In Chicago today, the head of the world's largest PR firm declared that the marketing industry has its business backward. Speaking to an audience of academics and brand marketing executives at De Paul University, Richard Edelman, who runs the eponymous agency as President and CEO, stated that much of the marketing we've grown up with "is a short-term and broken model."
The marketing industry has been rocked the last few years by the massive rise of commercial brands acting as publishers. Whereas brands like General Electric and American Express historically could only reach customers through advertisements next to content people sought in newspapers and television, they can now create their own stories that readers find and share in their news feeds on social media websites. (This, of course, is not news to anyone who's reading this story on LinkedIn.)
However, the communications approach brands have been using as publishers is still often anachronistic. "It's always been marketing first and communications as a servant," Edelman said.
I see the emergence of a new paradigm, which is 'communications marketing' instead of 'marketing communications.'"
The difference, he says, has to do with priorities. In a media environment where control over who sees content is actually up to readers—not editors or advertisers—companies who wish to build relationships with potential customers must now do so on readers' terms. That means communicating meaningfully before selling to them. It means sharing useful and entertaining information as a primary objective, with the understanding that relationships and sales will eventually flow if done appropriately.
The early adopters in the marketing community understand this well. It's why Red Bull makes snowboarding movies and drops skydivers from space to entertain its audience. It's whyBlackrock creates in-depth education to help people understand investing. And it's why creative and media and PR and social agencies (and publishers like The New York Times and Forbes) now sell "sponsored content" and content marketing solutions.
Social media has changed our expectations around what we see and don't see on the Internet, and that's forcing the hands of some brands—the ones with a lot to lose—to behave more in the interest of the crowd. Interestingly, that mindset (and pressure) is influencing beyond simply what brands broadcast from their Twitter accounts. Edelman uses Starbucks as an example: The company recently announced that it's going to subsidize its employees college tuition, in part as an effort to help its workers feel connected to the brand and to care about its customers more to the point that they share the brand's story and ethos with strangers who buy lattes.
You're not just selling coffee," Edelman said. "You're selling a relationship."
The key to "communications marketing", Edelman said, is "substantive storytelling." Purveying interesting and surprising stories instead of ads. To work, he said, brands must publish content that is:
1) "Rational and built for consumption." (Useful to the reader.)
2) "Emotional and built for sharing." (Of human interest.)
3) "Supported by data and insight." (Factually sound.)
These sound a lot like things a journalist would say. But when Edelman then declared that the PR industry must now consider themselves "guardians of truth," I was taken aback. It's a dramatic statement coming from the head of an industry that's thought by most people to be paid to spin facts. However, knowing that the social media crowd is quick to point out and amplify improprieties, public relations firms seem to be grabbing onto the idea of storytelling and relationship-building through radically transparent publishing more fully than almost anyone. (I suspect that this is largely due to the fact that Edelman and firms like Weber Shandwick's Mediaco have been hiring editors from traditional media with strong journalism backgrounds to run branded content.)
Though I think that brand publishing should not be overly compared to journalism, the infusion of a journalistic mindset—or communicating instead of selling—into marketing is a great thing. After all, the number one priority of journalism is to seek the truth and not betray readers. Marketing, historically, hasn't had much incentive to rank such ideals above the bottom line.
"We're going to change the mindset of marketers," Edelman says. It's a lofty idea. But if we can collectively manage it, it just might make the Internet—in which the 5.7 trillion ads served per year get ignored by 99.9% of us—a little more interesting.
With 71 percent of marketers increasing spend on content marketing in the coming year, there’s no doubt that this job title will be in demand for some time to come. But what are the skillsets and characteristics of a rockstar content marketer? (Or if you’re lucky enough to have an entire team of content marketers, then what are the key disciplines needed amongst that team?) The following infographic provides the anatomy of this “dream” content marketing person:
Below, we will dive deeper into each of the skills or traits, starting at Strategic Thinker and going clockwise.
56% of B2B marketers do not have a documented content marketing strategy, and this is definitely a problem, Marketers must have a strategy in place to produce content that is cohesive and actionable. The perfect content marketer will have a list of several goals and make sure that every piece of content drives towards that goal. Some examples of goals can be:
Increase site traffic, brand awareness or lead generation
Educate prospects on your industry or product benefits
Improve search engine optimization or customer service
Build customer trust, rapport, loyalty or industry credibility
Content marketing processes are required to scale your operations. This spans from workflow to publishing to promotion to analytics. Within a content marketing process, there must be:
Defined roles and responsibilities for direct and extended members of your team.
A path that every piece of content must follow, or at least a staged gate process for decisions to be made about how a piece of content is planned, produced and promoted.
An editorial calendar to track content through its various stages.
