Almost every company these days is doing content marketing.
Why? Because it works.
Done well, content marketing promises to increase traffic, leads and sales while reducing marketing costs.
But does it work for every company who does it? Definitely not. And so content marketing really isn't for every company. Content marketing is for companies committed to employing the best talent and deploying effective tools.
This article focuses on cultivating content marketing talent, the asset you need most to achieve success in content marketing.
It takes a team
If you're new to content marketing, you'll quickly learn that the practice demands serious resources. Try to do it as a one-man band and you'll soon discover it calls for time and talents you don't have. You need to assemble a team.
In late 2014, content development director Michele Lynn of Content Marketing Institute wrote:
"Each year we track the challenges marketers are having with content marketing in our research. This year, one challenge was far more pronounced than it has been: finding trained content marketing professionals. This challenge has seen a 320% increase for B2C marketers over the past year."
According to research conducted by Kapost, fewer than 20% of content marketing teams comprise six or more people. Almost half of the respondents in their survey had teams of 2-5. The same research reports 83.7% of companies find hiring for content marketing talent difficult.
Content marketing is full of trials. First and foremost, you need the right people onboard. Let's look at who they are, the talents they possess, and how to get the best in the business to join your team.
The vast majority of content marketers don't achieve remarkable success. In fact, many companies make large contributions to the forever-escalating noise and realize small, if any, gains.
But when you tune into what's written about the booming marketing discipline, you're constantly learning of companies that are killing it with content. They're creating branded media empires, of sorts, and as a result, building awareness, relationships, customer loyalty, and often, seeing the bottom line boom.
Indeed, great content marketers effectively reduce their marketing spend and increase sales. Simply stated, they enjoy an undeniable return on investment.
While a number of factors tend to separate the haves from the have-nots, in most cases, the blaringly obvious difference traces to strategy. The accomplished content marketers have a strategic and documented content marketing plan. Those struggling and straggling behind the pack do not.
If you're among the companies beginning (or even running) a content marketing program without a plan, perhaps you don't know where to begin.
You begin with a strategic leader.
Chief content officer (CCO) is a somewhat new title in the C-suite. You don't necessarily need someone with CCO on his or her nameplate, but you do need a leader - the person who directs the content marketing strategy from the start.
Whichever title you give to your director, he or she is responsible for documenting the strategy and leading the content marketing team. The CCO owns the goals, so his or her domain includes executing programs to accomplish them. And because content marketing isn't campaign-based (that is, it has no end date), the strategy, oversight, measurement and refinement are continuous, so all responsibilities are always on his or her plate.
The CCO should always be up-to-date on content marketing trends and have a strong grasp of the competitive landscape. Also, the CCO or content marketing director must always have their finger on the pulse of each initiative and the content marketing efforts at large.
The chief plots the path and is responsible for assessing specific metrics to gauge performance. Of course, the idea is to not only know, but grow. So the accomplished CCO is not only proactive, but analytical and reactive.
The content marketing leader works with the team to establish and maintain the voice of the content. Generally speaking, the same person is responsible for approving the publication of all content.
The chief leads the tribe.
In this article, I'll cover a number of talents your team should comprise. If you have a lot of resources, you may have one or more person per role. If you're in startup mode, you may have one (preferably versatile) person asked to wear every hat. Most cases land somewhere between. Whichever the case may be in your marketing department, the chief guides the entire tribe and should ensure excellence across:
- Editorial and production of content of all types
- Platforms and web resources
- Integration of marketing strategies, including social media
- Freelancer resources
- Content promotion
- Audience development
The list above is adapted from Epic Content Marketing, by Joe Pulizzi, McGraw-Hill Education.
"All content is assessed based on its ability to generate visitors, leads, and customers, so developing it requires a sense of the market and an ability to know what kind of content will help sell your product. What you are actually selling doesn't matter; it could be physical product, consulting services, or ad space on the site. What matters most is that the content attracts the audience you need to attract to accomplish your business goals."
~ Ann Handley, CCO, MarketingProfs
A content marketing team of any size must be forever focused on publishing compelling content.
"Managing editor" is the title most commonly given to the person running the company's editorial output. Again, titles often differ. Many companies choose "content manager."
In any case, the person owns a critical role: gatekeeper of the company's blog. In fact, the same person may be responsible for the quality control of all published works. Additionally, the managing editor should create plans to repurpose content such as blog posts and eBooks into a variety of content types such as infographics, SlideShares, and webinars.
