B2B marketers are angry, and that’s probably fair enough. How would you like it if your valiant efforts to create great work were thwarted at every turn, by the people who are supposed to be on your side… and then commentators kept asking why your content isn’t innovative, emotional, or brave?
When we conducted our Barriers to Great B2B Content research, we didn’t expect the volume or ferocity of responses we received.
In hindsight, perhaps we should have. By inviting B2B marketers to reveal their frustrations in secret, we gave them a chance to vent long-held frustrations about their own organisations, and the working conditions that hold them back.
Now, we’ll share those comments with you. In their entirety.
As well as the venom (be warned, some of the language does get understandably fruity), there’s plenty of wisdom and constructive advice here. And, if you’re a B2B content marketer, quite a bit of solidarity too. You are not alone.
We’ve also included some gems from our four expert commentators in the report: Maureen Blandford, Doug Kessler, Mat Harper, and Shaema Shazeel Katib.
What is it about your best content that makes you proud?
1. “Authenticity.” – B2B technology content writer, UK
2. “It is useful and relevant to the customer.” – IT/tech CMO, North America
3. “It’s differentiated from the white noise surrounding it, and it’s specific – not picking from the library of generic B2B language.” – Agency content creator, UK
4. “Not proud of any.” – Marketing manager, legal firm, UK
What gets in your way when you’re trying to create great B2B content?
6. “Executive fear.” – IT marketing director, North America
7. “Not enough insight. Client too product focused. Client-side marketing does not have enough status or power.” – B2B technology marketing consultant, UK
8. “I don’t always know what language/terminology to use with the target audience, or what level of knowledge they already have.” – Engineering copywriter, UK
9. “Too many cooks in the kitchen. I’ve had many projects drag on far, far longer than they needed to because we had to have 6+ stakeholders weigh in. We revise according to their feedback and put it in front of them again, only to have them find new issues or suggest something entirely different that they’re now excited about and want to see.” – Technology marketing manager, North America
10. “I’ve heard all the following recently: ‘I really like the concept but…’ ‘Lovely job, and we got great results, but I am missing the creativity of marketing and writing.’ ‘I’m going to bring the work back in house now you have shown me a different way of approaching it.’ ‘No I don’t want to abide by your terms of 45 days notice.’ ‘Great content but it hasn’t worked. I don’t have any sales yet and website traffic hasn’t really changed.’ ‘I can see what you are saying and I enjoyed reading it, but please add in the following edits.'” – Tech startup CMO, UK
11. “If your stakeholders are not in alignment, nothing is possible. And if they are, almost anything is.” – Doug Kessler, Creative Director, Velocity Partners
12. “I’m hired to write great copy. I do. The technical MD clearly knows best though, and needs to rewrite everything a million times just to grow his ego and make marketing feel like shit.”
– IT content writer, UK
Executives who don’t “get it”
13. “Subject matter experts not understanding that you are trying to write to the customers’ pain points.” – Marketing manager, multinational manufacturer
14. “Executives who think all content is selling/promotional – don’t get thought leadership is different.” – IT marketing director, North America
15. “In my organisation at least, non-content people don’t fully understand the true role of content (it being much more than just ‘chucking up a few blog posts’). Because it’s not understood, it’s not valued – and neither are its creators. This doesn’t stop almost everyone having an opinion on content, however, despite not being able to actually create, plan, implement or measure it themselves. Go figure…” – Content manager, business insurance, UK
16. “Too much tech talk. Internal clients don’t think clever, simple or emotional messaging/visuals are as effective as feature listing.” – Telecoms marketing executive, North America
Forgetting about the reader
18. “Interference from management who want content to sell, sell, sell.” – Technology CMO, Europe
19. “A pretty headline with multiple adaptions (‘Lead with confidence’ ‘Train with confidence’ ‘Operate with confidence’ etc) seems to always be preferred over interesting content that readers actually care about and will engage with.” – Agency copywriter, UK
20. “One of my biggest bugbears? The fact companies think their brand matters to customers. I had a client recently contract me to write ten short blogs about eCommerce – which was fine… until the MD got involved and complained they didn’t sell what the company was doing enough. I took her point – they could be steered more in that direction – but ultimately, my argument is that good content should provide value for customers; giving them information that they can go away and use. Or it should provide insight into the challenges they’re facing. When you stop trying to sell and think about the customer (and given that they’re already reading your content on your website) you have a much better opportunity to foster their trust. But often, this is a tough sell.” – Professional services content writer, UK
21. “A brief that’s aimed at the brand not the consumer. Clients who don’t believe that business people are just people who happen to be at work. Clients who don’t show any empathy/understanding of their consumers.” – B2B marketing copywriter, UK
22. “What’s important is finding the right format, length, structure, and tone – and that’s a matter of knowing your audience well enough.” – Shaema Shazleen Katib, Content Marketing and Automation Analyst, Intel
Changing priorities and briefs
23. “Interruptions are a big factor. I have a whole docket of content I’ve envisioned, planned, and want to see through, but it often gets disrupted by ‘drive-by’ projects that have more urgency to them. And because I’ve got the skills and the tools, I have to make the bandwidth.” – Manufacturing marketing manager, North America
24. “Execs and decision-makers who are making it up as they go… meaning they don’t spend the time up front to define main messaging. And that impacts all the collateral that relies on the messaging – which is pretty much everything. 😉” – Technology copywriter, North America
25. “Convoluted targets and goals for each piece, different key internal stakeholders with contradictory targets unwilling to compromise or even communicate. Lack of subject matter expertise within the content team.” – Media marketing manager, UK
Sales versus marketing
