers have to deal with.

💡 Try this: change the conversation with data and A/B tests

Karla: By performing small concise tests, you can see what the audience likes and engages with and then you can use that to shape the content that you do. At Turtl, we use our blog to quickly test out different topics and different themes we think will resonate, and then the ones that achieve the highest engagement will generally be the best candidates for producing something a little bit more robust.

David: Shaema from Intel put it well: “We test to see what the audience likes, and feed those results back to stakeholders.”

When you have that data and you’ve run tests that then enables you to have a productive conversation about what good content looks like, not based on what people think they know about marketing, but you can push back and base the conversation on real data and audience insights. 

You’re not bringing opinions to a data fight. It’s not your view versus theirs. It’s “we tested this, we tested that, this one works better, therefore going to approach it this way.” And if you run agile tests and can prove that more creative content gets you better results, that enables you to get more space for creativity.

2. Moving goal posts

89 percent of marketers struggle with conflicting and changing priorities or unclear briefs, and 59 percent of marketers agree that if no one else had to sign off their content the results would be a lot better.

Karla: Many businesses have those senior leaders who think they understand what marketers are doing better than we do and want to add their bit to it. Before you know it, that content piece looks completely different.

Maybe it is covering a completely different topic or it is suddenly really product focused when it was supposed to be thought leadership focused, and now you don’t really recognize what you’re left with. But you have deadlines to meet and so you end up just pushing it out there. No wonder people are so unhappy with the content that they produce, right?

David: And 6 out of 10 marketers think their own sign-off process makes results worse. That’s huge. And the thing that really surprised us is that we crunched the numbers and the research suggests actually that the people who believe this are right. So we compared the results for the people who said that this was a problem for them. And actually it turned out that those people were measurably less likely to be proud of almost every aspect of their content: the writing quality, the business results, customer alignment, all of those things are worse amongst the people who believe that they were worse.

💡 Try this: develop an objective standard

David: We have an objective checklist of 16 points. On top of things like the obvious things like typos, we are also checking for voice and tone, whether it’s on brand and using the right messaging, and if it provides objective audience value, for example checking for evidence and supporting statistics.

If you can get everyone to agree to what good marketing looks like on a piece of paper then you don’t have to have that conversation again, every time.

The other thing of course is that you can then change the conversation with your stakeholders, for instance “what we really want is your answers for questions four through six,” so that they’re not arguing over whether something has too many commas in it and instead the conversation revolves around whether the content really delivers value.

(Steal Radix’s content scoresheet here)

3. Budget

49 percent of marketers say that budget is a big problem, and many that say that they are often faced with the trade-off between content quality and content quantity.

David: If you are under pressure, the temptation is always to stick with what you’ve always done rather than to experiment, but then that has a knock-on effect. People with budget issues were also eighteen percent less likely to be happy with the business results of the content that they produce, so it’s kind of a cycle.

Karla: One marketer said, “senior management doesn’t have a clue and sees all marketing as cost not investment.”

This is a big problem for marketers and it couldn’t be more true than it is right now given the current economic climate.

There are two aspects: one is around costs. What are the costs involved in content production and are there ways that we can reduce this? The second one—the million-dollar question from marketinghow can we better prove the value of marketing, specifically what content marketing can do for businesses? 

💡 Try this: find ways to reduce costs without sacrificing quality

David: The right message and the right words have to be really key to everything. But if you’re creating a video, do you really need those very high production values? Are the savings you can make? There are some formats that are cheaper to produce than others.

Similarly, you can use software like Turtl, where you have access to a platform that can enable you to to sort out the design aspects and get your content looking good without spending a ton of money on design resources.

Karla: We’ve seen a lot of Turtl customers take advantage of that, particularly lately with cost reductions in marketing across the board. 

An obvious place to start is content production and design costs because those can cost a huge amount of money. For instance, the design of a two page fact sheet is easily £1000 ($1400) every single time you need to create one. Our customers can create this content themselves, saving a huge amount of money and saving time on the back and forth edits.

4. Too much work

90 percent of marketers say too much work prevents great content.

Karla: Marketers are perpetually busy and the real challenge is making sure that we’re spending time on the most valuable activities.

David: A lot of the time, marketers are fighting to kind of prove their worth in the organization. It’s nice when marketing can lead the strategy but in a lot of B2B organizations, they are receiving work.

People will come in with big drive-by content requests, marketing is being necessarily reactive, and it’s hard to say no.