Clearly, the managing editor must have a solid command of writing and editing and be an experienced and talented storyteller. Because the proliferation of content marketing has coincided with a decline of classic journalism - especially newspapers - brands often hire former journalists for the role of managing editor.
The managing editor, however, is seldom the one and only writer or source of the content. So responsibilities also include:
- Hiring and managing freelance writers (more to come on this)
- Developing content contributions from internal teammates, possibly including, executives and professionals from outside the marketing department
- Providing creative direction
- Polishing for publication the works of all contributors to maintain voice and quality standards (a.k.a. editing)
- In addition to managing people, the editor manages a variety of processes:
- The use of images (photography, illustration, animation, etc.)
Though it's not always the case, managing editors often write blog posts and are involved in various forms of content creation. The editor's writing skills are likely to come into play when the need arises to quickly respond to breaking developments with timely blog posts, newsletters or internal communications.
A final and often important role of the managing editor is to assist in creating a company wide content marketing culture and nurturing the skills of everyone involved.
"The managing editor position requires a full range of marketing expertise. Journalistic skills probably come first, but the job is far broader than just writing or reporting. When you run a multi-author blog and produce works such as guidebooks or microsites, people skills loom large. You need to form and foster productive relationships with freelance writers, designers and, of course, subscribers. But aside from people skills, you also need to have some technical skills to manage the blog, generate traffic, and drive sales when appropriate. For that, copywriting, design, email marketing, SEO, and CRO are the bare necessities."
~ Kathryn Aragon, managing editor at Consulting.com
A strategic advantage
Content strategy is a common kink in the armor of content marketers the world over. Even amongst some CCO-led marketing groups equipped with clearly defined objectives, documented content marketing missions, and an arsenal of creative talent, difficult questions persist:
- What types of content should we create?
- Do we have gaps hindering our conversion?
- What content needs to be improved or aborted?
- How can we get more reach and engagement from our content?
Enter the content strategist. The demand for content strategists isn't as high as it should be. Many companies don't realize they need help in the specialized area and many struggle to define the precise skillset required. And, given the incredible growth of, and intense competition in, content marketing, effective content strategists are in short supply. We'll tackle these issues now.
You need help with a content strategist if you're creating more content, but not realizing higher ROI. The areas of expertise you need in a strategist may include:
- Analytical skills
- Strategic planning
- Project management
- Training skills
- Market research skills
- User experience skills
The important tasks a content strategist may perform include:
- Content audits and cataloguing
- Audience research and development of customer personas
- Recommendation of content format types and topics in line with a buying cycle matrix
- Development of plans for creating, repurposing, distributing, and promoting content
- Designing workflow and content lifecycle processes
- Establish content governance models
- Performance analytics and reporting
There are a number of ways to fill your content strategist void:
- An experienced marketing planner expert who can work well with the COO, managing editor and contributors might be added to growing content marketing teams.
- You may want to expand your capabilities, but not your workforce. An agency or consultant might be retained or called into action periodically.
- With limited resources, you might need to task an existing team member to develop content strategy skills.
"Content strategy delves deep into the creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content. The strategist seeks to manage content as a strategic asset across the entirety of the organization. Understand: all great, spontaneous, and effortless-looking content marketing strategies are formed and scaled with a smart content strategy at their core."
~ Robert Rose, content strategy officer, Content Marketing Institute
The age of interaction
Your prospective customers are active on social media. Is your business?
While a decent portion of businesses have established a social media presence, most are lagging. So they're missing out on powerful opportunities to increase visibility, build new relationships, learn more about customers' wants and needs, and cash-in on the most powerful form of marketing of all: word of mouth.
Your social media strategist (or community manager) will lead your company's efforts to join, become active in, and engage with your audience in new ways. The strategist's responsibilities may include:
- Collecting information and monitoring trends in your industry
- Monitoring your competition's social media and content marketing activities
- Engaging with your audience and forming personal connections
- Implementing social media policies to maintain the brand's voice
- Developing internal education and training programs
- Tracking mentions of your brand online so you can respond accordingly
- Creating, curating and distributing content to better inform your audience
- Recommending strategies for paid social media advertising and sponsorship programs
- Building and growing communities
- Connecting and collaborating with influencers in your industry who are active on social media
- Fostering advocacy
- Driving traffic to your website, blog and social media pages
What types of talent and skills should you look for in a social media strategist?