26. “The age-old tug of war between sales and marketing. Not every piece of content I create has to have a pitch, a value proposition, or a call to action attached to it. Ads are ads and content is content. And sometimes content has to be allowed to just inform, inspire, entertain, or enlighten – to build affinity and show thoughtfulness without asking the reader to then DO something or, worse, gating the content.” – Manufacturing marketing manager, North America
27. “We’re meant to interview contacts for our content. These contacts are meant to be ones that make the most strategic sense for the sales team. When you don’t put their leads in or put people they don’t want in your content, they moan. But when the time comes to send out an email asking them for contacts, not a single person responds, until the content is finished and they pipe up that they’re contacts weren’t included??!!” – B2B marketing copywriter, UK
Basically, the internet sucks
28. “I hate that it has to be so heavily reliant on SEO. Once you’ve optimised the content, it just looks ugly, repetitive and cheap. We’ve attempted to write good opinion pieces but the blog posts drowning in keywords always have more success.” – B2B agency marketer, UK
Hell is other departments
29. “People from other departments thinking they know what’s best for marketing. Constantly sticking their oars in and criticising.” – Technology copywriter, UK
30. “Lack of interest or help from other departments that could actually really improve our content. Marketing is at the bottom of the list for attention and they don’t realise its importance for the business performing well.” – IT marketing manager, UK
31. “Management/sales/other departments that don’t know how to present relevant, useful content in a clear, concise manner so it provides true value to the customer. Corporate branding rules that are inflexible, so every piece of content must fit into predefined templates (even if you are trying to create something new). The ‘we’ve always done it this way’ mentality.” – B2B technology CMO, North America
How do you prove it works?
33. “One of the biggest challenges that I’m sure all B2B marketers face is that creating an outstanding piece of content – that actually brings commercial value or return to the business, other than the number of likes – is increasingly hard to quantify. All evidence is qualitative, which makes it difficult to argue positive performance even in the best of circumstances. Creating something truly fantastic – that drives conversion – that’s the golden goose. And it’s always hard; it’s always a struggle. I have lots of friends in B2C marketing and by comparison their job feels like a doddle; it’s easy to write a fantastic piece of content that implements basic consumer psychological trends to sell a pair of trainers or a yoga subscription. Try doing the same thing to convince a CIO that his approach to cloud migration could do with a tweak. It’s a different ballpark. But senior B2B marketers are almost 20k behind the average B2C marketer in terms of salary.” – Software-as-a-Service CMO, UK
Agencies versus clients
35. “Weak agencies who act subservient to me and don’t challenge me hard enough.” – Professional services marketing director, UK
36.”Clients destroying the work. (Nearly.) Every. Single. Time.” – B2B agency copywriter, UK
37. “Clients who go to agencies and want something different but then churn out the same shit. You have departments, just save some money and use them. Last but not least, when they want leads with zero brand awareness. For the love of god Coke still invests money in brand awareness, you need to invest in brand awareness.” – B2B marketing manager, UK
38. “Clients who don’t trust you to make the call. You’ve appointed an expert – let us get on with it.” – Freelance B2B content writer, UK
Lack of alignment
39. “The internal hurdles and the challenges of multiple teams from different departments and countries all with their own idea of what good content should look like and not listening to the strategists and the analysts is incredibly frustrating. Why hire us if you don’t want to listen to what we find?” – Multinational B2B digital marketing strategist
40. “Clients who insist upon multiple levels of approvals. I recall one press release which ‘required’ approval from 11 stakeholders. That will never result in inspired copy – everyone feels they need to change something to justify their involvement.” – B2B content writer, UK
“A new player has entered the game…”
42. “Writing a piece that I’ve mostly got my way on (aimed actually at helping the customer in their journey rather than just touting our product) and having it all approved and sent to design. Design is just having me proofread and copy check the final doc when the CEO sees it and decides to delete some pages, add in some others (very product heavy), and edit some messaging. But we HAVE to publish it the next day due to campaign timelines. No choice but to approve the change with small amends. Gah!” – Software-as-a-Service content writer
43. “The client came to us and wanted to build a game and a campaign surrounding it with a limited budget. We compiled KPIs and built a strategy to gain said KPIs. One facet was to use influencers to provide quotes to include within the game and a series of blogs. But signoff on the influencers came way after the production of the game so we weren’t able to leverage the quotes within the game. Well, the entire purpose of using the influencers was meant to get reshares of the game to those influencers’ accounts and instead we could only use the quotes within the blogs we produced to cross-promote the game. When all was said and done the effort to gain influencers, interview them, etc didn’t meet the KPI targets we originally set out for the game…” – Software-as-a-Service marketing manager, UK
Lack of time, investment and resources
44. “When I was in-house, it was totally a resourcing problem. The marketing team was growing out in the regions, but they all had to funnel through a tiny content team that was being pulled every which way. We were accused of not being strategic enough – that was because we were constantly asked to check emails, event invites, flyers, presentations, the whole lot. Content was under-valued, under-appreciated, under-resourced… yet every single person in that marketing team relied on content to do their work. Major issue in B2B: content is more than just the team’s writers and grammar experts, so give them the space and resource to do their job, not make you look better.” – B2B content writer, UK
45. “Lack of original ideas and then time to get buy-in to a concept. Poorly skilled in-house resources and/or no budget to deliver it.” – Marketing manager, multinational IT enterprise
46. “As a writer I’m fairly in demand, which means I’m working on a lot of projects for a lot of clients simultaneously, which means I can’t devote as much time/headspace as I’d like to each project.” – Agency content writer, UK
47. “Senior management not having a f’ing clue and still seeing all marketing as cost, not investment.”
