The Biggest Challenge in Content Marketing

Michael Brenner on Aug 30, 2011 in Content Marketing

I am bummed that I will not be able to attend Content Marketing World next week, so I’ve been reading all the great content coming out from the amazing team over at the Content Marketing Institute.

If you missed the posts, some of my favorites include an overview of  the technology that excites the speakers, their 12 Content Marketing Predictions For 2010, and my favorite one is where Content Marketers Reveal Their Toughest Challenges. In these posts, Michele Linn (@michelelinn) has done a great job pulling together some of the greatest minds in Content Marketing and getting their thoughts down in one place.

Now, there is one big question that these posts discuss that I’d like to emphasize. And it centers on the question: “what is greatest challenge in content marketing?”

For me the answer is simple and applies to marketing and across the entire businesses: the greatest challenge in content marketing is having and maintaining a customer mindset

If you go to most company websites or read their marketing content, you’ll notice that they do an excellent job of telling you all about the company and telling you all about their products. But they don’t answer the biggest questions their customers might have. In other words, they make the biggest marketing mistake and make it all about themselves and not about the customer.

In the Content Marketing predictions post, C.C. Chapman (@cc_chapman) predicts companies will become better at this when he begs to see “more brands interacting in real time with their customers.”

Barbra Gago (@BarbraGago) also suggests marketers stop trying to “re-invent the wheel with every piece of content” and should instead focus on helping prospective buyers find “the right information–the content that is going to help them move through their purchase process.”

In the Content Marketing Institute challenges article, Alison Bolen (@alisonbolen) explains that the greatest challenge in content marketing is “understanding your customers well enough to develop content that is useful and relevant for them.”

And Marcus Sheridan (@TheSalesLion) gets to this same point when he asks content marketers to “write and communicate in a way that is completely and utterly on the level of their audience, not the level of the industry professional.”

So how do we help address this challenge?

Ardath Albee (@ardath421) suggests we need to “Take a Customer Field Trip” and try to look at our marketing and our content as a customer might see it.

I also answered one of the biggest marketing challenges for small businesses, How To Create Killer Content: Speak To A Customer where I tell very simply how you can use your customer stories to tell your story. But most importantly, to tell it using their words and by showing how you are solving real customer problems.

Now, if you are looking for more practical and process-driven guidance, Michele Linn has also pulled together these 10 Must-Have Templates for Content Marketers. These are great in helping content marketers “get it done” and these will be very useful once you tackle the biggest challenge for content marketing: selling the business case and showing senior leaders that the biggest challenge we face is in having a customer mindset.

What do you think? How can we help our companies see the bigger picture and maintain the customer mindset?

Photo is “The Hole” by caese


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Michael Brenner
Michael Brenner
Michael Brenner is a globally-recognized keynote speaker, author of The Content Formula and the CEO of Marketing Insider Group. He has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael shares his passion on leadership and marketing strategies that deliver customer value and business impact. He is recognized by the Huffington Post as a Top Business Keynote Speaker and a top CMO influencer by Forbes. Please follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook and Subscribe here for regular updates.
Showing 14 comments
  • Carmen Hill

    Michael, I absolutely agree with you, on these two points in particular:
    1. “I am bummed that I will not be able to attend Content Marketing World next week…”
    2. “…the greatest challenge in content marketing is having and maintaining a customer mindset.”

    Alas, there’s no good answer to the first problem, but you’ve shared some great resources for addressing the second!

    • Michael Brenner

      Hi Carmen,

      Thanks for feeling my pain. I’m sure the challenge of the customer mindset will be discussed in detail at the show!


  • Mark W Schaefer

    I think a couple of big things are missing from the lists. First is entertainment value. What content do you remember? What content do you move through an organization. Sure we cover most of the obvious ones but I think to stand out, more and more we should be looking at the entertainment value!

    The second idea is that we are trying to cover the world with content without considering the cultural context of the company. Everybody is jumping on the social bandwagon and while it is easy to check a box and “do” social, it is extraordinarily difficult to BE social. This perspective is missing from nearly every post and analysis, Hardly any consideration of cultural change, This is the biggest problem, the biggest challenge, for most companies and is glaringly absent from the list.

    What’s your take Michael?

    • Michael Brenner

      Hi Mark,

      I agree completely. As a “B2B Marketing Insider” I am constantly struggling with the issue of how best to drive cultural and organizational change. I make every attempt to fight for this “customer-first mindset” and organizational / cultural change as much as possible in my articles and in my work as a marketer. In a recent post on the “Role of Marketing” I even talk about how the main task of marketing executives is to stake claim to a seat at the board-level and lead this change by advocating on behalf of our customers, to be the connection point between our customers and our companies. And whenever I get a chance to speak in public, I always talk about the point of social media is not to check the box on the channels but to become truly social businesses where we can interact with customers and prospective buyers in real-time conversations.

      Regarding the entertainment value, I also agree. I believe that social media is often an intentional distraction for people and serves the same purpose during the work day as TV does for so many at night. Professionals of all types log-in to their computers in the morning and check their Facebook, Linkedin or Twitter accounts to see what is new with their connections. I believe that if brands can aid in those distractions in an entertaining way that we can win the battle for mind share in the market.

      I also think businesses and marketers need to stop being so serious all the time. Talking about themselves and their products (boring). I recently met Tim Washer at the MarketingProfs B2B conference. He works at Cisco and is a comedian. He is helping to spread this same message and helping companies to understand just how to go about being entertaining.