To learn more about content marketing processes, check out these expert tips to manage your process.
Too many people are in a state of content shock as they continue to get bombarded by obscene amounts of ebooks, blog posts and other vendor content; therefore, it’s of the utmost importance that your uber-content marketer have the ability to be creative. (don’t worry, I won’t say “think outside of the box”)
According to Ekaterina Walter, author of The Power of Visual Storytelling, the brain processes visuals 600,000 times faster than text. Bottom line?. . . If you can communicate your message through a picture or video, then do it.
It is important to think visually, and more importantly, put these visions into eye-catching graphics, infographics and images that draw a connection to your main message for your audience. Content should always include an element of design, so the ability to create these elements using applications such as PowerPoint or Adobe Creative Suite is essential. Examples include:
An infographic on Copyblogger, “22 Ways To Create Compelling Content When You Don’t Have a Clue,” demonstrates the power of imagery to communicate a message. Instead of a basic list, Brian Clark created images for each of the 22 ways.
The ability to repurpose a blog post or eBook into a sharable, compelling SlideShare is essential. This makes long posts or books more digestible for your audience. Learn SlideShare best practices from Todd Wheatland. Also, check out these super SlideShares:
Video editing is a great skillset to have as a content marketer and will only become more important in the coming years. Currently, YouTube has over 3 Billion video views per day. Uploading videos to a company channel is a great way to reach to your audience.
Too many marketers fall short in marketing their marketing; and “promotion” is the process step to address this short-fall. However, simply composing tweets or posting on Facebook is not enough. The perfect content marketer knows:
Which channels to publish to according to their business and industry.
Who to reach out to make sure content is amplified across several networks and to a wider audience.
Speaking of reaching out to people, you have to get your content in the hands of the right people. Establish meaningful relationships with key influencers in your industry. These influencers will share your content with their networks and soon enough, your reach will expand. Here are some great resources to learn more about this important facet of promotions:
Don’t just communicate facts and figures. . . Speak your mind, contribute your insights and voice your opinion.
Ask “so what” about everything you produce in an effort to ensure that what you’re communicating is of value and action-oriented.
Measure, Measure, Measure
The best content marketers are constantly measuring and evaluating the impact of their content to: 1) improve return on their investment; and 2) better demonstrate their impact on the organization. Which best describes your company’s content marketing measurement tactics?
Mostly vanity (e.g., social shares)?
Metrics that determine your team’s impact on marketing or sales’ pipeline?
No doubt there are numerous resources online about content marketing metrics, but here are just a few to get you started:
Rob Yoegel of Gaggle provides actionable tips to keep in mind when measuring content marketing, including:
Know when to measure content production and performance
Pay attention to where your customer enters the sales funnel
Know where your traffic is coming from
Tony Jaros of SiriusDecsionsrecommends that B2B marketers specifically measure their content based on these three metrics:
Content production time
Impact to sales
Witty and Humorous
Inject humor into your content. Nothing makes a piece of content stand out more than when its funny and/or witty. This will also greatly increase the potential for your audience sharing the content with their peers; for example:
Marketo’s blog post “You Know You’re a Content Marketer When…” This post uses memes from popular movies and TV shows to exemplify the many habits — and struggles — of being a content marketer.
“Telekinetic Coffee Shop Surprise” from the movie Carrie. The makers of Carrie prank patrons of a coffee shop by planting actors pretending to have telekinetic powers. The result is a hilarious clip of screams and surprises.
Creator of irresistible and alluring titles
Remember when I said that readers are in a state of content shock? Well, creating an attention-grabbing title that is both relevant and decent can in many cases make or break your post regardless of your posts actual content. The best content marketers should have the ability to create a title that will not only entice, but compel readers to click. Here are a couple of titles that I like:
Every sentence — and every word — counts. The best content marketers know that to keep their audience interested, every element of their content should be precise. Without this attention to detail, content can come across as disjointed and lacking purpose.
Spelling and Grammar
Good spelling and grammer may seem like an obvious trait for a content marketer; however, many of us still make mistake’s. Don’t misspelll words or defy simple grammar rule. You’re reader’s will notice them. (Yes, the mistakes in this section were intentional.) As much as it pains me to call-out another content marketer’s spelling mistakes, let me refer to an article in the Huffington Post entitled “The Ten-Second Race to Content Nirvana” has two spelling mistakes in the very first sentence. The first comment at the end of the post points out the error in the article, which ironically is about creating quality content. (Don’t hold back if you find errors across this post.)
Evolving technology is making it easier to create content on the front end. But having a basic knowledge of HTML can help take your content to the next level.