– Marketing manager, law firm, UK
The usual suspects…
48. “Lack of ambition is depressing. Aiming SO low.” – B2B agency creative, UK
49. “Content by committee. It never ends well. Everyone knows this, and yet… somehow it persists.” – Technology copywriter, UK
50. “Lack of customer challenge/solution understanding. Relentless focus on leads rather than good content. Decision by committee. Over reliance on the ‘same’ content again and again. Struggle to agree balance between product detail and good creative copywriting that’s emotive rather than just functional. Lack of attention to identifying clear differentiators, etc. etc.” – B2B marketing consultant, UK
51. “Internal politics in the client organisation – ends up being design by committee.” – B2B healthcare copywriter, Oceania
52. “Where do I start? Companies that cannot succinctly articulate what they do or sell? Companies that decide they want to create a piece of content before they even decide they have anything worthwhile to say? The bullshit circus of ‘thought leadership’…” – Technology copywriter, UK
53. “A lack of bravery, and resistance against not using jargon. If clients insist on using the same old terminology, their copy will always be boring. It’s a constant battle when you’re the only one bold enough to ask ‘What does that mean? Why would the customer care about that? So what?’ We’re the only ones with the guts to ask those questions, and it isn’t always well-received.” – Freelance B2B copywriter, UK
A question of attitude
55. “Inherent lack of risk taking, inability to try new things, lack of vision for creative solutions, doing it the same way because ‘that’s the way we do it’ mentality, laziness to try new things…” – Marketing manager, health IT startup, North America
56. “People trying to be too creative for B2B content to suit their own ego or career aims. Sometimes you have to write run-of-the-mill stuff, or just come up with campaigns that are helpful or informative. Not everyone needs to be like Ogilvy, ESPECIALLY in B2B but a lot of people agency-side don’t recognise that. Listen to the customer. They know the audience best. The only reason you are getting friction from a customer is because you aren’t listening to them, you’re listening to your ego.” – B2B agency marketer, UK
What would have the biggest impact on your ability to create good content?
57. “Love my work but it can be lonely and I don’t always have the right people around me to brainstorm problems or creative approaches.” – Technology startup CMO, UK
58. “A guide to managing the management that wants to interfere and get involved.” – B2B technology CMO, North America
59. “Case studies proving that interesting content works would be so helpful. There’s not enough B2B content case studies out there. Loads of B2C case studies but clients instantly ignore those positive results because the audience is different.” – B2B agency copywriter, UK
60. “Something for CEOs and non-marketers on content strategy.” – IT marketing director, North America
61. “Unlimited resource. A CRM that wasn’t a mess.” – Technology CMO, North America
62. “How to get the best from your Client Services department? How do we meet ‘their’ pain points to buy into our vision.” – B2B marketing manager, UK
63. “There shouldn’t be this tension between the well-crafted, beautiful content and the effective content. If we don’t start by defining great content as that which has the most impact, we’re never going to succeed.” – Doug Kessler, creative director, Velocity Partners
If nothing else, realise it’s not your fault…
If some of these quotes feel a little unguarded and unpolished, it’s because we’ve tried to keep them as close as possible to the actual text as entered in the survey. What you’re feeling is the frustration of B2B marketers who are being prevented from doing their best work.
As Maureen Blandford put it in the report: “Imagine having people screwing your work up, and then being blamed by the market when your content sucks. It’s like: ‘If you only feckin’ knew.'”
And if reading this had you nodding your head until your neck is sore, that’s good (the solidarity, not the injury, anyway). It shows there are others going through the same thing. Maybe together, we can find the voice that B2B content marketers need.
We’d love to hear about your own experiences too; you can find us on LinkedIn and Twitter.