Your BIGGEST Content Marketing Challenges; Solved
You already know there are over two million pieces of content published daily.
But everywhere you turn, the numbers get worse.
60% of marketers are creating something daily.
Trillions of emails are being sent annually.
Hell – there’s already “billions of content pieces shared daily” on Snapchat.
Despite living in an extraordinary time with unprecedented access to customers, the bar’s never been higher to actually reach any of them.
And good enough, isn’t.
Not in today’s world.
Here are three of the biggest content marketing challenges, along with how you can overcome them.
Content Marketing Challenge #1: Your company hasn’t adapted the content marketing culture
If there’s one thing we can ALL agree on – no matter what background you come from, religious affiliation or political views included – it’s this:
Most B2B content sucks.
It sucks not because the people behind it aren’t smart. Or good at what they do.
It sucks because they “talk past their customers”. (Click to tweet)
One study from market research giant McKinsey found that:
“Honest and open dialogue, which customers considered most important, was one of the three themes not emphasized at all by the 90 companies in our sample.”
NINETY companies completely left out “honest and open dialogue” from their content messaging.
Instead, they went on and on and on about ‘sustainability’, ‘corporate governance’, ‘innovation’, ‘synergy’, and blah blah blah blah blah.
"Content marketing is a culture that most companies still haven't adapted. They look into the world from the perspective of their products or services, not from the customer perspective. This is not startling news, but still a fact in most cases"
How to Solve it: (Good) Buyer Personas
The curse of knowledge is one contributing factor. They’re so wrapped up in their own day-to-day mindsets that they forgot to put things in a different context that matters to customers.
It doesn’t help, when your company has a superficial understanding of your customers.
Case in point: take a look at your ‘buyer personas’.
Chances are, you’ve got GREAT stuff on demographics. You know all about their roles. Their income. Their educational background. (A/S/L anyone?)
Now, what about psychographics? What makes these people do the things they do?
What about purchasing occasions? And why do people buy?
THAT’S the stuff commonly absent from most buyer personas. And it’s a precursor for bad, 300-word blog posts about your latest feature XYZ (you know, the one collecting dust on your Twitter account that hasn’t posted in the last ~3 months).
That means if your content – which includes everything from blog posts and social updates to your latest email newsletter and About page – doesn’t resonate with a potential customer immediately, they’re gone.
The trick, instead of going straight for the solution, is to first focus on the primary customer problem or pain point that brought them there in the first place. Here’s how.
Your first goal is to get a basic understanding of what this person does on a daily basis. Their routines, their day-to-day tasks, their aspirations and responsibilities.
Next, you want to find out what the ideal goal or objective in their life (and role) is. What makes them do those things better, consistently.
ONLY after establishing these priorities up-front, can you begin to dive deeper into understanding why these things haven’t happened yet. Or what the most common issues and problems are.
This kind of information only comes from actually talking with people. While in-person or phone calls are always best, you can also expedite this time-consuming process with customer reviews or by incentivizing simple surveys.
For example, here’s one we use commonly with clients:
That’s it! Five-to-seven simple, open-ended questions. No complex ranking systems, likerts (whatever the hell that is), or other multiple choice questions that tell you little.
Starting with their goals and progressing into their challenges before touching on their purchasing motivations.
Here’s one example of the type of results we get:
A few things jump out:
- Permitting issues (which ‘building inspections’ relate to) are an issue.
- While time delays is arguably the biggest problem or concern in these people’s lives.
Let’s come up with ways to solve those two issues for them!
No marketing ninja skills required. Now, instead of starting with something that goes on and on about your consulting services that’s interesting to no one, anywhere (well, besides your Board of Directors I guess), you start off with specific, concrete problems that your customers deal with daily.
Here’s another example:
Again, we see (1) timing or delays as a common theme here, along with (2) product selection as a possible reason for why these happen.
Again you’re starting off with what people just told you they struggle with before touching on the possible alternatives or solutions (that – coincidence! – you just so happen to provide).
Best of all, you almost don’t even need to mention your product or service explicitly.
If done correctly, the results should be obvious.
I could already hear people saying, “But Brad, what if we don’t have a large customer base to get insights from?”
Lo and behold, Benji Hyam to the rescue.
1. Come up with a narrow focus for your target audience segment. Instead of just saying marketers, try to get as specific as possible, marketers who run growth at venture-backed startups with over $10M in funding.
2. Do research on LinkedIn, Data.com, or other data service to figure out companies and ideal people to contact. Try to identify people and companies that would be ideal clients for your product or service.
3. Cold outreach to the point of contact at the company you think would be a good fit asking if you could have 15-20 minutes of their time to talk about their company, and their current X strategies (mobile, marketing, retail) - whatever industry they're in.
4. Ask questions about the challenges they face in their role, and/or the challenges related to the problem your product or service solves. Ask about who would make a decision to buy if they were to purchase a product or service like yours. The goal should be to get as much insight as you can about the buyer and the ideal company that would buy from you.
