Q: How did you get started in content marketing?
A: I worked for a health insurance company as a “jack-of-all-trades” marketing communications specialist and copywriter, and my role became more and more centered around improving our website. This was the early 2000’s, when marketers started talking about blogging, inbound marketing, and content-supported sales enablement. I worked closely with our internal marketing team and sales department to develop marketing materials—what we now refer to as marketing content—that could be leveraged online or offline for education, promotion, or product support, whatever was needed. So I really grew into content marketing along with my company. When I started freelancing in 2011, my customers were interested in building up their website marketing content … and the rest is history. It’s what I’m still doing today, enjoying the strategic work as much as the content development and writing.
Q: From your point of view, what does it take to be a great content strategist?
A: I’ve learned that it takes a few things. First, it’s asking the right questions and listening to your client: what do they want to achieve? Why do they want to post more articles on their blog, for example? To generate leads, to promote thought leadership, or for SEO? While the answer is probably a combination of a few things, it’s important to start off on the same page so my work focuses on meeting their expectations. Secondly, it really helps to know how other companies in your client’s industry are approaching their marketing content, so good research skills come into play. What are my clients competitors doing? What can my client do better? How can my client differentiate their value prop via marketing content? Finally, it’s about being the expert strategist—not the expert of your client’s business. They’re working with me because of my experience as a content marketer and writer, and my job is to help them make the most of their larger marketing efforts, to bring new questions and ideas to the table, to breathe some new life into their website, sales materials, etc.
Q: What do you think is the hardest lesson for companies investing in content strategy to learn?
A: I think many companies, especially those with more traditional (non-digital age) marketing competencies, tend to look at everything tactically, from their point of view and as a “one and done” project. They want to talk about their products, what they can do, why they’re great to work with, and why they’re qualified as the “best.” These are all important things, but today, customers and potential customers want to know what’s in it for them and they want to buy from companies who recognize them as individuals. This moves the marketing focus away from the classic paper brochure or static website into the more dynamic realms of social media and blogs. As such, a content marketing investment needs to be ongoing. Content marketing isn’t something you can accomplish in a month or two, yet it’s completely scalable. When the work is customer-focused and deployed over time, the investment is more powerful. It’s more strategic.
Q: How do you stay updated on the latest news in your focus industries and on content strategy in general?
A: It helps that I’m constantly researching and writing for marketing content—thanks to Google, I’m always in front of the latest news from the best sources. I subscribe to some industry and vertical newsletters, I regularly check the websites of my clients’ competitors, and I keep my eyes on what marketing agencies are talking about in their blog posts. I also visit websites like Hubspot, the Content Marketing Institute, and MarketingProfs for inspiration.
Q: How do you see the landscape of content strategy changing over the next 5 years?
A: I think companies, both B2B and B2C, are going to dive deeper into their data and take what they’re already doing to the next level. They’re getting the message that the “customer experience” is more important than almost anything—and delivering a great customer experience across channels may hit the bottom line with more impact than gaining operational efficiencies. Consuming marketing content, from education to product to support materials, is part of an excellent customer experience. To get it right, marketing content will become more and more personalized, more relevant to the customer’s spot in their journey, and its delivery and consumption will be seamless—as part of the process, in-context, and accessible from more than one place.
Q: Which influencers do you follow in the marketing world, and why?
A: I’ve had the pleasure of meeting all three of these star marketers—and that’s why they get my vote. I love personal connections, and I found these marketers to be really friendly, humble people who simply love their work and want to share it. When they say something, I want to pay attention!
- Andy Crestodina of Orbit Media Studios, because he’s an engaging writer. When he talks about a topic, it’s obvious he cares about it. He provides actionable advice and points readers to resources that make their work easier. He’s also responsive and active on social media—he really walks the walk!
- Nick Salvatoriello, formerly of Hubspot and currently at Impact Branding and Design. He’s been a big voice in the world of inbound marketing since the early days and was instrumental in igniting my interest in content strategy.
- Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, was among those talking about content strategy before it was even a “thing!”
Q: What do you think makes content “successful”?
A: I know that marketers, especially direct response marketers, love to track and measure their content engagement, views, conversions, and more. But I also think content is successful if, like great artwork, it has a unique voice—the voice of the brand that’s spot-on. That makes the content compelling and resonant to the target audience. It pulls you in and leads you through, answering questions and brings next-level questions to mind.
Q: What tools would we find in your content marketing toolbox?
A: Some of these are more tangible than others! Hundreds of bookmarked websites and blog posts, for starters. Examples of content that “works,” from my own collection or from industry experts. An online thesaurus. Collaborative client relationships. A desire for authenticity. A (mostly) tech-fueled process. A fantastic, supporting co-working environment.
Q: When stepping away from writing and managing content, what do you do to give yourself a break?
A: Spending quality time with my family—but I should say that my first grade daughter and a pre-school son hardly give me a break! When I can catch some time for myself, I enjoy tinkering on the piano and singing with my church choir, reading historical fiction and non-fiction history books, walking or doing yoga, cooking, or immersing myself in a craft.