Why is creating valuable content so hard? Research results now in

Sonja Sharon

Why is creating valuable content for our audiences so hard? What challenges do you face as business owners, experts, and marketers in 2018? Research results from the Valuable Content survey.

Biggest content challenge survey

The results of our Big Content Challenge Survey are in, and they’re fascinating. Thanks to everyone from our email newsletter community and wider social networks who took time out to answer our questions.

We wanted to dissect the content challenge. We were curious to see if the patterns we were seeing in our client work were borne out more widely. Are the fundamental questions that need answering to ensure your content is valuable – who are we and what do customers want from us? – an issue for most businesses or have they been solved? When it comes to content, what’s really front of mind for you as business owners, experts, and marketers in 2018? What are the main challenges you face? 

Based on our client experience we asked people to rate the following challenges:

  • Describing what we do on our website
  • Differentiating our products and services
  • Generating good sales leads from our website and content (How do we attract more of the right work?)
  • Creating valuable content for our audience (Are we creating and sharing the right blogs, guides etc?)
  • Knowing our niche (What do we do best, and who do we do it for?)
  • Attracting more of the right talent (How can we show we’re a great company to work for?)

And we asked them to tell us more about the challenges they face. What else do they struggle with? These freeform comments proved equally as interesting.

You’ve given us real insight. Using valuable content as a key business development driver is no longer a novel concept. However, it’s clear from your responses that the challenge hasn’t got much easier with time.

“The survey is a good prompt that the content issue hasn’t gone away for us.”

“It seems like such a humongous feat of details, direction, amount, timing, content, time available.”

It’s taken us a while to sift through all the responses (83 in total), and it’s been a powerful reminder of the intricacies wrapped up in the business of creating and sharing content that connects.

Here’s the story the survey results reveal, and some ideas on what this means for you and how you market your business.

1. Creating valuable content is a tricksy task

Biggest content challenge for marketers 2018

The challenge of creating valuable content for an audience (are we creating and sharing the right blogs, guides etc?) came out on top when we asked survey respondents to rank the content challenges we presented them with.

A familiar story ran through the freeform answers. From “are we writing the right content?” through to “I’m finding it hard to write at all” – the challenge of content creation itself is still the hardest one for our audience. Finding subjects to write about that are relevant to our audience, differentiation, articulating the value that we offer – there’s a lot at play here.

Creating valuable content is a multifaceted challenge. It reveals itself differently depending on the size of the organisation.

For freelancers and micro-businesses, the challenge is mainly around knowing what content to create and finding the time and support to make it happen.

“Thinking time. Content development time. Keeping the momentum up (flow). Knowing that we’re developing useful, valuable content.”

In larger businesses, the situation is more complex. There’s the time factor, for sure, but it’s around getting buy-in from the rest of the business. Agreement on the business development goals for a content strategy can be tough to reach when there are many stakeholders and a variety of opinions.

“Persuading marketing people to allow us to write without slapping selling messages everywhere.”

“Another struggle is getting involved in potential content initiatives early enough to improve and plan properly. Often when the comms team hears about it, the idea has been fully formed by lawyers and sales teams.”

“Getting buy-in from lawyers on the inbound marketing is sometimes difficult.”

2. Understanding what your audience wants is key

For businesses of all sizes, ‘understanding my audience’ was a key challenge. ‘How do I know what content to create?’ is a question that everyone asks.

“Understanding what my target audience wants to know. And feeling that my content is authoritative and helpful and so that I’m not simply adding to the noise. (Aka I’m scared!) Perhaps I need to run a focus group to find out what people want to hear about…. Or run a survey like yours!”

“Not overwhelming people with my passion or knowledge – flipping to make sure the content is viewed from walking in the audience’s shoes, and what’s useful for them.”

“Making it relevant and not always knowing if it’s what clients/followers want.”

