10 habits of a highly effective content marketer

There’s a lot of confusion around what content marketing is and isn’t. This post seeks to explain the difference between people who make content and those who also market it.

Have you ever tried to explain content marketing to a non-marketer? Generally, it’s not easy to do. “I make freely accessed content that’s relevant to your product, aimed at attracting, converting or retaining customers.” Yeesh!

Content marketing isn’t even easy to explain to people who do work in digital – but that’s not surprising; it’s a new concept, even in an industry that changes all the time. But no one can agree: Wiki cites an example from 1891 when Oetker sold baking powder with recipes printed on the boxes. Others say content marketing was born when Google released Panda in February 2011!

I think one of the most exciting aspects of CM is there’s no monopoly on making content. Writers, journalists, SEOs, data analysts, social media marketers, programmers, designers, entrepreneurs – we’re all making content (the list goes on forever – you get the picture). But there’s a huge difference between producing content and actually going out there and marketing it. Someone who produces content is not necessarily also a content marketer.

But who is this elusive content marketer? Companies are also struggling to define the role when integrating it into more traditional org charts. And yet, everyone can agree it’s a hot topic; we’re all interested in it, we’re just not 100% sure what it is.

If you’re considering a career in content marketing or searching for a content marketer to fill a gap, you’ll probably find lots of information on CM itself, but not so much on the person who actually does it. For this reason, I’ve selected 10 key characteristics that I think uniquely define successful content marketers:

1.You’re results oriented

Despite its current popularity, content marketing is a tough sell to stakeholders. It can be a subjective product that’s high-risk, high-reward because the results aren’t always guaranteed. More conservative clients don’t like this language – they want their investment in content to equal conversions, which is not always the case. Content marketing succeeds when you take clients’ uncertainty and turn it into trust, and returns, in the form of goals and KPIs – clearly illustrating ROI.

2. In your spare time, you make content

There’s a common interview question that goes, “What do you do in your spare time?” Content marketers produce content in their spare time – whether they’re writing, designing, filming, whatever – because it makes them happy. They do these things as a hobby, and as a result they know the creative process very, very well.

3. You also know SEO

Rare is the SEO who also identifies as a creative, but that’s what I’m suggesting: SEO is content’s biggest fan. Over time it has become more and more difficult to earn the kinds of links that provide SERP visibility, and yet links remain one of the most important ranking factors. Although Panda and Penguin shifted the landscape towards content, and content helps SEOs earn these links and other natural signals (such as PR and social), we still use search engines to find what we’re looking for online. The relationship is reciprocal: make content for real people but never overlook SEO.

4. You know brand strategy

Content marketers know how content impacts user engagement and brand loyalty; how text and images combine to send an insightful message that’s relevant to a visitor’s specific needs, while educating and influencing them positively about the brand. Content marketers know how their content fits into the website as a whole, and how it performs in relation to the whole.

5. You love stories

Consistent brand stories help you reach beyond products and services to create an emotional connection with your audience. The idea is to help customers make a connection between their needs and your solution, using creative narratives that they can also contribute within. For this reason, content marketers love stories because they’re an authentic, creative and unique way to start conversations.

6. You’re likable

Content marketing is integrated, long-term strategy across multiple channels; it’s cleverly distributed and produced in-line with editorial, seasonal and consumer-based insights; it’s not tactical, manipulative or even remotely easy! In bigger agencies and companies, there can be many people who are directly and indirectly involved in content marketing, and it can feel sometimes like herding cats.

This may mean working across big teams, often requiring a fair bit of collaboration, diplomacy and a good dollop of patience. If you’ve ever heard the saying that people buy from brands they like, remember that people buy from people they like, too. If you’re someone who others enjoy having around, the chances are your ideas will get a better hearing.

7. You’re constantly solving problems

Many agencies excel at coming up with amazing creative ideas – which are really the heart of all great content – but your unique skill is the ability to adapt the ideas to the client’s goals. Because content marketing is a long-term strategy, it involves continual testing, focusing on making progress, not achieving perfection.

8. You’re a champion of distribution

This is not a topic that gets a lot of airplay – unfortunately, because there’s a lot of amazing content that lacks clever distribution. I don’t mean just posting the content on branded social accounts and hoping for the best, but generating qualified leads, whether that’s via social, outreach or paid channels (or all three). This is a very different skill than which is required to come up with high-quality, insightful ideas. Buzzstream's advanced guide to content promotion (free 75-page guide) is a fantastic resource if you want to know more about this.

9. You understand site fundamentals

It’s tempting to rush in and start creating content right away, I mean, content marketing is really exciting in that sense. Why not build a parallax scrolling site? Or write an ebook? Blog posts made from gifs! But there’s a reason most content strategies include audits that assess what’s working and not working on your site. It’s also a good idea to assess your resources so you know what’s achievable and what’s holding you back from achieving your goals. No content can perform well without solid site foundations.

10. You’ve got staying power

Content is not a magic pill for a website. Although there’s nothing more exhilarating than getting positive feedback on something you make, I can guarantee that for every idea that ‘pops’, countless others have fallen on the cutting floor. For me, the hard work you put in just makes the success so much sweeter

Do you agree or disagree?

It combines self-education with book learning, analytics with creativity, brand with non-brand, intuition with research – and many other qualities that come together in a hybrid occupation; one that combines entertainment (perfect for creatives) with marketing (perfect for SEOs and analysts). The best way to get the right people doing content marketing is to keep educating non-marketers about what it is and why it really works.

Images by: Blue EVE by JD Hancock, The Magic Touch by David Blackwell, Dogs in Waiting by Raj Deut

Written by Caitlin Smythe, Content Manager