What we see in the statistics in the survey is that the impact of this is “samey” content. Similar to budget constraints, when you’ve only got so many hours in the day, you’ll do the things you’ve done before.

People who say that workload is a big problem for them are 25 percent less likely to be proud of original and creative ideas in their content.

Karla: One marketer quoted said that marketers are always trying to justify their place in the company so it’s difficult to spend time on something that isn’t easily measurable.

David: A lot of the content that gets produced is top of the funnel. People will consume it near the start of the buying journey. The follow-through from that to the actual business results that people care about is a very long dotted line. It’s relatively easy to say well we got this much web traffic, we had this much engagement on social, that that kind of thing, but tying that actual revenue is always difficult.

💡 Try this: Measurement to free up creative time

David: This brings in the importance of marketing operations: once they have the measurement piece in place, that enables content to go and be a lot more creative because the plumbing is there. It’s done to turn that creativity into business value.

New digital platforms that give you more insight into what people actually do as a result of reading are of course helpful. One of the things that I found great when we did this survey and published it on the Turtl platform was seeing who looked at which bits of the content, how many people had signed up to our mailing list as a direct result of this content, and who was interested in which parts of the story.

Karla: A lot of businesses continue to publish their content in PDF. And while that may have worked in the past, the challenge is that they’re only measuring content performance by the number of people who’ve downloaded that content.

Being able to understand which parts of the content buyers are reading, and who exactly read or converted, is useful information that you can use to inform your content strategy, set up better measurement across the buyer journey, and share with your sales team to help them identify which accounts or individuals they should be following up first.

5. Internal Politics

41 percent of marketers say internal politics is a big problem.

David: If you can’t, for example, have a really good conversation with your sales team about the messages that are resonating, it’s harder to create content that aligns with your customers priorities.

We saw in the survey results, if getting cooperation from other departments is a big problem for you, you’re 24 percent less likely to have content that aligns with your customers priorities. It’s getting the picture that you need to create really good, really informative content for your audience.

Subject matter experts are so important as well. The number of conversations that we have with marketers who are trying to brief us on content that we need to write for their brand and we say, can we talk a subject matter expert about this and they’re like, “can’t you just Google the answer?” 

Not if you want content that’s actually insightful and relevant. All of that knowledge is sealed up in the business, but the more siloed away it is, the harder it is to create content that has real value.

💡 Try this: building bridges

David: What I see successful marketers doing when they’re briefing us is they find one or two stars within each department: subject matter experts that they can build a relationship with. The other people who are watching them can see the results that they can get from working more cooperatively with marketing and how easy it is.

I think that that’s really key: focus on those bright spots, find those stars, build relationships with key individuals who are more receptive to marketing and then obviously be very specific about what you want from people. People, particularly in a subject matter expert engineering kind of environment, don’t often respond well to “can we have a chat around this subject?” They want to know very specifically what you want to know even if that’s then as a starting point for a broader conversation.

Karla: When you are joining a new business, or even if you are already embedded in your organization, it’s a really good idea to map out a graph of all of the potential stakeholders that you want to start building relationships with and start straight away rather than waiting for when you actually need them.

6. Access to customers

72 percent of marketers say that customer viewpoint is essential, but 78 percent have a challenge accessing customers.

David: In the research, people said that the important stuffhow well content meets the customers’ needs and provides value for themis much harder to do when you can’t talk to a customer. Marketers with this challenge are 24 percent less likely to represent customers’ priorities in content, and 27 percent less likely to be proud of content business results. So this has a real business value as well.

Karla: People are educating themselves far more along the buyer journey, so they’re much further along by the time they actually speak to a sales person. Reference materials like cast studies and testimonials are essential.

David: Anything your customer says about you is going to be more powerful than anything you can write about. And I say that as a copywriter! Because it’s got that element of belief. It’s got that element of social proof. And what’s more powerful than seeing somebody who does a similar job to you whose job has been transformed by working with a certain vendor?

💡 Try this: go straight to the source

Karla: It’s important to forge a good relationship with your customer facing teams and work closely with them to identify suitable candidates for case studies, using some of the bridge building tips.

One thing I do is I take our customers out for lunch or have a coffee chat online from time to time, to try and build my own personal relationships. I can then call upon them later on if I want to do, for instance, a webinar or write a piece of content or do a case study with them.

Read the full survey results and report:

Click to read the report: Barriers to great B2B content