- Strong familiarity with the popular social media networks and industry specific channels
- Command of creating channel-appropriate content to increase engagement and drive traffic
- Desire to understand and help customers
- Willingness to experiment with new tools and strategies
- Good understanding of social media monitoring and analytical tools used to gauge your progress
- Creativity, writing and marketing prowess
- Conversational skills (because they will be a persistent point of contact for your company)
- Teamwork-the ability to contribute to the marketing team at large and work effectively with members of other departments, including PR, HR, sales and support
Seizing a visual advantage
Much is written about the importance of visual content as well as the critical role graphics have in increasing the pulling power of copy driven content. Visual content has proven to:
- Magnify stopping power
- Increase engagement
- Foster sharing
- Accelerate learning
- Improve recall
While all of the above have been accepted throughout the history of marketing, the proliferation of digital marketing, and mobile in particular, has fostered an explosion in visual marketing. The most popular social media networks have become increasingly visual and a new breed of visual social media has emerged. Pinterest and Instagram are two very obvious examples.
Given how clear it's become your audience responds to visual content, it's become equally clear what you need to do.
You need to hire a graphic designer.
A member of your existing team may be able to tackle some design projects. It's also conceivable your company can line-up a freelancer or call on a graphics service for certain projects.
However, the content marketing team growing at the speed of the interactive age has a web savvy graphic designer onboard. As is often the case with traditional agencies or corporate marketing departments, the designer may even be given the role of creative director.
The designer's likely to create:
- The design of your blog
- Web pages
- Images to support blog posts and social updates
- SlideShare decks
- eBooks and other types of web-based assets
The skills and experience you're looking for might include:
- Formal training in graphic design
- Command of Adobe software or equivalent tools for layout, illustration and photo manipulation
- Proficiency in web development languages and tools
- Teamwork and collaboration
- Ability to meet deadlines and work under pressure
Video is no longer the internet's up and coming medium. By any measure, video has arrived and became a prominent force in content marketing.
Video plays a major role in the majority of content marketers' media mix not only because of its popularity, but because of its power to elicit emotions. In countless studies, marketers in both B2C and B2B industries confirm video marketing multiplies brand association and drives purchase intent.
Recognizing the significant impact video can achieve, content marketers that have the resources, often bring a videographer in-house. The videographer's tasks might include:
- Managing all video production to support the content marketing strategy
- Overseeing video budgets and projects including the hiring of freelancers
- Planning, shooting, and editing video
- Creation of animated video (motion graphics)
Popular video types include:
- Product demos
From an experienced videographer and/or producer, you should get:
- Visual storytelling skills
- A variety of technical skills in lighting and composition
- Expertise with video editing applications
- Great attention to detail
- A love for collaboration
Now hear this...
The proliferation of mobile devices has prompted a surge in the popularity of podcasts as a content format. Like video, podcasts add personality, variety and versatility to your content marketing mix. Even more so than video, podcasts can be very easy, fast and inexpensive to produce.
A serious podcaster will invest in recording equipment and possibly audio editing software, however many podcasters achieve acceptable results with no specialized equipment or software. If you aim to create podcasts as a regular element in your content marketing, the person at the helm should be adept at speaking, interviewing, and doing research in preparation for interviews or any type of format.
Is your content working?
There's only one way to know. You have to define the metrics that are meaningful (the numbers map to your objectives), capture the data, examine it, and take action. The process at large is generally defined as "analytics."
The most successful content marketers closely track analytics, the measures that reveal the degree to which the content is consumed and the action has (or has not) incited. Nearly all content marketers will use Google Analytics to some extent, and those that are seriously committed to analytics invest in additional tools, which often include a marketing automation platform.
Someone needs to ace analytics. A sizeable content marketing team could have a person in place expressly for managing ongoing analytical processes. For most teams, the analytics guru wears another hat or two. In either case, your team should be tooled to:
- Track all site traffic and behavior at a high level and granularly
- Monitor the traction and success of all content initiatives
- Aggregate data from multiple sources and clearly present the findings
- Work closely with the content strategist to analyze the data and forge action plans
Your analytics guru should:
- Be in-tune with the company's marketing plans, objectives, and all content marketing and social media activities
- Have a thorough knowledge of analytics tools
- Be skilled in research and reporting
- Know best practices for statistics and posses a strong attention to detail
- Understand SEO, user experience issues, testing methodologies, and conversion rate optimization (CRO)
- Stay current on new developments in analysis
- Powering the processes
The most effective publishers have the technical command needed to be nimble, fast and efficient. You'll want to identify the tools needed to drive your processes and have one or more persons on your team know how to make the most of them.
