81% of B2B marketers have to 'fight hard' for good content
David McGuire of Radix Communications shares new research suggesting marketers are frustrated by their organisations.
If you look over your brand’s marketing content and feel frustration rather than pride, here’s some consolation: you’re very far from alone.
At Radix, we surveyed 105 B2B marketers and content creators of all levels, from all around the world. We’re in the business of writing good B2B content, so we wanted to know about the content that makes marketers proud, and what stops them making more of it.
But what we learned shocked us.
Just 32% of B2B marketers are proud of even half their content. In fact, the most popular answer (37%) was that they had been proud of “a handful, ever”.
Meanwhile, talk to 10 B2B marketers, anywhere in the world, and at least eight of them will agree they sometimes “have to fight hard” to publish content they’re happy with.
Marketing manager, law firm UK
"Senior management doesn't have an f'ing clue and still sees all marketing as cost, not investment."
It’s all too common to read blog posts that say things like “B2B marketers need to understand that business buyers are human” – as if the marketer doesn’t already know that.
As a B2B marketer, you don’t need to be told why good content is important, or what that content looks like. But you probably do need the ammunition to make that case to your stakeholders, and some help creating alignment around your vision.
Marketers’ hands are tied – by their own organisations
We asked the marketers what stops them from creating the content they really want – and the trends were very clear. Despite the mix of global locations, seniority, client-side and agency among the respondents, there were six frustrations that were common to more than 75%:
- Changing and conflicting priorities
- Stakeholder interference
- Limited budget or resources
- Too much work and not enough time
- Lack of help from other departments
- Lack of access to customers
That paints a clear picture of marketers struggling to create content while being held back by their own organisations, structures, and processes.
IT marketing manager, UK
"Lack of interest or help from other departments that could actually really improve our content. Marketing is at the bottom of the list, and they don't realise its importance for the business performing well."
Interestingly, many of the things people assume are a problem with making B2B content engaging –dull subject matter, conservative audiences, brand and legal constraints – weren’t seen as so much of an issue. Marketers know what they want to do; they just need to be released to do it.
Just 14% of B2B marketers say their organisation agrees what good content is
Incredibly, six out of 10 B2B marketers (59%) say their results would be much better if nobody else had to approve their content.
(More remarkable still, the research suggests they’re right. Respondents who agreed with the statement were indeed less likely to be satisfied with their content’s writing quality, customer alignment, emotional impact, reader value, marketing image, and business results.)
There’s one big clue as to why stakeholders feel inclined to interfere with marketers’ visions for their content: just 14% of respondents could agree with the statement, “In my organisation, everybody agrees on what good content is”. Among enterprise marketers and those based in the EU, the figure was 0%.
Tech enterprise CMO, Europe
"Interference from management who want content to sell, sell, sell."
If there are no agreed, objective standards for content quality, then the fallback position is for stakeholders to review on the basis of personal preference. In the absence of formal copywriting training, that usually comes down to what they were taught at school or the disproven idea that senior audiences demand complex language (hint: you can find more about debunking that one in this blog post).
In the report, Doug Kessler of Velocity Partners goes so far as to describe stakeholder alignment as “the number one job for marketers now”. He suggests taking the work of alignment outside of the daily process of approvals cycles – because the chances of doing any great work are slim before people are agreed on what that work looks like.
Stepping off the treadmill of mediocre B2B content
It’s lazy to blame B2B marketers for bad content. As Community Brands’ Maureen Blandford points out, there’s so much more to it than just the talent, passion, and will of the marketer. Much of the content we see is the result of misalignment within the organisation, interference from micromanagers, and a lack of support from leadership, sales, and other departments.
Ironically, effective content has the potential to address the situation, by elevating the status of marketing: 86% of respondents agreed that “Great content makes the marketing team look good”.
The catch is, the lack of support for marketing prevents this work from happening in the first place. Just 20% said their best content had reflected well on the marketing team.
The report suggests six possible ways to break this cycle:
- Define the best content as that which gets the best results. Less than half of respondents (44%) agreed that the best content usually gets the best results, which suggests they’re thinking about artistic quality, rather than marketing effectiveness – or that it’s difficult to measure the things that really matter. But it’s easier to create smart, meaningful content if we can show a clear business rationale for it.
- Use data and A/B testing to change the conversation. Stakeholders will always have their own views on good content, that they consider to be “common sense”. The only way to challenge these is by testing different approaches, so it’s no longer a question of preference.
- Develop your own, agreed and objective standard for content. If you can define and agree the parameters for good content – perhaps creating a standard checklist – you’re more likely to keep stakeholders focused in the right areas when you’re working on an individual piece. The less subjective you can make these questions (for example, using Flesch-Kincaid readability scoring), and the more you can justify them with data, the less potential for argument there’ll be. You might want to adapt a checklist like this one.
- Instead of requesting help from departments, look for individuals who are open to the idea of working with marketing. When you have a few go-to friends in other departments, you have somewhere to build from. Their colleagues will be watching, so show how easy working with marketing can be – and create obvious upsides like leads or personal reputation.
- Set aside a small part of your time and resources for experiments. Making the case for innovation as an abstract is easier than gaining approval for one innovative piece. So prepare the ground for a small number of inexpensive tests – which then provides a context when you want to try something different. Be clear about what you’re exploring, and why.
- If all else fails, be prepared to leave. A career is a terrible thing to waste on doing work that you hate, for people you resent. Maureen Blandford says the important thing is to tell the difference between the challenge of working with other functional areas – which is normal – and the toxic situation where marketing is constantly belittled and dictated to.
Dig in and get the evidence
If you’d like to look into the findings in more detail, Barriers to great B2B content is available and ungated online. Please do dive in, and make whatever use of the evidence best helps you to win your own content battles.
Business insurance communications manager, UK
"Content is not understood (beyond "chucking up a few blog posts"). So it's not valued – and neither are its creators. This doesn't stop everyone having an opinion, however."
And if you take away nothing else, remember this: you are not alone. The same challenges around content creation affect every part of B2B marketing, worldwide. We need to address them together.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that we cover the idea of “dumbing down” – and how to simplify content without losing technical authority – in our regular copywriting courses at B2B marketing. So if that’s a struggle you find yourself having often, we can definitely help.