Photo by Erich Ferdinand

Content marketing isn't easy. Many marketers struggle to produce engaging content or measure content effectiveness.

What's worse, only about 30 percent of B2B technology marketers think their programs are effective at reaching their objectives. 

Those are some of the startling findings from a benchmark survey from the Cleveland, Ohio-based Content Marketing Institute.

Of the 392 B2B technology marketers surveyed, 47 percent rate their content marketing average, 19 percent say it’s not very effective and 3 percent don’t think it’s effective at all.

Some cite a lack of strategy, while others feel overwhelmed by the amount of marketing tools available.

The Question

Why is it hard for content marketers to produce engaging, effective content?

The Answers

David Meerman Scott, Marketing and Sales Strategist

Boston-based Scott is a former C-suite executive who reinvented himself as a keynote speaker and author. The former vice president of marketing at NewsEdge, he was fired from his job after the company was acquired by the Thomson Corporation in 2002. He now speaks at conferences and events worldwide and writes prolifically. To date he has presented in 41 countries and authored 10 books including,The New Rules of Marketing & PR and Newsjacking. Tweet to David Meerman Scott.

David Meerman Scott headshot

Many marketers steeped in the tradition of product advertising naturally feel drawn to prattle on and on about their products and services. But I have news for you. Nobody cares about your products and services (except you).

Yes, you read that right. Content that is about a company's products and services just isn't interesting.

What people care about are themselves and how you can solve their problems. People also like to be entertained and to share in something remarkable. In order to have people talk about you and your ideas, you must resist the urge to hype your products and services.

Instead, create something interesting that will be talked about online. When you get people talking on the, people will line up to learn more and to buy what you have to offer.

Most content marketing is nothing more than an alternative channel for the PR department or product marketers to spew their “messages” and “product vision.” Yuck. To create engaging and effective content you need to understand the audience you are trying to reach.

Joe Lazauskas, Editor in Chief, Contently

Joe Lazauskas headshot

Lazauskas is the Editor-in-Chief of Contently and The Content Strategist, which Digiday named a 2015 finalist for Best New Publisher. A technology and marketing journalist, he is a regular contributor to Fast Company and has written for Mashable, Digiday, HuffPo and Forbes, among other publications. He is the former editor-in-chief of The New York Egotist and The Faster Times. Tweet to Joe Lazauskas.

This is a question we spend a lot of time thinking about — given the budget and resources at most brands disposal, why isn’t content marketing just better? Why is there so much mediocrity? And why does everyone think another “7 tips” listicle is just what the world needs?

In my opinion, most brands’ content problems boil down to three issues:

  1. They have no idea what effective content looks like. This is… a problem. If you don’t have clear objectives and metrics of success, there is no way to know whether your content is effective. But despite not knowing whether their content is effective, brands are creating more content than ever before. In other words, brands are creating content blindly.
  2. They haven’t established a strong culture of content. I’m a huge fan of Rebecca Lieb’s stance that organizations need to develop a culture of content to be successful. Content needs to be a tool that goes beyond just marketing and empowers all departments. It needs the support of senior leadership, dedicated resources, and the freedom to be creative and take risks.
  3. They’re stuck in a campaign mindset and don’t optimize their content. Even when brands do have clear objectives, they often come at it from a campaign mindset: they spend a ton of money upfront on an expensive content strategy and tons of content production, and then pray that it works. But if brands really want to be successful, they need a methodology for testing their assumptions and continuously improving their content over time. It results in far fewer wasted resources, and much better results.

As a final note, I’d also advocate for hiring someone with real editorial experience to run the show. You can’t just point to a career marketer and expect them to turn into a professional editor overnight. Unless you’re a real wizard, and not just one on LinkedIn, that’s not how things work.

Rahel Anne Bailie, Chief Knowledge Officer, Scroll

Rahel Bailie headshot

As Chief Knowledge Officer and head of Content Strategy at Scroll, Bailie runs the content strategy practice and consults for clients with serious content challenges. She also teaches in the Content Strategy Master's Program at FH-Joanneum, runs the Content, Seriously meetup, and is working on her third industry book: writing content for a structured authoring environment. Tweet to Rahel Anne Bailie.

First, let's start with engaging. Engagement assumes that marketers know what topics are engaging to their users. Sure, they have a connection to the brand, but hearing about the brand may not be particularly engaging.

Also, as users are not a monolithic group, they won't necessarily engage with any particular brand in the same way. So engaging content means not only engaging for "customers" but for each customer. This is a struggle for content marketers who are struggling to engage even their primary audiences.

That leads to the second point, effective. Effective content means that it has the desired effect — that it works for the intended audiences. The larger the audience, the more complicated it is to get the right metrics for each audience segment, to understand what would be effective, and then to deliver a variant of content that is right for them.

Combine these two factors with the time constraints that content marketers face to continually produce content, and the challenges increase significantly. It's hard to produce quality content on a regular schedule, let alone on an accelerated one.

What this all comes down to is strategy. It's hard to produce effective and engaging content without having a content strategy that provides a framework for the creation and production of content in a steady, measured way, with the appropriate feedback loops that would allow content to be continually shaped and improved.

Sarah Rickerd, Content Strategist and Owner, Content Conquered

Sarah Rickerd headshot

Sarah Rickerd is the owner of Content Conquered, a content creation agency dedicated to producing high-value, conversions-driving blog posts, case studies, e-books and more. Sarah has been writing professionally since 2007 and has helped her clients publish more than 8 million words online. Tweet to Sarah Rickerd.

There are two major factors driving lackluster content: unclear objectives and irresponsible outsourcing.

First, too many marketers and brands don’t know why they’re producing content — besides the fact that somebody told them they had to.

Content marketing is certainly the “hot new thing” right now, but I see so many companies approaching it from the assumption of, “Well, this article says we need to be producing three long-form pieces a week,” rather than, “How can we use the principles of content marketing to better support our customers?”

When you create content because you feel you have to, you’re serving your needs — not the needs of your customers.

Second is the issue of outsourcing. I’m a big fan of outsourcing (since it’s, well, my entire job), but what so many companies get wrong is expecting the outsourced writer to be able to work 100 percent hands-free. It’s an admirable goal, but freelance writers aren’t you. They aren’t going to have your experience, your knowledge and your insight, unless you work with them to share it.

If you think about the best content pieces you’ve ever read online, there’s a good chance that what makes them special was the unique wisdom the author brought to the piece (versus rehashing the same information that’s already out there).

Good digital marketing writers should be able to pull off something decent on the subject of link building and traffic generation, but if all they’re given is a title to work off of — as is often the case with freelance assignments — there’s no way they’re going to be able to imbue the piece with the level of personal detail needed to drive real engagement.

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t outsource — just that you shouldn’t think of your freelance writers as content creation bots that exist in isolation. Make them part of your team, help them by providing outlines sharing your primary experiences, and work with them to ensure the content they’re creating is driven by real customer needs — not internal marketing objectives.