5. If your product or service is in prelaunch, then you can also show them mockups and ask for their initial impressions, see what questions come to their mind, ask open ended questions, etc.
[Via Grow and Convert]
Key takeaway: Is your content insightful, or just adding to the noise? If it’s the former, you’ll see leads, subscribers, press mentions, and more as leading indicators. If it’s the latter… go back to your buyer personas and do some more digging.
Content Marketing Challenge #2: ‘Ticking Boxes’
This year, 42% of companies are spending more on content marketing; increasing staff levels over the past year.
Great news, right?! Hopefully, more resources coming are way soon.
So, companies are going to spend more on publishing content, even though they admittedly aren’t sure what to do with it?
"I agree that our biggest hurdle is content management without a system. It makes not only communicating the value of new content to Sales and other Marketing functions difficult, but also re-use of content is less likely to occur.
I like to call this the ‘ticking boxes’ problem.
So you fire up Google Docs, FocusWriter or (God forbid) Word, and start cranking away.
An hour or two later, you copy/paste that sucker into your CMS and hit Publish.
Phew. Just in time for lunch.
When in fact, maybe you should just STOP. For a second. Take a breather.
How to Solve it: Get everyone on the same page with a simple content plan to connect your day-to-day content creation back to a greater purpose or objective.
We’re so consumed with being busy that it’s easy to get stuck in a daily rut of just crossing stuff off our to-do list without giving it a much greater thought.
But sometimes it’s better to put new content on hold temporarily, zoom out a little bit, and figure out why you’re doing this in the first place, what you want out of it, and how to proceed accordingly.
Begin at the end.
- Sales low? Check. Why?
- Big drop-offs occurring from Marketing Qualified Leads to Sales Qualified Leads.
- So maybe we need to add more lead nurturing sequences prior to hand-off. Good idea.
- But the number of Leads also looks low too. At these current conversion rates, we probably won’t be able to hit our sales quotas.
- Gotcha. Let’s also try creating at least one new lead magnet or tool to increase conversions.
- Good idea! But visibility and traffic could also use some work.
- Idea: If we increased site traffic by X%, would it make up for Y% shortfall with current low conversion rates?
- Yeah – I think so!
- Good. Let’s prioritize (1) repurposing existing content for our lead nurturing and ‘lead magnet’ efforts to save time, and instead (2) focus on creating new content similar to what’s performed best in the past and current best practices.
- Awesome! Sounds like a plan.
First, let’s get everyone organized and on the same page. Even a basic spreadsheet will do at this point.
Starting with the information you’ve uncovered in the first section, how is your content going to show (not tell) people how you can uniquely solve their challenges (better than the rest).
Years ago I worked with Picmonic on a similar strategy.
After talking with customers (Step 1), they found a majority of medical students were struggling with the “mountain of material” (or volume of information to learn), along with the “evolving standards” of standardized tests.
Cool. Now you’ve got a place to start. How do you help them solve these challenges?
Picmonic customers cited three primary benefits with their product:
- It filtered out which information you really needed, from all the other stuff you could ignore (or forget).
- Enjoyable style or learning, with fun audio and visual mnemonics.
- They could learn faster because the unique approach was founded on scientific research (so it took less time to memorize information than say, flashcards).
Once you’ve got this sorted out, you can start defining the messaging or themes.
Sticking with Picmonic for a second longer, we identified a few key messaging themes that would make a connection or ‘bridge the gap’ between what customers were struggling with most, and the product’s primary benefits:
- Life Hacks: Show people fun or interesting ways to get more done with less based on approaching things from a new, creative angle.
- Proprietary Data: Leverage internal data points to showcase memorable results.
- Test-Specific Information: Tutorial, in-depth content on all medical standardized tests.
You now know who, what, and why. The last bit is determining where.
Ideally, for each channel, you want to identify:
- Objective: How does each content channel fit into your broader marketing funnel? For example, blog content is great for driving new awareness, but email’s probably better for assisting conversions.
- Frequency: How often are you going to publish each? While the more the merrier generally, you can’t do it at the expense of better (because of the statistics listed at the beginning of this post).
- Tone: While the tone of one company (say a B2B SaaS app) is vastly different from that of another (like a B2C eCommerce one), you can also have channels with different tone based on the audience and content types (for example, Facebook vs. SnapChat).
- Desired Action: Every piece of content should direct users to something else. Many times, that will be simply sending users from one piece of content to another. But either way, this will help make sure that you’re creating different pieces of content with a specific purpose (while also providing a more simplified metric to gauge success).
Transferring this stuff to an editorial calendar is fine. But those are static.
Another helpful way to manage your content creation process is just that: as a workflow. Hitting publish on your latest post might be the end of content creation, but it should now kick off a host of other activities like Promotion, Repurposing, Training and other Internal tasks.
For example, after one my posts are published they get moved to the Email & Social phase (right before the Direct Outreach one):
When you open up each deliverable or piece, a new series of predefined tasks are assigned. Only when these are completed, can you move the deliverable over the next person (or team).
