Content marketing remains fairly new for many marketers. The (appropriately) loud voices in the marketplace like The Content Marketing Institute make it feel like the trend of using valuable content to engage customers to action or to progress along the ‘customer journey’ is well-nearing the ‘high-adoption’ mark. But look at the complexion of the speakers at their summit and you will see mostly consultants. That’s a sure sign it remains early days.
Yet many brands are investing in this direction from experienced CPGs like Huggies (look at their efforts with Pull-ups) to real estate agencies like Coldwell Banker to our own efforts with our recently re-launched content site, Prepare & Prevent.
Team structure is a big discussion. Are we entering a phase favoring more distinct specialisms (e.g. SEO, social community management) or modernized generalists (e.g. “digital” brand managers)? What skills remain critical, which require re-tooling, what are the down-right gaps? What should be done in-house vs. remain an outsourced network?
Many marketers are figuring this out by doing. Here is a POV on near-future team structure and rules of engagement.
The Three Drivers of Great Business Content
First of all, where does great content come from? The business? Usually marketers get good first at writing content about their own products and services. Their lens is often one that favors how products and services are seen within their company. The best of them take an ‘outside-in’ view and channel the interests of their customers or sales channel. New storytellers? No doubt we need new storytelling capabilities within companies and ones that naturally channel a customer-centered view. Brand marketers? Again, brand marketers can be terrific storytellers about themselves. They often struggle to go beyond that self-centered view.
Great content comes from three places and orientations:
- Clear business goals and insights: what are we selling? What is our value proposition, what is our unique selling proposition, why would anyone buy us?
- Continuous, practical insights about our customer: what do we know about their needs right now? How are they engaging with our content now? What insights can we glean and insert into our strategy and approach everyday?
- A compelling, clear brand position: what do we stand for that matters to the customer? What is distinct about us? What role can we play in our customers lives?
These inputs must guide a content team.
The Three Core Team Members
Integrated Marketing Strategist – Part “planner” (think “connections planner” not media planner), part brand manager, part digital practitioner, the Integrated Marketing Strategist can pencil together a very good paid, owned, earned plan built on a core marketing strategy that actually drives measureable results. Their personal skill set may weigh heavier as a strategist, project manager, or even a specialist (e.g. social media) and they know how to tap into a network of specialists to get the job done. They know how to drive action.
Content Creator and Strategist – A strong storyteller, the content creator-strategist is generally strong in both aligning content strategy to a marketing and/or business strategy as well as creating truly high-performing content. They work across mediums – video, graphics, animation, narrative text. They understand what people want and respond to. They know how to drive engagement.
Insights and Analytics Specialist – Research used to be planned and then delivered weeks later in a PowerPoint show. Today, the Insights and Analytics Specialist can tap into digital signals in real or near-real time and convert those into practical insights. They translate content and marketing performance data into actions that can be taken, next things to try. They know how to tease-out insights.
Snap these three team members together and you have a super-strong team focused on creativity and effectiveness.
The Essential Specialisms
Each organization will have its own list of essential marketing specialisms that go beyond the core. Marketing leaders must choose which to put in head-count vs. outsource from trusted partners. Here are a few typical specialisms relevant today:
Digital Media Planning – there is a range of specialists inside the media planning world. “digital media” isn’t even likely a single specialism. That being said, someone who understands the performance of sponsored posts, display, native, search and media partnerships is key.
SEO Specialist – there is a lot of art and science with constantly cultivating “discoverability.”
Social Media Community Managers – this remains a critical function with a unique skill set from traditional marketing.
Email Marketing Specialist - email will continue to be a backbone digital marketing channel for the foreseeable future.
Video Marketing – someone who understands the complex world of video distribution and marketing. These folks answer the question of “what do you want people to do” and which people are we talking about.
Video Production – whether you are creating a 6-part “how-to” series or a beautiful brand video, these are folks you most likely want as part of your external network.
Media Optimization – who is optimizing your media in real-time?
Public relations - the more narrowly defined 'media relations' is a true specialism.
The Agile Way of Working
We struggle with the tension between the truism that small teams work better – especially in immature disciplines like content marketing – and the need to scale or ‘operationalize.’ This latter pressure leads us to build departments. The former causes us to want to establish ways of working that promote productive collaboration and avoid ‘silos’ of expertise.
Here are a few ways of working that allows us all to balance these tensions:
Sit together – open-plan team rooms set the stage for daily interaction. Having sat in so many configurations over the years, this feels like a ‘truth’ at this point.
Analyze insights together – if you are going to be data and insights-driven, then you need a forum for sharing those insights and deciding how to apply them to your work as a marketer. Discussing research and performance metrics together is the fastest way to ingest learnings.
Embrace the experiment – be flexible every day. No one really knows exactly how the swim lanes should be painted or observed. If you can except that we are experimenting with new team structures and processes and fine-tuning in real time, then you can be more comfortable with overlapping responsibilities and a team (vs. department) ethos.