When I began help B2B businesses with their content marketing strategy, I thought the biggest mindset shift would have to be made at the top.
CEOs, I believed, needed an attitude adjustment.
They needed to stop treating marketing like a supporting act to the sales team and start appreciating the critical role marketing plays in attracting and engaging tomorrow’s customers.
My belief hasn’t changed—many CEOs do still need to make that adjustment—but a bigger issue has risen to the top of my list.
It’s a bigger problem for most companies than getting the CEO to champion content marketing or having too many initiatives competing for team members’ time.
It’s a fear of writing B2B content.
Many organizations are blessed with one or two competent writers.
A lucky few have a truly talented writer in their midst, who is both keen and adept at churning out well-written prose on the company’s behalf.
But one or two writers maketh not a sustainable content production process.
To deliver an effective content marketing strategy, your company will need contributions from across the organization. As I’ve written before, it’s a team sport.
This is because buyers ask all sorts of questions, the answers to which sit in many different people’s heads.
Technical questions are best answered by technical experts.
Future focused questions demand a response from the product development team and whoever can best articulate your company’s vision.
“Help me” and “how to” content ought to originate on the customer-facing front lines.
You get the idea.
Although it has seldom been mapped out, indexed, or collated in a structured fashion, there’s an abundance of relevant, helpful information kicking around in the gray matter (and on the hard drives) of any B2B team.
And, yes, before you ask, that’s even true for early-stage businesses.
Their team members bring with them a wealth of tacit knowledge from past lives and prior employment experiences. (If not, the team is going to struggle at more than just content creation…)
So, this isn’t an information supply problem. It’s an information flow problem.
Super! Now that we know where to find the information, all we need to do is ask these smart folk to write it down, right?
In theory, yes.
In practice, no.
Having witnessed the momentum sapping silence that follows many such requests, I’ve come to understand that it’s harder than it seems.
This is the issue that’s risen to the top of my list like a freshly released T. Swift track.
Even when the process is explained clearly and politely—even gently—by the CEO and the marketing leader, people are really reluctant to write content.
In many cases, they’re downright afraid of putting words into a document.
What is going on?
I’ve identified five variants of this anti-writing virus (but I’m sure there must be more):
1. I can’t write like that.
2. I don’t know anything worth writing about.
3. You will think less of me when you see my writing.
4. It’s a trick (with at least two sub-variants).
5. I don’t want to be a writer.
Let’s explore each of the variants in a bit more detail and see how you can overcome them.
What you see when you read published content of any quality is not what the author first wrote down.
It has gone through multiple rounds of revision, peer review, and editing before being groomed and polished under the eagle eye of the style guardian.
Each of those steps helps the content become clearer, sharper, more factually accurate, more readable, and more compelling.
Of course your team members can’t write like that; nobody can.
It’s like pointing to an app on their phone and saying, “I can’t code like that.”
What team members need to understand is that the content they’re being asked to produce is like a rough diamond or a basket of dirt-covered vegetables.
There’s a master gem cutter sitting in the marketing chair waiting to make it sparkle.
The content marketing team has all the prep and culinary skills to turn those delicious vegetables into an epicurean masterpiece.
They need the ingredients, not the finished piece of jewelry or a-la-carte plate.
To get this message across, show your team members what a rough draft looks like alongside the finished piece that got published.
Explain the resources that will be applied to take their words from rough cut to finished product.
I’d go a step further. Tell them that polished prose is what you don’t want to see, because it means the originator has wasted too much time doing the polishing.
Leave the polishing to the experts. Just get the words flowing.
Another powerful force that holds people back from creating content is a fear of ignorance.
Worse still, a fear of being made to feel ignorant in front of others.
As a result, team members downplay their own knowledge—often to the point where they begin to believe they know less than they actually do.
Two factors compound this fear: availability and familiarity.
Information that is readily accessible in their brain doesn’t seem all that special.
If it’s available to them, that must mean it’s available to your audience, so why would that audience want to hear it from them?
Similarly, information that is part of their day-to-day life—that has become very familiar to them—doesn’t leap out as something worth writing about.
But that’s the whole point, isn’t it?
It’s precisely because the information is familiar and available to them that you want them to write it down for the benefit of others.
My every day, ho-hum information is exactly what my audience members need to help answer their questions and move them forwards.
That’s the definition of being an expert: someone who has comprehensive and authoritative knowledge in a particular area.
You’re not asking your team members to write about anything unfamiliar. They should be writing about the things they know best.
Amid that tribal knowledge lies a wealth of shareable, relevant, valuable content.