Systemizing these steps:
- Simplifies your life because you don’t have to reinvent the wheel or micromanage team members, while at the same time
- Streamlines how a task or deliverable or piece of content gets handed off from one department to the next.
Key takeaway: Even a basic content management plan or workflow can provide enough structure to keep your team and external collaborators all moving in the same direction.
Content Marketing Challenge #3: Time (Or Lack Thereof)
The average 500-word blog post takes around 1-2 hours.
Not too bad…
Except, the average first-page result on Google is three-to-four times longer at 1,890 words.
There’s a reason Buffer invests a minimum of three hours on their posts.
The bar keeps rising. Which means the best stuff, today, tends to be getting longer and longer.
This assumes you’re an expert, and obviously doesn’t include things like video which can take significantly longer.
"Finding the time to balance the need to continually learn more and master new tools while keeping up with creating new content is my biggest challenge. Creating quality content takes time--there's no getting around it. Yet, content creation, i.e., writing, is just one piece of the content puzzle."
How to Solve it: Figure out how to create formulas and repeatable systems that continually churn out best-in-class content.
So how to cope?
While there’s no obvious silver bullet, one approach can help…
Be effective, not creative.
Made to Stick recounts the story of one study conducted by a team of Israeli researchers who wanted to identify what successful ads had in common.
They analyzed over two-hundred highly acclaimed advertisements, and surprisingly found that the vast majority – 89%! – could be organized into one of six ‘templates’.
They then looked at two-hundred other, less popular ads and found that they could only pick out 2% of those fitting in with the previously identified ‘templates’.
Don’t reinvent the wheel each time you sit down in front of a blank, white screen.
Instead, use templates or a more standardized, formulaic approach to speed up content creation.
Later in Made to Stick, the Heath brothers go on later to present different storytelling plots that have been used for literally centuries in literature, movies and television shows. For example, three of the most popular over time:
- Challenge: Overcoming extreme odds to eventually succeed. Pretty much any sports movie, ever.
- Connection: The classic Romeo and Juliet tale of two seemingly opposed, adversarial sides coming together unexpectedly.
- Creativity: An incredible journey punctuated by a ‘mental breakthrough’ or solving a puzzling issue. Dan Brown fans are probably familiar with this one.
Trying to find a way to explain something complex in a succinct, catchy way? Look no further than one of those three storytelling plots.
Another copywriting formula you can use to structure your content is the popular Problem, Agitate, Solution (PAS). If you’ve read the first two parts (gotcha skimmers!), this formula was already alluded to above:
- Problem: Start with the primary problem or pain point causing an issue in someone’s life (and nudging them to Google information about it).
- Agitate: Get people interesting by using stats, examples, or illustrations that build empathy; increasing the odds that your message will resonate with them.
- Solution: Now that you’ve done the hard part, discuss ways to triumph or overcome (see storytelling plots above) despite how difficult or unbearable it seems.
Last but certainly not least, you can (and should) also template how a specific piece of content should come together.
For example, headline changes are one of the best low-hanging fruits you’ve got to quickly boost lackluster content performance; having the power to provide an almost immediate 10% lift by simply rephrasing what’s already there.
Again, start with the experts like Buzzfeed, who will regularly use headline formulas – because they work!
One of the best is the cliffhanger, where you allude or hint at something to come (but hold back just enough to get people to click.
One easy example: “Things Nobody Tells You About [Difficult or Complex Topic]”
(You should also download Headline Hacks by Jon Morrow ASAP for a bunch of ready-made headline formulas.)
Now how about the way you open an article and make it interesting to people?
There are a few tried-and-true approaches, like:
- Use an anecdote or storytelling to illustrate
- Incorporate surprising or counterintuitive statistics to build interest (see this post as Exhibit A)
- Start off with a bold statement to grab attention
Distill this information down so that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time. Or create a process so new writers (even contractors) can immediately understand exactly what you’re looking for.
Even your conclusions can be standardized or templated as well, because there’s a commonly accepted pattern to what makes one successful.
For example, your goal is always to either (a) summarize the main points, (b) highlight a, key specific takeaway, or (c) end with a specific Call-To-Action for the reader to take that next step.
Key takeaway: The best content isn’t the most creative, but the ones proven to be successful. Finding those success stories, and templating them out can help you scale content creation despite limited resources.
Which reminds me, it’s time for...
There’s never been a better time to bypass advertising or sales channels and get in touch with customers directly.
However, there’s never been more competition to do that either. And the bar only continues to get higher.
Cultural issues can make this problem insurmountable, losing your potential audience from the get-go. Racing to churn out blog posts or emails as quickly as possible is another recipe for disaster. And carving out the time to dedicate towards creating best-in-class content never gets easy.
However, if you can continually strive to better understand your customers, align day-to-day content activities with a broader strategic objective, and put in place some content templates or formulas to follow, you can systematically fix many of the biggest content marketing challenges facing companies today.
It won’t be easy.
But at least you’ll have a fighting chance.