3. But the challenge is way bigger than ‘content’

We asked people to tell us about the biggest content and communication challenges they face today. We deliberately widened the question to understand the bigger picture. We know from the work we do with clients that questions around content always go much further upstream.

Content is a practical, visible manifestation of your brand positioning and values. Those business and marketing fundamentals – Who are we? Why do we exist? Who do we serve? What do they want from us? What’s our real differentiator? – drive the content you create. That’s why we’re so fascinated by this work, but also why the job of content can be so complex.

The challenges our respondents share reflect this.

“Simplifying my message and then creating content around the singular point of difference.”

“Differentiating from the crowd, setting ourselves apart by voice and not price.”

“The business model! Working out who we are and what we do, and communicating that clearly.”

“We don’t know whether it’s a content or communication challenge or whether our service just doesn’t actually offer the value we believe it does. Business is slow and we don’t know why!”

“Everything! Content, who, what, why, where.”

4. Less content for content’s sake; more content with a clear goal

We still see a lot of content out there that seems to have been created for the sake of it, without a clear purpose in mind. Not so for our community. It’s heartening to read many comments that reflect the desire to link your content efforts to clear business goals.

“Getting it seen by the right people, having them act on what they’ve seen.”

“Getting people to think strategically about how content supports various business objectives – whether lead gen, retention, employee engagement etc.”

“Not chatting shit that has no meaning or doing stuff for the sake of it.”

“Creating content for the sake of it, rather than evaluating what’s necessary and will have the most impact.”

Client attraction isn’t the only goal. In fact, attracting more of the right talent pipped attracting more of the right work to the post in the survey results. That one was a surprise.

We were interested (and delighted) to learn that some people are getting enough good inbound leads and work through referrals – that’s how it should be – and that finding the right people to help build the business has become more of a pressing issue. We’ve come to the realisation that content marketing has a key role to play in recruitment, and are refining what we do to help with this challenge.

“The care sector is a hard-to-recruit sector. Given this, our recruitment communications prove our biggest challenge.”

5. It takes time, resource and planning

Making time, making time, making time. Every time we survey our audience the issue of making time to keep up the momentum of content creation is raised as a challenge.

“Time is the only factor. I always have things to say and I know how to get good traction with my content.”

“Writing content that sticks and filters the right clients is challenging but we’re learning! Keeping momentum when we’re busy is a real challenge.”

“The consistency of creating it. Time with clients delivering always means I’m failing to deliver new content to the timescale I want to hit.”

Many of our respondents recognise the need for a systematic process and dedicated resource for producing content regularly too.

“Consistency. Creating and sticking to a manageable, repeatable and realistic content schedule.”

“Quality production. We know the story, we have the expertise and the ‘angles’ to position ourselves but struggle to find cost-effective creative / production resource that doesn’t involve us ‘doing’ it anyway”

“I need to create structure and habits around content that interests me and my audience.”

6. The challenge of writing remains

The blank page is an evergreen challenge for content creators. Even if you make the time, there’s still the perennial problem of choosing the right words and putting them together in the right order! The writing part of content creation is still a real blocker for people. Recognising the importance of tone of voice, and the need for writing that makes a genuine human connection can add to the pressure.

“Making my web copy sound like me, whilst still doing its job. I’m great in blog posts and social media updates, but my web copy feels really stiff and dull in comparison.”

“Can someone else do the writing for us or does this mean our brand personality is weakened?”

“Getting the tone right; use of language.”

“Finding the right tone for content around a difficult subject. Wanting to be sympathetic but celebratory. We’re not sure if we’re writing the right stuff.”

7. Mental blocks – mindset and the happiness factor

This is a huge blocker. Content creation is a creative activity, and sometimes you just can’t get yourself into the right mental state however much you try.

“Have completely lost my mojo when it comes to content. Haven’t written a ‘monthly’ blog post since May, lack time, lack ideas, lack motivation. … work & life keep getting in the way.”