Even generative AI can only regurgitate whatever it finds on the internet about a given subject.
Your team members can add nuance, color commentary, and personal experience to the mix, which makes their content rich and authentic.
The scars from middle school English classes last a lifetime.
All that red ink spilled on mediocre essays about literary classics forges a strong impression in someone’s mind: I’m a no-good writer.
Conveniently, most of us end up in jobs that don’t require a lot of creative writing.
Badly written emails are perversely more acceptable than ones with correct grammar.
Internal reports follow a stilted, cut-and-paste format that eliminates as much creativity as possible.
It’s as though the processes and systems we follow were created to minimize the risk of anyone being “found out” for not having learned essay-writing skills in ninth grade.
In many ways, that’s a fair assessment.
Sadly, it backfires when original composition is what the company needs.
Suddenly, after years of peaceful existence, happily doing their job without ever worrying about creative writing, along comes the request for content to reopen those school-day wounds.
It’s the stuff of nightmares—a disproportionate monster that will tear apart their entire reputation if they write a single piece of red-ink-worthy content.
Once you see how badly they write, that’ll be the end of their promotion chances.
Time for some chamomile tea and a little rain music.
Confirm that you’re not expecting them to pass AP English Lang/Lit.
State clearly that the company isn’t going to toss their illustrious career record in the circular filing cabinet because—shock horror—they aren’t the Ernest Hemmingway you thought you’d hired.
And, as with the “I can’t write like that” variant discussed earlier, reassure team members that your expectations for writing quality are rather low—and entirely irrelevant.
What you’re looking for is information quality—the inherent value of the rough diamond (or the freshly harvested vegetables) that can be turned into high quality writing by someone who’s paid to have that skill.
Diagnosing many company issues uncovers a healthy dose of cynicism.
People are raised to be suspicious of companies’ motives. To fear the man.
In this case, there are two subvariants we should consider:
i. You’re trying to test whether I know my stuff (probably so you can fire me)
ii. You’re testing to see how much time I waste on writing, distracting my focus from my other targets (probably so you can pay me a smaller bonus when I miss them)
Ugh, this is so unproductive.
If the company wants to fire someone or find a way to pay them a smaller bonus, I’m sure it has easier, well-established methods for doing so than asking them to write content!
Nevertheless, vaccinate against this variant by clearly stating that the content your team members produce will have no bearing on performance assessment.
Top performing companies go one step further. They establish an incentive pool for content creators.
Since content writing usually gets heaped on top of the team’s existing workload, why not sweeten the deal by rewarding those who invest the time and effort to produce it?
With some appropriate foresight and a few dollars, you can trick people into working more! (they’ll never see that one coming…)
My fifth and final variant is unusual and, frankly, one that I have the hardest time handling.
I love to write so, whenever putting words onto paper became part of my job, I leapt at the opportunity.
For many people, though, the opposite is true.
They don’t want to write any more than I want to draw blood or perform surgery.
They don’t want to be seen as a writer any more than I want to be known as a rap artist.
Each to their own.
I dislike labels, but I tolerate them in business because we need ways of identifying individual contributors and of directing work and requests to the right places.
However, there’s no need to label team members who contribute content—unless that’s what they want, or it adds value to the piece.
As I mentioned earlier, the raw material penned by most team members will undergo a lot of editing and polishing before it gets published, to the point that it might hardly be recognizable as the same piece of work.
So, is it necessary to label it with the original contributor’s name?
Sometimes, the answer is yes.
When the contributor is a recognized subject matter expert, the published piece of content is made more valuable by having their name in the byline.
And when the contributor is a senior leader, putting their name at the top can help to give the piece more clout and get it shared and syndicated by other organizations.
For everything else, why not use a generic author name like “The MessageUp Team” or “Contributing Author”?
Reassure contributors that you’re willing to preserve their anonymity if it doesn’t affect the authority of the piece or its effectiveness for content marketing.
While B2B content marketing is a team sport, requiring contributions from across your organization, simply asking everyone to start writing is unlikely to work.
There are several variants to the fear of writing virus, of which I’ve highlighted five in this article. You should be alert to them and take proactive steps to inoculate your team against them.
By actively working to reduce team members’ fear of contributing, you can debottleneck the flow of raw information and greatly improve your team’s output of high-quality content.
Stay in the know. Our weekly newsletter delivers the latest blog content, a selection of B2B content marketing insights gathered from across the web, and quick, actionable tips for taking your content marketing to the next level.
Sign up here!
Image credits: Adobe Stock