Though the following list is not comprehensive, the most important content marketing tools generally include:
- Blogging/content management system (CMS) - to facilitate publishing
- Plugins - a massive array of specialized tools plug-into CMSs to expand functionality
- Content optimization - for SEO
- Email marketing - services to create, distribute and track email
- Analytics - for websites and social media
- Sourcing - for curating content
- Social media management - for monitoring, sharing, distribution, and community building
- Creation-generally SaaS tools for creating specific content types
- Collaboration - for content creation workflows
- Distribution - for content promotion and amplification
- Webinar systems - to host branded webinars and online meetings
- Testing - to conduct A/B testing to optimize conversion
- CRM - customer relationship management and marketing automation platforms
- Marketing automation platform (MAP) - to automate processes and integrate multiple channels
Though you probably don't need an engineer on your team, the growing need to embrace content marketing processes does suggest relying on a left-brain type. Look to hire or train someone with:
- An appreciation for data and business intelligence
- The ability to quickly learn software tools
- A propensity to experiment, test, and refine
- A broad understanding of content marketing
"Content requires a plethora of tools for production and measurement, collaboration and management, curation, aggregation, publishing, and more. Overwhelmingly, we found a disconnect between marketing and IT when it comes to tool selection, capabilities, requirements, and cross-functional buy-in."
~ Excerpt from "Organizing for Content: Models to Incorporate Content Strategy and Content Marketing in the Enterprise," by Altimeter Group
Hiring tips for content talent
When interviewing, you get better insights by asking behavioral questions. Be prepared with questions that allow prospective hires to demonstrate experience and knowledge applicable to your project.
- Tell me about a time when you...
- What approach did you use to...?
- How do you measure the success of...?
Portfolio reviews and auditions
Ask to see work the candidate has done and encourage him or her to share its back story. Consider: (a) paying the candidate to "try out" by completing a small project; or (b) auditioning with a small, unpaid project.
Content marketers should focus on hiring people with some or all of the following:
Writing skills are all-important content marketing.
- Look for clear, concise, and convincing communications across resumes, social media profiles, emails and portfolio pieces (where appropriate).
- Ask candidates how they develop content ideas and tell stories.
- Ask candidates to explain the role the audience plays in content marketing.
Think of social skills as they relate to communications both online and off.
- Invoke conversations about past collaborations.
- Talk about the candidate's use of social media.
- Ask for opinions about what makes for productive networking.
There's almost always a "digging" element to content marketing.
- Have the candidate explain how they would collect source material.
- Talk about interviewing tactics, listen for smart questions, or have the candidate interview you.
Effective content marketers understand business strategies.
- Ask for examples of how past experience with content and business communications traced to objectives and outcomes.
- Try to get the candidate to think on his or her feet by brainstorming ideas or identifying real-world challenges and potential solutions with "What if" questions.
Whether you're starting-up or scaling, at many stages of the game you're likely to put freelancers to work, especially writers. Is it best to find a great writer and school him and her on your industry? Or should you reverse this approach?
Industry expertise - Yes, writers who know your turf can be helpful, however, writing chops and chemistry rank higher.
Writer types - Writers versed in content marketing and social media may be your best fit. Additionally, traditional copywriters, journalists, and technical writers, all offer freelance services, so you'll want to match the skills to your needs.
Clear expectations - Leave nothing to chance. In forging your agreements, clearly state expectations as they relate to goals, research requirements, scheduling, length, and editing process. Agree in advance on fees and payment terms.
Budgeting - Fees vary widely from pennies to $1 per word. Some freelancers will charge hourly or offer per project fees. Retainer arrangements are also common for ongoing work and may allow for volume-based discounts. Generally, speaking, you get what you pay for.
Copyright - You pay for use of the copy, not ownership of it. Unless you put a formal agreement in place, the writer holds the copyright. If you want to own the copyright, agree to this upfront.
Start smart - Rather than agree to a long-term relationship or commit to a large project, with a new writer it's smart to start small with a blog post or small project.
Tips for interviewing writers
Consider asking the following interview questions:
- I like X piece. Could you tell me more about the assignment?
- What do you know about the target audience?
- How do you optimize your content for search?
Ask open-ended questions to give the writer a chance to allow you to gather insights on how the writer thinks.