“As with most things, it’s not the creation of the content itself that’s the challenge but getting myself in the right frame of mind in the first place to allow the words and ideas to flow – but this says a lot about me at the moment. The other big question I have is what’s the best stuff to share on which channels? Combine these two challenges and I often find myself paralysed and end up doing very little of anything anywhere and then beat myself up! Oh to be a human!!!”

So what do these insights mean to you?

Woah, valuable content is a challenge, isn’t it? We hope it makes you feel better to understand it’s not just you! Don’t give up. There is a path through this. Keep up the momentum and the value you deliver WILL pay off – this helpful approach to marketing is the key to connecting with your audience and to the long-term success of your business.

“Content marketing is really just about people using empathy to help other people and that in turn delivers better business results.” Michael Brenner, CEO of Marketing Insider Group

Where to start to unscramble some of the key challenges:

  1. Is this content on track? Use templates to structure your content. Our planning guidelines and checklists will help you shape what your writing, and make sure it stays relevant for your reader. (Try our ‘Is this content valuable’ checklist for starters).
  2. Time. If you really want to create valuable content for your business, and time is the main thing stopping you, then you have to make time. Ring-fence it in your diary. Protect it. It’s a key business development activity and needs your full attention. Methods like the Pomodoro technique can get you into writing quickly, so you avoid that awkward ‘starting to write’ phase when you can’t think of anything to say, and are tempted to leapfrog back into ‘I might as well answer this email/check Facebook.’ Write anything until you get into your flow. The flow won’t happen unless you start. (Read: How do you find the time to write great content?)
  3. Writing. If you feel your writing skills are holding you back, invest in yourself and learn how to improve them. Henneke Duistermaat’s online writing courses are excellent, we run writing workshops for teams looking to upskill, and there are hundreds of books on the market if you want to teach yourself.
  4. I don’t know what to say. Go back to your customers/clients and their challenges. Ask them. Pick up the phone, put out a survey, ask in forums. Your answers to your customer challenges = your most valuable content.
  5. Getting buy-in from others in the business. Educate and inspire to bring people inside the organisation with you on the journey (just as you do with customers). Understand the drivers and blockers for your internal audience and create a compelling narrative to frame your content efforts. Keep the communication coming to change hearts and minds. (Hear how Simon Swan has done this successfully at the Met Office.)
  6. Mindset blocks. These often reflect deeper issues. If you’re not happy in your life and your business, it’s pretty impossible to create content at all, let alone valuable content that’s going to connect with people. Stress inhibits clear thinking and creativity. Coaching or counselling could be the answer here. Put your own oxygen mask on first, and then you’ll be in the right place to help others through your content. And life will feel richer again too.
  7. Momentum. It’s way easier to keep moving when you are moving. Taking small actions consistently will help you keep going. Set yourself achievable targets – a short newsletter, a blog for your favourite client – and reward yourself once you hit those targets. Break larger content pieces into attainable chunks, and reward yourself when you get them under your belt. Share the challenge, buddy up with others, take action, make yourself accountable and the momentum will follow.

We hope this helps. Do let us know.

……………….

Who took this survey?

Biggest content challenge survey 2018 respondents

Our clients and community tend to be in small and medium-sized businesses, mainly in the UK, US, and Canada.

We had responses from freelancers up to organisations with over 250 staff in predominantly B2B/service-based businesses including law firms, designers, coaches, trainers, consultants, care homes, web developers, architects, software companies, brand design agencies, makers, marketers, tech startups, UX specialists, property advisors, copywriters, charities, international building materials companies, sustainability consultancies and a wonderful sounding pet bereavement service in Devon.

[Freelancer/solopreneurs: 41%, Microbusiness: 2-10 staff 32%, Small business: 11-50 staff 17%, Medium business: 51-250 staff 3%, Larger business: 251+ staff, 6%. A mix of business owners, marketers and subject matter experts.]

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