Content marketers should, no doubt, be primarily focused on content quality for your audience, but don’t underestimate the power of also optimizing content for search engines. For tips about SEO when curating content, check out our list of SEO Do’s and Don’ts. Also check out what Cyrus Shepard of Moz had to say on the topic of “How to Survive the Google Tornado” during a session I sat through at Marketo’s recent Marketing Nation Summit.
Product and Industry Knowledge
It goes without saying that great marketers know what they are writing about. Knowing your products can be especially difficult for marketers in the technology industry. (e.g., understanding the intricacies of how a semiconductor chip works when you’re marketing to engineers)
Work with other functional areas of your company(e.g., product management, product marketing)to get a better understanding of your product.
Attend industry events(in-person and virtual) to get smarter in your industry
Set up Google Alerts on your company, your products and your competitors.
This will not only help you generate ideas, but also alert you when there is news in your industry that you can capitalize upon. (i.e., ideation)
If you’re a Curata customer, tap into the power of the self-learning discovery engine to bring you the latest and greatest content from across the Internet on your topic of choice. Also a great source of ideas for content inspiration as well as a way to follow your industry’s top influencers.
Customer Insight: “Be the Customer”
More important than knowing what you’re writing about is knowing who you’re writing for. Content marketers understand their customers in order to create content that answers their most important and burning questions. They understand:
What customers want to learn.
What customers already know.
How customers are finding content.
How customers are consuming content.
Where can you get this insight?
Directly interact with your customers. (e.g., go on sales calls with your reps; sit on phone calls conducted by your inside sales team; conduct interviews with your customers as part of a blog post.)
Go where your customers go. (e.g., read your customers’ blogs; attend events that they frequent.)
Use existing research. (e.g., check out any voice of the customer studies that your company may already be conducting such as Net Promoter Score research or product marketing surveys)
Read, Read, Read
Although content marketing is all about creation and writing, reading about your industry, your market, your customers and how to be a better marketer might be just as important; for example,
Check out the best books on content marketing such as “Youtility” by Jay Baer and “Epic Content Marketing” by Joe Pulizzi.
Within your company: Team with other functions across marketing(e.g., product marketing, field marketing) and across your organization(e.g,. sales, product management). Great collaboration will supercharge performance across all parts of the content supply chain:
Promotion: Interaction with your social media team
Analytics: Interaction with your marketing operations and IT team
Within your content marketing team: As great as it would be to have all of the skillsets mentioned in this post embodied by one person, in reality there will be an entire team of people with different disciplines; for example, editors, writers, SEO specialists, designers, etc. The most effective content will be the result of the harmonious interaction of all of these disciplines.
The best marketers understand that partnering with other players in your industry can help increase your credibility and bring in new perspective. This will result in greater value for your audience, and may even result in you better leveraging your resources.
Develop a guest post program.
Contribute to other company’s blogs.
Establish partnerships with other company’s and analysts.
Don’t let small obstacles stop you from creating quality content. If you hit a roadblock, keep trying or come up with a new solution.
Can’t get an interview with a key source? Track down a contact on LinkedIn that can make an introduction for you. If you already have their contact information and they’re not responding, keep calling or emailing them.
Don’t know how to use Photoshop? Learn it.
Content marketers cannot be afraid to fail. In the history of content marketing, ideas and technologies have come and gone. The next big trend in content may be something you already thought of, but are afraid to voice your opinion or insight.
Take risks. Push the bounds to stand out from the crowd. If you make mistakes in the process. . .learn from them and move on. Whether it’s an edgier title or a new format, it may help generate more traffic and make your content stand out from other companies in your industry.
Let’s face it, we’ll never have enough money do to everything that we’d like to do in content marketing. The best marketers will make the most of what they have.
Don’t have enough time to write? Be resourceful and hire an agency or a freelancer that you trust and will best represent your voice and your audiences’ needs.
Having trouble finding the time to write that big ebook? Use PowerPoint slides to get your message across or simply write a long-form blog post.
Repurpose content from that great ebook you wrote 6 months ago by creating blog posts, infographics and a SlideShare from the original content.
Do you (or your team as a whole) have every trait of the “dream” content marketer? For more on what employers are looking for when they hire a content marketer, check out these content marketing interview questions.
Still missing a body part? Don’t worry, you’re not alone in this rapidly maturing discipline. Just remember that happiness is in the journey and not the destination.
Michael is the CMO of Curata. He is responsible for Curata's marketing strategy and all related activities. Michael has over 25 years of marketing and sales experience, having successfully launched and sustained three start-up ventures as well as having driven innovative customer creation strategies for large technology organizations. (e.g., IDC, Kenan Systems, Prospero (mZinga) and Millipore). Michael received his MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management, as well as a BS in Engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute and an MS in Engineering from Northeastern University.