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5 Big Obstacles Encountered by B2B Content Marketers

Every corner of B2B is drowning in identikit, low-value content.

Why? Is it because B2B involves complicated subject matter, stuffy audiences, and restrictive brand compliance?

No. They don’t even make the list, according to 105 B2B content marketers in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, and the Netherlands we surveyed last year at Radix Communications.

Instead, the most-frequently identified challenges they cited share universal themes – vision, commitment, and resources.

The content marketers who responded to our survey represented multiple job levels, from chief marketing officer and marketing directors to content writers and agencies. They crossed sectors, from tech and engineering to legal and manufacturing.

I’ll share five of the most-cited challenges first, then offer five solutions to make them less challenging.

Obstacle 1: Changing priorities and unclear briefs

Almost nine in 10 surveyed said changing or conflicting priorities are a problem, with 65% ranking it as a “big problem.” That makes it the biggest obstacle to creating good content based on our survey.

Changing or conflicting priorities are an obstacle to creating good #content, says David McGuire via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Some respondents said drive-by projects and requirements upset their content marketing plans. Others talked about last-minute changes introduced by managers who were late to the signoff process.

Indeed, 59% agreed with the statement, “If nobody else had to sign off our content, the results would be a lot better.” This group also was less likely to report satisfaction across a range of indicators, including their content’s emotional impact, customer priority alignment, quality of copywriting, and business results.

Obstacle 2: Stakeholder interference

Disruption from stakeholders was the next most-frequently cited obstacle. Eighty-six percent said it was a challenge, with over half of those surveyed saying it was a big issue.

But this struggle seems inevitable given this finding: Just 14% of respondents agreed with the statement, “In my organization, everybody agrees on what good content is.” (Worse, among marketers in enterprises and on mainland Europe, the figure was zero.)

In too many organizations, not everyone agrees on what good #content is, says David McGuire via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Obstacle 3: Lack of budget, resources, time

Budget limitations were an issue for 87% overall and a big problem for almost half of the surveyed marketers.

Though workload issues affected 90% of these B2B marketers, most regarded it only as a minor problem. Our research shows that may be an erroneous conclusion. Respondents who said workload was a big problem were 25% less likely to say their best content had a clever, original concept — arguably meaning their work is less likely to stand out.

Obstacle 4: Lack of cooperation from other departments

B2B marketers can’t create great content in a vacuum. They need insights from customer-facing colleagues, subject-matter expertise, product information and advantages, etc. It’s worrying that 86% have a problem (and 41% have a big problem) getting cooperation from other teams.

This is proven in content outcomes. Marketers experiencing big challenges with internal co-operation reported below-average satisfaction across content concepts, writing, feedback, and business results. They also are less aligned with customer priorities.

Obstacle 5: Inadequate access to customers

More than three-fourths of these B2B marketers reported difficulties accessing their customers.

This has clear implications. As one U.K.-based respondent put it: “I don’t always know what terminology to use with the target audience, or what level of knowledge they already have.”

Plus, consider that the surveyed B2B content marketers said two of the most important aspects of good content are providing value for readers and aligning with customer priorities. That can’t happen if they don’t connect with the audiences.

What about solutions to these obstacles? We asked top B2B marketers in our survey area for suggestions.

Solution 1: Define great content by its results

Less than half (44%) of respondents agreed with the statement, “The best content usually gets the best results.”

That’s a problem – and a possible contributing factor to some of the biggest challenges. As Doug Kessler, co-founder of B2B marketing agency Velocity Partners, points out, “The best content is that which gets the best results; that’s what we’re here for.”

The best #content is that which gets the best results, says @DougKessler via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

By forgoing subjective or artistic definitions of “great” in favor of clearly defined results for your content marketing strategy and individual assets, your content team will be more likely to create, distribute, and promote content that delivers what the business expects.

Defining “great” quantitatively in the beginning with input and agreement from all key parties means you can better thwart the obstacles of changing priorities, unclear briefs, and stakeholder interference.

Solution 2: Test before you get buy-in

It’s easier to gain alignment around an approach backed by data rather than opinions on what should work.

At Intel, content marketing and automation analyst Shaema Shazleen Katib says they test to see what the audience likes and then feed those results back to stakeholders.

By conducting A/B testing, working with focus groups, or doing preliminary surveys, you gain the data to help you overcome some of the biggest B2B content marketing obstacles, including unclear briefs, stakeholder interference and interdepartmental cooperation.

By conducting A/B testing, working with focus groups, or doing preliminary surveys, you gain the data to help you overcome #B2B #contentmarketing obstacles, says David McGuire via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Doing this pre-launch work also can help address budget and resource problems. If you do the homework, you won’t waste time and money reaching your wider audiences with ideas that don’t work.

Solution 3: Develop objective quality standards

Signoff and approval processes often take up too much time and too many resources. Sometimes, they also highlight shifting priorities or the problem with unclear briefs.

Using an objective review checklist is an ideal solution to jump those hurdles more cleanly. (You’re welcome to adapt our content quality list.) Use readability algorithms (like the Flesch-Kincaid grade level test) to identify an unequivocal score for some aspects.

The key, Doug says, is: “Take the work of alignment outside the daily process of approvals cycles.”

By agreeing on the definition of great results in the beginning, you don’t add another cumbersome layer that often disrupts the approval process.

Solution 4: Build bridges with other departments

You don’t need to create a cumbersome plan to get departmental cooperation. Start with one or two friendly contacts. They can act as role models and show their colleagues how easy working with the content marketing team can be – and how helpful it is in delivering good results.

But do your homework. Maureen Blandford, vice president of marketing, nonprofit solutions for Community Brands, says: “When I meet stakeholders, I already know what their hair is on fire about.”

It’s always important to start with your friendly contacts’ agenda, not yours.

Solution 5: Define a controlled space for creativity

“When marketers are trying to justify their place in the company, it’s difficult to spend time on something that isn’t easily measurable. But you can build space to be creative,” says Mat Harper, Palo Alto Networks’ EMEA marketing chief of staff.

Get signoff on creating this space first. Then use it to run clearly specified experiments on new content approaches – and use the outcomes to inform your non-experimental content.

Know the challenges and get to the fixes

After reading through the five most-frequently cited obstacles of B2B content marketers, you should be able to see that the challenges experienced at your brand aren’t unique. Knowing you’re not the only one is helpful, but it’s even more advantageous to craft a plan on how to jump those hurdles. We shared five options here. I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments about what has worked and what hasn’t.

CMI publishes its annual B2B and B2C research each fall. Be one of the first to see it when you sign up for the CMI weekday newsletter.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute