When my kids were young and I tried to fob them off with some spurious answer or outlandish explanation, they’d often say, “Is that true, Dad?”. I invariably replied (so invariably they could chime in with me), “It’s better than true: it’s interesting.”
Well, the results of our latest Content Marketing Micro-Survey may or may not be true, or valid or significant (statistically or otherwise). But I think they’re pretty interesting.
We simply stuck four questions into Typeform (our new favourite survey tool): two open-ended and two multiple choice (the survey took less than a minute to complete). Then used Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ to ask B2B folks to come along and take the survey.
As of writing this post, we’ve received 111 responses. Not everyone answered every question but most did. Even if the sample was not random in any way, this feels like a big enough number to go ahead and report back on. Caveat lector.
So here goes…
Back in 2010, we put an optional question in the download form for our B2B Marketing Manifesto eBook, just for fun. The question was, “The hardest part of B2B marketing is _______”.
We thought we might get a dozen answers.We got hundreds. And, as we reported in this Project Open Robe post, this tiny survey spoke volumes. Back then, the number one obstacle people cited was some variant of ‘convincing internal people to do the right things.‘
That kind of shocked us. Till we thought about it and realised that most B2B marketers were not very powerful in their companies. They didn’t have power because they hadn’t earned power. And they hadn’t earned power because… they weren’t (and the discipline itself wasn’t) very good. Ouch.
That was then. So the first thing we wanted to know was whether or not that sorry state of affairs had changed at all in four years.
Question #1: The hardest part of B2B marketing is…
This is simply a repeat of our original question four years ago. Would internal issues still be the top challenge? Were internal stakeholders still cramping the style of our peers? Had B2B marketers grown (or earned) a pair?
Well, internal obstacles haven’t gone away entirely, but it’s gratifying to see that, this time around, most answers were about real marketing challenges not internal political ones. And there were almost as many different answers as respondents. [The full answers at time of writing are listed below].
Yes, there are still responses that indicate internal obstacles are the hardest (or, for agencies, client intransigence). But far more than four years ago, we saw marketing challenges like getting attention, distributing content or reaching multiple buyers.
This indicates a few things:
— B2B marketers are starting to really practice content marketing not just plan for it.
— The internal obstacles seem to be fading away. Content marketing is winning.
— Content marketing is more complex than it may seem from the outside. There are lots of moving parts to get right.
Question #2: “The hardest skills to find in content marketing are…”
We’ve been squealing about content marketing skills gaps for a while now so we were eager to get the results on this one.
Again, the answers were really varied. We wanted to keep the question open-ended rather than multiple choice to avoid forcing anything and I’m glad we did, even though it makes analysis a bit trickier (and kind of subjective).
The responses clustered around 25 different skills, but a few got multiple mentions: Copywriting/Storytelling, Analytics/Metrics, Strategy, Content Re-purposing, Technical Skills, Content Distribution/Promotion and Subject Matter Expertise.
Of these, one answer dominated the responses: Copywriting, with a whopping 52% of the total. Strategy was second and Analytics third.
What this says to us:
— Good writers who get content are in massive demand. No surprise there. At Velocity, we spend an enormous amount of our time finding, vetting, employing and developing writers. It’s good to see so many marketers value it as much as we do (and are finding it a tough role to fill).
— Strategy and Analytics are the next big skills gaps. We expect these gaps to get wider and more urgent with every passing month.
— It’s ramp up time. The spread of skills indicates a discipline getting to grips with real-world content marketing, not just talking about it.
Question #3: “Is there someone in your company with the word ‘content’ in their job title?”
This one’s interesting. We don’t have any data but my guess is that, even two years ago, we’d have seen fewer than 10% of B2B marketers answering ‘yes’ to this question.
This year, a whopping 42% said yes:
What we think of this:
— Content marketing is coming of age. That’s a hell of a lot of companies instituting a role that didn’t exist a few years ago. I expect this number to grow closer to 50-60% over the next two years, based on… gut feel.
Question #4: Is content marketing a fad?
There’s so much talk about the death of content marketing that we had to take the temperature on this. So we asked it this way:
What we make of this:
— Most marketers feel this is no fad. Two-thirds feel it’s become a core discipline and another third say we’re only at the beginning.
— Only 3% (three people) think we can stick a fork in content marketing. So the content marketing backlash has not won many converts yet.
Well that was fun. And I hope you agree it’s interesting, too.
What it indicates to us is this:
Content marketing is maturing as a B2B staple.
Marketers are getting stuck in now and are hitting lots of different challenges.
B2B marketers are starting to step up and earn more respect.
Writers are in demand. Big time. So are analysts.
Most of us feel content marketing is here to stay.
All of this validates our own experiences as a content marketing agency working with content marketers every day (which may indicate mega-bias, of course).
If we had guessed the answers to these ahead of time, I don’t think we’d have been far off at all. But we didn’t, so we’ll never know.
What do y’all think? Any surprises in here for you? Comments welcome.
Raw responses to open questions:
Q1: “The hardest part of content marketing is:”
Promoting content in a way that doesn’t a) seem spammy or b) offend Google.
Clients afraid to get out of the box
Breaking through the clutter.
Getting the attention of the c suite.
Having stakeholder properly and clearly define goals and objectives
To build a clear Buyer Persona with all influencer and decision makers.
Locating potential clients
Getting hold of the database
Getting ideas for content
Generating interesting/distinctive content ideas
Getting the rest of the business to give a shit
That it is online so worldwide
Balancing ‘what is bait-y’ with ‘what will change lives’
Turning boring products and services into fun Content
Measurement of content marketing and social media
Getting enough and the right customer information.
Building an audience and keeping that audience
Multiple decision makers
Knowing your customers needs, wants and desires
Separating scientifically researched and proven persuasive methods from jargon-filled, hyped “formulas” and “secrets of success” bullshit.
Convincing people to stop focusing so much on product messages
Making it sexy
Creating interesting content
Understanding the client / clients company
Real good content
Cutting through the noise
Convert your prospects
Ensuring you show value (marketing pipeline contribution) from everything you do.
Distilling the message that the client wants to send, in a way that’s meaningful to the audience
Affecting a change from traditional to digital marketing
Many in the B2B space rely on retailer sites to market and sell their products but what is good for retailers is not necessarily good for suppliers.
Board buy in
Establishing the most effective marcom mix
Defining priority tactics and attacking them strategically.
Consistency. Hits are great, but I need to build a pipeline of consistent hits to make numbers.
Testing. testing and retesting.
Lack of control of the transaction
Getting results on social
Engaging the customer
Working cohesively with Sales.
Proving the link between what we do and the results we know they achieve
Creating the message. Most B2B marketers are passionate about their product, but the product is not sexy.
Managing customer data
Standing out in a crowded marketplace
Really understanding what the audience is interested in, and how to frame it so they will pay attention.
Identify the buyer journey
Getting targeted content exposed to the right audience at the right time.
Creating an effective marcom mix
Figuring out how to use social for the B2B audience, effectively.
Identify prospect[s] and approach with a solid proposition.
Understanding the target “B”
Proving campaign worth/ROI/analytics throughout a buying cycle campaign.
Matching your product to your buyer persona
Getting good leads
Getting sales care
Align regions into a global strategy with local execution
Justifying it’s purpose
Targeting the right people with the right message at the right time.
Continually creating engaging content
Building awareness and engagement for your topic.
Engaging content to all involved
Convincing clients that the mix should be integrated, cross platform
Content production and alignment to the funnel
Creating and executing on an integrated strategy over time
Reaching influencers who can advocate for a purchase.
Differentiating and cutting through the clutter (when it comes to content)
Making technical content exciting.
Matching correct content to correct audience at the right time
Catching the decision maker’s interest.
Inertia (reaching an audience with no time)
Finding new angles on existing business ideas to write about
Target vertical and geography
Pleased the final client
Linking ROI to individual pieces of content
Identifying, clarifying and coming to agreement across the org on what the hell your story is
Determining exactly what the client wants to hear.
Convincing people there is a structured process to be followed that requires discipline and commitment.
Creating buy-in from fellow employees to lead with content and not a product.
Being an expert on all the new parts of it eg analytics, automation
Being creative while also speaking the B2B lingo
Q2: “The hardest skills to find in content marketing are:”
Copywriting and analytics
Good writers who can tell a story in an engaging way.
Strategy and measurement.
Someone who can bring together creative work with exceptional writing.
Copy writing with personality
Project management skills.
Good writers (that can simplify compex concepts- like Velocity)
Individuals who can look at how content can be repurposed
Writter who are able to bring it on the point, without PR-Slang.
Keeping up with the different platforms
Writing exactly what the readers want
Understanding and leveraging the “why”
Arresting aesthetics (the ambiguity is deliberate)
Writing search engine optimized content.
Science-literacy (ie, statistical significance, etc.)
Prolific creatives and bosses with balls
Traditional PR skills
Data miners – we write the words but often struggle interpreting.
Subject matter experts who are also good writers
How it applies to a wider strategy ie. why are we doing this as opposed to ‘download our FREE white paper because everyone else is doing it’
Executing so it resonates emotionally with the audience
Really clever writing from experienced marketeers.
Writers who can quickly grasp technical information
Good writers who can get their head around the technology, and can create Good content around it.
good copy writer
Dual brains, good writers that are not technophobic or scientists that can write
Amazing writing and front-end dev
Skills aren’t really in short supply – it’s people who are really good at achieving results with those skills.
Great writers, of course.
Marketers who are mindful that leveraging content alone isn’t sufficient. At times, there’s a need to re-purpose content for different channels of delivery
Truthfulness and sincerity especially about business mistakes, fumbles and failures
Technical content writers
Strategic communications skills
Sticking with a strategy until all the work is done.
People with good ideas who have both content creation AND marketing chops. There are lots of Artistes and Marketing Hacks; there’s fewer people that are both.
Strong writers who can write like people speak. No jargon.
Big picture thinking
True understanding of social
Simplifying the message
Believable competitive differentiation messaging and brevity.
The ability to write well
Return On Attention
Making content convertible. Creating good b2b content is pretty easy, making it work for sales is!
All of it
Writers who understand the importance of business critical rather than interesting
People who understand the client, the marketplace and the audience *and* who understand how marketing works *and* can write well for the target audience.
To be business oriented
Someone whole understands and can manage the holistic approach required by CM.
Strategic writers who can engage w audiences.
The crafting of CM must not heavey handed and is, most often just, self-promoting and nothing more. Appears more often than not authors of marketing are not savvy in building a message that isn’t more than a long winded ad.
word-smithing and win the attention
Clear thinking, crisp writing
A combination of subject matter expertise and layman language.
Metrics (especially for social)
Copy-Editing the content itself with catchy lines
Knowledge of the B2B industry.
Coherent content, empathy of the brand strategy
Writers who are passionate about B2B technical topics, who ask the right questions, who understand the broader business context for the story they’re drafting
The ability to know what to exclude and the ability to look past the story you want to tell so you can focus on what your audience wants to know.
Good writing/editorial skills
People who know how to research and understand how customers really buy.
Cross media expertise