      Thanks for the comment Mark. I would love to hear more people weigh in on your thoughts?


  • Michael, for time here, thanks so much for the mention.

    This is a topic I’m truly passionate about. When it comes down to it, ‘teachers’ are the greatest content marketers in the world. And when I say teachers, that’s really what I mean. Take for example the kindergarten teacher that is trying to communicate with her class. If she’s good, she’s going to do it in such a way that even the complex is understood by these 6 year olds. She assumes nothing in terms of other’s abilities to understand. And she watches every word she says so as to not speak above the audience.

    That’s what a great content marketer does. They’re not out to impress anyone with their words. That’s why Victor Hugo would have stunk as a content marketer. But a kindergarten teacher? Oh yeah, that’s the way it’s done.

    “It’s dumb not to dumb it down.” 🙂

    Sorry I won’t be seeing you at CMW.


    • Michael Brenner

      Thanks Marcus! Great analogy. In tech marketing, it is really easy for the writer to speak in techno-mumbo-jumbo assuming the only audience is technical. When in fact, we know that there are many non-technical project people and business decision makers who need it “dumbed-down” for them. This is often a contentious issue for many marketers. I’m with you 100%.

      Thanks for taking the issue head-on. Best of luck at CMW. I hope to make it next time!


  • Adele Revella

    I’m not attending the conference either Michael, but I’m with you completely about the importance of developing content that buyers find truly persuasive. Companies generally agree with this goal without having a clear strategy to achieve it.

    The fact is that it takes a bit of time and skill to uncover what really matters to buyers as they make buying decisions. The easy answers are readily available from internal resources — “we’re winning when the sales person gets in early with good relationship selling skills” and “we’re losing because our price is too high or we’re missing X feature.”

    No content marketing strategy is going to make a significant dent in this situation.

    Marketers need to have access, skills and time to interview buyers and learn much more. “So you said our product needs to be easy to use . . . how do you evaluate that quality among competing solutions?” Or “how much training do you expect the user to need before the solution is easy to use?”

    The information marketers are gathering is not nearly actionable enough. There are (free, no reg) templates available at

    • Michael Brenner

      Wow Adele, thanks for that great perspective and for the resource.

      You are starting to touch on a future post I’ve promised to write about how content strategy is so much bigger than marketing. And you are so right to talk about how we need to incorporate customer feedback into our products. This is exactly what I talk about when I say the role of marketing is to advocate for customers. We need to be the voice for customers into our business. I was recently on a call with Forrester when they said “Sales people care about the deal, Product people care about the product, Marketing needs to care about the buyers.”

      Thanks for your feedback, comment and for sharing.

      Best, Michael

  • Jeff Ogden

    Great post, Michael. I also liked Mark’s comment on “entertainment value.” I like to advise B2B marketers to “Let their freak flags fly.”

    I also agree with Adele’s comment – that Marketing needs to develop the processes and methodologies to interview buyers and gain deep insights.

    In fact, Find New Customers is partnering with the Buyer Persona Institute to create a series a educational videos on buyer persona methodologies. Stay tuned.

    • Michael Brenner

      Excellent Jeff! I’m all for freak flags! Good luck with the videos. We need all the resources we can get.

  • Adam Sokoloff

    Hey Michael, my first time here. I see that we are also in the same neck of the woods…so go Phillies!

    I definitely can appreciate your perspective. First from that of content marketing, and then a b2b maketing perspective.

    As a small business owner in the b2b marketplace, who is also a content marketer, I believe our biggest challenge is balancing writing from a customer perspective and making it fun.

    I believe most b2b’s struggle in this area. They write at a level miles above their customer, and the posts are completely and utterly dull. Yes I realize some b2b industries, lets make that most b2b industries, are not hip and cool, but their blogs don’t need to so stodgy.

    They seem to have a real fear of being transparent and letting their hair down. Almost afraid that they will be revealed.

    Thanks for posting. I look forward to stopping by again. -Adam

    • Michael Brenner

      Thanks Adam,

      And welcome. I hope you come back and I welcome your feedback on topics, issues, and your perspective any time.

      You touch upon something that is so important: buyers are people. I don’t care if it’s ball-bearings, chemicals or software, we are all trying to reach our buyers in an appealing way. To me, the best way to do that is to tell the most personal story of other buyers. I participate in one of our corporate blogs where I try as much as possible to NOT talk about our product but to simply hear from our customers about their business challenges. Because I know others will be able to relate. Of course it is implied that they chose us for the solution. I don’t need to even say it.

      In the end, we want to buy solutions, whatever they are, from people that we find appealing and that have solved problems for companies just like ours. So that’s how I view the role of content: to help buyers relate to us.

      Best, Michael

  • Nick Stamoulis

    I think that one of the biggest content marketing struggles is coming up with content topic ideas on a regular basis. In order to have a successful inbound marketing strategy you need to participate in blogging, guest blogging, article marketing, press release distribution, and social media. It’s easy to feel like you’ve run out of things to discuss. It’s crucial to pay attention to your target audience and remember that you are writing for them- what do they want to know?

    • Michael Brenner

      Great point Nick, I find that Google keyword data is a great place to start. By analyzing highest search terms and highest CTR terms, you can get a pretty good idea for where to start, but then the conversation should take over and we should follow our buyers’ needs and intentions wherever they may lead.