The anatomy of a great content marketer

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When I started working for Axonn over a decade ago, I certainly didn’t think of myself as a content marketer. Back then it wasn't a content marketing agency, and in fact, there simply wasn’t a job title like "content marketer" around. 

Google Search Trends data shows it’s not until 2013 that there were significant searches for the term.

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But over the last few years, things have changed. A lot. Not only are marketers spending far more on content, they are also far less likely to simply leave all their efforts up to their content marketing agency. Instead - and we’ve seen this with our clients as well as with the wider industry - they are building up in-house content teams that work in partnership with their content marketing agencies. But doing this is not without its challenges.

Building a content marketing team

Good content marketers are hard to find, mainly for three reasons:

  1. Most people don’t know what makes a good content marketer.

  2. In such a young and dynamic industry, there are very few content marketers around with a credible track record of success in the field.

  3. Training is challenging, because of how much there is to learn and how quickly what is considered best practice changes.

In this post, I want to look at what makes a good content marketer in my experience as someone who has recruited, trained and run teams of content marketers for the last ten years.

T-shape

Traditionally, marketing teams were made up of specialists. So you’d have your social media person who would be great at engaging your audience on Twitter, but probably didn’t have a clue about SEO. Then your SEO specialist (hopefully) got you fantastic rankings in SERPs, but didn’t know or care about the impact their actions had on the bottom line. Or you had a writer who delivered compelling copy but couldn’t represent your company in front of clients.

These kinds of people are I-shaped: they could do one thing really well, but that’s pretty much the only thing they could do.

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Enter the T-shaped content marketer. A multidimensional individual who still has a deep specialism in one area, but also knowledge across multiple related disciplines.

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What this means here at Axonn, for example, is that while our writers’ main focus is creating fantastic copy for clients, they also have an understanding of content strategy, using analytics, graphic design and social media, among other things. 

The result? Much more effective collaboration with different teams, which leads to better results for our clients.

The ideal content marketer

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So now you know what you don’t want (a one-trick pony), but what should you look for when you want to employ a great content marketer? In my opinion, these are the most important traits or skills that will add value to your team.

Think outside the box

We often quote country singer Loretta Lynn when we talk about strategy. She said in order to stand out you have to be either the first, the best or different. Being the first or the best is difficult for most marketers in an ever-noisier environment. However, being different is exactly where they can pack a punch.

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A good content marketer is someone who is able to see things a bit differently. They come up with innovative solutions to challenges, and they don’t let issues like “the way we’ve always done it” hold them back.

Visual thinking

Strong visuals are a crucial element for any piece of content, but you shouldn’t rely only on your graphic designers for a good result. Successful content marketers are able to speak designers’ language to an extent - both when they are planning content and coming up with creative concepts, and when they are briefing the design team. They need to clearly articulate what it is they want, and it helps if they know their EPS from their PNG and if they have an opinion on font styles, white space and so on.

Strategic and data-driven

A hunch isn’t good enough. Sure, to be truly successful you need a reliable instinct, but you also need a good nose to sniff out the gems among your analytics (and other) data. Successful content marketers are able to look at data and draw correct and meaningful conclusions from it to inform their strategy.

Project management

Any successful content marketing project has to pull together people from various disciplines. Your content marketer needs to be able to coordinate these different groups (with different priorities and outlooks) through clear and consistent communication, so they stay motivated and on track.

Passion

Sounds cheesy, but while a lot of things in content marketing can be taught, one thing that can’t be taught is passion. If you manage to get someone in who actually loves what they do, they will be motivated to learn, to do their best and to get ahead. It’s hard to fake and even harder to cultivate in someone who doesn’t have it.

Business focused

Let’s be clear: content marketing isn’t just about the big creative ideas. At the end of the day, content marketing needs to contribute to the bottom line in a tangible way (think cold, hard cash). Yes, brand awareness can be a content marketing goal, but ROI is what keeps us all in jobs. A good content marketer doesn’t need persuading of this fact; they just get it and gear their work towards achieving this goal.

Able to create content

Coming up with great content or campaign ideas is a necessary skill, but the best content marketers are able to execute these ideas, too. They don’t just talk the talk, but walk the walk as well. I don’t think you’ll find one person who can create amazing animations AND write highly converting landing pages AND create lots of buzz around your brand on Twitter, BUT any content marketer you employ needs to know the basics of what goes into creating content that achieves your goals (remember what I said before about T-shaped people?).

Values

Here at Axonn, we structure everything around our core values - including recruitment. When we first came up with the values, we gave a lot of thought to how we can make our values actionable. For us it wouldn’t be good enough to just have values as nice words on the wall; we wanted to really live our values. Having this framework has simplified our recruitment efforts.

Here’s how I interpret our values in the context of a content marketer.

If better is possible, good is not enough

You need someone who will not settle for mediocrity. Someone who will work hard to excel not only because they want to do well, but specifically because they want the team to do well.

Take personal responsibility for success

A great content marketer takes it upon themselves to ensure the success of anything they’re involved in. With a team full of people like this, fewer things will slip through the net (“I’ve emailed so-and-so but haven’t heard back so I’ve left it”) and more will actually get done.

Embrace and drive creative ideas

Exceptional content marketers are ideas machines, but, like I mentioned above, they also have the ability to execute. You also want people on your team who are innovators, who are interested in future trends and able to bring/keep your company ahead of the curve.

Make good things happen

This is about having doers. People who ignore silos and are immune to politics and “the way we’ve always done things”, and as a result get things done.

Love to learn and share

Things in the content marketing world are changing at an ever-increasing pace. As a leader, you need people who will not only rely on you to tell them what they need to know; they need to have a hunger to stay abreast of the latest trends AND share them with you and the rest of the team.

Make it FUN!

It’s pretty awesome to work on a marketing team, and content is one of the most exciting areas of the discipline. We believe better work gets done when people are relaxed and comfortable being themselves and don’t feel they have to take themselves too seriously.

I hope you are starting to form a picture in your head of the kind of content marketer you would like for your team. In my next blog post, I’ll talk in more detail about how to find these elusive beings and then how to interview them. I mean, you want to ask them better questions than “are you a visual thinker?” or “can you think outside the box?”, right?

I’ve interviewed over 100 content marketer hopefuls and I’ll be sharing my best tips, interview questions and tests to hopefully help you choose the best people for an exceptional content marketing superteam.

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