The Big Challenge for Content Marketing? Not Content or Marketing – Execution


Posted: April 3, 2012 | B2B Marketing, Content Marketing

I’m pleased to welcome Jeffrey Davis as a guest blogger. Jeffrey has spent the last 15 years covering technology’s overhaul of business and media as a founding editor of Business 2.0 magazine, executive editor of CBS Interactive’s BNET, and now as editorial director at Original9. He’s helping brands tap into the power of great content and we are thrilled to welcome him. 

Most likely, you’ve scanned the same industry stats I have about content marketing – every new one more eye-opening than the last.   Here are just a few of the latest from the Content Marketing Institute:

  • 60% of B2B organizations are spending more this year on content initiatives – with almost no one (3%) planning on cutting back.
  • 26% of overall B2B marketing budgets are going to content.
  • 90% of B2B organizations are investing in some form of content marketing.

In one word: wow. Those are sea changes compared to what the status quo looked like just a few years ago.  At the same time, those collar-grabbing survey numbers raise a few nagging questions,  such as: Why do most company blogs – this one being a fabulous exception — still wither on the vine, despite fatter budgets and sold-out content marketing conferences overflowing with best-practice tips and advice? How do so many Web infographics for business audiences, despite their massive popularity, turn into incomprehensible, migraine-inducing user experiences? Why do many marketers still try to disguise promotional material as original content?

The Content Juggle

Here are a couple insights that I think explain the gap between the bullish new outlook on content marketing and the real bears in this nascent discipline – things like strategy, execution, and results.  For starters, good content deserves a good purpose, especially if the content isn’t cheap.  And yet, cobbling together a smart strategic plan to go along with those bigger content budgets can be a tall task for a lot of B2B marketing professionals. Many are running a tough juggling act, doling out time, money and energy to disjointed content efforts spread among various media — from online advertising, search engine marketing, and blogs, to social media and mobile marketing initiatives. What can get lost in the marketing juggle? Simple – creative and compelling original content that ties into the narrative of the company.  That can be an easy oversight for a lot of organizations, but one with increasingly high stakes: Imagine how quickly Groupon’s business might fade, for instance, if it lost sight of its value as a creative writing operation.  As the New York Times notes, the company actually “shuns being thought of as a marketer,” and yet with its 400-plus writers and editors, it has a an editorial staff “that is on the verge of eclipsing the big name across the Chicago River, The Chicago Tribune.”

Short-Range Planning

Second, many organizations often fail to recognize that successful content marketing programs – even the seemingly simple blog — are marathons, not sprints.  They’re long-term value propositions, not campaigns. Companies frequently kick off exciting new content sites, blogs, and other properties, but might not think much beyond the launch party about what it takes to achieve meaningful results. They all require constant care and feeding – a moving pipeline of great ideas, cost-efficient production, daily promotion and outreach, talented writers and artists.

That’s just for starters.  There are some other elements I think are key to a successful content marketing program, but the (super obvious) point is this: content marketing is hard work, just like any business initiative with bottom-line strategic objectives.  Aspiring brand publishers, take note. This content stuff was never easy for media and publishing companies back when they ruled the roost, and – despite all the great new tools and technology within reach of any company now, from WordPress to content curation platforms to low-cost, high-quality video –  it takes smart planning, creative talent, and most of all, a genuine passion for delighting the people you want to reach.

What are your biggest challenges in creating content for your B2B marketing strategy?

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  • Eric Wittlake

    Jeffrey, great post. I think you nailed it on the short term view. Content marketing, the way you, Marketo and CMI talk about it, is being adopted by demand groups or by corporate marketers in organizations focused on demand generation marketing.

    The challenge is these people are used to working on campaigns and projects. Long-lived campaigns, and particularly campaigns with continual new creative requirements (the content) don’t fit the campaign-based project management, budget or forecast approaches these groups are accustomed to and the organization has come to expect from them.

    I think the biggest challenge today is commitment, and it stems from results. The challenges the surveys repeatedly point to are executive buy-in, budgets and resources. In my opinion, these all point back to the fact that marketers are acknowledging content is key, but they are not yet making it the priority. If it was seen as the marketing priority, these challenges would be addressed and we would start talking about talent gaps and the shortage of qualified content marketers.

    This is tied directly to the results, and with marketing groups that have traditionally delivered projects and organizations that have grown accustomed to seeing a quick return, getting the buy-in to make content marketing a true priority, with the reworked marketing organization that will require, is something most B2B marketers simply have not been able to or willing to do in their organizations.

  • Amie Marse

    Exactly! It’s not a simple equation of “spend more=get more” like it is with PPC (once that is in place) – content is a more fluid concept. I work with smaller businesses that tend to focus too much on the cost per activity (like cost per X amount of blogs) instead of the cost per return. Just like so much of the world: the cheap comes out expensive.

    Whether you are a Fortune 500 or a mom and pop – it’s about the strategy, the process, the talent. Companies of any size can make a mistake with bad talent, or have incredibly ROI with a great system.

    Phew! Getting on a soapbox here :) 

  • John Panek

    Couldn’t agree more and echo similar lack of execution with other aspects of marketing.  Take your best marketing strategy, program, tactic and expose it to channel partners or even the competition.  Nothing will happen because most organizations cannot get out of their own way and execute effectively.

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  • Karl Seidel

    I think it’s easy enough to point out the error of our ways (the “our” I’m representing here is small businesses). The fact is small businesses represent the majority of the pie you’re referring to when you’re commenting on “many organizations often fail to recognize” blah blah blah. But I also think you’re generalizing. We know content is king! But we’re typically doing the work – not writing about it! To get more written in terms of content requires sitting down and writing out the stuff to be delivered to the writers who then formulate “content.” Sad to say but it’s not top priority in the real world of business. And I’m not saying it shouldn’t be…but it’s not – and this is why.

Jason Miller is Senior Manager of Content Marketing at LinkedIn. Previously, Jason was Senior Manager of Social Media at Marketo and focused on optimizing social for lead generation and driving revenue. He is a regular contributor to leading marketing blogs such as Social Media Examiner, Social Media Today, and Marketing Profs.

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